Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Saying Goodbye, A Travel Adventure

Six years ago we bought our first investment property.  I named it Villa Pompano after the South Florida town in which its located (Pompano Beach).  The three-bedroom house with a pool close to the beach was to be a vacation rental house, where we would vacation when it was wasn’t rented.  Fast forward through spring and summer visits which became shorter and shorter as we watched Duckie grow from daycare to pre-school to kindergarten and now to second grade.  As her available vacation time shrunk and our careers took unexpected turns we didn’t get to spend as much time in the house as we liked.  But we did our best to make our time there count.  Using it as a training ground for Duckies fledgling swimming career; as a jump-off point for exploring SE Florida and the Caribbean; as a quick getaway and a place for hosting family celebrations. 
Duckie Then
Duckie In-Between

Duckie Now

In between, I struggled to make sure it was well marketed and rented out as often as possible.  I did my best to managed crisis like repeatedly backed up plumbing which ultimately required an underground re-piping of the whole house.  I went from service person to service person until I found the ones who would actually show up, not just lie and ask for payment.  And I gasped as the Florida government with its low property taxes fleeced vacation rental owners for monthly sales taxes (state and county), annual vacation license fees for the county, business license fees for the city, and required commercial property, hurricane and liability insurance (with rates that increased by 10% a year).  To say it was a lot of work is putting it mildly.  Over the course of those 6 years we also acquired and sold three condos in the area.  We maintained them as long term rentals for a period of time before selling them when the market was up.  They all turned out to be profitable investments which allowed me to find my stride.  Investing in and managing properties allows me to use my project management and entrepreneurial skills in a way that is fulfilling and allows me a great deal of independence.

But last week when we flew down for spring break, I was feeling anything but leisurely.  On the docket was closing out the house as it was being sold by the end of the month.  Financially, it’s a good decision.  Emotionally, it’s a tough one.  I didn’t grow up thinking, I’d be the type of person who had a vacation home.  (Duckie, on the other hand tells people she’s going to her beach house!)  But to be able to have one and find a way to make it pay for itself is an awesome accomplishment.  I’m not a sentimental person (at all!!) but this house is one inanimate object to which I have become attached!

Villa Pompano Before and After

So because I’m me and he’s Him, there was only one way to turn that frown upside down.  I signed the closing papers early so I could get that off my to-do list and planned a last minute excursion.  Instead of spending 8 days in Pompano Beach, Fort Lauderdale.  We spent the last four days in and around Naples on the west coast of Florida. TBC

So long Villa Pompano ...


Monday, February 6, 2017

Hobby Lady to the Rescue!

Now that the Super Bowl is over and Football is DEAD TO ME!! (Wooo Saaaa).  It’s time to get back to blogging. 

I haven’t been traveling nearly enough and its affecting my attitude, just ask the poor folks who have to live with me.  Climate change is helping because in between the cold days of winter, spring happens.  Though clearly that’s temporary pleasure for long term destruction.  So, can’t count that as a win.

I decided to commit to a week of fun with Hubby last week.  Every day, we would do at least one thing fun!  On day one we played color Sudoku.  On days two through seven we forgot. 

I did book massages for us last week (oh yeah!).  Then the kid got a big ol’ ear infection and was home from school for 3 days.  So I had to cancel the massages and stay in a germ filled home with my adorable kid who transformed into the wicked witch of the west.

As previously mentioned, football is DEAD TO ME! So you know how my Super Bowl fun went.  Though to be fair, we had a great time until the end.

I gave up swimming, pottery, dancing and any rigorous exercise for at least a month.  I’m only allowed to do 30 minute walks a few times a week.  It’s my self-imposed healing plan, because nothing and no-one has been able to fix my hip and groin injuries.  So far this plan is working, but it meant cutting out activities I love.

So how in these trying times is a girl supposed to enjoy life?  Well I’m all about figuring it out. 

For starters, I’m forcing myself to write this blog post.  I’ve been avoiding it for months because I like sharing upbeat, helpful information.  But If I’m committed to writing it, then I’m also forced to be on the look-out for fun, engaging and important things.

