Category Archives: Vacation

Cowboys Game

CowboysMy sister and her husband own season tickets to see the Dallas Cowboys and are generous enough to take two people with them each game. They’ve taken neighbors and friends and Laura and I were the lucky two invited for the December 2nd game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Our seats are just off one end zone but really close to the field and with the huge, 60 yard screen that hangs from above, there are no bad seats in Cowboy’s Stadium.

It was a great game to watch, mostly because the ‘Boys won, but also because we were able to see Tony Romo (he was injured and didn’t play the last time we got to go) and Dez Bryant play. I ate a burrito the size of my head and Laura had quesadillas that she couldn’t finish. The funniest, or most annoying part of the experience, depending on how it’s looked at, was the loud girl sitting in the row in front of us. She only comes to two games a year, and she’s been there both times we’ve been there. She stands the whole time and screams at the top of her (very large) lungs, back up the rows to the people behind her.
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Back from Texas

In our previous post, we talked about getting down to Texas. Once there, we had an absolute blast. There were a lot of firsts: First time for my Grandma (Memaw) Sweaney to meet Kiley; First time my parents got to meet Kiley; First time my sister and her husband got to meet Kiley; First time for us to spend time at my sister’s new lake house; and the first time Gus went to the lake and enjoyed the water.

After arriving in the Metroplex, we relaxed the rest of the day at Katie’s house. The next day, Katie, Laura, Kiley and I drove down to Arlington to see my grandmother, Kiley’s great grandmother, Nona. We picked up Chipotle and brought it to Bethesda Gardens, where Memaw lives, and shared lunch with her while she held the new baby for the first time. Kiley was, of course, a huge hit, both with Memaw, and with the staff and others there. My aunt and uncle arrived for a chance to hold her too. Afterward, we headed over to Iva Roxburgh’s house, a dear family friend who is now 97 years old. She still drives, and even mows her own lawn, so we all hope for genes as great as Iva’s. She enjoyed meeting Kiley, and thankfully, we left Iva’s before the tears and crying showed up.
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Texas Trip

I’m writing this in the last row of an American Airlines MD-82, enduring the continuous stream of traffic to the restroom next to us, as we head from Ohio to DFW to see my family for a week. Laura and I are ambitious on this trip because in tow, we have two and a half week old Kiley, Gus, a stroller, car seat, diaper bag, and carry on. Ambling down the jetway, I’m sure we looked like the carnival was coming to town. We were just glad to get seats next to each other, so we could tag-team the effort to corral our two kids.

Fortunately for us, both Gus and Kiley slept the entire way. We had fears (nightmares, really) of howling, wailing, screaming, and diaper changes four or five times, while holding her in the bathroom to keep the screams partially hidden from other passengers. Gus is a trooper. He is a born traveller and always does well. We just put him in his travel crate, and he’s a happy camper, rarely awake long enough to cause trouble. He has probably flown eight or ten times and he’s never caused us any problems. He’s such a good boy, he always goes pee-pee for daddy just prior to entering the airport and holds it just fine until out of the next airport.
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Fourth Anniversary Cruise

Laura and I just got back from some needed vacation to celebrate our fourth anniversary. I haven’t had any official time off since early December, and it was definitely time to get away. We had looked at renting a beach house down on the Texas Gulf, but after the price of a house, rental car, food, and money spent on touristy things, we realized it’d be cheaper and easier to simply book a five day cruise instead.

That’s what we did, and the all inclusive nature of things, with plenty of entertainment already put together for us by Carnival, the vacation was a blast with a minimal amount of planning. Laura and I love cruises for that very reason: just plug in your credit card number and out pops preplanned, all inclusive fun. Even with the oil spill from DeepWater Horizon, we saw no oil, tar balls, or anything of the like. The bigger problem came not from oil, but from Alex, a tropical storm turned hurricane. The crew of our ship, Carnival Ecstasy, did a nice job navigating around the storm, and Carnival even changed our itinerary to stop in Cozumel first and the Yucatan second, instead of the other way around, to stay behind the storm instead of right in the thick of it. I was impressed that Carnival was nimble enough to do that, and sure enough, both stops had great weather.
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Persistent Patience Pays

God was quite a blessing today to both Laura and me as we started day one of our vacation celebrating our fourth anniversary and Independence day with my family in Texas. Believe it or not, we’re not made of money, and thanks to the Total Money Makeover, most all the money we do have is allocated to things of a much higher priority than vacations and travel. Through my work, we can buy standby tickets for about 40 dollars each way to Texas, but with today’s airlines packing each flight as full as possible, there aren’t many empty seats left for us to take. We also hate to pay full fare for flights to Texas when American has five daily flights from Columbus, so if we don’t make one, we can usually make the next one. It’s just hard to rationalize (Dave Ramsey style) paying for full fare tickets when we get very affordable standby tickets.

