REVIEW: March Stitchfix

Oh my god, you guys. When I took the pictures of last month’s fix, it was insanely warm outside! The snow was almost completely gone in my backyard! It is such a relief that Spring is on its way, and I am trying my damndest not to let this week’s cold snap get me down. (It’s in the 30s, with some snow. Booooooo.)

Everything in this Fix was almost right, except nothing was. These are the saddest of all Stitchfixes, because it is so tempting to keep things that just aren’t quite right, simply because they almost are. With no exceptions, this happened to me in March and I ended up sending every piece back. So sad.

Pomelo Arcade dot print chambray top from Stitchfix

Let’s start with this Pomelo Arcade dot print chambray top, which is the big heartbreaker. You can clearly see where it’s gapping at the chest, right? Except it fit perfectly everywhere else, and the fabric was so soft, and the print is so cute, and I wanted it SO BAD. Except for the gapping. Nothing was going to fix that. Sigh. I even tried to find it online somewhere to buy, that’s how much I loved it. OF course, a large would be too big and requiring tailoring, so it’s for the best I didn’t find it and impulse buy.

Pomelo striped dolman top from Stitchfix

There’s that sunflair we like so much again. Maybe you’ll focus on the graininess of the pic and not on the muddiness of my backyard. Please? This Pomelo Corinna striped dolman top had a couple of things working against it. First, I’m not wild about dolman sleeves. While these aren’t an extreme example, mostly they make me feel like I should jump off something tall and try to fly. Second, the color was a bit too “dusty rose” for my taste, way more than what you can see in this picture. It was definitely not the most flattering color on me. All that said, the fabric was so perfectly sweatshirt-like and cozy and it was the perfect length. If it had been a different color, it would be mine.

Zad Rochelle braided collar necklace from Stitchfix

I was really on the fence about this Zad Rochelle braided beaded collar necklace. It’s pretty fabulous, and unlike a lot of collar necklaces, it wasn’t too tight. In fact, it was the perfect length, and felt delightfully heavy around my neck.  But I looked through my closet and thought about my spring/summer wardrobe – which is mostly vintage from the 50s/60s – and just couldn’t imagine how I would ever wear it. Even now, though, I sort of wished I had kept it.

Mystree Truce smock-detail open cardigan from Stitchfix

I also waffled on this Mystree Truce smock-detail open cardigan. So soft, so fun with the little pintucks at the shoulders. I put it on and wore it around the house a couple of times, and it mostly came down to the color. This oatmeal is just not my friend. I also noticed that the collar didn’t like to lay back, and kept rolling and twisting and feeling in general kind of unkempt.

41Hawthorn Farah fit & flare striped dress from Stitchfix

Oh, geez. This 41Hawthorne Farah fit and flare striped dress looks so cute in the picture! I ended up not buying it for three reasons: 1) I have about half a dozen dresses from Target made exactly like this one in similar fabrics – one is even teal/grey striped, 2) almost all of those dresses have a handful of snags in the fabric from everyday wear which seems to be a constant problem with this particular weight of poly-jersey-whatever, and 3) it was cut in just a little close at the shoulders and armpit so that my bra showed no matter which one I put on.

My next Fix is due to come on the 23rd, and by then we’re expected to have Spring weather again. I’m really hoping to see some transition pieces to get me into summer. I have a lot of dark colors in blouses and cardigans, but could truly use some sunny hues to help kick the last of the winter blues.

 

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REVIEW: March Taste Trunk

This is our last month as subscribers to Taste Trunk. I want to stress right up front that it’s not about the quality of the goods. A lot of things we’ve gotten have been really tasty, and I’m going to be sad to not get a box of delicious treats every month.

The problem is that it’s impossible to set a preference for gluten-free goods, and it’s not really fair to Joel to get such a yummy box full of things he can’t eat. This past month was particularly bad, as the bulk of the box was cookies and one of the other two remaining items was a tin of hard candy, which is fun to have but not that exciting as far as treats go.

