Summer vacations and relationship health

I’ll admit it: One reason that Hubs and I like weekend trips is that…well…we tend to squabble when we’re gone too long. 

We’re grad students. For us, that means our time together is feast or famine. We may spend nearly every hour together for a few weeks, then only see each for an hour or two per day the next week. We drive almost everywhere we go, even the 13 hour drive to New Jersey, so we bookend our trips with lot of time together in a cramped Honda Fit. So far, “quality time together” haven’t been a big priority on vacations.

But I know that will change soon. Very soon. Hubs and I will live apart for a year, and then we’ll both have “real jobs.” Reconnecting will become a more important goal during out shakeups and other vacations. The Gottman Institute, a leading research and intervention facility dedicated to strengthening romantic relationships, recently posted on their relationship blog about how to use summer vacations to make your partner a priority and increase intimacy in your relationship. Check it out!


To thine own heart be true — no matter what the guide books say

When I started thinking about doing this blog, I wanted to find what resources were out there. I didn’t find much, but one thing I found was this Forbes article about the 10 best cities for weekend visits. I was kind of impressed that #1 was Indianapolis, a city we’ve visited numerous times in the 6 years we’ve lived in Indiana.

We’ve had some great experiences in Indy. Some of our great early dates were along the Indy canal and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. We got married in a local courthouse a few weeks before our big family wedding, and we spent a long weekend at the historic Canterbury Hotel in May 2013 before our longer San Diego honeymoon in August 2013. We’ve enjoyed the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art and the Indiana State Museum. Hubs even took me to an Indianapolis Indians game the night we got married (they were playing the Scranton Yankees — quite amusing given that our allegiances are to the Cleveland Indians [the White girl] and the New York Yankees [the Brown guy]). We also love the malls around Indy, including Circle Center (inside beautifully preserved facades) and Keystone Mall. I love walking downtown and driving north on Meridian Street through historic neighborhoods. I’ve even been inside the beautiful Indiana Statehouse and always meant to take Hubs.

But I was a little embarrassed when I read the Forbes article. You see, with the exception of the Eiteljorg Museum, I’ve never done the things Indianapolis is known for, according to Forbes’ Larry Olmsted. We always said we’d do the Indy 500 while we’re here, but it’s always been too hot or too busy. I was only vaguely aware that Indianapolis had a zoo, much less that it was considered one of the top ten in the country. And while we’ve heard great things about the Children’s Museum, which is supposedly the largest in the world, we’ve never gone.

I decided that I couldn’t leave Indiana without having seen the Children’s Musuem. I mean, it’s just embarrassing to live so close to a place that others travel to, without seeing one of the big draws, right? Even if we don’t have kids with us, right? And costs almost $40 for the two of us? Right?

Hubs gets a total I-told-you-so on this one. Hopefully, I married a man who is too much of a gentleman to say it.

This isn’t to say the museum was bad or we didn’t have a good time. Hubs sucked it up like a champ, the crowds weren’t too bad, and we had fun together. The museum is really high quality throughout, and our favorite exhibits were Take Me There: Egypt and The Power of Children. We were both interested to learn how the museum teaches about life in other cultures and about dark moments in modern history.

In Take Me There: Egypt, exhibits nicely balanced showing differences without overly exoticizing. One hands-on part encouraged children to look through typical Egyptian children’s backpacks and think about what was similar and different from their own backpacks. It was interesting for me to see how Egypt, as depicted in the exhibit, was similar to my snapshot experiences of India. They even had a rickshaw, but it was still all black (India’s are going yellow/green as they convert to more environmentally friendly energy sources) and had much more legroom — no extra hip room, though!

