Posts Tagged lesson learned

The Early Bird Who Didn’t Get the Worm

Cypress Point Lookout (17 Mile Drive)

Beautiful view from Cypress Point Lookout along 17 Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, CA

Last month, I visited my oldest friend in gorgeous Monterey, California. No, my friend isn’t that old. It’s a longtime friendship — since 8th grade, in fact!

Knowing that I had an open invitation to visit, I booked my flight in July for a trip in October. I found a great price and jumped on it.

I thought everything was perfectly arranged until the day before my flight.  I checked-in online and discovered that my window seat was no longer a window seat!

Flying across the country is a decently long flight.  After our 30/40 World Tour, I realize it’s not going to win any longest flight contests.  But it’s still nice to have a wall (or Mr. HalfEmpty’s shoulder) for my pillow.

I rechecked my original reservation and noticed that my seat number had not changed. I was still in 23F. What had changed was the plane. There must have been so much demand that they switched from a Boeing 757 with 6 seats across (3-3) to an international Boeing 777 with 9 seats across (2-5-2).

I’m sure the UC Santa Barbara Cross Country Team on my flight helped secure that bigger plane.  Grr…college kids!  Now I sound like a crotchety, old, half empty woman.  Yep, that’s about right. =)

During online check-in, I noticed that there were still a few window seats available.  But they were all considered an upgrade despite being in the same section as my current seat!  I decided not to panic and would request a seat change at the airport.

But at the airport, they told me the flight was full. So basically I got penalized with a middle seat in a block of 5 for booking early.  This early bird did not get the worm!  Lesson learned:  if you want a window seat, always pick A.

I’m really surprised I didn’t learn that lesson on the 30/40 World Tour with all our flights, some booked 6 months in advance.  But perhaps our exotic locales don’t have the same kind of demand as DC to CA.

When I boarded the plane, it seemed like the situation might be okay.  In my center section of 5 seats, only 4 were occupied — a Chinese guy in the aisle seat, a big guy in the 2nd seat, me in the 4th seat, and a woman on the other aisle.  I had an empty seat next to me, but I didn’t assume it would be there for long.  At some point, the Chinese man on the aisle realized that he was in the wrong seat.  So he moved into the center seat on my left.  This prompted the big guy to move into the aisle.

Now I was sandwiched in a middle seat.  It was the worst possible configuration for me.  I didn’t understand why the Chinese guy didn’t move back into the other guy’s seat so that the center seat would be free.  That would have given us both an empty seat on one side.  But now the big guy, who originally had a middle seat, had an aisle AND a free seat next to him!  I got a raw deal.

I was even more irritated when the Chinese guy kept using my arm rest.  At one point, I erected a pillow barrier in retaliation, but he didn’t seem to notice.  The best scenario for my already unfortunate middle seat went to the worst scenario rather quickly.  I was doubly mad because I had been counting on my window seat.

During my stay in California, my credit card number was compromised and used in Chicago.  I’m still not sure which restaurant did that to me, but I have 2 in mind.

On the way home, my return flight was delayed over 2 hours due to fog.  Since I knew about the delay, I went to the airport late. But I was worried the entire time that they might reduce the delay and I would miss my flight.  I was also concerned about making my connecting flight after the delayed flight.  If it had been on time, I surely would have missed it.  But fortunately, it was also delayed.

My final flight was delayed so much that they changed the gate 3 times!  After a while it got a bit comical watching a full flight of people migrate from one gate to another.  The last 2 gates were actually in a different terminal, so that was a long hike.  I wonder if anyone missed the flight because of the gate changes.

I finally arrived back in DC at 1:30 AM.  Even though I had a carry-on sized bag, I had to check it since there was no overhead space left.  So I had to wait for my suitcase, and then head home to catch a few hours of sleep before teaching my morning class.

The C Restaurant (Intercontinental Hotel)

Enjoying sun and cocktails at the Intercontinental Hotel along Cannery Row in Monterey. I’m pretty sure this restaurant was not the one that compromised my credit card.

After reading this post, you’re probably thinking that I had a horrible trip filled with uncomfortable flights, credit card fraud, and flight delays.  But actually, the trip was amazing!  Monterey is beautiful, and I soaked up the sun every day with my friend.  How’s that for half full thinking?

Next time you book a flight, remember the moral of my story and pick A for a window seat.  I’m not sure what to tell those of you who like aisle seats…perhaps, just good luck!

  • Have you ever booked a specific seat on a flight and later found that the seat configuration changed?  How did you react?
  • Has your credit card been compromised?  Did you or the credit card company discover it first?
  • Have you ever had a flight delay change back to an earlier departure time?

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Stumbling Out of the Gate

We landed at Fiji’s Nadi (pronounced “nahn-dee”) International Airport before sunrise. Mr. HalfFull booked the first week of our trip in the South Pacific, so I expected him to know every detail, or at least the next step that would get his booty from Air Pacific’s airplane to the beach hammock he’d been raving about during his last week at work. He was fairly certain that we could walk to the marina from the airport, but he grabbed a map at a rental car counter just to be sure.

I waited outside for Mr. HalfFull, who reported that the woman at the rental car desk said it was a half hour to the marina. I asked if he was sure she understood that we were walking and not driving, since she worked for a rental car company. He was convinced that she understood.

Mr. HalfFull also asked her if it was safe to walk along the main road. He meant safe for pedestrians, with a sidewalk or at least distance from traffic. Interestingly, she assured him it was safe due to the abundance of military personnel in town. Hmm…

Nadi Landscape

View of the Nadi landscape as we walked away from the airport

We exited the airport on foot and saw a couple of the armed military men she mentioned. It felt great to walk after being on an airplane for so long, and Fiji’s lush mountainous landscape was gorgeous in the morning sun. We found ourselves in Nadi’s rush hour, with lots of decrepit vehicles and many pedestrians including children in school uniforms.  Smiling people greeted us on the sidewalk with a cheerful “bula!”