Secondly, I spent the last several years acquiring hobbies for just this reason.   I knew that I wouldn’t always be able to rely on travel as my #1 hobby.  So I tried and bunch of stuff and what stuck was:

  • Knitting – I’m currently working on a huge poncho, which will be beautiful when I finish it in a couple of years J
  • Cooking – I’d gotten carried away with complex recipes which required too much time on my feet, which is bad for my hip.  So I’ve stopped avoiding the Instant Pot and now I have an endless supply of simple, tasty and quick dinner recipes. And I’d never have heard of the pot, had it not been for my recipe swapping friends in our local cooking club.
  • Reading – A few years back I started a book club with a few friends.  It gives me a reason to always be reading.  And since book club is not really about the books, its gives me a date once a month where I’m guaranteed to a great girls night!
  • Girls Date – I started a weekly date with Duckie a few years ago.  Most times this date lands us at Starbucks, or the library or both.  Her busy swim schedule was getting in the way this year.  But we’ve recommitted.  It’s a great time for me to get to know her and allow her the opportunity to get to know me (seems she’s got a few questions).  Most of all it’s guaranteed to dissolve into a giggle-fest at least once per date.

I didn’t get these hobbies overnight.  I really extended myself outside my comfort zone socially and creatively for several years.  So if you are thinking of trying something new, I encourage you not only to try it, but to try it several times before deciding if it’s for you or not.  Sometimes overcoming the challenge is the most rewarding.  Other times, you end up with nice dust collectors (like my guitar).  But as your mom probably said, “you’ll never know, unless you try.”

So that (and planning spring break ;-) are my attempts at beating the winter blues.  What are you doing?

That poncho isn’t going to knit itself and my accountant won’t file my taxes based on empty spreadsheets, so I’ve got to go … Talk Soon

Friday, October 28, 2016

Adventures is Food (Adventure 1)

I’ve been absent (hopefully, noticeably) for a few weeks.  Not just because my schedule has been too hectic to really get my brain to focus. But also because, I usually draw inspiration from what I’m seeing and hearing on the news, online, etc.  But the last few weeks has been wall to wall election and election scandal coverage.

While I doubt most of my political views are a secret, that is not a subject I desire to focus on in this blog.  And really, there is no need, as seemingly hundreds of thousands of other bloggers have it covered.  But that left me with little to write about.  I mean really the coverage has been so wall to wall that Kim K being held at gun point could hardly remain a top story in a 24 hour news cycle.  And no matter how we feel about Kim K a woman being held at gun-point in a hotel for her jewelry is headline news.  Add to it that the woman is a celebrity and a damn near created social media, and this is big news and terrible news.  But alas, no time for digging into that these days.

Food to the rescue!  Thank you food.  I decided to be a blogging guinea pig and try out one of the meal delivery services.  I received a $30 off coupon from Blue Apron via snail mail.  At the time, I was both bored with cooking and tired of doing it.  Plus, I’d been struggling with hip pain which made the idea of standing around to cook, well, unsavory.

But as luck would have it, I got the good meds, just as my first box arrived (about a week and a half after I’d set up my account).  Duckie was the most excited to see the big box on the porch.  Why?  I guess even now cardboard boxes are still the best toys in town!

If you’ve never tried it, here’s how it works:  You go to their website and sign up.  Then enter some very basic preferences like, meal plan (2 person or 4 person – I chose 2 person), # of recipes per week (I chose 3), dietary preferences (I chose not to receive beef or pork) and it defaults to Sunday as your deliver day but this can be changed.  I was not however able to set a preference for gluten-free or dairy-free.

On my first order I was able to use the $30 discount, and received a $12.50 rebate from E-bates.  However, since it’s a subscription, the following orders were regularly priced at $60 (a 4 person plan is double).  I have participated for 3 non-consecutive weeks (based on if I liked or couldn’t eat the things on things the menu).  Here are some of the dished I made (shown based on nothing other than me remembering to take a picture):

Ratings (5 Yums = Great; 1 Yum = Yucky)

  • Cripsy Catfish (with kale-faro salad and warm grape relish) - 5 Yums
  • Five Spice Chicken - 2 Yums
  • Thai Red Curry & Rice - 3 Yums
  • Crispy Catfish (with yellow curry and bird's eye chile sauce) - 4 Yums

Other Meals:

  • Caramelized Onion Kale Quiches - 5 Yums
  • Pan Seared Chicken - 4 Yums
  • Blackened Chicken - 3 Yums
  • Crispy Salmon - 5 Yums
  • Brown Butter and Thyme Gnocchi - 4 Yums

My Review:
All of the meals were good.  My least favorite was the Five Spice Chicken. But that was the fault of the five spices.  It’s just not a flavor I crave.  My most favorite was the Catfish with the Grape Relish.  Yumm.  But everything in between was delicious and satisfying.