The Power of Children described difficult events of the 20th century in clear, concrete ways and did not gloss over ways in which U.S. society and government contributed to problems. The exhibit highlighted issues of racial cleansing (Anne Frank), segregation and civil rights in the U.S. (Ruby Bridges), and the AIDS epidemic (Ryan White). We found the exhibit to be informative and interesting, though Hubs was happy to have Wikipedia at his fingertips each time we wanted more detail. The horror of the U.S. civil rights movement was made real yet again for me. When I’m exposed to that era of our national history, I become acutely aware that, for all the intersections of cultures, faiths, and backgrounds Hubs and I represent, we are seen first and foremost as an interracial couple. The U.S. civil rights movement is not “a Black thing” or “a minority thing,” but the flavor has changed for me as I realize that my marriage would not be possible without civil rights. My chosen soulmate, husband of my heart, rock, warrior, and helpmeet, is directly affected by the civil rights movement. And he’s considered a “model” or “privileged” minority. Today, the Children’s Museum helped me realize that these terrible events took place within our parents’ lifetimes. Ruby is just younger than our dads and just older than our moms. We started doing the math and realized that Hubs’s birth is closer to 1960 than it is to 2013, and my birth is smack-dab in the middle. That sense that these eras were so close to me, in the grand timeline of the universe, that I could almost reach out and touch them…that mistrust that we are as distant from these eras as we like to think we are…those will stay with me long after today. Although I do think that this exhibit appropriately “doses” the violence and pain of these events (with parent or class supervision), it is still powerful enough to move adults.

So we really did have a good time at the Children’s Museum, and I highly recommend it for families with children. But if I had it to do over again, I would go with my gut. Sometimes, you’ve lived somewhere for years and never done something because it’s not really your thing. We’re not Indy 500 people, and it’s too loud and crowded for us. That’s ok. I’m sure it’s a cool experience, but I highly doubt we’ll regret not going while we were here. But to say we went to a baseball game on our wedding night? And to know first-hand how community-friendly the Triple-A team’s Victory Field is? For us, that’s priceless.

I’m sure I’ll still do some things just because they’re famous. But part of developing expertise at the weekend shake-up is learning to be ok with our special flavor of travel. Our time would have been better spent visiting the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, or even just walking from the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, through the Glick Peace Walk, to the canal once more. Maybe I’ll convince Hubs to give me one more chance at a last hurrah in Indianapolis. That might cost me an I-told-you-so.


One thing I’ve noticed about blogging is that it inspires me.

I started this blog after I fell in love with the Aeronaut maximum carry-on. This big little duffel made me think of Hubs and I working ahead during the week so we could dash off to Boston or Baltimore over a weekend. I dreamed of us traveling light, zipping back to our hotel for mid-day naps, and growing chummy with city after city on the Eastern seaboard.

Just after I started this blog, I decided to take the plunge and get an Arc notebook from Staples.  I started small — just a soft-backed notebook and the hole punch (which was pricey, but I planned to return it if I didn’t like the system). The beauty of the Arc system is that everything flexibly works together. It combines the ability to move things around like a binder and to flip it around on itself like a spiral notebook. They sell full-size and half-sheet notebooks in a durable hard-back or a lightweight soft-back, and you can punch any paper to add in.

So with my mind on my new travel blog,I immediately thought of how I could use this as a travel organizer. Translation: I can start being organized about our travel. 

I’ll write more soon about my history with travel organization, how I like to plan ahead, and whether I use travel books. For now, suffice it to say that I want a planning system that is light and flexible. I want it to fit print-outs without being too big. I want to be able to move things around and empty it out at the end of a trip (after transferring some notes to my digital copies in case we want to go back…because in my imagination, I’m that on top of things).

I also want to start prioritizing more clearly. I don’t want to plan trips down to the minute; I’m way too poor of a traveler for that. (One of these days I’ll explain just how bad of a travel partner I am, so you can appreciate Hubs’s patience.) I need lots of flexibility, and we’ve learned that life is better when we schedule rest in the middle of each day. Having lots of options printed in one place, plus the ability to take out and put back individual sheets, would be a great solution. Add a couple zipper pouches for room keys, transfer passes, money, receipts, and maps, and some flags to remind you of not-to-miss activities or restaurants, and you’re ready to go!