Before I canceled I perused the other Trunk options, and none of them felt like something we’d enjoy. The Gourmet Trunk comes with oils, tapenades, sauces and seasonings which have a lot of potential to sit in the cabinet waiting for the perfect moment that never comes. The BBQ Trunk appears to be mostly sauces and rubs. We’re just not big enough outdoor grillers to make it worthwhile. And the Health Trunk looks to be mostly nuts and other healthy snacks. One of my ex-colleagues got a box like this each month, and there were so many weird combos – chili lime pistachios! – that I’d never eat. I’m just not feeling it.

So. We canceled. (But don’t worry, I’ve already added another monthly box to make up for the utter disappointment.) Here’s what showed up in the last Taste Trunk:

March Taste Trunk

  • A tin of pomegranate and nectarine hard candies from Torie & Howard. We have received either a tin or a handful of these in every Taste Trunk we received, and while I think they’re delicious, I’m just not that into hard candies. It was really exciting the first time, but I’m kind of over it and have a backlog of them piling up.
  • Lemon Daisy Shortbread Cookies from Dancing Deer Baking Co. Like the Just Desserts items from the last box, these were disappointing to me mostly because I’ve bought them before in a grocery store. Specifically, I have had the iced sugar cookies, which always seem like a good idea around holidays like Easter and Halloween, but just aren’t that great. The shortbread cookies had a hint of lemon and were tasty enough, but if I saw them on the grocery shelf again I wouldn’t buy them.
  • Three kinds of Carol’s Cookies: Oatmeal Raisin with Pecan, Toffee Crunch and Peanut Butter Combo. These cookies are GIGANTIC. The website says they each weigh in at around half a pound, which is ridiculous. This means that I should have eaten each cookie in two sittings, but. You know. Instead I sat down on the couch with one and watched all the teen TV off my DVR, which took the better part of a Saturday. Oops? Let’s get the raisin one out of the way first. No one has eaten it, because raisins in cookies are gross. I had the toffee crunch one first, and found it to be extremely sweet and oddly offputting…until it magically became delicious. I don’t even know. The peanut butter one, though, was divine. The “combo” is chocolate, and I wish I had gotten three of these.
  • Strawberry Chocolate Dessert Sauce from New Canaan Farms. We’ve been really into caramel-swirl ice creams lately, whereas we’d normally buy good old vanilla. It seems like a natural to pair with this sauce, though the strawberry crepe recipe that came in the Trunk seems like it would be delicious. Now that I think of it, I’ve never made crepes! Maybe this would be a good time to start.

The best thing that came out of this entire Taste Trunk thing is the second box, which Toby still sleeps in all day every day on the end of the kitchen table. I swear, that box changed everything when it comes to that cat. When it appeared he started spending more time upstairs and not hiding in the basement, and the more time he spent hanging out in the dining room the more the dogs got used to him. As I type this, Cooper is next to me on the rug and Toby is sitting on the back of the couch. We’re not quite to the point where he can come upstairs and get in bed with us, but I feel like we’re close!

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Legally Minnesotan

Listen. I had every intention of keeping my California license plates for as long as possible, especially during the winter months when I was driving around like a terrified granny afraid of sliding off the highway in a fireball of doom. “Oh, she’s from California,” I imagined people saying. “Of course she doesn’t know how to drive on ice.”

This was a fine plan that didn’t work so well in execution. First, my renewal notice was sent to my house in Berkeley where it got buried in a giant pile of mail collected by my long-suffering co-owner Nick. By the time I received it, it was due within days and instead of renewing online I sent a check, for reasons that are unclear to me even now. When a couple of weeks later Nick sent an email to say he’d gotten something from the DMV, I assumed it was my new tags – good news, as they were expired by then. Nick kindly dropped the envelop in the mail. Except it was just another notice that I needed to renew. This cycle repeated, and the next time I received a bill from the California Department of Motor Vehicles for $0. Still no tags. By this time, my registration had been expired for more than a month, and the Minnesota winter grime was no longer covering up my plates.

The fourth time Nick received something for me from the DMV, I told him to open it before putting it in the mail. It was California telling me it could not find proof of insurance for my vehicle and could not renew my registration. I most assuredly have insurance, but I switched my account to the Minnesota address, where I saved more than 50%. (Not surprisingly, as the Berkeley house is sort of in the ‘hood and the Minneapolis house is in a nice suburb.) I went online to rectify the situation, but California couldn’t figure out what to do with a vehicle registered to a Berkeley address with insurance in Minnesota.