After we passed our first traffic circle, a Fijian man started walking with us. We definitely stood out as pasty white people walking along the busy street lugging our backpacks. He asked us where we were going, telling us he was on his way to work as a local pilot who flew between Fijian islands. We told him a bit about our trip, and he replied that it was nice to see a father and daughter traveling together. Hello!?! I quickly responded that we were married and showed him my ring, and we soon parted ways.  Mr. HalfFull must have been looking pretty haggard after 27 hours of flights and layovers!

We continued our walk and were soon joined by another Fijian man. This guy was much older with a full graying beard and gruff demeanor. I thought he wanted to pass us on the sidewalk, but he started walking in step with us and asked where we were going.  I was a bit scared at this point because the new guy did not appear to be as friendly as the pilot.  But we told him we were headed to Denarau Marina, which he said was a long way. We replied that it was okay because we needed a good walk after flying, and the woman at the airport said it was thirty minute walk. “Bullshit!” he exclaimed. According to him, it was a two hour walk from the airport. I knew she meant driving time, Mr. HalfFull!

We further explain our destination to John, the gruff man on the street, and he informed us that our boat doesn’t even leave from Denarau Marina! What? How could Mr. HalfFull be so utterly wrong? He claims that we need to drive an hour south to Likuri Harbor. (We later learn that our second accommodation was scheduled to leave from Denarau Marina, and Mr. HalfFull mistakenly thought that both left from the same harbor. This poses an even bigger issue because now we are not sure we will be able to catch our second early morning boat four days later, since we will be an hour away.)

John guides us to a taxi in front of a nearby hotel and instructs him to drive us to a hotel with bus transfers to Likuri Harbor. We are very uneasy at this point. Where are we going? Why did John help us? Did he have our interests in mind, or was he in cahoots with the taxi driver? How could we have gotten into this mess? What is it going to cost?

The taxi driver was very engaging and wanted to tell us all about Fiji and the sites we passed. He even played a burned Bob Marley Legend CD in the car, which he offered to us for FJ$2.  Needless to say, we didn’t invest in dead pirated technology.

He said he could drive us directly to the harbor instead of the hotel. At that point, we had no idea what we were supposed to do, so we went all in and agreed to let him drive us directly to the jetty.

Hindu Temple

Largest Hindu temple in the Southern hemisphere

Along the drive, he stopped at a Hindu temple so we could take a photo. I did not get out of the car for fear that he would drive off with our luggage. He stopped again at his friend’s souvenir store so he could get coffee and we could spend money. This was rather awkward since we were at the start of our journey and traveling light, not wanting to carry extraneous items. He asked if I wanted coffee, so of course I said yes. After some commotion, the shop owner presented us with a glass of Coke, saying his coffee machine was broken, but this was just like coffee. Ha!

Finally, we arrived at a clearing next to a wooded river in the middle of nowhere. There was no town, no houses, no boats — just a small, rickety, wooden dock with an old shack nearby. There wasn’t even a sign to inform us that we were in the correct location. Suffice it to say, I was nervous and not happy with Mr. HalfFull.

Fisherwomen

A haggard Mr. HalfFull with Fijian fisherwomen

There were a few sturdy Fijian ladies at the dock and we asked them if they were going to Likuri Island, but they were going fishing. They explained that the powdery black substance on their faces was natural sunscreen. I guess a mud mask can be sunscreen, but it looked reminiscent of blackface and made me uncomfortable until they explained the purpose.  We bid the ladies farewell as they boarded their canoe and paddled away; we were left alone at the dock.

Fisherwomen Float Away

Fisherwomen floating down the river

We still had no confirmation that we were in the correct location or if a boat was ever coming. Thankfully about fifteen minutes later, a van showed up with another passenger heading to Likuri Island. We had been in Fiji two hours and this was the first independent confirmation that we were in the right place!

Ms. HalfEmpty meets Ms. Holland

Ms. HalfEmpty & Ms. Holland watch the boat arrive

The girl who arrived (dubbed Ms. Holland), was traveling the world alone after graduating from university. We were relieved to find her and became good friends on the island over the next few days. She was almost done with her five month trip, which included some of the same places we planned to visit, but in the opposite direction around the world. So we were able to glean a few tips and insights from her experience. We chatted for a long while before the boat arrived.

After another half hour, a car pulled in with an older Australian couple driving and a Fijian guy with a Robinson Crusoe Island t-shirt in the backseat. After a few hours lost in the fog of travel, things were finally starting to look promising! About fifteen minutes later, two boats pulled up to the wooden dock, and we grabbed our luggage in preparation to board. But the Aussies informed us that we were waiting for two more buses full of people. Apparently, there was a schedule, we just had none of the details, which drives me crazy. It’s not like I’m a control freak; I’m just a realist. After all, I had allowed Mr. HalfFull to plan this segment of the trip. (Note to self: always check fine print after he books anything!)

Eventually, we boarded the second boat and arrived on the island to singing and guitars. Of course, I did not arrive in a state of relaxation. That sneaked up on me the next day, when Mr. HalfFull was relieved of his travel implementation duties. More details of our (mis)adventures in Fiji and the start of our trip to New Zealand will be published on September 12th as a guest post on theprofessionalhobo.com.

  • Have you experienced travel (mis)adventures?
  • Have you ever departed an international airport on foot?
  • How detailed are you when planning a trip? Is winging it part of the fun?
  • Are you fearful of strangers in foreign countries?
  • How long does it take you to relax on vacation?

