Monday, January 12, 2015

2014 roundup

One of the perks of being pregnant is that you can do all the lazy, procrastinaty things you would normally be doing, and everyone gives you a pass because your body is growing another body with no conscious effort on your part.

(The perks of pregnancy end there, very abruptly. Everything else is the worst.)

So with that in mind, I'm off the hook for not updating my blog ever, right? The important thing is that I'm still checking things off my list--more slowly than I would be if I could still see my feet, probably--but checking them off nonetheless. Here's 2014 in review:

#2. run a 5K

Most people (read: sane people) prepare for a 5K by doing logical things like actual running. I prepared for my 5K by saying "Hey! A 5K! I should do that!" and paying the registration fee for my free t-shirt. I'm almost positive I put this goal on my list initially to make myself run more regularly, which means I completed this goal while also laughing in the face of my past self. Sounds like me.

The proceeds for the 5K went to pay for summer camps for at-risk youth, which is totally worth running for. It was sponsored by the local police department and was preceded by a community fair where I held a snake!

My friend Lauren, who runs on her college cross country team, agreed to run at a glacial pace with me. Best Lauren ever.

The run itself wasn't the worst thing ever, but there was this guy who kept poking me every time I would slow down like I was going to power walk. He did it to be encouraging, but at the time I just wanted to deck him. Running makes people violent, I think.

Lauren and I finished around the 44 minute mark, which I'd say is pretty good for someone who trained for the 5K by eating less popsicles than usual. I was sore for an entire week after.

#4. only buy thrifted/made in USA clothing for one year

Out of all the goals I accomplished this year, I think I'm proudest of this one. I made my new 99 list just after the Savar building collapse, considered the deadliest garment-factory collapse in history, and this goal was almost entirely inspired by how tragic the collapse was and how horrifying the aftermath was. A lot of the companies whose clothing was made in the building refused to compensate the families of the workers who died, despite those companies making billions of dollars in revenue (looking at you, Walmart, you big jerk). A lot of them also refused to support better workplace conditions for overseas workers. The whole thing was an absolute mess, and my righteous indignation led to me putting this goal on my list.

And holy cow, am I glad I did! Before, I always prided myself on being able to find the best deal on anything. I was amazing at shopping. I loved shopping. But once I decided I wasn't going to support unfair garment manufacturing practices, all that came to a screeching halt. For the first time in my life, I was checking the "Made in..." label before looking at anything else--even the price--because that was now my dealbreaker. I walked away from a lot of cute things. I paid a little more for things made in the US, and I did a lot more shopping at secondhand stores, and I didn't make one impulse buy the entire year...because I couldn't. (Don't even get me started on how much money I saved!)

Instead of just seeing how cute the outfits in mall displays were, I started wondering about where they were made and who made them. I started learning which clothing companies had ethical manufacturing policies and which didn't. That line of thinking trickled into my shoes, my accessories, and eventually into most of my purchases for the year, even after I started getting rounder and had to trade in my zippered jeans for some secondhand skinnys with a big elastic belly panel.

Now that the year-long goal is over, I don't think I can go back to how I was before. I've officially become one of those people who won't buy baby clothes from box stores and who knows what "fair trade" means. Plus, it gives me an excuse to buy handmade things on etsy, and what could be better than that?

#8. complete my Animorphs collection

I was so excited to check this one off my list, largely due to the efforts of one Ricky Jensen and his tireless efforts to appease his '90s-loving wife. I've been hunting down my missing Animorphs books at a glacial pace--library sales, used bookstores, etc.--and Ricky comes along and in one fell swoop finishes off the whole collection at Christmas. He said it didn't even take him that long to round them up, and he didn't even have to go online. He individually wrapped each one and put them all in a huge box, presumably to give me the most joy as I got to unwrap them all and exclaim over my favorites.

(If you don't appreciate the significance of receiving 20+ Animorphs books for Christmas, who even are you? Were you even alive in 1997? K.A. Applegate was a god among women, my friends. A god.)

#10. snorkel a reef with Ricky

This goal started out as "go on an open water dive," and I had such high hopes! I finally signed Ricky up for a dive certification class, which he finished...and literally the week after he became dive certified, I found out I was pregnant. Go figure. So diving was out, but I was determined to adapt this to make it work. You know what you can do while you're pregnant? Float on top of the ocean and look at stuff. So as we were planning our upcoming trip to the Florida Keys, I found a reef I wanted to snorkel and signed us up, because adventure, right?