So I gave up, and registered my car in Minnesota.

Let me just say that it was the easiest DMV experience I have ever had – including the times I went to the tiny, mostly-unknown El Cerrito, CA, DMV to do my business. The little suburb we live in has a brand new municipal services office which was almost deserted when I went first thing Monday morning. There was one person at the counter and no one waiting, but I dutifully took a number and sat down. Two minutes later I was being helped, and five minutes after that I was writing a very small check to cover all the registration fees and being handed my new plates. (People. The cost of living in Minnesota is so good it’s worth the weather, and I say that after having just come through the Worst Winter Ever.)

MN license plates

My one regret is that I didn’t get one of the fancy Critical Habitat plates. I like both the chickadee and the Showy Ladyslipper - the state flower of Minnesota, which has the best name ever: Showy Ladyslipper! – and given how cheap the registration was I feel I should have treated myself to a plate upgrade. Next time!

Miss Claire was overjoyed with this new development. She saw the new plates and let out a whoop and then danced around the yard/kitchen saying “YAY! You got Minnesota license plates! No more California! Yay! That is SO COOL!” This went on for about 10 minutes, and I’m sort of wondering if she thought I was going to get fed up with this whole winter thing and just take the animals and drive back to California by myself.

I can’t wait to see how she reacts when I get my new driver’s license. Which I am predicting will happen sometime around mid-August, when it expires right before my birthday.

 

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REVIEW: March BarkBox

I cannot believe it’s true, but thanks to BarkBox, we actually have a nice stockpile of dog treats. This is the first time in seven years that I’ve had a backlog of things to choose from, which means that I haven’t gotten around to any of the goodies in the March BarkBox.

March BarkBox

Rather than drag this out any longer until we get around to using everything, I figured I’d go ahead and tell ya’ll what I got. Shall we?

  • Etta Says duck chew. Huh. I guess I lied when I said we hadn’t gotten around to ANYTHING, because Cooper ate this almost immediately as a sorry-we’re-taking-your-obnoxious-brother-somewhere-while-you-stay-at-home treat. He loves anything made of meat, and practically swallowed it whole.
  • The Doggone Times toy from Pet Qwerks. A newspaper toy for dogs is mildly amusing, but this one is nowhere near tough enough for my guys. It has three squeakers and something inside that crinkles, but the outer fabric feels really flimsy. Rather than risk certain, sudden death of the toy, I tossed it down the basement stairs where it was lovingly embraced by the giant Toby-cat. He likes the way it crinkles and has adopted it for his own. (You can see him lurking, as is his habit, in the picture above.)
  • The Jive ball from West Paw Design. This is such a super-cool company. They offer a recycling program for their rubber toys, and also offer a one-time replacement toy if your dog manages to destroy anything from the Zogoflex line. I’ve had a Jive ball for years – it’s oddly shaped, so it bounces willy-nilly – and neither of my dogs have taken to it. It’s actually in a box in the kitchen, transported from a box in my California kitchen, where it was placed after rolling around in the muddy backyard without seeing much action. I gave the new ball to one of the dogs at my office, hoping she could get something out of it!
  • Superior Farms venison waffles. BarkBox really likes Superior Farms. I feel like I’ve seen their products once or twice before since I subscribed. Not that I mind! My dogs love these meaty-treats, definitely more than the biscuity ones.
  • Wagatha’s Breakfast Biscuits. According to the info card provided in my BarkBox, the humans at Wagatha’s eat these, too. This makes me nostalgic for the days at my old job when we used to get the CEO to try all the human grade dog treats. I’ll have to see if Claire is brave enough to try them!

We did some math recently and realized we’re spending a small fortune on all the dog walkers, pet sitters and doggie daycare. Now that it’s getting warmer outside, Joel and I are trying to rededicate ourselves to taking the dogs on regular runs/walks. (Of course, this week it’s going to be in the 40s the whole time with 100% chance of snow, which is so freaking depressing I cannot even tell you.) The goal is to cut back on Huck’s daycare to just a couple of days a week – maybe even eliminating it all together – and to get Cooper more accustomed to the neighborhood.