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Filling Ms. HalfEmpty’s Duffel

Packing can be quite stressful (particularly for the HalfEmpty mind), especially when you (1) are not sure exactly what to expect – which I suppose is part of the charm of our 30/40 World Tour, (2) will encounter multiple climates, and (3) are packing for 10 weeks. Here’s what made it into my luggage:

    • electronics (guess this makes us flashpackers)
      Cables & Chargers

      Jumble of cables and chargers for our electronics

      • netbook with charger and protective sleeve
      • digital camera with charger and computer cable
      • external hard drive with charger, computer cable, and protective sleeve (mainly for photo backup)*
      • universal travel adapter
      • iPod and computer charging cable
      • 2 sets of ear buds
      • audio splitter (so we can both listen to the iPod or computer at the same time)
      • thumb drive (to store copies of travel documents in case netbook disappears)
    • paper
      • passport (duh!)
      • paper copy of passport (stored in a different place than the original passport, in case it disappears)
      • leather binder planner (Yes, I still use an analog planner, which comes in handy when I don’t have internet access or electricity! My planner NEVER runs out of batteries.)
      • printed spreadsheet of all flight reservations (This has been invaluable each time we check in and they want to ensure we will not be squatters in the next country.)
      • paper flight ticket (Air Mauritius has not converted to electronic tickets yet)
      • Fijian hotel hut voucher (yep, the outer islands still require paper too)
      • Fijian sailboat cruise voucher
      • Australian bus safari vouchers
      • checkbook registers (stop laughing, yes I’m still analog [Mr. HalfFull shakes his head] and keep track of these things)
      • 3 empty envelopes (for receipts since some countries refund your sales tax at the airport, and since I scrutinize credit card statements)
    • wallet
      • International Student Identification Card (ISIC)
      • driver’s license (for New Zealand car rental)
      • credit cards (called each credit card company to alert them of our travel and learned that my foreign conversion fees range from 0% to 3%)
      • American cash (we’ll get foreign currency from ATMs in each country, but it’s nice to have small bills for tips)
    • clothing for Ms. HalfEmpty
        • shoes
          Shoes

          Two pairs of shoes for 10 weeks, and no heels!

          • hiking shoes with high-arch support insoles
          • convertible sandals with removable heel strap
        • bottoms
          • jeans
          • convertible pants that zip into shorts
          • khaki shorts
        • tops
            • 2 dry-fit t-shirts
          Clothes

          Clothes for hot and cold climates to last 10 weeks!

          • graphic t-shirt
          • dressier short-sleeve shirt with top buttons
          • sexy/fun/flowy shirt with undershirt (to allow me to dress up a bit and minimize my mom’s embarrassment!)
          • 2 long-sleeve dry-fit t-shirts (already came in handy in Fijian tribal village where I was required to cover my elbows and knees)
        • dress (dry-fit material that packs well and somehow looks amazingly dressy)
        • black merino wool scarf/shawl
        • pajamas
        • undergarments
          • 3 pairs of black underwear
          • 3 bras (white racer back, black regular, nude push-up)
          • sports bra
          • technical long-johns
        • socks
          • wool ski socks
          • 3 pairs of athletic ankle socks
          • 1 pair of crew technical socks

            Beachwear

            Beachwear

        • beachwear
          • athletic bikini (Speedo found for $15 at local Virginia swim shop…score!)
          • halter bikini
          • top half of bikini (packed this by mistake because it was tucked into halter bikini, but the back clasp came in handy for my massage on the beach)
          • quick dry shorts
          • tank top
          • visor
        • outerwear (can roll and secure these to outside of duffel when more space is needed)
          • rain jacket
          • fleece (funny to see this in bottom of bag while sweating in Fiji!)
          • gloves

      Duffel Bag

      Ms. HalfEmpty's packed duffel bag with outwear strapped to the outside

    • luggage
        • duffel bag with backpack straps (exact specs for American overhead compartments; Air Pacific disagreed, forcing me to check it…must admit it was nice not to lug bags around for hours at LAX)
        • day pack (about the size of my 11” netbook; easily fits under airplane seat with netbook, camera, chargers, planner, sunglasses, convertible pant legs, water bottle, hand sanitizer, iPod, ear buds, splitter, flight list, passorts, and snacks)*

          Day Pack

          Mini day pack with orange netbook sleeve tucked inside

        • dry pouch (small waterproof bag comes in handy anytime near water – sailing, pool, dock, rain, etc.)*
        • beach tote (rolls up to about 1×2 inches)*
        • small mesh zippered laundry bag (for storing dirty laundry and holding delicates in washer)
        • small toiletry bag*
        • 1-quart resealable plastic bag (to carry all my 3 oz. or smaller liquids/gels and make TSA happy; interestingly, we did get thanked in the screening line at Dulles airport)

      Toiletries

      Toiletries

    • toiletries
      • towel in pouch (these super absorbent towels pack tightly and come in a pouch that allows you to separate them from the rest of our gear when wet; can be hooked to the outside of our duffels)
      • sport sunscreen (our 3 oz. aerosol worked extremely well, but feels a bit sticky)
      • insect repellant (applied primarily around ankles, but at the end of the day we had to make peace with our sacrifice to the Fijian insect population…not too bad)
      • toothbrush with cover (Mr. HalfFull doesn’t believe in covers)
      • toothpaste
      • floss
      • disposable razors
      • shaving cream
      • deodorant (I wanted to pack my current deodorant, but Mr. HalfFull insisted that we have a new completely full one if it was going to take up all that space; so we went to the drug store at 9 PM the night before our flight)
      • solid shampoo bar (doesn’t count as a liquid…score!)*
      • hair moisturizer in flat packets (packets are super slim and helped with TSA liquid/gel requirements)*
      • leave-in conditioner in flat packets*
      • hair gel (transferred my normal gel into a 3 oz. travel bottle)
      • SPF 15 face lotion (transferred into 3 oz. travel bottle)
      • body lotion in flat packet
      • body butter
      • hand lotion in flat packets*
      • shower mousse (not critical, but was a new small container and will produce a nice lather without a washcloth or loofah)
      • face cleanser (super tiny containers)*
      • face exfoliant (another tiny container)*
      • blemish cream (why do we still get zits at 30 and 40-years-old???)
      • cotton swabs
      • feminine products
      • nail clippers
      • tweezers
      • 3 small binder clips (to seal open flat packets)
    • makeup
      • flat makeup samples: eyeshadow, lipstick, blush
      • mascara
      • eyelash curler
      • under eye concealer
      • perfume (in tiny sample tube)
    • hair accessories
      • 4 hair ties, 5 bobby pins, 2 hair clips (I opted to grow my hair for this trip since I’m sure I’ll need to throw it up often)
      • headband
    • medical
      • aspirin
      • anti-diarrhea pills*
      • small adhesive bandages
      • triple antibiotic ointment
    • other
      • sunglasses
      • snacks*
      • water bottle
      • laundry detergent (I wanted to use liquid detergent, but we ran out of space in the 1-quart bags, so we filled travel bottles with powder detergent and labeled them to avoid questions)
      • hand sanitizer
      • moist towelettes
      • headlamp (electricity shuts off at 10 PM on Likuri Island)*
      • S-biners (to clip items to the outside of our bags, like towels and dirty laundry)
      • metal cage and lock (cage expands to enclose entire duffel bag and can be secured to a permanent fixture)*