Right. Also, you know what happens in the Florida Keys in late autumn? Jellyfish happen. Like, Finding Nemo, Dory-let's-play-a-game levels of jellyfish. And I knew, in my rational brain-parts, that the presence of jellyfish might make snorkeling less adventurey and more just terrifying, but my Xena, Warrior Princess brain-parts told me to stop being such a wuss and expose my unborn child to whatever comes with jellyfish stings, because she could take it.

Hey, remember disposal cameras? Let this be a reminder of how craptastic they were.
Our first stop on the reef was mostly spent with me doing the following:

1. Swim two or three feet while looking straight down
2. See nothing
3. Continue seeing nothing
4. See jellyfish tentacles in periphery
5. Violently jerk upright
6. Thrash around ineffectually to get away from jellyfish
7. Realize dry snorkel has closed; suffocate
8. Clear snorkel
9. Defog mask from panicked, jellyfish-induced nose breathing
10. Repeat for 30 minutes

Speaking as someone who is a certified diver, snorkeling with jellyfish sucks. When you're diving, you just go underneath the jellyfish, because they mostly blob along on the surface. But when you're snorkeling, you're also blobbing along on the surface, which means not only can you not avoid running into the blasted things, but that they also appear out of nowhere because you can't see them until they're basically floating into your face. Between the jellyfish and the poor visibility, our first site was basically a wash. But our second site--luckily!--made up for it, with beautiful tropical fish and coral close enough to touch (which we wouldn't, because we're not heartless morons). I didn't even run into any jellyfish until I was trying to get back to the boat, at which point they formed a 15-foot barricade like jerks and made me swim around them all. I've always thought jellyfish were really beautiful and amazing, but I'd like them not in my face, thanks. The moral of the story here is that snorkeling is a poor, poor substitute for diving, and that one day I'll go back to Looe Key Reef and show those jellyfish who's boss.

Ricky: "I caught one in the act!"
The best, most hilarious decision we made on this trip was buying an underwater disposable camera. The best of the 1970s captured in 2014.
#11. attend at least five religious services different from my own

I fudged on this one a bit, because back in October I was hired as a staff singer at a local Episcopalian church, which meant I was basically required to go to more than five services. And I love it! Episcopalian services are lovely and I'm grateful to sing in them. (Even if no one told me, the pregnant Mormon girl, that Episcopalians use real wine for communion, leaving me with a mouthful of it on my first Sunday. I hope the wine y'all drink is better than communion wine, because that stuff is GROSS.)

#12. buy at least five new board/card games

I don't remember how Ricky and I got into board games, but it probably started in Virginia when we would play Settlers of Catan with Jake and Amanda (and Jake would cheat, because the game was in German so he had to translate all of our cards for us). But if you have to collect something, let it be board games, because they're a blast.

Pandemic: This one is collaborative, which means everyone plays together against the game. It's one of our game night favorites, and we just got an expansion pack for it. This game is great when you're playing with people who get too aggressive or not aggressive enough, or when you're playing with a couple who get uncomfortably angry with each other if one of them is winning.

Ticket to Ride: An easy, popular game that pairs great with watching a movie or good conversation. Another one that gets pulled out of our closet frequently, but it's a pretty static game, so we have to give it a break sometimes.

Habari: This card game is HILARIOUS if you play it just the right way, which is to cheat a little but not too much. Ricky hates it because he hates cheaters, and because the game is practically unbeatable without someone cheating sometime. I love it, though, because it's almost guaranteed to make you laugh.

Story Cubes: I keep hearing great things about this one (which is why I bought it), but no one ever wants to play it! One day...

7 Wonders: Nearly the perfect game. Short, varied gameplay, just the right combination of luck and strategy, and can be adapted for two players! It's our current favorite.

#19. take an adult education class

I enjoyed my first ASL class so much that I decided to take intermediate ASL, too! Such a cool language. I need to pick it back up again before I forget more than I have already.

#30. create a graphic design from scratch

I dabble in graphic design at work, but it's usually more layouts, etc. using elements that other people have already created. But I finally made something from scratch! One of my friends is getting married in May and asked me to make bridesmaids invitations for her, so I did. It was incredibly rewarding, even if I'm not going to open an etsy shop tomorrow or anything. It was nice to prove to myself that I could do it. Take that, Illustrator!