Let’s talk prep.  Each recipe comes with an estimated prep and cook time.  The cook times were always accurate or a little more than needed because my stove puts out a strong flame.  The prep times always took me 10-15 minutes longer than what was indicated.  But I’m not sure I can blame Blue Apron for that.  I’m a bit of a paranoid recipe follower.  My constant reading and re-reading (and yet some-how never reading far enough ahead) must account for a lot of the time difference.  Also I don’t/can’t speed chop.  I’m too in love with my fingers.  But I would expect that all but the most skilled, would require a few additional prep time minutes.

What do you get?  Pretty much everything you need.  The only ingredients of my own I had to use were olive oil and salt and pepper.  Everything else was included, down to the 2 tablespoons of butter!

Is it enough?  Yes, if you eat like an actual human should.  Because there are three of us, but I’m cheap I ordered the 2 person plan instead of the 4 person plan.  Duckie likes to eat, but dinner is often her least favorite time to eat.  She’s too busy talking, standing, playing with the remote control, reading, trying to talk us into watching tv, etc, etc, etc.  Eating is just not a priority at that time unless it’s one of her favorites. And she loads up on snacks after school and before swim practice.  Any who, that means I don’t need to give her a full serving.  Most days I gave her ¼ of my meal and that was plenty.  But she did like some meals so much that additional sacrifices had to be made.  And since I was only cooking 3 Blue Apron meals per week, I also had leftovers from other meals which she had the option of choosing. Hubby says his portion was just right and my ¾ of a meal was great for me too.

Will I continue?  Yes, but sporadically (ah, missing Brittany Murphy from Clueless).  I love not having to think about or shop for dinner.  I also love only getting the amount of raw food I need.  My refrigerator is not currently filled with produce that will go bad before I find a second or third use for it.  And, I love that not one of these recipes would I have come up with on my own.  I don’t love that I can’t always select dairy or gluten-free options.  And though a local ABC new report priced it out as just the same as going to the market, it feels like I’m over-spending.

What’s next?  I tried Hello Fresh once and didn’t fell those were meals I wouldn’t have done myself and done better.  There are other plans I’d like to try also.  But last night my lil’ bro told me about an app called Mealime (its also a website, but its 2016 people).  This app lets you set up all the same preferences as Blue Apron and a lot more (including gluten and dairy-free) and then suggests meals to you for the week.  After you finalize your selections, it creates a grocery list for you and then provides the recipes. While this option obviously requires me to o to the grocery store, it still eliminates the thought and planning on my part.  So I’m intrigued and will report back.

I’m done with all my Blue Apron meals for this week.  Which means I’ve got to go and pick up the kid and get started preparing my uninspired dinner of baked chicken, potatoes and random frozen vegetable.  Talk soon … BMK  

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Hubby says I should blog about how he has ADHD and he never forgets anything, is super organized and is super reliable.  But of course by now he’s forgotten he even asked me to blog that lie!

The truth is his memory sucks, he views organization as the enemy and I can rely on having to ask him to do something an average of 3-5 times in a week if I actually have any hope of getting it done.  Of course if it needs to be done that day, then I’ll have to condense it to 3-5 five reminders a day, better known as nagging!

We only recently discovered that he has ADHD, and not on purpose.  We were more concerned about the horrible year Duckie had in school last year.  Her class had no structure, several teacher changes and one constant … Duckie was always distracted and talkative and sometimes angry.  This is nothing new (except for the ridiculous teacher changes). Every year we head into parent teacher conferences, with our invisible armor on.  It’s been this way since pre-K.  In fact, if parent teacher conferences are the first time we are being asked to meet about Duckie’s behavior, I consider that a win!

When Duckie was a baby she watched everything, like she was studying for a test. She seemed to want to know how everything worked, especially people.  She smiled a lot and she grunted.  She was not overly concerned with finding words.  In fact, after she starting talking she quickly decided to stop.  She stopped talking just after she decided to call me mommy.  You can imagine, this was disturbing.  I mean she said daddy and kept talking for months!! Ok, that wasn’t really the disconcerting part.  It was obviously a developmental concern.  But she was able to effectively communicate through grunts (which may say a lot about us as a family) and eventually, I pushed her to point to pictures of things she wanted (i.e milk from the fridge).  Then one day she started talking and she had never stopped again.  No really she has not stopped.  She even talks (and grunts) in her sleep.

