Saturday, March 25, 2017

Europe Trip 2017 - Day Two

We arrived in Frankfurt around 10am and picked up our rental car. It was a really nice Volvo S90. Since there were 4 of us and we all had bags, we knew we'd need a large sedan. It didn't take long to see how out of place we were, though! (Small cars are definitely the norm). We drove 20 minutes to our hotel - Premier Inn Frankfurt Messe, where we'd be meeting our friends, Kim and Fabian. They live in Cologne, but had taken the day off work so they could explore the city with us. They would stay the night in Frankfurt too, and then we'd caravan the next day toward Cologne.

The Premier Inn had rave reviews online and was very affordably priced - 59Euro for the night, and 10Euro more per person for breakfast. Almost sounded too good to be true! It didn't disappoint, though. Parking, reception, lounge area, rooms, etc, were all immaculate. Even though it was only about 11am when we got there, they let us check in because our rooms were ready. We freshened up and eagerly awaited our friends' arrival.

When Kim and Fabian arrived, we headed out on foot to check out Frankfurt. Our first stop was the Eiserner Steg - a footbridge over the Main River. It has a quote atop it from Homer's Odyssey. It's also a love lock bridge - meaning couples attach locks to it and throw the key into the river, symbolizing their unbreakable love.

Translation: "while sailing over the wine-dark sea to men of strange speech"

Kim, me, my sister

By this point, we were hungry for lunch, so we found a restaurant called Dauth Schneider. Their sign said they were famous for their apple wine, so you know the guys had to try it. 

We all found dishes that appealed to us and the food was wonderful, but the "best" part of the meal was a sampler dish we got that included some "Handkas mit Musik." I don't remember the names of the other items on there, but I do recall the eggs covered in some sort of green sauce were delicious. But, back to the main attraction - the "Handkas mit Musik." That is the bottom right item shown below. It is a cheese with a pungent aroma, covered in onions. Meezy and my sister tried it and they said it was fairly awful. Haha. It tasted rotten and gave them terrible breath. We asked the waitress why it was called hand cheese with music and she said, "the music comes later." We died laughing. Basically, this dish was going to give them gas.

After lunch, we did some more walking and checking out the sights. Meezy saw a store selling whiskey and we decided to stop in to see if it carried a Japanese whiskey he's had a hard time finding in the US. Sure enough, it did! We also had the chance to admire the architecture in Frankfurt, see a lot of old buildings, and grab a photo op with some "modern" art. 


By this point, the jet lag was catching up to us, so we decided to head back to the hotel and lay down for a couple hours. After getting a quick nap in, we walked to the nearby Skyline Plaza to check out the shops and pick a dinner place. The coolest part of the shopping center was the Skyline Garden on the roof. We climbed up to the Observation Deck and enjoyed amazing 360 degree views of the city. 

Observation Deck, or as I like to call it "Aaaa shitz platform"

After dinner, we walked back to the hotel, grabbed drinks at the bar, and played some Dutch Blitz. It was so nice to spend time with Kim and Fabian, but we didn't want to stay up too late because we knew we had a ton more adventures in store! 

Europe Trip 2017 - Day One

Our flight to Frankfurt was set to depart around 11am, going through Detroit with a 3 hour layover. Our plan was to drop the kids off at my parents' house at 7:30am, pick up my sister and her husband a few minutes after 8am, and then be at the airport by 9am. The best laid plans, right?

The night before this schedule was to be put in motion, I was laying in bed after midnight, trying to shut my brain off so I could go to sleep. My phone chimed and startled me and I looked to see who was texting. It was from Delta...our flight was delayed by 2 hours. It seemed really weird to be getting an alert about a flight delay, about 10 hours before the flight was supposed to happen. I tried to find a reason for the delay, but there wasn't bad weather in our city or in the city we were headed to. My sister and I started messaging each other, brainstorming what we should do. With a 2 hour delay, there was still a chance we could make our connection in Detroit, but it would be tight. She got on the phone with Delta, to see what our back-up plan should be if we missed our connection. The agent wasn't too helpful, and couldn't even tell us why our flight was going to be delayed in the first place. After 20+ minutes on the phone with no resolution, my sister gave up and we decided to just go to sleep and check the flight status again first thing in the morning.