 

* Thanks to Rita & James, Mona, Patrick & Lisa, Susan, Maha, Miranda, and my mom for graciously providing items to outfit our trip!

You may be wondering why there are no books on the packing list.  I tried to pack the book I was currently reading, but Mr. HalfFull removed it, concluding that it was not worth the weight.  I still wish I had my physical book, but we do have audiobooks on the iPod.

Ms. HalfEmpty & Mr. HalfFull with luggage

Ms. HalfEmpty & Mr. HalfFull loaded up and ready to go!

It seemed like we packed minimally until I saw it enumerated in list form! But it did all fit in my carry-on duffel and mini day pack. I am a bit relieved that there will be no major clothing decisions this summer (South Pacific winter); I only have a limited number of combinations to cycle through. However, my mother is mortified by my lack of clothing. She doesn’t want us to look like hobos wearing the same outfit, especially in Spain where she says people love to dress up and be seen. But one of our packing lists advises, “Take half of what you think you need and twice as much money.” That’s sage advice! We won’t be stranded in the jungle all the time (even though it felt like it for the first few days), and can probably find whatever we may need on the road.

My mom drove us to the airport and sent us off with a bag of goodies. She found some delicious travel-size snacks (raisins, Larabars, and chocolate squares…lesson learned: don’t leave chocolate in mini day pack while napping in the warm California sun) and enclosed a note:

Dear Ms. HalfEmpty & Mr. HalfFull,

We wish you a great journey around the world, discovering the beauty in nature, cultures, and human behavior; cities and beaches, mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, forests and deserts, and most of all yourselves and your inner souls. We will be following your blog and learning with you. This is an exciting time. We hope that you can cherish the little and big things. The journey is as important as each unique destination.

We will be thinking of you, praying that you are safe, connecting with the known and unknown, as you describe in your heroine journey.

Leave behind “the half” of everything. Lean on each other and enjoy the goodness of your togetherness. This adventure is a great opportunity. Have fun!

Love,
Mom & Dad

What an awesome farewell message! I’m not sure about leaving behind behind my half empty tendencies though. After all, who would write this blog???

  • Do you find packing stressful?
  • Did I pack too much? Too little? Just right?
  • Is fashion an important part of travel?
  • What travel item(s) do you have a hard time justifying? (for example: a stuffed animal)
  • Do you use toothbrush covers?
  • Are physical books worth their weight?
  • How do you feel about the TSA liquid/gel limits?
  • What advice would you give to someone embarking on a long quest?

 

 

 

 

 

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Is the Half Empty Mind Too Full?

Mr. HalfFull and I recently attended our first meditation class together, meeting over six weeks for an hour every Friday after work.  I thought this would be a fun activity for us to do as couple, perhaps becoming a habit for our 30/40 World Tour:  Quest for Passion.  After all, shouldn’t a heroine’s journey involve a bit of serious contemplation?

I’m not sure what we were expecting, but when our first class began with the instructor introducing herself by her given yogi name, it became apparent we were along for a trip onboard her granola cart.  Her furry white rug and specialized meditation pillow (shaped like a butt!) added to the ambiance.  To top it off, before each class she would don a vibrantly colored headscarf to complete her transformation from ordinary person to mediation master.  The only thing missing was the scent of patchouli; all we got was a hint chlorine and sweat, compliments of our local rec center.  Lesson learned:  you get what you pay for.

Meditation

I can win at this!

For the longest time, I thought that meditation was focused thought — thinking really hard about a problem.  If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s over thinking!  I can totally win at meditation.  I love to win.

Full disclosure:  I took Mr. HalfFull to a mindfulness session a few years ago.  It didn’t go well.  As we walked out, I said to Mr. HalfFull, “I’m terrible at meditation.”  He thought I missed the whole point, giggling at my half emptiness.  In hindsight, the mindfulness session was filled with skilled meditation practitioners, not newbies like us.  Perhaps a class would help me learn how to win at meditation!

I’ve learned that meditation is more about emptying your mind, as opposed to thinking hard.  I should be awesome at this; I’m already halfway there.  But how do I keep control with an empty mind?  I have lists to make and issues to ponder.  Who has time to sit around emptying his mind?  How is that helpful?

Intellectually, I grasp the benefits of meditation.  While taking the class, I was also reading a novel that summed it up nicely:

…in meditation what’s peeling away are your own thought patterns.  Worries, anxieties, clichés, bright ideas, ambitions, plans, mental and emotional hangups, all that half-conscious brain litter.  You strip the layers away, one by one, until the images grow fainter and fainter and the noise grows quieter and quieter, and bing! you arrive at the core, which is naked emptiness, a kind of exhilarating vacuum.