I mention this because it takes a whole lot of treats to get the dogs to focus on the goose- and squirrel-infested sidewalks, so we will most certainly be putting our BarkBox stockpile to good use in the coming weeks! I have also been buying treats from Best Bully Sticks, which is a terrible no-good awful name for a business, but a pretty great website. You can buy the bully sticks based on length and thickness, and they also sell “odorless” ones. I use the quotation marks because they still smell, but are way less gross than the usual ones. They sell stuff besides the bull peen, too. The prices are very reasonable, and they always have coupons. A guy at work turned me onto them, and I highly recommend checking it out.

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10 Things I learned in Japan

I started this post on the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto, continued it on the bullet train back, looked at it for an hour on our transatlantic flight home, and then spent the last four days in a jet-lagged stupor trying to pull my thoughts together on ANYTHING, much less such a monumental vacation.

Webers in Japan

Here’s a teaser pic to get things started. This was taken in a neighborhood ramen joint on our last night. It was greasy and the pork was fatty and Claire’s dumplings were handmade by a guy famous for them. More pictures as soon as we sort them!

My emotions about the trip ping-pong from “OMG! Japan!” to “OMG. Traveling with a kid is HARD” to “OMG. Watching Claire experience Japan was the most amazing gift ever.” In the cab from the airport to our hotel the first night, Claire declared that “looking at things is boring,” and as far as I can tell, unless you’re going to Tokyo Disneyland, Japan is pretty much just looking at things. For the first couple of days in Tokyo, I honestly wondered how in the hell we were ever going to keep everyone happy and fed for nine days.

Don’t get me wrong. We had some great times, overall, but I honestly cannot recommend taking your seven year old to Japan.

Joel and I were discussing this over dinner a couple of nights ago, and even though Claire was an amazing travel companion (so, so good, really) and clearly enjoyed experiencing such a new place, the amount of culture shock was a bit overwhelming. Since we returned, she hasn’t mentioned Japan to me once, but has spent a lot of time telling me how happy she is to be home and have her friends and her animals and her houses and her mom. I think our trip was about two days two long for her, and I think she was one Japanese meal away from having a meltdown over having to listen so hard to the language and think so hard about soldiering through food that wasn’t what she wanted.

It didn’t help that we started in Tokyo, which is like Japan on steroids. So many people, noises, tall buildings – it’s the largest city Claire has ever been to, and of course no one spoke her language or looked familiar. On top of it all, we were exhausted and jet-lagged, and figuring out things like trains and restaurants and the like felt overwhelming even for the adults. (More overwhelming for having to make sure Claire was coping okay, but hard in any case.)

I didn’t realize how much I wasn’t enjoying Tokyo until we went to Kyoto, which might just be one of the most perfect places on earth. It’s possible I would feel differently about Tokyo if we weren’t traveling with Claire, but I doubt it. I’ve always preferred San Francisco over New York City, even Kansas City over St. Louis. I prefer Minneapolis to Chicago. I like the food of big cities, and the access to art and music. But at the end of the day, I want a slower pace.

It only took me, oh, 20 years to realize this about myself.

We saw so many things and took so many pictures that it’s going to take a few more days to pull together a What We Did post, but I thought in the interim I’d take note of some of the things I’ve discovered about myself, my family, and Japan.

