vacation

An (Understandably) Interrupted Weekend at Spring Training

Last year my family and I took our first trip to Spring Training in Arizona. Almost immediately upon arriving home, we started researching details for our second (and hopefully yearly) trip. By July, we had our Airbnb booked, by January we had all of our game tickets purchased, and by February I had a countdown written on the refrigerator.

39 days to go!

And for 39 looong days, I counted down, one by one, erasing and rewriting until we were finally walking out the door to make our Wednesday night flight.

In our Uber ride to the airport, the conversation centered heavily on COVID-19, and the toll it was taking on both the health and sanity of the world at large. We told our driver we were happy to be getting away from the hysteria for a little while, and he nodded enthusiastically, saying that focusing on the people you love is important in times like these.

When we landed in Phoenix a few hours later, my sister, Natalee, and I could hardly contain our excitement. We walked into the doors of our AirBnb and hugged our parents, and our friends Darryl, DeeDee and Cody, each of us buzzing about finally making it back here, together, a year later.

The next morning, we all walked out in our gear—my family repping the Dodgers, and the Beliel’s repping the Mariners. Our initial fears were that it might rain, but when notifications started to come in about the NBA pausing their season, and then the NHL, there was an entirely new concern hovering over us.

Still, we piled into the car and drove to Surprise Stadium to watch the Mariners play the Royals. We arrived about a half hour early, which gave us some time to pace, and play a few rounds of Heads Up! before hearing the rumblings that the game was going to be cancelled. But then, at 11:30 a.m. the gates opened, we walked inside and immediately shifted our thoughts to lunch. Before we could all decide on anything however, an announcement came over the loud speaker to inform us that the game had been cancelled—along with the remainder of all Spring Training games.

Not fully accepting what that meant for us, we got back in the car and went to Top Golf to try and make something of the day. When we got there, it appeared that everyone in a 20-mile radius (and baseball gear) had had the same thought, making the wait time over two hours. So, we put our name in and went out to lunch, where we all took tequila shots, watched a basketball game from the 1996 March Madness tournament (because all current sports were cancelled) and I spilled most of my drink on me, Cody and our booth bench, making our day (which had started out as hopeful and exciting) go from sad to sticky (and cold).

Sorry.

Around 3 o’clock, our bay at Top Golf was ready, so we headed back to golf for a few hours, which was both fun and difficult, especially when we decided to each try and hit a few balls wearing my sister’s glasses, which could make anyone dizzy. For me personally, they made my left eye feel like it was in the center of my forehead, which made the waiting golf ball split into two. Miraculously, I still hit it, where it landed however, I couldn’t tell you.

On our way back to the Airbnb, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up some supplies for dinner, and then settled in for the night. Aside from dinner, my sister had put together plans to celebrate the 30th wedding anniversary of both our parents and Darryl and DeeDee—we had even stopped at the airport gift shop to find the strangest most wonderful trinkets that could act as prizes for the winners.

During the three rounds of the game, Natalee acted as host, and Cody and I acted as her judges and color commentators. And though it wasn’t necessary,  we went by aliases—Laura, Lisa & Lance—which we decided on solely because we saw this Dick’s Sporting Goods commercial, and then took a hard tangent into researching the inventors of the first sports bra. (Fun fact: it was invented in 1977 by Lisa Lindahl—hence our “L” named alter egos—Polly Smith, and Hinda Miller, by sewing two jock straps together, and was initially called the “jogbra.”) It should also be noted that my parents won the game, though not before one question revealed that my mother would be the first to eat my dad in order to survive on a desert island. So there’s that.

On Friday, the group of us woke up with a noticeable weight on our shoulders. While it was clear we were all trying to make the best of the weekend, the widespread panic regarding COVID-19, and our mostly unspoken worries of what the situation would be like back home, were heavy in the air. Conversation was quiet at lunch, even as we sat in a BBQ restaurant that had a 60,000 gallon aquarium inside—though I did take a few moments to name one of the sharks “Luke.” To top it all off, it was a very rainy, dreary day, so after leaving the restaurant, we nixed our plans of visiting the zoo next door and instead went back home. After that, the day mostly consisted of lounging, napping, and quiet conversations. And while I think it made us all a little sad, frustrated even that the weekend wasn’t turning out quite how we hoped it would, I also think we knew were lucky to have each other.

This only became more apparent when we went back to the grocery store that night. We went thinking we could grab some wine and a few ingredients to make cookies for dessert, only to find that, on top of the now infamously empty toilet paper shelves, there was also no flour, and only a couple cartons of eggs—one of which we ended up taking, but only after discarding the broken eggs inside. In fact, many aisles lay bare, some hard to make sense of. Walking through the grocery store, it was obvious that the panic we had previously only heard about on the news, was now right in front of us, slowly surrounding us everywhere we went. I started to think about the supplies I had back home, and whether they would suffice for the coming weeks. I started texting friends, asking how they were, trying to squash the anxiety that started to flutter at the bottom of my stomach. We still had a couple days left in Arizona, but the discomfort that had dawned with the morning had only multiplied as the day went on.