So by the time she got to pre-K, talking non-stop was just a thing she did and a thing teachers complained about.  My bestie in middle school talked non-stop, so I figured it was just a character trait.  Duckie also moves non-stop.  That too has always been true.  As a baby she was most content riding in the car or being pushed through the streets in a stroller, where she could look out into the world.  And as a toddler, she began everyday by asking where we were going.

She would also appear to not be paying attention to the TV or a conversation and then chime in with a question that showed she’d heard everything.  I watched her do the same thing in class last year, to her teacher’s dismay.  She was talking through the teacher’s instructions and when put on the spot could repeat back exactly what the instructions had been.  Damn!! I thought, sucks to be the teacher to this kid!  Oh wait, I’m her mom, and she does the same thing to me. 

Anyway, we just thought all of these things were just part of her amazing personality.  I’ve often said, I’ve never met anyone like her.  Well turns out I have, I married him.  And while her personality is amazing, she has also been diagnosed with ADHD with an emphasis on Hyperactivity.

What are the symptoms of ADD/ADHD?

Those are the broad categories under which the main symptoms fall.  The specific questions that are asked by doctors and in numerous books on the subject with checklist, are more specific.  For example, is the person?
  • Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Appears “on the go” or acts as if “driven by a motor.”
  • Talks excessively.
  • Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework).
Another symptom is hyper focus on things you enjoy.
Like climbing a rock wall without hesitation or direction on your first try.

Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes.  In fact, her pediatrician did not even have to ask these questions.  I just asked Maia to tell him about what happens at school.  And because of her gift of gab she answered all those questions and more without being asked.

When we got the diagnosis it was not an “aha” moment.  Instead it was a “duh why didn’t we know that moment”.  The answer is simple.  Like most people you think a disability is disabling.  But it’s not for Duckie (and many people).  As of now, she is able to learn while not actually paying attention.  As a result, all of her grades (except the ones for behavior) are good.  So I’m pretty sure we could have stayed in our fog of not knowing for years to come if I hadn’t asked the doctor for a consult.  No one at school, ever suggested the possibility, though I’m pretty confident they suspected.

So, once we got the diagnosis, I did what I do.  I wore out my library card reading about ADHD.  And in every book, on every checklist, I started to realize these symptoms remind me about someone else.  I would start randomly asking Hubby questions.  “Babe, do you have difficulty organizing tasks during the day?”  “How about movement, do you usually feel the need to move?”  “And what about …” Well couldn’t finish the questions because he was interrupting frequently and talking incessantly!

So it became obvious to us both that at least two people in our home were struggling with the same daily challenges.  We can’t get him to fill out the questionnaire, but we’ve decided the youngest dog has it too!   

So where will this journey take us?  Well as of right now I’m the only one who stands a chance of remembering to get back to you on that!  But seriously, it’s a relief to know that the two people I care for the most aren’t intentionally ignoring me all day.  And that their level of energy is not one I can hope to match.  For now, we are going through the steps of having the school child study team complete their evaluations to make sure Duckie will be in the best learning environment for her.  And as for hubby, he’s flashing back to childhood and realizing how different things could have been for him, if he and his family had and explanation for his challenges. And in the meantime, he’s trying his hardest to remember what it is that he is forgetting.

Gotta go remind some people of somethings.  This video is the soundtrack of my life.  Talk soon ... BMK

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

And we are back!

Our 5 day cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas turned out to be just what we needed.  It provided us with relaxation, beauty and free child care!!  After two long weeks of not parenting Duckie because she was at sleep away camp, we needed to ease back in the responsible adult thing :-)
Somebody was happy to be crusing!

Even though I used to be a travel agent and even worked at the Norwegian Cruise terminal in New York City for a time, I’ve never sailed with any cruise line other than Royal Caribbean.  It’s like when you find a pair of jeans that fits perfectly, you don’t start shopping around for other brands.  You stick with what you know as long as it works.  For me a high level of customer service is important when I travel and in any business/service transaction.  This was my 8th cruise (I think), Duckie’s 4th and Hubby’s 3rd.  Each cruise has left us feeling happy and refreshed, but maybe this one the most. 