  1. Let’s start with the cherry blossoms. They really are That Beautiful, and now I understand why people plan entire vacations around them. We were incredibly lucky that Claire’s spring break coincided with peak cherry blossom bloom. By the second day it felt sort of silly to point out every tree we passed, and yet. Every one seemed more pregnant with blooms than the last and eight days in we were still trying to get the perfect picture.
  2. Every guidebook under the sun says to take buses and trains instead of taxis, and they are right. Taxis are terribly expensive and traffic is very bad, especially in Tokyo. But. When you’re traveling with a jet-lagged kid who gets almost narcoleptically exhausted at the end of each day, a kid who is gamely walking miles and miles and managing to find something exciting at every shrine and temple, it just doesn’t seem worth it to schelp to a train station and add so much extra time to your commute. Joel and I are both horrified at how much money we spent on taxis this trip, but agree it was worth it to get the most direct route to wherever we were going.
  3. The jet lag is a real bitch. We arrived in Tokyo at 10:30PM on Friday night, and got to our hotel after 11. We went pretty much straight to bed and slept until about 4:30AM, and then everyone was wide awake. We did our very best to rest in the afternoons and then tried to stay up to re-set our clocks, but forcing it just didn’t work. On the second night we had a reservation at a great shabu-shabu restaurant, and Claire fell asleep in the cab on the way there. Ten minutes into service she could not keep her eyes open, and spent the entire meal asleep in Joel’s lap. After that, we stopped forcing it, and until the last two nights the entire family was sound asleep by 8:30 and awake no later than 6AM. Only on our final two nights in Kyoto were we able to get out and explore after dark.
  4. Traveling with a tiny blond girl draws attention. In all the time we were there, I can count on one hand the number of American/European children I saw. Claire was the only kid I saw out of toddlerhood, and at least one Japanese woman a day told us how cute she was. On our walking tour of Kyoto, an elderly lady went up to our tour guide to tell her how adorable “the child” was. At a kimono shop down a long alleyway in Nara, Claire drew a crowd of elderly women and men while the shop proprietress helped her choose the right one. On our second-to-last night, three geishas on our block smiled and waved at her. At a ramen restaurant, the owner brought out toys, showed her how they worked, laughed along with her, and gave her a samurai-sword bubble wand. Everywhere she went, people smiled and nodded and were overjoyed whenever she said arigoto (thank you). This was a huge relief to us as we had read a lot about how children are expected to be seen but not heard in Japan. As long as Claire was clearly enjoying herself and her surroundings, people loved her. Even at temples, where she carefully prayed the way our tour guide taught us, or at the Shinto shrines where she insisted on going through the water purification ritual each and every time. The men selling candles and incense watched her with open joy, so I did my best to ignore the voice in my head telling me that we needed to be more respectful or careful or quiet.
  5. Cash is King in Kyoto, and the only place to get it is 7 Eleven. In our normal lives, neither Joel nor I are ones to carry much cash, and the same is true when we travel. That bit us in the ass on this trip, first in a little neighborhood restaurant in Tokyo and then in Kyoto. These places do not use Square, my friends, and they will not take your American plastic. We did not find a single shop, restaurant or taxi that would take a card in Kyoto, including a mid-sized grocery store. We also had our debit cards rejected time and time again at various ATMs. The only sure bet is the machines at 7 Eleven, so it’s important to know where one is at all times. Luckily, they are not that hard to find.
  6. The toilets are different than you think. Everyone is familiar with at least the concept of a toilet that will wash your parts for you when you’ve done your business. But you might not be prepared for walking into a restaurant bathroom and finding the toilet in the floor, requiring you to squat like a bear in the woods. The first time I experienced this there was an accompanying sign saying that it was more sanitary, because everyone wasn’t sitting on the same seat. Um. Let’s just say people don’t always have great aim. Sometimes you end up standing in things you don’t want to. At one restaurant – a restaurant! – Claire got poo on her shoe. So. There’s that.
  7. Language really is a barrier, but mostly when it comes to restaurants. We stayed in an Airbnb in Kyoto in one of the last remaining geisha districts. The adjacent street was lined with tiny dining establishments, each with fewer than 10 seats. We suspect the food was amazing in some of these places, but we couldn’t eat in any of them because we couldn’t read the menu, and while most Japanese will kindly attempt to understand and converse in basic English, it does not work for conversations regarding the pickiness of a seven-year-old child. We probably walked by two dozen restaurants we thought looked interesting, but didn’t even bother to go inside. Even though we know Claire will try new foods, she rarely eats more than a bite or two of them, so our own food desires were on the backburner while we tried to fill her belly.
  8. Snacks from home save lives, and your sanity. I have been known to make fun of the moms at the park with a giant backpack full of granola bars and water and handi-wipes. I call them, broadly, the Lululemon Moms. But as everyone who has been a mom longer than five months can attest, it’s the only way to survive, and in a foreign country it’s the only way to get through the day. Claire survived this trip eating plain rice, dumplings, bread, strawberries/bananas, pastries, and almonds/granola bars/fruit twists I packed at home. As far as I can tell, she gets hungry about every 20 minutes – longer if she’s having fun, shorter if she’s bored – and 99% of the time we were nowhere near a restaurant where she could eat.
  9. Food, in fact, is my biggest regret of this entire trip. I only had three pieces of sushi the entire time – an appetizer at the restaurant where Claire fell asleep. It was good sushi, but not anywhere near the quality I know exists. We had plans to hit the fish market on our last morning, but by then Claire was clearly Over It and doing her very best to keep it together until we went home. Taking her to a place where someone would try to feed her fish eyeballs for breakfast seemed like a bad idea. Fine dining in Japan is not kid-friendly. We talked about, and dismissed, seeking out a top tempura restaurant, because Claire only likes about 10% of what they serve, and the good ones only serve tempura. The same is true of the good sushi joints. They serve fish, with a side of fish, and fish for dessert. They do not have chicken teriyaki. Thankfully, ramen places almost always serve dumplings, too, and Claire’s ability to snarf 10 of them at once is well documented. We had ramen twice. Huzzah! I also had an okay katsu (pork cutlet) for lunch at a hole-in-the-wall diner. If you – like me – have always dreamed of coming to Japan and eating yourself into bankruptcy, it’s probably better to schedule an adults-only trip to get that done.
  10. One caveat to the above bullet is pastries. You can find a French-style patisserie in almost every neighborhood, and the quality is astonishingly good. There is at least one giant bakery in every train station, and we ate more donuts, ham and cheese buns, buns stuffed with hot dogs, and sticky sweet buns than a family of three should honestly admit to. But, hey! We walked a lot, so I’m sure those calories don’t even count.