That sounds kinda neat, but I’m not exactly the prime candidate for meditation.  I have an over active mind that is not prone to silence.  On the other hand, I figured this whole Zen thing would be right in Mr. HalfFull’s wheel house.  But after the first class, I was surprised to learn that he was even more skeptical than me!  He had a hard time taking the instructor seriously, especially in the strange classroom located adjacent to the rec center bathrooms and their amazingly squeaky doors.

The third session convinced me that Mr. HalfFull was not as Zen as I suspected.  We were listening to a recording of a guy who sounded eerily similar to Antonio Banderas.  Don’t get me started on our instructor’s abuse of her iPod.  She’s never heard of playlists, and watching her fumble through the iPod menus was not conducive to my meditation.  I channeled all of my Chi to subdue the control freak in me who wanted to scream and rip the iPod out of that hippie’s fingers.  So I was off to a calm start.

But I digress; back to the recording with Sr. Banderas.  We were instructed to visualize his journey while lying on a mat with our eyes closed.  Antonio’s narration starts off in a grassy park in the center of town where he meets with his teacher.  The teacher tells him to go in search of peace and then mysteriously disappears.

So the student gets up and starts walking around town.  First he comes across a bookstore and thinks that will be a great place to look for peace.  He goes in and looks at lots of books and enjoys himself, but hasn’t really found true peace.  The sultry Latino voice states, “Theez iz not trrrue peeze.”  So he goes next door to the café.  He sips coffee at a table outside, talks to lots of friends, and has a wonderful time.  But he soon realizes theez iz not trrrue peeze.  So he walks further down the block and comes to a music store.  As a lover of music, he thinks this might be the spot where he finds peace.  He listens to various recordings and enjoys himself, but again theez iz not trrrue peeze.  He goes back outside in search of another location where he might find peace.  This time he finds a yoga studio and goes inside to take a class.  Afterward he feels amazing and is calmer, but still theez iz not trrrue peeze.

If you feel like you’ve been reading this forever, imagine listening for over 10 minutes.  Like us, Sr. Banderas is a bit frustrated and decides to go back to the grassy park to sit down.  Now the background music of the recording is building, and we sense that there will be a big revelation.  So we are all listening intently gearing up for the climax after this long journey.  The voice says, “I rrrealized that trrrue peeze iz…”  At that moment, you can hear the PA system of the rec center click on to announce, “Julie, to the front desk.”

Dalai Lama laughing

At this point, my calm, focused, Zen husband bursts into laughter.  His laugh is so funny and so inappropriate for the setting, that I start laughing at his ridiculousness.  The rest of the class is silent.  What kind of hobos laugh in meditation class?

Weeks later, Mr. HalfFull suggested that laughing can be quite Zen:

I know laughter opens the doors to perception, and it allows a thought to get in, because you’re completely unguarded and Zen-like when you’re laughing.

Laughing Buddha

Mr. HalfFull's beloved premarital artifact: the Laughing Buddha

We have this wooden Laughing Buddha statue in our foyer.  It was a decoration that Mr. HalfFull brought from his bachelor pad to our home.  I never liked it, and he’s not even Buddhist.  He originally displayed it on top of the TV cabinet, and I would move it to a hidden shelf reserved for his artifacts.  But that’s a story for another day.

I never noticed that the Buddha was laughing until Mr. HalfFull pointed it out to me as we were editing this post.  I just thought he was a fat guy with an open mouth (the Buddha, not my husband).  Maybe Mr. HalfFull is actually Zen:

Zen Buddhism embraces humor as an instructional tool and mode of expressing enlightenment, or satori. The Rinzai school of Zen teachings, the oldest Zen school in Japan, teaches that enlightenment cannot be attained through rigorous, logical thought, but only in a sudden, transcendent understanding of the universe. In this way, achieving Zen enlightenment is something like understanding a joke.

After the laughing incident, my rigorous, logical, half empty mind thought Mr. HalfFull was just inappropriate and lacked serious mental concentration.  But now it seems possible that he found a sudden, transcendent understanding of the universe!  I never knew he was so deep.  Perhaps he is my key to becoming enlightened and half full (or completely empty?).

Julie Nametag

Look for her at your local rec center!

For the rest of our meditation classes, instead of saying we were going to class, we would tell each other that we were going to find Julie at the desk.  We haven’t found her yet, but I look forward to making her acquaintance one day.

  • Do you meditate?
  • Have you laughed at inopportune moments?
  • Does Antonio Banderas’ voice make you randy?
  • Is there a special place for your spouse’s premarital artifacts?
  • Will we ever find Julie at the front desk?  Will you?

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Cultural Immersion Training!

Mr. HalfFull is back in grad school getting his second Master’s degree.  Since he is a student again, we are eligible for great student pricing on flights from STA Travel.  Perusing the brochures, it’s obvious their packages are geared toward the younger party crowd.  Not wanting to be caught unprepared, we decided cultural immersion training was in order.

Old School Movie Poster

I don't recall seeing this cultural documentary at Sundance

As luck would have it, one of my little brother’s best friends from high school is an officer in a fraternity at Mr. HalfFull’s university.  This young man has persistently invited my 40-year-old husband to pledge all year.  Obviously he’s seen Old School too many times, and wanted a Blue of his own.  Serendipitously, we were invited to the fraternity’s last party of the school year, at a time when we needed cultural immersion.  Things were falling into place!

Whilst dressing for this workout-themed soirée, I saw Mr. HalfFull donning his beloved Super Chargers headband, and began to have serious reservations.  But like usual, I allowed Mr. HalfFull’s enthusiasm and convoluted logic regarding the cultural value of this event to overcome me (much like our wedding, but that’s a story for another day).  Somehow, I don’t recall this part of the heroine’s journey.

Shockingly, after 20 years on the party circuit, this was Mr. HalfFull’s first official frat party ever.  Somehow he’d never set foot in a fraternity house and was overly excited to finally experience these foreign people with their strange customs and rituals.

At my alma mater, all the fraternities were grouped together along the same street on campus.  But this frat house was in a suburban single family neighborhood.  Those poor neighbors!