That is, until today. Continue reading Persistent Patience Pays

Early Thanksgiving

I get to work over the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. so Laura and I went to visit my extended family in Texas last week. It was a great chance to get away, relax, and see my grandparents again. Reconnecting with family that lives far away is so important and reminds me of how special their relationships with me are. When we boil life down to its finest points, it is pretty much all about relationships. Laura and I were able to take them out to breakfast a few times to their favorite morning restaurant, spend a day and night out at their lake cabin taking photos and getting away from it all, and we got to help them around the house with some projects, too.

Laura helped rake and pick up leaves in their yard, while I helped them with some landscaping and an electrical wiring project. The project was one of those 1 hour jobs that turned into needing my dad’s help and five more hours. All I wanted to do was run a wire from their ceiling fan down to a switch on the wall so they could more easily adjust the speed of the fan with a switch, instead of pulling a chain on the fan that no longer really worked well. Trip after trip, crawling through the attic started to wear thin on my knees, and try after try of sending the wire down the wall to the hole we had cut became increasingly frustrating. In the end, it was great to give them a new wall switch that adjusted the fan speed and they were very grateful.

We all met at my aunt and uncle’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and we dined on wonderful smoked turkey and dressing, and followed it up with my new favorite pie that my uncle made, with the recipe here. The only thing that would have made for a better weekend was if my Cowboys had won their game against the Packers — oh well.

As you go to be with your family this coming Thanksgiving, be sure and slow down and take enough time to enjoy the relationships you have with your close family, especially your grandparents, if you are so blessed to still have them on this Earth. Happy early Thanksgiving! Click on the above photo for more photos from our time at the lake cabin.

Vacation to London

Having recently returned from our trip to London and Paris and being firmly ensconced back at work (high over the North Pacific), it is with very fond memories that I can look back on our vacation. Since I haven’t looked at the credit card statement yet, I don’t have any buyers remorse or regret, either. The trip across the Atlantic almost never came to be, as we, mostly me, were indecisive on when to leave and how to make it work on our budget. In the end, I’m glad we went. It was a great time and the memory making was well worth the trip. Years from now, a few extra dollars here or there won’t matter in comparison to the time we had.

Our vacation started out nice and early and we got to New York in plenty of time to check in early at the British Airways counter. Being there so early meant we got assigned seats straight away and together, even though we were flying on standby for next to nothing. Paying passengers who showed up late weren’t able to sit together, so we were glad to be next to each other. I was looking forward to service by BA instead of one of the U.S. carriers. I was also excited to be a passenger on a 747-400. I fly them for a living but hadn’t yet ridden in the back of one. Years ago as a kid, I rode in the back of 747-SP’s, a shorter version, but this would be my first experience on the plane I actually fly. The service and the aircraft were very good. The main body gear on a 747 turn in the opposite direction as the nose gear in a sharp turn (called body steering) to help the large aircraft navigate tight turns. For the first time, I noticed this affect as it is quite pronounced in a turn. Sitting behind the wing in a right turn, the middle of the plane swings quickly to the left, and if you aren’t ready for it, it can seem a little unnerving. Pretty cool, though.

We landed at Heathrow about six am local time, or one in the morning our time. After a quick hop on a train to Paddington station in the heart of London, we made our way to buy tube tickets to ride the underground to our hotel. Different cities call the same thing different names: In Paris, it’s the Metro, in Washington, it’s the Subway, Hong Kong has the MTR, and London has the Tube. Quite literally, the tube cars are rounded at the top so they fit down the tunnel and it isn’t exactly a roomy feeling. Contrasted with New York, where the subways are huge, London’s feel a bit cramped.