I feel like I need to stress that Japan and Claire are both awesome. I’m looking forward to another visit to the former and many future travels with the latter. I’ve really struggled with how to tell this story without sounding like a whiny brat, because it’s not like everyone can go to a place like Japan for spring break and have these experiences, but I feel like it’d be a copout to proclaim it an unmitigated success.

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REVIEW: March Birchbox

I ordered three full-sized products from last month’s Birchbox and one from the previous month - StriVectin-AR Advanced Retinol Eye Treatment, Bain de Terre passion flower color preserving shampoo and conditioner, and the Eyeko Black Magic mascara - so I had high expectations for this month. I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed, exactly, but I’m probably not going to be buying anything this time.

March Birchbox

  • INIKA Certified Organic eyeliner in Green Lagoon. I only wear eyeliner maybe once a month, and I’ve never had much luck with pencils. I far prefer liquid liner, though I’m hardly an expert. Rather than sully this one, I’m putting it straight into the box I keep for household guests. Surely someone will enjoy it!
  • Gilchrist & Soames London Collection body lotion. I’ve yet to find a lotion through Birchbox that I liked very much, mostly because of the strong fragrances. This one is okay, I guess. It’s not quite heavy enough for my Minnesota winter skin, but the scent is light and not obnoxious. I’ll stick this one in my travel case, but wouldn’t buy it.
  • Air Repair Rescue Balm. Now this I’m interested in. Heaven knows I have a lot of dry skin, and apparently you can use this anywhere. I’ve used it on my dry cuticles and chapped lips, with mixed success. On my cuticles, it worked a lot like Neosporin. Within a couple of days, the skin was much softer. On my lips, it felt a little like Vaseline. Not totally unpleasant, but not my favorite sensation. I think I’ll stick with my random assortment of lip balm, but will keep this around for other dry spots.
  • Supergoop! City Sunscreen Serum. What a confusing product. It’s a sunscreen! It’s an anti-aging serum! It’s a makeup primer! I ran out of my Boots No. 7 anti-aging serum right before this Birchbox came, so I thought I would try this for a bit and see how it goes. Since I don’t wear makeup, per se, I’ve been using it under my tinted moisturizer. The moisturizer also has sunscreen, so the two together are a bit…goopy. I like the Supergoop! on its own, though, so I think I’ll take it to Japan and see how it goes on days I don’t need the tint, because I always need sunscreen!
  • Mighty Leaf tea pouches. This is my “lifestyle extra,” and the second time I’ve gotten tea in my Birchbox. I’m not opposed to tea, exactly, but the other tea bags are still in a drawer in the kitchen. Maybe I’ll take them to work?
  • Ghirardelli Cherry Tango square. Another little extra. Yum!