This seems to a be first comes office supplies, then comes organization situation. Now that I have such a customizable system, I find myself wanting to fill it! And luckily, I have a trip on the horizon to occupy me. I just ordered a free travel guide from indiana Dunes. We started off saying we’d hang out at the beach, but really, we’re not beach people. We only went to the beach once in Miami, and that was for 10 minutes to say we’d seen it. I’m excited about their Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail, and if I let Hubs know there’s butterflies, he’ll sure as shootin’ want to photograph them. Once Hubs books our hotel in Pittsburgh, I’ll be excited to start looking for things to do nearby.

Today I realized that I have the same kind of excitement about building a travel notebook as I used to have for scrapbooking. I recently gave up most of my crafty supplies part of our effort to consume less and de-clutter our household. I love scrapbooking, but I’m such a perfectionist that it takes me forever (and my pages look good, but not that good) and I find myself putting things off. I also stopped doing it because we have no “out of the way” space and I frankly don’t like to clean up after myself mid-project. I decided to embrace another hobby, knitting, that takes up less space and mental energy than scrapbooking, but I missed that focused time on recapping great memories.

Building a travel binder is like doing that, but on the front-end instead of the back-end. As I assemble information and maps, I can dream about the experiences we’ll have. I can think forward to everything, instead of thinking back. My efforts will be useful for making memories, not, well, remembering them. The entire time I work on my travel binder, my anticipation for the trip builds.

And really, isn’t anticipation always sweeter than reflection?

What are your best tricks for building and enjoying the anticipation of an upcoming trip?

My packing goal

From Car Gurus. This is a near-exact replica of my first car, a 1990 Plymouth Acclaim, which I got circa 2003. Mine had the rain-guard upgrade…after-factory.

As a teen, I (sort of) lived out of my car. That’s a pretty generous packing area.

I had lived with my mom, but after she died of cancer, I bounced around a few different houses. I changed locations to start taking college courses and settled into living with a wonderful couple who are now second parents to me, but I still visited my dad often. And a weekend visit would mean the trunk of my car would be packed.

I was afraid to miss something. I wanted all my entertainment, and as many outfits as possible, at my disposal. I didn’t use suitcases often; instead, I would just fill up a few laundry baskets and totes. I would bring huge bags of makeup and hair tools, even though I’ve always been one to wear the same products every day and my hair always ended up in a ponytail within half an hour. But who cared? I had a huge car to stuff.

When I moved to grad school, I would have my car slam-full for 3-week trips home to Ohio. Then Hubs and I started doing joint trips to both Ohio and New Jersey. Around our wedding, we would literally have an entire hatchback filled to the brim; the passenger seat wouldn’t even recline.

I was so worried about being bored. Or not having the right clothes. Or shoes. Did I mention that I wanted all my crafts and hobbies? And I needed to take tons of books and papers, because I was going to be super productive. And with all that packing…I rarely crafted, almost never studied, and still ran out of clothes and shoes.

I’ve slowly gotten better. I’ve started flying places, and as a cheapskate, I have yet to pay for checked luggage. Our 9-day trip to India in March 2012 was a crash-course in dragging stuff I don’t need halfway across the world. I started experimenting with leaving things behind. At the same time, I started simplifying across my life. I gave up on crafts like scrapbooking and  glass mosaics. I enjoyed them but rarely worked on them because they take too much space (and, because I wanted each thing to be perfect, too much time). I fell in love with the Kindle and have sold off all but a handful of sentimental books and a shelf or two of professional resources.

Most importantly for packing, I weeded out my wardrobe, time after time, layer after layer, until I became ruthless. I didn’t miss the clothes I gave away or threw out, because they all had issues. They didn’t fit well. They had stains or holes. They weren’t my style. They didn’t match anything. They were never right for the occasion. They didn’t work. 