#42. play the piano for church at least 30 times

When you're the Young Women's President and no one else in the room plays the piano, you get to play the piano...a lot. This goal was less about helping me play the piano better and more just to get me past the terror of playing while other people sing along. And I did! And by that, I mean I mostly just stopped caring and banged through all the passages I couldn't play well. Everyone just had to deal with it.

#56. perform long-term volunteer work for at least one year

This goal originally started out with me doing braille transcription services for the Massachusetts Institute for the Blind (it's amazing what a google search for "online volunteer work" will bring up), where they would assign me a children's book title to type up and submit into their braille software for it to be printed for blind elementary school kids. SO COOL, RIGHT? I loved it. But then I got asked to be the Young Women's President at my church (basically heading the girl half of the youth group, kind of like a youth pastor), which meant a pretty hefty time commitment, and I decided that was going to be my "long-term volunteer work" instead. And let me tell you: working with teenage girls is, without any sarcasm, the most awesome thing in the world.

#57. take one photo a day at least six days a week for one year

I've tried to do this one so many times and have always failed miserably, so I'm mega-impressed with myself that I finally pulled this off. Thanks, instagram! (@thegreatkatsbie)

#59. find one complete album that I like and buy it

Does anyone else struggle with liking an entire album? I'll like maybe one or two songs and then feel pretty "meh" about the rest. But you know what I never, ever feel "meh" about? The Backstreet Boys. Ricky and I went to their "In A World Like This" concert and bought their album and I unapologetically love it and I will love them forever. I promise I like trendy indie music, too, like Fleet Foxes and Carbon Leaf and stuff. I have legitimate opinions!

#70. buy an external hard drive for Ricky's computer

Both Ricky and I have computers that are 5+ years old. In computer years, that's like a thousand. Especially since Ricky has an HP! It's a miracle that thing hasn't exploded yet. We felt like getting an external backup for his computer was like a race against the clock, so we bit the bullet on Cyber Monday and picked up a slim 1TB number for $50. Thanks, internet.

#76. donate blood

As Robin can attest, I am the world's biggest weenie about donating blood. (Thanks for holding my foot that one time, Robin. You're the man.) Why did I put this on my list? I don't know. Something about it being an easy way to save lives, blah blah blah. (Although I heard a really great NPR story about what happens to donated blood! Did you know blood banks sell it back to hospitals at a premium? So even though we don't get paid for our blood, there's still a blood market. Crazy stuff.)

So one day Ricky and I found ourselves outside of a Portuguese/Brazilian grocery store in Jupiter, FL, and facing down a mobile blood bus. There was a nurse standing outside the bus chattering away in Spanish (presumably to recruit willing pincushions) and Ricky, in the infinite wisdom that comes from knowing your wife loves you too much to kill you, volunteered the both of us. Then he cheerfully turned to me and said, "It's on your 99 list, so now you can mark it off!" He's a lucky man, that one.

In retrospect, I think the surprise approach is the best way to get me in a blood van. Otherwise I have too much time to talk myself out of it. But when I've just finished buying delicious Portuguese pastries and have my guard lowered, that's probably the best time for needle-sticking that you're ever going to get.

(Aw. I miss those pants. Three more months, pants!)

They kept telling me to lie back/relax, and I was like "Nah, I'm ok in this awkward half-fetal-position sitting arrangement. Don't mind me." But I didn't wimp out and run screaming from the van, and a cool hipster kid even complimented my SVU Beethoven-in-headphones shirt. High fives all around.

#93. take an ASL class

Taking beginning ASL was SO FUN. I love the adult education classes--so cheap, and so easy! I didn't even have to buy the textbook. I checked it out from the library and took a bunch of pictures of it on my iPad before I had to return it. The wonders of technology!

Whew. Okay. I think that gets us caught up. Only 50-something goals to go!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

#33 - do something fun outside at least once a month - March 2014

Usually the "fun outside activities" that Ricky and I force ourselves to do each month are pretty regular: beach days, etc. Nothing particularly worthy of photo documentation, which is why I haven't devoted any specific posts to them...until NOW. Get ready.