As we stood in line at the grocery store, I noticed how everyone still remained in somewhat organized lines, no matter how long, and that we were still, for the most part, kind and polite. I hoped that we’d all remain aware and respectful of our fellow man in the weeks to come, and that we wouldn’t let this panic turn into chaos. Then, in the cart in front of us, a baby smiled at me and my mom, and for a moment I forgot about absolutely everything.

The next day, we got up bright and early to head back to the zoo. And while the grounds were still a little muddy from the day before, we got to take our time walking from exhibit to exhibit, soaking in some Vitamin D, and learning about the surprisingly diverse animal population at Litchfield Park’s Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium.

Afterward, we headed to lunch at the Arrogant Butcher, which would serve as our last sit down meal as a group. Later that afternoon, Cody would fly home, and the next morning, after dropping Darryl and DeeDee off at the airport to do the same, my family and I would make the six hour drive back to California in my dad’s truck.

By the time we all arrived home, it was obvious that the weekend was not quite what we had hoped. While there were some great parts, overall, we lacked the magic (and Mel) that had made the previous year so perfect. Going into it, we’d hoped to put the troubles of the world aside, but it quickly became clear that we couldn’t do that. Unlike most vacations, where the responsibilities of the world can fade into the background, this trip was riddled with calls (and texts and emails and news reports) from the real world, demanding we hear them no matter where we were. So as we all went our separate ways and tried prepare for the week ahead, we agreed that we would try again next year.

As I sit here, writing about the weekend, I have no idea what to expect going into this workweek. I don’t know what the state of the world will look like in a month, let alone next March when, if we’re lucky, we might find ourselves counting down for another trip to Spring Training. What I do know is that I am very fortunate.  Times like these make you realize how much you take for granted, and how much you already have, regardless of your dwindling supply of toilet paper. So let’s not lose sight of that as we step into these unknown few months.

Let us remember how lucky we are to have people who love us. Let us hold tight to the world we know, and fight not with each other but for each other, to get back to that world. Let us take it one day at a time, never allowing the fear to overshadow our innate human goodness.

We can get through this together if we go through it together. So let’s take a deep breath, take the necessary cautionary steps, help each other where we can, and get through it.

How to Pack for a Weekend Getaway

Since the holidays are coming up, there’s a good chance you might (hopefully) get to plan a weekend getaway. Are you wondering what you should pack for said weekend getaway? Well, you came to the right place.

As a well-experienced packer, I have made an easy to follow guide for how to achieve packing success. Just set those worries aside, take a few notes, and soon you will be on your way!

Note: these guidelines do not apply to outdoor camping, as outdoor camping should probably require you packing your entire home because you are in the wilderness and there is danger and animals and rain and also that overall damp feeling that you never get rid of, so really just pack everything or don’t camp, preferably the latter because who doesn’t love a roof?

Step 1: Bring up your need to pack for your vacation approximately six times in the week leading up to your departure, but don’t actually start packing until the night before you leave.

Step 2: Envision yourself walking in slow motion, in perfectly put together outfits, for the entirety of the vacation.

Step 3: Forget everything you envisioned and stare teary eyed at your closet, criticizing yourself for ever buying a single thing you see before you.

Step 4: Pack your favorite shirt, the one you bring on every vacation, first, then tell yourself you should branch out and take the shirt out of your suitcase.

Step 5: Repeat step 4 up to seven times.

Step 6: Remind yourself that you’re only going to be gone for two days, then pack nine shirts, three pairs of pants, those shorts you’ve never liked but always thought you should try, 17 pairs of underwear, 7 pairs of socks, 1 pair of thick socks in case a blizzard rolls in, those shoes you’ve been meaning to replace, two bathing suits, pajamas, and a raincoat—regardless of the weather forecast.

Step 8: Imagine yourself having the desire to workout and pack workout clothes.

Step 9: Laugh, knowing there’s no way in hell you’re going to workout.

Step 10: Pack another workout shirt.

Step 11: Invent at least 5 different turns the weekend could take that might provoke the need to bring shoe options, and then pack accordingly.

Step 12: Look up the weather forecast for where you’re going and regret everything you packed.

Step 13: Step away from your closet and move into the bathroom to gather your toiletries.

Step 14: Pack your toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash and makeup—even though you know you’re going to need most of it tomorrow morning before you leave.

Step 15: Pack a book, then picture yourself reading the entire book in one day and decide to pack three more.

Step 16: Pack your phone charger, then unpack it before bed to charge your phone, and then forget it all together.