At only 5 days and 2 destinations, this was the shortest cruise we’ve taken and it was the smallest ship on which we have sailed.  The Empress of the Seas was built in 1990 and has since been dwarfed by each ship the company has built since.  It was retired and then two months ago it returned to service after being refurbished.  Because of this transition the ship is like a grandmother on Twitter.   The dining room has a old school feel, with chairs that look very much like the carpet, and gold railings surrounding a grand staircase.  But up on deck, a large HD screen floats over the bar showing movies and the Olympics while guest watch from the hot tub or the salt water pool which is small by today’s standards.  Other upgrades include the rock climbing wall, steakhouse restaurant, and in room flat screen TVs with satellite coverage. 

But that’s exactly what made it so great.  Unlike my usual, let’s keep it moving self, I was happy to not have 1 million options of things to do.  In fact, it’s fair to say there was still plenty to do, I just didn’t do it.  There were shows, and bingo and Karaoke, and a Casino, and game shows, and dance parties, and a spa.  But here is how we spend our days at sea:  Breakfast, followed by sitting in or around the pool, while Duckie played with a new friend.  Lunch pool side and then a shower.  Duckie then went off to kids club, which is essentially, summer camp on a ship, and we napped or read or sat in a lounge chair on deck with cigars.  Then we’d head to dinner with or without Duckie (sometimes she preferred to stay eat with the kids club, she’s just not that into being parented, post-camp).  Our waiter was obsessed with making sure no diary was slipped to me in any dish (lactose-intolerance) and the assistant water got me hooked on sour dough bread which was tolerated by my gluten-intolerance.  (It’s not easy being green!) After dinner, we’d watch a movie on deck or relax in the cabin. Then we’d usually have a late night snack before bed.

Our daily view

We spent one full day at sea before docking in Grand Cayman.  We’d all been before so, instead of swimming with the sting rays or having Duckie pull the tails of the gigantic biting turtles (in fairness she was a 1 year old when did this), we just hopped a $5 taxi van to Seven Mile Beach (the Sea Grape section) and spent a few hours swimming in clear blue water with our goggles on to create our DIY snorkeling adventure.  And in between swims we relaxed on the rented beach chairs under the rented umbrella sipping cocktails from the beach bar.  Really, there could not be a more perfect day.
Grand Cayman

Tandem Float

Tender Boat in and out of Grand Cayman from ship

After another day at sea we docked in Key West, a favorite place of mine and Hubby.  But we are used to being there at a hotel or with a car to go out and adventure and also to eat a lot.  On foot in the hot sun and with little desire to pay for a meal, when great ones were free on the ship, we found ourselves without a real plan.  After hitting up the Starbucks and CVS it was starting to feel a bit too much like home, so we hailed a cab and asked to be taken to a nice beach close by.  The taxi driver seems to think the beach in Fort Taylor State Park with rocks instead of sand fit the bill.  While I disagreed, we were there, so we rented beach chairs and an umbrella and creeped over the sharp rocks on hands and feet until we were comfortably in the water, and then a thunderstorm began!  Ha!  It started to rain really hard, people ran as fast as one can over rocks out of the water and under the awning of the convenience stand.  We stood under our umbrella, getting dressed and wondering how we’d time our beach trip so perfectly, as to make it a complete waste of time.  But just as things were looking, well overcast, humanity gave us a reason to smile.  The guy at the beach chair and umbrella stand refunded us our rental fee.  We hopped a cab back to the ship got on board and headed to lunch.  By the time we were done the rain had ended and we resumed our normal at sea activity of relaxing. 
Key West through the Port Hole
Normally when all three us of cruise together we have our picture taken on formal night and purchase one or two 8x10 photos.  This serves as a simple way to get something close to a bi-annual family portrait.  But because of the small size of the ship they did not have a photographer and backdrop set up outside of the dining room.  Instead they advertised a photo studio with no sitting fees.  So we made an appointment for that last evening and had our photo session.  We came back a few hours later to select photos and nearly fell out of our seats laughing.  The photos were all black and white, which we knew going in, but the photographer used a camera filter which highlighted the whites, thus exposing every single gray hair on my head and aging me by 20 years.  For hubby this caused him to appear as though his hair line had moved back a foot!  We easily eliminated 20 or more photos and selected just three photos to purchase.  Which was two more than, we’d originally planned to purchase.  The photographer was aghast.  He could not believe we would only want three pictures.  So I said, “Yup, that’s all we need. How much will it be?”  I was thinking he might give us a discount because we’d had to wait 30 minutes for him to be available, after he’d asked us to come early.  He said people normally chose more pictures and the digital package was $550.  We were practically rolling on the floor laughing at this point.  Which I understand might have been offensive to the poor guy, since it was his job to sell ridiculous things to dummies.  So I explained we didn’t need the pictures digitally, we just needed 3 prints.  He remained stunned, while thinking really hard and then said … wait for it … “That will be $350.”  Of course, even he couldn’t say it with a straight face.  Suffice it to say I can’t show you how my grays glistened and Hubby’s newly bald head shined, because we left empty handed, repeating every few minutes, “ Did he really say $350?!”
But I can show you this photo of me using my Birdling Bag as my everything bag for the cruise/beach  (You might want to get one at birdling.com)