When I woke up the next morning at 6:30am, the delay still showed to be 2 hours. I proceeded to get ready as previously planned, figuring we could take things a little bit slower, since we'd be waiting at the airport for a couple extra hours. At 6:45am, that all changed when I got a text from Delta that said our flight was now 3 hours delayed and we would definitely miss our connection. Damn it! Meezy got on the phone with Delta immediately and asked what we could do. They said there weren't 4 seats available to get to Frankfurt from Detroit later that day, so if we flew to Detroit, we'd be staying there overnight and essentially missing our first vacation day in Europe. That was not going to happen! While Meezy was on the phone, I was online furiously searching for other flight options. I found one that went through New York and got us to Frankfurt just a couple hours later than originally planned, but here was the departed at 9:55am. Considering it was already after 7am at this point, and we hadn't woken the kids up yet, the departure time wasn't ideal. But, it was our best chance to stay on our schedule for Europe, so we grabbed the seats.

I frantically finished getting ready and packing up the last of our stuff while Meezy got the kids up. They were not happy with the rushed schedule! We hightailed it over to my parents' house, which thankfully is less than a mile away. They were lifesavers for being flexible for us. My sister had to bring her girls over to their house too, because our earlier flight meant they couldn't drop them off at school before heading out. We said our goodbyes and rushed to my sister's house so they could drop off their car and carpool to the airport with us.

We made it to DFW a few minutes after 8am and luckily there was hardly anybody at the baggage drop-off or in the security lines. We finally breathed a sigh of relief when we got to our gate. We grabbed some breakfast and waited for boarding. Just as people started to line up, the gate agent came over the loudspeaker and said, "Sorry to inform you this flight is delayed by 45 minutes." Eye roll. Okay, whatever, we can handle this. After 45 minutes elapsed, we did indeed get to board the plane!

New York was experiencing some crazy wind as we were flying in, so the landing at LGA was ROUGH! I had to lean forward and put my head between my knees to make sure I didn't throw up or pass out! We had to collect our bags and transfer to JFK, because that's where our flight to Frankfurt was going to depart. We got a cab and it took us 45 minutes to go the 10 miles between the airports. We checked our bags again, went through security again, and headed to the gate area.  

On our original flight, I had purchased $100 upgrades to our seats so we could sit in Comfort+ on the long flight to Frankfurt. The alternate flight we had to select didn't have those seats available, so we got stuck with regular size seats. They were awful!! The wind was still a problem when we were set to depart, so JFK only had one runway open. We had to sit in a queue that added about 30 minutes to our time on the aircraft. Never again, y'all. I tried and tried to find any comfortable position so I could get a little sleep on the flight, and it just didn't happen. Same for the rest of my party. We had no legroom and no room to lean forward on our tray tables either. Let it be a lesson to you - don't settle for regular seats on an 8 to 9 hour flight. Spring for an upgraded seat that gives you more room!

I really wasn't expecting such an adventure on Day 1 of our trip, since it was only supposed to be a travel day. But, we were just very thankful we made it to Frankfurt, only 2 hours later than originally planned. Now it was time for fun!!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Europe Trip 2017 - The Preface

In 2009, Meezy and I hosted a foreign exchange student from Germany. We didn't know at the time that it would result in a life-long friendship (with not only her, but her entire family!). After she left in early 2010, we decided to travel to Europe later that year to visit her, meet her family, and do a ton of sight-seeing. Ever since then, we have been lucky enough to see Kim again numerous times, mostly because she has booked near-annual trips to visit us. In 2015, Meezy had to go to London for work and I tagged along, so we took that chance to book a day trip from there to Belgium, where Kim and her boyfriend met us for the day. In 2016, my sister Jo and her husband traveled to Europe, and made sure to spend a weekend with Kim then too. My family and hers have formed an incredible bond and it's a given that we'll look for every opportunity we can to see each other, even though we live 5,000 miles away. 

Last year, Meezy and I signed up for Scott's Cheap Flights travel alerts. It's a free (or paid, if you want a premium subscription) site that sends you emails whenever good flight deals are found. You can customize your location so that it only sends you notices when there's a good deal from your preferred airport. In early November, I got an email that announced half-off flights to Germany for spring 2017. My eyes got huge and I immediately alerted Meezy. He was game for a trip, so I contacted my parents to check their availability for babysitting our kids. Then, I emailed my sister to see if she was interested too. We started talking about potential dates and what flights we'd select. By the time we decided on one, the cheap fares had ended and the prices had gone back up. Noooooooo! I was so disappointed. But, the good news was that we had already selected which week would work for a trip for both of us, and we already confirmed my parents could babysit. So, the plan was to wait for another fare alert and book immediately next time!   