It turns out that when you pack mostly clothes that don’t work, you end up “running out of things to wear” no matter how heavy your suitcase is. Same thing with shoes; when none of them are comfortable, or they only match this one outfit for this one occasion, you’re going to be packing a lot of shoes to get by.

I’ll talk more in the future about my downsizing (rightsizing?) process and how I’ve learned to pack (and live) with less. But for now, I want to show you my packing goal:

The Aeronaut, from Tom Bihn

One “maximum carry-on” bag with stow-away backpack straps. Without wheels. For me and Hubs. If the size doesn’t limit me, the weight will. (I imagine that Hubs and I will trade off carrying this and his camera bag.) I’m tired of being tied to bulky suitcases, even carry-ons. If we get to a city early in the day, I want the option to just go about our day, with our weekend suitcase in hand if we don’t want to swing by our hotel to check our bag.

And yes, Tom Bihn makes lots of custom-sized packing cubes. Yes, I want them. Especially the one that converts to a lightweight backpackI can’t wait to graduate so I can get this as my graduation gift!

Lodging: Location, location, location!

Although I love staying in a nice hotel, what I love most is staying in a central hotel.

The Comfort Inn we stayed at for our August 2011 “honeymoon” in San Diego (which was a combined vacation and conference…as most of our vacations so far have been) was tiny. We had just enough room to scoot around the bed. Most of the finishes were outdated and worn. But we got a great rate, and I would stay there again in a heartbeat.

Although it was small, it still met our basic needs. We didn’t need a work space, just a “home base” and sleeping area. They included a small fridge and microwave, so we picked up some microwavable meals from a local grocery store to save money and time on meals. (One of my biggest disappointments with going vegetarian 5 years ago is the loss of lunch meat sandwiches on trips. I’m a picky eater and haven’t found an equivalently easy/satisfying replacement yet.)

Comfort Inn
From the Comfort Inn website. Never trust a fish-eye lens. (I think our room was actually smaller than this, but it’s a similar set-up.)

There’s a difference between outdated and dirty; the comforter may have been old, but I didn’t feel afraid to have the sheets touch my body. (Unlike our Minneapolis-area Motel 8 experience in May 2013.) And the staff were as friendly and helpful as we could ask for. (Definitely unlike our Minneapolis-area Motel 8 experience.) They may have had a room labeled “Business Center and Laundry Room (Really)” (no exaggeration — wish I could find the picture from my old phone), but they had found a way to offer both services and were able to laugh with guests about the juxtaposition of washing machines with printer-ready computers.

CI business laundry
From the Comfort Inn website. The laundry machines are cleverly hidden behind the photographer. 

They also offered breakfast. We usually stay in places with breakfast, so I hadn’t realized how helpful it was until we stayed at Le Meridien Chambers in Minneapolis. Hunger is a trigger for migraines for me, so when we had to go out and find a good breakfast place, mornings got less pleasant. (Note to self–always bring protein bars, especially if the hotel doesn’t offer breakfast.) Again, the breakfast area was tiny, but it was well-stocked and very functional.

The main reason I would stay there again? They were in the heart of the Gaslamp district! We had a blast on foot, and San Diego’s great train system was just a few blocks away. We literally could have gone to Tijuana on that train.

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 10.23.27 AM
From Google Maps. No idea what the blue points are.

The hotel was also a few short blocks from the convention center (I was there for a conference, remember?). And in San Diego, I really enjoyed the quiet, overcast morning walk. (San Diego was where I realized that full sun day after day bothers me. I have issues. And I realize now that bright sun is another migraine trigger. But I’m also a twisted Midwesterner who distrusts continued good weather.)

So although there were many reasons I loved our experience at the tiny, outdated Comfort Inn, the biggest reason was that it was exactly where we wanted to be, at a price that left money for us to do everything we wanted in San Diego. And by the end of our stay, I kind of liked having the sink outside the bathroom.