Step 17: Zip up your suitcase and decide you are finished so you can go to bed because it’s almost definitely 1:00 a.m. at this point.

Step 18: Lie awake for about an hour wondering if you should pack more socks or if maybe you should bring a flashlight or goggles or an earthquake kit.

Step 19: Wake up to brush your teeth and realize you’ve already packed your toothbrush.

Step 20: Become frustrated while picking an outfit to wear because you packed everything you like, regret everything for a solid half hour, and then throw your hands in the air, zip up your suitcase and roll it out the door.

Uh, Hey, We’re in Ireland! (Our European Adventure: Day 1)

June 13th, 2019:

So there we were. Overstuffed backpacks making our shoulders ache, wheeled suitcases constantly hitting bumps and threatening to topple over, and ankles far too bare for the unexpected wind that welcomed us into the Dublin morning. After 13 hours of travel, my family had landed in Ireland and were making our way to our European rental car, which promised a complete shattering of muscle memory.

Our plan was to make our way around Ireland in four days. We had decided to forego a bus and a designated schedule in favor of a terrifying adventure on the wrong side of the rode, a passionate new dedication and reliance on the design of Apple Maps, and the freedom to stop for pee breaks whenever we wanted. The pro and con list really could have been a novel in itself.

So there we were, in our just big enough car for a family of five with five suitcases, five backpacks and a lot of emotional baggage provoked by sleep deprivation. But alas, my dad started the car—from the passenger seat, so it seemed—and we skittered into the streets of Dublin, each of us wondering if this was such a good idea.

Now, for any of you who have read my blog before, you might know that my sister and I went to Ireland a few years ago. And if pictures from that trip are any indication, we were disgusted to be back. I mean, imagine having to look at this for a SECOND time.

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Aside from simply wanting to visit this friendly, welcoming and beautiful country again, our main reason for making Ireland our first destination was to show my mom, dad, and brother the country that had stolen our hearts. We wanted them to see what our (pristinely executed) slideshow from three years ago couldn’t. And although we showed them ridiculously unmoving, definitely not borderline spiritual photos like this:

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…they still agreed to come along.

Our first stop after landing was the Guinness Storehouse, (pro tip: buy your tickets online in advanced to save money, skip the line and get a free pint!) where my sister, Natalee, and I had previously become “certified Guinness pourers.” We were excited for our family to achieve this status so we could finally stop looking down on them.

Our reservation was for 4:30 p.m., and although we landed late and took a few (or six) wrong turns trying to navigate our way through the city streets, we were still running a little early by the time we parked in a nearby parking structure and made our way to the front door. So to kill time we headed to Harkin’s, a pub in walking distance from the Storehouse, and dove headfirst into some burgers, beers, and Irish coffees.

As we ate, we met up with the other half of our adventure crew: the Stevens. My cousin Taryn had just finished up a three-week study abroad program in Ireland and was the catalyst for our entire vacation/hijacking of her family’s vacation. What started as a “wouldn’t it be crazy to meet you in Ireland?” was suddenly a very real, “uh, hey, we’re in IRELAND!”

Once we finished our meal, we made our first walk as the newly imposing yet undeniably fabulous group of nine. We took our tour of the Storehouse, were all successfully certified (and recertified) and shared our first (and free!) pints of Guinness.

To my absolute unsurprise I still hated it.

Back at our car, we were met with our first dose of pure luck and (undoubtedly) heaven sent Irish hospitality. Being from Southern California, you’d think we’d be better equipped at reading street signs and might notice that our parking structure closed at 7:00 p.m. To our great fortune however, even though it was nearing 8:00 p.m., a security guard just so happened to be walking by and was able to unlock the gate, saving us a €100 retrieval fee, and a whole lot of over exhausted family angst. Slainte, you broad, Irish angel.

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In the planning of this trip, we had a lot of conversations about how we wanted to get around Ireland, where we wanted to stay, etc. My sister and I had previously taken a clockwise route around the country, making pit stops in five main cities (Dublin, Cork, Gallway, Londonderry and Belfast) and so initially I assumed we’d do the same thing. However, in looking up lodging, I found that that route was going to be pricey. So, instead we opted to pick a city in the middle of the country to act as our home base—at least for the first couple days.

Which is how we wound up at the gate of this Airbnb in Mullingar.

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photo credit: Airbnb (check out the profile and rates for this place here. It’s way more affordable than it looks!)

Though it was a bit of a trek, the hosts, Carmel and Fintan, were incredibly charming and made us feel so at home that we were able to unload, unpack and crash—hard.

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As I lay there in the moments before falling asleep, with the Irish countryside sitting right outside my window, the trip became both real and completely unfathomable all at the same time. I knew we’d made it, to both this country, this house and this adventure, but I also wondered if I’d wake up the next morning and it would all be a dream.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.