As luck would have it, we had to wait less than 2 weeks for another good deal to pop up. Once we got the email from Scott's with the alert, we pulled the trigger! We were set to fly into Frankfurt, arriving on a Friday morning, and then flying back out of Frankfurt the following Wednesday morning. That would give us 5 full days of vacation, which we knew we would make great use of. My sister and I got to work on planning the itinerary and making all the transportation and lodging arrangements, and of course coordinating with Kim and her family to make sure we'd be able to spend time with them! 

Dutch Turns Five

My little Dutch boy celebrated another birthday recently. I feel like this was a big one because now it means he's eligible to start Kindergarten! His favorite breakfast items are chocolate donuts and kolaches, so you can guess what we started his day off with.

Before we took him to daycare, I couldn't resist grabbing a picture to commemorate the day. It's hard to believe I've been his mom for 5 years.

Before his birthday, I asked him where he wanted to have a party and he said Dave & Buster's. That's pretty much his favorite place in the world because he loves playing games and then getting to select toys/prizes afterward. I looked into their party packages and wasn't too impressed. I didn't want to spend a lot of money on the location or their food, because I know Dutch only cared about the games aspect. I also didn't want to invite everyone in his class just for the sake of it, so we opted for a family party with only a couple of his closest friends. That way we could still go to D&B to play games for a while and then head back to our house after for refreshments.

We arrived at D&B right when they opened on a Saturday, so we didn't have to battle crowds. I provided game cards for the kids in attendance and that kept them busy for a little more than an hour. After they redeemed the tickets they earned for prizes, we drove to our house to eat pizza and cake and let the kids play for a while.

Dutch wanted a superhero theme, so I made a Captain America shield out of fruit. 

SpiderMan graced the cake

I always love to display the silly things Dutch said over the past year

Dutch had a wonderful time and I think the adults did too, since most of our kids are getting to the age where they can play by themselves now and we can just hang out and relax! I was happy to celebrate my kiddo's birthday and provide him a fun day with loved ones. He can be a stinker sometimes, but mostly he's our smart, funny, sweet big kid. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

2016: Year in Review

Well, 2016 was quite a year and I did a very poor job of documenting it, especially after the first few months! Guess it's time for a quick recap of the things I forgot to write about:

Meezy and I went to Vegas for our 10th anniversary (actual anniversary date was in June, but this was when we were able to take the time off). We go there often, so it wasn't a new destination for us, but we always stay at the Palazzo and have a great time. This trip was slightly different by the fact that I won a couple nice jackpots on slot REALLY good ones. No point in keeping it secret since the IRS already knows about it. Ha!

Jude suffered from ear infections every other month, so we made the decision to get tubes in his ears. We were so glad we did! He hasn't had an ear infection since and has been much more consistent about sleeping through the night.

As President of our neighborhood HOA, the big chunk of the responsibility for the community 4th of July parade falls on me. It's a huge undertaking that entertains hundreds of people, but luckily everything went well and I was happy when it was over! One of Meezy's sisters and her family stayed with us over the holiday and Dutch had a great time playing with his cousins.

Later in the month, Meezy and I went on a really fun date night to a Rangers game. We got seats right behind home plate and thought it was pretty amazing! We had a little more visibility than we planned on (see below!), but the game ended in a walk-off win, which is the best kind!

Meezy and I took a quick trip to Austin to visit our friends/former neighbors who had just moved there. The husband is an executive chef, so of course we had to try out his restaurant. We invited another couple we're friends with, who also live in Austin, and made a night of it. Before we headed out of town the next day, we stopped by to see the wife, who wasn't able to make it to dinner the night before. I enjoyed this quick getaway and chance to catch up.

We took the boys to Amarillo to visit Meezy's family and were able to take some professional pictures while we were there. There wasn't much pre-planning or coordination done ahead of time since many of us were coming from out of town, but I think they turned out wonderfully!

Later that month, we went to a friend's wedding in Granbury. The setting was beautiful and we got to spend time with some of our favorite people!