We walked up the cul-de-sac and couldn’t help but notice the house directly across the street from the fraternity.  We found ourselves staring into the eyes of the Virgin Mary (well, a statue of her) in the front yard illuminated by multi-color spotlights.  Naturally, this statue was pointed directly at the frat house.  Mr. HalfFull was excited to experience so much culture before even setting foot in the fraternity!

Six Person Beer Bong

Some sort of ancient fraternal team building exercise

Upon arrival, my brother’s friend introduced us to royalty — the fraternity president — who had a receiving line in kitchen en route to the thumping basement.  Our first cultural activity in the house was a six person beer bong.  I quickly realized Mr. HalfFull would not be the only one experiencing a first that night!  I found myself flanked by three tall African-American gentlemen, at least one of whom Mr. HalfFull thought he recognized from March Madness.  The chugging experience was not particularly to my liking; perhaps further investigation will be necessary in New Zealand or Australia.

Like any good frat house, this one had a game room complete with unfinished basement walls, a shelf full of empty beer and liquor bottles, and two long tables for flip cup and beer pong.  Upon entering this sacred chamber, Mr. HalfFull remarked, “I like what you’ve done with the place.”  I laughed, but the kids seemed confused.  To further class up the establishment, the brothers installed a stripper pole on the dance floor.  Guess which one of us nearly tore his bicep spinning around it with reckless abandon?

The sticky, humid, beer-soaked dance floor displayed a wild assortment of movement patterns.  Alcohol seemed to increase kinesthetic gyrations while decreasing balance, which may account for the women leaning heavily upon their dance partners.  I think the proper dance term is grinding; we witnessed this practice with guy/girl, girl/girl, and even a fair lady sandwiched between two gentlemen (perhaps she had less balance than the others — how noble of them to protect a damsel in distress!).  Mr. HalfFull just kept muttering, “That’s someone’s daughter!”

At one point, Mr. HalfFull left to refresh our libations, while I chatted with my little brother.  Emotionally scarred by his reserved sister intruding on his stomping grounds, he disappeared; so I went in search of Mr. HalfFull.  As I walked across the laser-lit dance floor, a brother asked me to dance.  I’m most familiar with the social dance etiquette of swing dancing where you rarely refuse a first dance with any guy.  You might not find him appealing, but it’s a friendly culture, and a dance is not so difficult to endure for a few minutes.  Plus, he could even turn out to be a good dancer.

Thus, I don’t really have much practice declining offers to dance.  But after witnessing the proximate dance technique around me, I knew I couldn’t say yes!  So I defensively pointed to my wedding ring and blurted, “I’m married.”  The look on this kid’s face was priceless.  Scared and confused, his eyes were screaming, “Who let the old people in?”  I was thinking, “Where’s my boy Blue?”

Up until this point, Mr. HalfFull was in favor of leaving our wedding rings at home this summer to reduce risk of loss.  However, this cultural immersion seems to have changed his mind about the utility of rings.  Lesson learned:  wedding rings are frat boy kryptonite!

Mr. HalfFull believes that nothing good can come from men dancing over the age of 25, with the exception of your wedding night.  But in the heat of all this cultural excitement, I found him grooving to Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream.  Not wanting to be left out of the fun, I joined him and practiced our newly acquired dance techniques.  Together, we belted, “You and I / We’ll be young forever.”  I guess anyone can feel young at a frat party!

IHOP at Night

International House of Pancakes is hallowed ground

Looking back, I learned that attitude can make all the difference when approaching novel situations.  Perhaps I need to keep this in mind as we travel the world.  But I’m still Ms. HalfEmpty, because someone has to contain Mr. HalfFull!  (After all, Blue dies in a pool of K-Y.)

To top off our night with the full cultural experience, Mr. HalfFull and I headed to IHOP.  It is international, after all.  We needed to debrief, and perhaps Harvest Grain ‘N Nut pancakes would further prepare us for the culinary adventures that lie ahead.  (Anthony Bourdain would not approve.)  We noticed that the hostess segregated patrons into three sections of the house.  For some strange reason, we were seated in what appeared to be the trouble maker section with all the boisterous kids.  Perhaps it was the headband.

Are we now prepared to party during our 30/40 World Tour?  I don’t know, but at least we got some practice under our belts.  Thankfully, the universe thinks I’m ready, and sent me next-day confirmation via fortune cookie:

Fortune Cookie

Half full fortune for Ms. HalfEmpty

The night life is for you.

  • How old is too old to attend a frat party?
  • Have you ever partaken in a beer bong ritual?
  • Would you travel around the world with your wedding ring?
  • Can anything good come from men dancing over age 25?
  • Which part of IHOP is international?
  • Do you believe in fortune cookies?

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The Countdown Begins

Ms. Butter is my good friend from college.  [She earned this name by consuming copious amounts of REAL butter in the dining hall and professing its health benefits.  Julia Child would approve.  My little brother had only met her once, but whenever I spoke of her by name, he would confirm, “Do you mean the butter girl?”]  Unfortunately, I don’t see her very often since she lives hours away, but we do communicate regularly via Twitter and email.  Recently, she asked me if I had a countdown going for my 30/40 World Tour: Quest for Passion.  Um…why do I need a countdown?  I have a calendar.

Ms. Butter suggested that I make a paper chain for my countdown, but I was definitely not sold on the idea.  I’d heard of and seen paper chains before, but never for a countdown.  I thought they were just for kids to decorate schools.  But Ms. Butter explained that her family always created paper chains at the beginning of December, and made a paper ring for each day left until Christmas. Then every day they would remove another ring, and as the chain got shorter, she had a great visual of how much closer it was until Christmas.