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that photo studio idea won’t catch on with all the other ships.  If it does then I need to start a business selling sand in the Sahara.  I said as much in the survey Royal Caribbean emailed post-cruise.   All in all, it was obvious that most of the staff was new to Royal Caribbean, service was still good, just not great as it usually is.  And based on experiences I heard from previous clients, average service (and food quality) on Royal is still better than good service on Carnival or Norwegian.  So I’d expect they just need a few months to work out the kinks of scaling down their big operation to this smaller ship.  And with prices as low as small ship sailing offers, I think there will be many other guests who are ready to enjoy the relaxing just as we did.

Well that's all for now.  Duty calls time to prep for back to school, back to life and back to dreaming about my next vacation.  Maybe next time I'm in at Miami's airport I'll stop in here ...
Namaste .... Talk soon, BMK

Friday, August 19, 2016

... And then I nearly ruined summer

Just moments after I completed my last post about how I saved summer by booking a last minute cruise for just about free, it happened.  I finally responded to Dave, the voice in my head.  Actually, it was the voice of the Royal Caribbean agent, Dave, who when I booked asked, you have passports right? As, we wrapped up the conversation.  "Yup!" I said, as I forcefully declined his offers for travel insurance (that's for rookies).

So after I published the post, I took a trip down to the safe, figuring I might as well pack the passports now.  But really somewhere deep, deep down, I must have known.  It's been two years since they were last used.  What with school and finances getting in the way (and the lack of a worthy Olympics destination) we've been traveling a lot less and when we do its domestic.

So you already know where this is going.  I'm writing to you now from the Regional US Passport Office in Stamford CT.  As you may know children's passports expire every five years.  (If you have one, I'll wait while you check the expiration date).  I was sure those five years would be up sometime other than NOW!

So 8 days ago I was freaking out.  The kid's passport is expired, I booked a non-refundable trip, kid must appear in person to renew passport and THE KID IS AT SLEEP AWAY CAMP, 2.5 hours away.

Did you just stop breathing?  Well I did.  Hubby came home and we hyperventilated together.  We thought about hitting the road the next day picking her up from camp and driving the 2+ hours from there to the nearest emergency passport location(Stamford or NYC) and then driving her back to camp.  Only to have to go pick her up again to bring her home a week later.  I hate driving long distances. So this idea to me was basically signing up for torture.  Hubby doesn't mind driving, he likes it actually. But then he imagined how mad Duckie would be if we made her miss a day at, "the best place in the world! "

Ultimately we decided on the plan that brings us here, now the day before our early morning flight to Miami to board the cruise.  We left the house at 5:30 am this morning armed with the passport photos I'd asked the camp to take and send me and which I bugged the photo guy at Costco to print (Why can't you do it? But why? What policy?  Give me the thumb drive miss. Sigh) and the 1 million documents and completed forms needed.  With permission we picked Duckie up from camp 3 hours early and headed to Stamford.  We had an appointment for 1 pm but arrived around 11am. Our paperwork was accepted and fees taken by the very friendly staff within 10 minutes.  We were told to return at 3pm.  It's 3:05 and ...

Summer saved again!  Bring on the beaches and clear water ... Talk soon .. but not too soon.  BMK

Thursday, August 11, 2016

How BMK Saved Summer (and Football)!

It appears I'm in an annual denial cycle of summer being just as busy a time as any other.  I've held on to this myth since summers where actually a break from school work, despite working during summer break.  Each year it gets harder to believe in this orange unicorn of a leisurely summer, but I still believe.