We bought a house! Not for ourselves, but for my parents to live in. They had been telling me for months that they wanted to sell the home they'd lived in for the past 19 years and downsize and become renters so that they didn't have to keep up a house. Well, I wasn't about to let them rent from a stranger, so we became their landlords! We found a really cute house that was nearly move-in ready, less than a mile from my house. We bought it, replaced all the ductwork and reconfigured the HVAC setup, and then they moved in. It's so nice to have them within walking distance, not to mention adding a great house to our porfolio with the most reliable renters we'd ever be able to find!

Early in November we got to celebrate the nuptials of an old friend who we share a lot of mutual friends with. Love those weddings because it means a night of fun partying with our favorites!

Something quite disappointing happened a few days later in November, but this is all I want to say about that:

Over Thanksgiving break, we took a trip to Vegas with my parents. We brought the kids along, and my mom volunteered to be our in-hotel babysitter each night. It was so convenient! We found activities for the kids to do each day, but I wouldn't recommend bringing kids along if you want a stress-free trip! Thank goodness we had a fantastic suite with a connecting room to my parents' suite. It definitely made things a lot easier on us to have a separate dining room, living room, extra seating area, and extra half bath, and then my parents' room nearby so Jude could nap in there. Jude turned 2 while we were on vacation, so we didn't have a formal birthday party for him. I don't think he minded!

My sisters and mom and I attended a VIP movie screening of Three Days in August at Studio Movie Grill. I had met the Director (Johnathan Brownlee) before through unrelated circumstances, and one of my sisters knows him as well, so it was cool to see his work on the big screen. We thoroughly enjoyed the movie and got to participate in a Q&A afterward with the Director, the lead actress (Mollie Milligan), the woman the movie was based on, and one of the writers. That was followed by a casual reception where we were able to chat more in-depth with the lead actress and the Director. Such a fun night!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Marcum Fall Fair 2016

A couple months ago I contributed to a Kickstarter campaign for a local Belgian waffle food truck. First of all, waffles with goodness on top are some of the best things ever. Second, I liked the idea of helping a company get off the ground. Third, waffles remind me of my heritage and I remembered how good they tasted whenever we got them on our trips to Europe. Anyway, the big perk associated with my sponsorship level was the privilege of having the Press Waffle Co food truck come to a party and serve 50 of our friends. I had not planned to host any large parties when I made this contribution, but you can bet I started planning one right away!

The big talk around DFW in September/October each year is the State Fair of Texas. That seemed like a great idea for a theme, so I got to work planning carnival/fair games, food, and decorations. Luckily I already had a lot of good supplies at my house for games, and the food truck would be the main attraction, so the rest involved filling in the gaps. I found some great printable signage on this site and ordered other supplies from Amazon. Here are the results:

Basketball toss and football toss, with cornhole in the background (all games we owned already)

Can't go wrong with a bounce house (owned already)

Frisbee toss (Discs and target owned already)

Mini golf (kid putters and targets from Party City; "putting green" carpet from Home Depot)

Hook and Ring game (purchased from Amazon)

Ring Toss (rings from Amazon; empty bottles from Homebrew Headquarters)

Rollercoaster (borrowed from a friend)

Eating and viewing area (projector owned already; "black-out" white fabric for screen bought from Jo-Ann)

Pumpkin Tic Tac Toe (mini pumpkins purchased from Amazon, labeled with black marker; white duct tape used for board)

Various bins of prizes (stuffed animals and party favors mainly purchased from Party City)

Photo Op (straw bought from feed store; decorations from At Home; chalkboard from Hobby Lobby; chalk markers already owned; artwork by yours truly)

Guessing Booth (candy corn and lollipops in jars)

Concession stand included fruit, animal crackers, and pizza

Not gonna pretend I came up with this idea on my own, but I drew faces on the fruit cups and filled them to look like ghosts, jack o lanterns, and frankenstein

 Popcorn (containers purchased on Amazon; popcorn machine already owned)

The inspiration behind it all!

I know your mouth is watering.

They are truly as good as they look.

We had a steady stream of waffle lovers, but the guys at Press are efficient and made sure everyone was happy and didn't have to wait too long!

Because I love them so much, I had to include this adorable pic of my parents!

The majority of the attendees were clients of mine and the rest were friends and family (which actually includes a lot of clients too). I very quickly hit 50 on the guest list, and certainly didn't get to include everyone I would have liked to, but hopefully I can make this a yearly event and book the food truck for a larger party next time. Marcum Fall Fair 2016 was a success!