Hum…ok, I get the idea, but is this really something I need to do?  Who has time to cut strips of paper and assemble them into a chain?  Where would I put such a thing?  What if I forgot to remove a chain one day and lost count?  Do I really need another project or to-do item?  Why would I spend the time to create something if I was just going to rip it up in the end?  I was definitely half empty on this project.

strips of paper

Strips of paper cut from an old map

Despite my negativity, Ms. Butter was persistent…

Ahh, I think a paper chain is in order. 🙂  This is totally good fodder for your blog!  There is the whole question of whether you are going to view its getting shorter with each passing day as “ruining all your work” (half empty), or… getting you closer to the REAL and exciting goal of going on the trip (half full)!

Ms. Butter checks the calendar

Ms. Butter counts the days on the calendar (after we finished the bottle of wine)

Ms. Butter and her husband were in town last week and joined us for tapas and paper chain making.  Ms. Butter had previously cut strips of paper from an old topographic map.  (Coincidentally, it was a map she got from our college and had saved all this time to bring full circle!)  I found myself starting to get excited about the project after seeing the multicolor paper strips from a map.  How perfect for a travel countdown!  Perhaps this wasn’t as bad as anticipated.

Ms. Butter links the first two paper strips together

Ms. Butter links the first two strips of paper together to start the paper chain

To make sure the paper chain was completely accurate, we broke out the calendar and Ms. Butter began to count the days.  Of course, I asked her what would happen if I couldn’t remember if I had removed a link or not.  She knows me well and was already armed with an answer — that I would write the actual date on the inside of each link.

Paper Chain

The paper chain grows longer

So we started our assembly line with me writing dates on the back and Ms. Butter linking the strips together with tape.  We had an efficient system and the chain began to grow longer until it was finished.

Complete Paper Chain

Finished paper chain displayed on top of our world tour map

I found the perfect spot for the paper chain — on top of the world map tacked to our bulletin board.  We originally posted the map to help us plan our trip and it now has tacks for all our trip destinations, as well as ribbon to connect the various legs.

Each morning as I leave for work, I remove a link from the right side of the chain.  I randomly hung up the paper chain as I was holding it and didn’t realize the earlier dates (remember that I wrote the actual date on each ring) were on the right side.  At first this bothered me since our world moves from left to right.  But as I thought about it’s placement on the actual map it made a lot of sense for the flow of our westward trip.  Right now, in the early part of my countdown, I’m on the right side of the map with the early trip destinations.  By the time the countdown is done, I will have moved through the whole map and all the destinations to be back in the US to start the actual trip!

One of my concerns with the paper chain was destroying it after all the work that went into fashioning it.  Mr. HalfFull already pokes fun at me for the way I open wrapped presents, carefully removing each piece of tape at the seams.  He and Ms. Butter joked that I’d probably undo each link delicately at the seam and maybe even preserve them in a box.  But after using Ms. Butter’s cool tape gun, we realized that the paper was too stiff and thick to be held in place by a small piece of tape on the inside.  So Ms. Butter started using tape all the way around each ring to make sure it stayed intact.  This had the added benefit of forcing me to actually rip each ring off.  It wouldn’t be so easy to daintily unroll each ring.

At one point while writing the dates on each paper strip, I got distracted and wrote the wrong month.  So I had to scribble out what I had written.  Ms. Butter made me save this one for a test run.  So I put the current date on it and she added it to the chain.  My first test was to rip it off and discard it as a half full thinker moving toward a goal.  I did rip it and throw it out.  But that was pretty easy since I had already messed it up.  I’m not sure if I’m half full on the countdown since the chain is starting to make me nervous about having fewer days to plan and prepare.  But I became half full on the project, probably because of Ms. Butter.  Lesson learned:  butter fills you up. =)

  • Have you ever used a paper chain as a countdown?
  • Do countdowns make time pass faster or slower?
  • Are countdowns more useful for adults or children?
  • How do you open presents?

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Who goes skiing for Spring Break???

Only a half full thinker would consider going skiing in the mid-Atlantic for Spring Break.  To top it off, the DC area even had an 80°F day in March.  But Mr. HalfFull convinced me that even if it was too warm to ski, we would still have fun.  So we set our expectations low, but still hoped for a ski opportunity.

As we were driving to West Virginia, the temperature gauge in the car read 75°F.  Had we made a horrible mistake?  We didn’t spot even a patch of snow on the entire drive up the lush green mountain.  At the top of the mountain, it was 55°F.  But in true half full fashion, we went to get our ski rentals (which were free that day since it was so late in the afternoon) and hit the slopes!  We got our ski legs back with about an hour of skiing before the lifts closed.  We also didn’t have to bundle up; I don’t think I’ve ever skied in such light layers!

Morning view of the slopes from our condo

Morning view of the slopes from our condo

The day we arrived was warm, but the temperatures dropped significantly during the rest of the week, and you could barely tell it was spring.  It certainly felt cold and windy out there!  We even got two days of new snow including one the day after we arrived, where we woke up to a beautiful view from our condo.

When we booked the trip, we also booked discount lift tickets with our package, but later found out that we each got 5 days of free lift tickets since it was the end of the season and we had booked lodging on the mountain.  Sweet!  When I went to rent my demo skis, I was expecting them to cost $35/day for value season pricing, but they only cost me $16/day.  Another awesome deal!

Ms. HalfFull drinks coffee by the fire

Ms. HalfFull enjoys her tall skim latte by the fire

I got to start my days out with Starbuck’s coffee by the fire before hitting the slopes.  I did not bring my half full/half empty mug on the trip, so I didn’t have to decide which side to use.  But coffee was great fuel for my ski days (and all days).

Mr. HalfFull skiing

Mr. HalfFull on the slopes

The vacation was only Mr. HalfFull’s second ski trip ever, but he was impressive!  Look at him skiing parallel down the slope like a pro.  He must have had a wonderful, yet humble teacher (Ms. HalfEmpty). I had fun on the slopes too, and even caught a little air that Mr. HalfFull was able to capture.