The nearest tube station to our hotel was Lambeth North, just a few minute’s walk to the Novotel Hotel where we stayed. Arriving there about 8:30 a.m., there were no rooms yet available, so we dropped our luggage off and headed out into the city. Day one consisted of a walk past Parliament and Big Ben, and then back to the awaiting room at the hotel, where we took a long and needed nap. Back up again a few hours later, and as night fell, we saw Buckingham Palace lit up at night and dinner at Trafalgar Square.

The next morning took us on a jaunt through some parks, up to the top of the Wellington Arch, a view of the changing of the guard at Buckingham palace, a quick view of the queen as her motorcade whisked by, and a picture-less walk through the national art gallery. Stopping only for a quick bite to eat for a late lunch, we then heard a piano recital taking place at a nearby church, took a walk past both the London Eye and Westminster Abbey, which were too expensive to go on and in for a tour, gazed at the shopping in London’s largest store: Harrod’s, and finished the long day off with dinner at a pub, once again at Trafalgar Square. The day was probably too long and we were beat, but we felt like there was too much to see and not enough time. The pubs were fun to eat in as they were more of a relaxed atmosphere and were much more affordable than the local restaurants. We could get fish and chips and drinks for about $25.

The following day was a little more relaxed, as we started to run low on energy. We started off with a river tour down the Thames (pronounced Tims), a long tour through the Tower of London, a hike up hundreds of steps to the top of St. Paul’s cathedral, a tour of the Tower Bridge (often mistaken for the London Bridge), and finally a visit through the Tate Modern art museum. The Tower of London, where the crown jewels are held, is really a fortress like structure with lots of towers within it and in the fortress walls. We took a free tour which told a lot of the history of the place and we were amazed at how many nobles were killed there, either in it’s streets inside, or just outside the wall for all to see. Those often killed there had their head’s placed on a stake as a warning to others. After the Tower, we found a great place for lunch that was very affordable and offered free refills like in the States! A great burger and fries came with a drink and we were pretty excited about that, as most of Europe offers tiny drinks and no refills — for three times what we’d pay back home for all the drink we would want.

St. Paul’s was an amazing church and the interior was certainly not inferior as the ceiling towered hundreds of feet above us. Ambitious as we were, we took the steps to the top of the dome and could see for miles. The 437-ish steps were tough to go up, but worth the effort. We hiked over to the Tower bridge and took a quick look through it. My legs started to cramp going up the steps and one of the people working there asked if I was all right and reminded me I still had a long way to go. Laura told him that we had just climbed St. Paul’s too and that was the reason for my troubles. Embarrassing? Yeah, a little . . . The Tower bridge has a drawbridge design that also has a support structure across the top of the bridge. The London bridge on the other hand, is nothing special: just concrete and modern. It looks like it was built 5 years ago while the Tower bridge has lots of character and history to it. I didn’t find anything to look at in the Tate modern art museum, but art isn’t really my thing. The tour guide we had on the river tour joked that he lost his wallet there once, and when he came back to get it, twenty people were standing around it as it lay on the floor, admiring it. I thought he was joking until one exhibit we saw was a piece of rope that was strung out on the floor — that was it. Wow, now that is art and I never could have done that! With dinner at a Thai place near our hotel, we finished off a long day of sightseeing.

Our final day in London forced us to relax our schedule even more, as fatigue wore us down. We made it an aim to see three things: The British Museum, the British Library, and a relaxing free organ recital at Westminster Abbey. We could have spent days in the museum, but after a while, all things old started to blend together. The recital was my favorite as the pipe organ was beautiful, and we stayed off our feet, too. We wanted to hear the free recital because a tour of the Abbey was very expensive and no photography was allowed. So since we couldn’t take pictures anyway, we decided that being able to see the inside for free during the recital would be just as good. The Londoners are quite Nazi-like in there angst to keep photos from being taken inside their churches and galleries. We would later find and enjoy the Parisian model of: take photos whenever and wherever you like, including inside Notre-Dame and the Louvre. I’m sure the anti-photo hysteria comes from a reverence for the church, but I think that places too much on the church itself and not The One the church was built to honor. After all, the building is only brick and mortar, but the Creator is so much more than that. A quick dinner at Ned’s Noodle Box finished up our last day in London. The next day we would be heading to Paris.

To read about the ride on the Eurostar to Paris and our time in the city of love, continue reading here. To see more photos from our time in London, click on the photo at the top of this post.