Back in November 2013, I discovered that Sirs Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart were going to be co-starring on Broadway in Waiting for Godot, an absurdist play by Samuel Beckett that I love. The run of the show was supposed to end in January, and because Christmas and holiday travel was coming up, we knew we couldn't justify the expensive of a last-minute NYC adventure. So instead we lamented loudly every time we saw an adorable tweet of the two great actors touring the city:

For example.
Then the run was extended! But only to the end of February. After more lamenting, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we still wouldn't be able to swing the trip. BUT THEN--miracle of wanderlust miracles!--the run was extended again through the end of March. As soon as I discovered the extension, I put my internet magic to work and found us tickets leaving Friday, March 8th to Long Island for $53 each. So I bought them, obviously, as well as tickets to the March 9th matinee show of No Man's Land. Since the show was nearly sold out, we were stuck with seats in the far left balcony. But what did I care? We were going!

Ricky and I hemmed and hawed over how many days to stay--should we come back the following night? Should we come back Sunday? How much were we willing to pay for lodging? Ricky rightly pointed out that we if we stayed for two nights, we would be over the very small budget we were allowing ourselves for the trip. I countered that if we flew back Saturday night, we would only be able to see No Man's Land, the second show McKellan/Stewart were doing, in the afternoon, and we would miss Waiting for Godot entirely. (And if we're going to fly all the way up there, I'm getting the most of out it, dang it!) Instead, I bargained with Ricky that we could stay a second night if I could find us a place to stay that would be under our budget, and he agreed.

If you know me, you know it's ridiculous to make these kinds of bargains with me. Of course I'm going to find a way to make this work. No question. I sent out a dozen couchsurfing requests in the three weeks leading up to our trip and made a list of all-night diners in Manhattan as a backup option. (If you're not familiar with couchsurfing, it's a great resource for low-budget, low-standards traveling. All hosts and travelers are rated, reviewed, and verified for safety.) Then I bought our return tickets for Sunday the 10th ($119 each--they were $99, but I waited too long) just to show how confident I was.

Our departure date approached with a lot of "Sorry, I can't" messages from couchsurfing hosts and no definite "Yes!" responses. I had basically given up hope and decided to go the 24-hour diner route when I got a message from James and Zak, two guys living in Jersey City who said they would love to have us stay with them for the weekend. They were well reviewed and only a short train ride from Manhattan, so I jumped at the offer!

When the 8th arrived, I was more annoyed than excited; I still had a lot of things to get through at work, and I was supposed to be leaving early, and I was tired from working backstage at our community theater, and I just wasn't that pumped. Just before I was supposed to leave my office, I got a text from the airline letting me know the flight was delayed two hours. I'm still convinced this happened because I complained about not having enough time that day to finish all the work I needed to get through--way to go, me.

We eventually made it to the Punta Gorda airport, which is the most pleasant airport experience I've ever had EVER. The TSA staff was jovial, there was no security line, and I got to walk outside to board the plane. I've always wanted to do that.

When we arrived, our taxi from the Long Island airport to the LIRR station was delayed. And then the train was delayed. (Ok, it wasn't delayed, per se. More like someone--definitely not me, for sure--forgot that March is off-peak and so trains wouldn't be running as frequently. Also the LIRR station was freezing cold and kind of creepy.) We took the LIRR into Penn Station, then walked a block over to catch the PATH train to Jersey City. I dropped my glove on the way and I had to backtrack about three times to find it. Boo. It was so cold!

We FINALLY made it to the Journal Square station in NJ just before midnight--four hours after I had scheduled us to arrive. (I was bummed, because I had made reservations for us to go to an Upright Citizen's Brigade show, the comedy troupe where Amy Poehler/Aziz Ansari/etc. used to perform regularly. Sigh. I also really wanted to see Mary before we left Long Island! Sorry, Mary. :( ) James gallantly offered to pick us up from the station and took us back to his row house, where there was a mattress ready for us in the living room floor. James was a blast, and we stayed up until 2:30 talking and laughing and having a good time.