This summer I focused my fairy wishes on August when the evils of the universe (I'm looking at you East Orange Buildings Permits Department) stopped throwing obstacles in my way.  My major projects would be done (still looking at you EODPD) and what I hoped would be a successful Operation Backpack drive would be over (it was super successful, many thanks).  Then my Duckie would head of to sleep away camp and all would be right with the world.

But here I am in the midst of her sleep away camp bid and I find myself with financial stresses up the wazu and a new job that I was never formerly offered or asked to accept (welcome to Wally World!)  Still I was on a mission to save summer for me and Hubby, because lets face it Duckie is doing just fine!
Dukie, toughing it out at drop off to her 2nd sleep-away camp of the summer
I used up several notebook pages calculating frequent flier miles, credit card points and travel promotions.  The next few pages went to scheduling.  Because of all things, I have to plan our vacation around the live draft we are having for the fantasy football league for which I am commissioner (you can just call me The Commish).  It falls right smack in the middle of the only two week period during which we can get away.  Imagine my conversations with booking agents, "well that date doesn't really work for me because of the draft."  But alas, it took a whole month for all of the team managers to agree on a date when we could all be in the same state on the same date at the same time.  So I'm not messing with that.

Me, driving around town in a Jeep Wrangler, pretending potholes are sand dunes
My ideal trip would have been to use the miles to spend a week in Barcelona.  Not enough miles to pull that off this time of year.  Second best, go to Seattle/Vancouver and make sure to see a Seahawks pre-season game while there.  I had enough miles to get us there, but couldn't work out an itinerary that left enough time to see the game.  (Hmmm... maybe I need to take a look at how football is ruining my summers ... tbd)  So I gave in to going on a road trip to a New England beach town.  I spent over a week looking at destinations and rental properties.  The latter made me mini-vomit in my mouth frequently.  Can you all please spread the word that every rental property in the world should have white linens and microfiber or leather single colored sofas?!  Thanks.  So.... that didn't work out.
I was distraught, because if I'm going to finagle a vacation by cashing in on all my travel tricks of the trade, it ought to be a good vacation, and in August, I'd prefer it include a beach.  (But not only beach, because I'm easily bored.  So I also need a cute town and affordable restaurants....)  Desperate and deterred, I had an ah ha!  Momma loves a cruise!  So why not just hop on one out of NJ to Bermuda.  I was in luck Royal Caribbean had just the cruise on the dates I needed.  And United Cruises had all kinds of promotions for using my Mileage Plus Visa Card or points.  Then, it was sold out.  No worries, I called Royal Caribbean to get on the waiting list (there is always one and if you live near the port city, it's worth it to be on the list).  The agent was happy to help until I said there would be 3 of us.  "Oh," she said, "We can only put groups of two on the waiting list now because the boat will not have enough life jackets if the final cabins are filled with more than two people."  I pride myself on smooth talking agents.  But I'm not fighting that logic. I'm gonna need a life vest!

But she did tip me off to some departures out of Florida that fit my travel date limitations and were on super dupper sale.  So here's what I got:

5 Night Cruise from Miami to Key West and Grand Cayman on Royal Carribean
Outside Cabin for 3 people

  • Cost $1052 booked directly with RCCL ($200-300 more with United Cruises or Amex Travel)
  • I booked on my Amex Card where I can use my points to pay for $600
  • I also have enough points on my business Chase Ink card to cash those in for $407 which goes into my checking account.  

So I'm $45 short of making the cruise free of cost.  But by the time the bill comes in I'll have earned enough addition Amex Membership Reward Points to cover that too.  Total Cruise Cost = $0

Next was airfare:
3 Roundtrip tickets into Miami and out of Fort Lauderdale (spending one night at Villa Pompano)

  • Cost 67,000 Mileage Plus points and $253 

The only bummer is that $225 of that fee is not taxes its the fee United charges for booking an award flight less than 21 days in advance.  In other words, its ridiculous!  And there is a work around, my friend Google told me.  You book the exact flights you want but on a date more than 21 days out, then call within 24 hours to change to the dates you want.  United booking agents have to manually add the $75 close-in booking fee, but usually forget.  But I was too burnt out to go through all that hootinany and risk my flights not being available.  So I'm coughing up a spectacular $253 for my Ultimate End of Summer Blow Out Vacation!!!  Though, I'm still convinced, if I think hard enough, I'll find away to get the orange unicorn to have that cost magically disappear.

Well, that's it.  I've got packing to do, it's summer, its pre-season so, GO BIG OR GO HOME! - BMK