 

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Blastoff countdown: 7 days

Claire is very excited about going to Japan.

I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have a good sense for how long the flight is going to be, or what’s going to happen to us once we get there (not that we have a very good agenda), but she’s been counting down the days for the last month. It’s the first thing she mentions when we pick her up from school. “Guess how many days it is until we go to Japan!” Which is followed immediately by “Guess how many days to Spring Break!”

Spring Break, FYI, starts the day after we leave for Japan, because Minneapolis kids had so many Polar Vortex days that they had to lose a couple off their vacation. Claire is pretty pleased that she gets to miss a day so that she can go to Japan. It was not our intent to pull her out of school for this, but what can you do? The school calendar changed way after we bought our tickets, and I’m pretty sure the kiddo is going to learn way more from our trip than she would in class that Friday.

This past weekend, we did the bulk of our trip-related shopping. We promised Claire we’d get her an adult-sized carryon, and she’s been asking when that would happen for a month. We trooped into REI with a dream of a bag and potentially some travel-friendly dresses for me, and ended up with two new pairs of shoes, two dresses, a new Osprey carryon and a Patagonia messenger bag. I’m not sure how it happened, but when I wasn’t looking REI became a Target-like shopping experience for me – in with the intent to purchase a single item, out with ten times that much. It took all my willpower not to add new running socks to the pile.

When Joel and I went to Budapest last summer, we did so with a loose understanding of the city and a half-perused travel guide on Joel’s iPad. We put absolutely no pressure on ourselves to see or do anything. We slept until at least 10AM every day, wandered out of the hotel and found a place for lunch, and then spent the rest of the day walking around the city and taking it in. If we happened to see a sign for something that seemed important, we’d head that way. In our meanderings, we saw most of the city on foot and covered pretty much all the things the guide books told us to see. The one exception was the Turkish baths, which we both agreed were beautiful and uniquely Budapest, but somehow didn’t strike our fancy. (It was in this manner that we discovered the treat Kürtőskalács, a log of dough cooked over an open fire with cinnamon and sugar. One day, I will figure out how to make this gluten free at home, mark my words!)

The most we ever planned was dinner, and even that planning was a mix of talking to the concierge, half-heartedly searching the web, and finding restaurants that looked interesting while we walked during the day. And, okay, we took the train to Vienna one day, but booked a hotel the night before on the web, bought one-way tickets so we could return whenever, and found a place to eat in the cab on the way to the city center.

This laissez-faire traveling is totally my speed. As much as I like to plan things, I also like for vacation to be VACATION. Having a jam-packed agenda just makes it feel like work. (Like yesterday, for instance, when I had five half-hour meetings back-to-back.)

With seven days to go until Japan, though, Joel and I are both realizing this plan doesn’t really work with Claire. We can’t expect her to walk 10 miles a day and stop into whatever restaurant happens to be nearby. I mean, I guess we could? But that seems like a recipe for disaster. At the very least, we need to have a list of possible things to do each day and an understanding of where we can eat with the smallest amount of hassle.

That’s what’s on the agenda for this weekend, along with stocking up on suitcase-friendly snacks and doing laundry and making sure everyone has enough underpants and socks. Joel is going out of town on a shoot Sunday and doesn’t return until Wednesday, so we’ve got about three days to get this wrapped up. Oddly, the anxiety I was feeling when we booked the trip – the fear that such an undertaking would be more overwhelming than fun – has pretty much dissipated. I wouldn’t say I’m rearing to go, but I’m warming up to the possibilities.

 

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