After three hours of sleep, we got up at 5:30, put on four layers of clothes (going to winter in NYC from winter in FL is excruciating), and made our way back into Manhattan to get in line at the Cort Theater for Godot rush tickets. For background, rush tickets are basically what they sell the morning of the show at the box office. For  No Man's Land and Waiting for Godot, they reserve the front row and the front mezzanine boxes specifically for rush tickets and sell seats for $30 each. $30! Cheaper than our way-in-the-back seats that we had already purchased, but rush tickets go quickly and we didn't want to risk going to NYC just to get turned away for both shows. The BroadwaySpotted Rush Report (essential for anyone wanting to buy Broadway rush tickets) said that the first people in line the weekend before had gotten there at 6:30 AM, so when we arrived at 7:00 we weren't too concerned. We we were about the 13th/14th people in line, and each person can only buy a max of 2 tickets, so I figured we were in pretty good shape. So we waited...and waited...and drank hot chocolate from the Dunkin' Donuts down the street...partially froze...and waited some more. ("You came to New York and ate breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts?!" James yelled at me that evening.)

When the box office opened at 10:00, we were officially excited. We finally made it to the ticket window and got the last two seats together! The people right after us had to sit in different places. It was an immensely satisfying payoff for how early we had woken up, and for how tired we were. Obviously I was retroactively wishing we had waited to buy No Man's Land tickets (and even MORE retroactively, I chide myself for not having the foresight to buy front-row rush tickets anyway and just sell our other tickets on craigslist...alas, a lack of sleep), but whatevs.

We had a morning to kill before the matinee, and since we've done all the big touristy NYC stuff already, we went down a ways to the Schwarzman library building. It's our favorite! Historical, huge, beautiful architecture, warm, free wifi, and BOOKS. Books and books and books. And they always have the best exhibits going on. This particular time it was an exhibit on the cultural influence of children's literature, so I'm pretty sure someone must've called ahead and told them I was coming.

A personal favorite--Sophia Hawthorne's copy of nursery rhymes that she and Nathaniel read to their children. #womancrush

An interactive mad lib! I was cracking up at myself, because I used a possessive pronoun when prompted for a pronoun. I think it makes it better.

Pooh and friends!

Original Madeline sketch! Totes presh.

Ricky admiring a copy of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. This was a mutual childhood favorite of ours which we didn't have...and I wound up finding it at Goodwill last week! Score!

Starving at this point, we ventured out in search of food and landed at Pret A Manger:

This was a place I saw in England, so I was excited that it was in NYC as well! They use local ingredients, no additives/preservatives, and make everything fresh. They also donate all unused food to partner charities at the end of the day! So cool. Plus, it was delicious. I miss it.

We traipsed back to the Cort Theater to find out seats for the matinee. The theater itself isn't too small, but the stairs were so creaky and narrow! It felt like an old hotel. The interior is decorated with a French/Versailles-esque influence--lots of pastels--and complete with a bust of Marie Antoinette. Very neat.

The staging for these shows was incredible. Same stage for two different shows, with only the center set pieces changing. They called it "Two Plays in Rep"--the director grouped No Man's Land and Waiting for Godot together and used the same cast for both.

No Man's Land is a 1974 Harold Pinter play that I was previously unfamiliar with, but I knew thematically it would be similar to Waiting for Godot, so I had my academic brain turned on. It. Was. So. Good. It's too bad we were so tired, because I feel like I missed quite a bit--I still need to go back and read it--but Ricky and I had an engaging discussion about the show all the way to the restaurant and through dinner. It was so worth seeing it, even though our audience made me uncomfortable. I think they were expecting a light-hearted show and/or comedy (which is more what Godot is, superficially, but No Man's Land is much more serious), and when they weren't getting it, they were laughing at parts that were entirely inappropriate for laughing. Like the kind of laughing where you feel like if they knew what was actually going on/being sad, they wouldn't be laughing at all. But that could just be my literature snobbery talking.

After the show, we waited by the stage door for autographs. I wasn't hoping for much, since they were doing another show in only a few hours--I assumed they would stay inside and do catering--but we were lucky! Ian McKellan walked out of the door and straight to the section of railing where we were standing. He signed my playbill, and Ricky got a few pictures. He looks so much more like a grandpa in person.

Guh! Real life!
 (Sorry the pictures are formatting weird. I'm uploading some from my phone and some from my computer, and I'm too lazy to make them uniform.)

We also got signatures from Billy Crudup (Ricky's favorite) and Shuler Hensley, the other two actors in the four-man team. They were both wonderful. (Obviously, right? You'd have to be, to play opposite the McKellan/Stewart dream team.)