Ms. HalfEmpty airborne after a ski jump

Ms. HalfEmpty catches some air

We got to see some interesting ski apparel on the slopes.  The kids were all dressed quite well, but we saw several adults with jeans or sweat pants that were visibly soaked.  I’ve never seen that in Colorado, perhaps it’s a West Virginia thing.  But it makes me wonder if we will be able to rent ski clothing in New Zealand since we will be unable to carry our own.  Of course you can rent uncomfortable boots and decent skis anywhere, but what about the clothing?  We’ll have to see.  But if skiing isn’t in the cards for us in New Zealand, at least we got to ski once this season!

Western Territory view

Spring Break, Western Territory style!

Since Mr. HalfFull and I are at different ski levels, we did not spend all of our time together on the slopes.  Sometimes I would venture off to the Western Territory (accessible by taking your skis off and carrying them across the main mountain road), which only has black and double black terrain.  The slopes were not crowded, so in general, if you were skiing alone, you rode the lift alone.  However, at one point in the Western Territory, which is even less crowded than the regular ski area, a guy asked if he could ride with me.  There was no line and it was a long ride up, so it seemed a bit strange, but we ended up riding together.  I found out that this guy was from my area (just a few towns away) and was quite a character.  I had watched him ski down the double black terrain with ease despite the ice, so I knew he was a good skier.  I also learned that he had gone bull riding the previous week in Dallas!  Apparently it was his first time, but he won the invitational competition, to the dismay of the professional cowboys.  He explained that it was a real bull, he got thrown seven times, and he had lots of bruises despite protective clothing.  I also learned that he was flying to Jackson Hole to ski the following day, so he was just in WV getting warmed up.

snow on trees in Western Territory

Snow covered trees in Wild & Wonderful West Virginia made it feel like winter

In between bragging about his skiing and bull riding exploits, he complained about the snow in WV.  He was hoping for 11 inches of snow, but they only got about 2, so he felt like he wasted money by paying for lodging on the mountain and getting a free ski day.  Some people just can’t be happy.  Mr. HalfFull and I were thrilled that we had gotten to make first tracks in the powder that morning.  It was a nice dusting of winter on top of the groomed snow and we waited with excitement for ski patrol to pull off the ropes at 9 AM!  However, the snow did not do much for the Western Territory, it got even icier with the cold temperatures and was just a light dusting of powder that blew around on top of the steep ice.  So I see Mr. BullRider’s point, but I was happy for any snow and thoroughly enjoyed first tracks!

On Saturday the lift lines got a bit crowded, but people didn’t seem to understand the concept of joining groups and the lift operators did not see that as part of their job description.  Out West, they have specific lines for singles, doubles, triples, quadruples and the lift operators beautifully orchestrate the traffic patterns to keep the lines moving fairly.  But in WV, it was a free for all.  To make matters worse, they put the singles line farthest from the lift, which made no sense at all.  The point of the singles line is to jump in easily when a chair has an extra spot or two, so you need to be close to the front to do that.

I tried to jump in where I could.  On one lift that serviced mostly black terrain, but did have a green route, I asked a couple (male and female boarders) if I could join them.  For the first time in my life, they said no!  I was really surprised and I guess I looked it, so the guy followed up with, “We’re more comfortable just the two of us…we might fall.”  So it was hard to tell if they just wanted to be alone on the lift as a romantic couple of if they were new snowboarders who didn’t have much control exiting the lift.  But it was a four person lift and they were only two people.

After my lift line rejection, the two skiers behind that couple graciously let me ride with them.  I learned that one had driven from Indiana to pick up his buddy in Louisville, Kentucky.  He arrived in Louisville at 4:30 AM and got to the slopes that afternoon.  Woah, that’s quite a drive.  I’m pretty sure I would be asleep after that, not skiing.

pond skimming snowboarder makes it across the pond

Snowboarder skims across the pond as crowds cheer

Since it was the last weekend of the ski season, the resort had a pond skimming competition.  The staff created a small pond and groomed snow into a large hill near the pond for speed.  Many of the competitors wore costumes as they attempted to skim across the pond and jump out on the other side. Whenever a contestant had enough speed and balance to make it all the way across the pond, the crowd erupted in cheers.  It was especially exciting when some of the contestants were able to do 180° jumps off the final ledge of the pond.

Pond skiiming contestants

Costumed pond skimming contestants

Some of our favorite costumes were a sumo wrestler, half-naked cowboy, sword wielding Caesar, gorilla, 2 hot dogs (a kid and an adult armed with what Mr. HalfFull tells me was a “beer bong”), Teletubbie, and old man with cane.  The sumo wrestler turned around backwards before entering the water, which didn’t give him enough speed to skim the pond and his costume deflated underwater.

hot dog contestant

HalfEmpty Hot Dog descends the slope on his way to the pond (note oversized costume)

A little kid in a hot dog costume was super cute, but did not have enough speed to skim the pond either.  He ended up sinking and was short enough that he was completely submerged with the weight of a snowboard pulling him down.  To top it off, his hot dog costume had a lot of space at the top between his head and the top of the hot dog.  When he went under water, his head got lost in the costume.  When he didn’t resurface, a ski patrol woman jumped in to pull his head out of the water and then rifle through the costume to find his head and drag him to the side of the water where others lifted him out.  Scary!  Lesson learned:  if you find yourself dressed as an extra long hot dog, steer clear of the water or resize to fit the bun.

cowboy with guns prepares to skim the pond on skis

HalfNaked Cowboy with cap guns blazin' prepares to skim the pond

Mr. HalfFull especially enjoyed the scantily clad cowboy as he did his run with orange cap guns blazing into the air!

It turned out to be a fun half full trip with some interesting characters and a few surprises.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • How do you manage expectations when the weather may not cooperate with your trip plans?
  • Would you ski without appropriate pants or in a hot dog bun?
  • Have you ever rented ski clothing?
  • Do you enjoy riding with strangers on the chair lift?
  • What would you wear if you were in a pond skimming contest?

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