Billy Crudup!
Patrick Stewart didn't come out the stage door, but we were still QUITE pleased. We decided that we needed a copy of Waiting for Godot for the performance that night, so we took the subway down to the East Village to visit The Strand, a bookshop famous for having 18+ miles of bookshelves. It was glorious! It made me miss The Bookery in Lexington something fierce. Anyway, I went looking for an interesting edition of Godot without luck--everything was new and kind of plain looking. I was looking for something a bit fancier. After recruiting the help of the tenacious bookstore staff, who radioed and searched and piled until they found the book their system said they had, I walked away with a beautiful hardcover edition from the Folio Society.

We checked out and wandered around Union Square to see if we could find someplace to eat. There was the most lively farmers market going on, and I was sad that I didn't have a way of getting home everything I wanted to buy. So instead, we just settled for dinner at Vapiano.

It wasn't the best food I've ever had, but it was still really good! They cook the pasta in front of you and make it however you like. Everything you order goes on the little black card, and you pay it off at the end like a tab. Pretty novel for this suburban girl.

We got back to the Cort Theater in time to wait in the endless line outside the theater, and then we were ready for showtime!

I've got a weird hair thing going on here. Hats, man. Also, I'm wearing at least two sweaters in this picture.

They came out dancing for curtain call. It was the most adorable thing I've ever seen.

You guys. Godot was so worth the trip to NYC. I'd do it again in a second. Sitting so close for this show made me wish even more than we had been closer for No Man's Land. Getting to see their facial expressions and acting nuances was really thrilling--no exaggeration. McKellan and Stewart were obviously amazing, but Crudup's role as Lucky was phenomenal. I couldn't take my eyes off him.

We got lucky at the stage door again despite there being WAY more people than there had been that afternoon. I squeezed my way within arm's reach of the railing, determined to get a Stewart autograph on our copy of Godot. And I did!! The people around me were super nice and we were all laughing and joking around, even though we were squished up like sardines. One of the guys in front of me even offered to pass my book up if it didn't quite make the railing.

When Stewart got to my book, he asked where I wanted it signed; he couldn't quite see me (the guy in front of me was pretty tall), so I sort of squeaked out that he could just sign the cover, since I didn't want him to spend time opening it up when he had so many other people to get to. He replied, "Ok--but it looks like an important volume." And as he passed it back, I joked, "Yeah, and it's more important now!"

I was going to wait around to have McKellan sign it as well, but I felt bad that there were so many people behind me that hadn't gotten any signatures at all, so I ducked out and went back to Ricky (who had been hanging behind because he didn't think I was going to make it, o man of little faith) so that someone else could take my spot.

It was about 1:00 when we got back to James and Zak's place. Zak and his girlfriend were already asleep, and since we had to pass through their room to get the bathroom, we decided not to risk waking them up and just skipped the teeth brushing/face washing for the morning.

Sunday had a slow start--we woke up around 10, talked to James for an hour, and then I started making cookies when I realized that they didn't have any sugar or baking powder. (Rookie mistake: not checking for all ingredients before starting. Who doesn't have sugar??) So Ricky and I walked the 15 minutes to the grocery store (James offered his car, but it was icy outside and we totally were not going to risk that lawsuit) with James' dog, Chilly. Once I finished the cookies, we packed up, said goodbye, and headed for the Journal Square LDS chapel for sacrament meeting. (It started at 2! Perfect!)

Logan, one of my friends from Virginia, goes to school at NYU and offered to meet up with us for dinner. We trained back into Greenwich Village and wound up at this BBQ place that wasn't half bad. As a bonus, it was super cheap. So cheap we were mildly concerned that we were going to get food poisoning, but obviously that wasn't enough to deter us from eating there. I don't even think I got a picture with her! I'm a terrible friend.

Our flight was supposed to leave out of JFK around 8:00, so we were already cutting it really close. As we were putting money on our metrocards, I got a text from JetBlue letting me know the flight had been rescheduled for 6:00 the following morning. What?! We weren't really thrilled about going back to Jersey City, since we would have to get up at 3:00 anyway to make it to JFK on time, so we decided to just putting "The City That Never Sleeps" to the test and stay up all night. Just a typical travel day for the Randall-Jensens.

One of the best perks of the flight delay was that it meant I had time to see my cousin, Lynnette! She was visiting NYC on spring break with her friends from the University of Utah. We haven't seen each other for about 10 years, so it was awesome to see her. We met up with her and her friends at a pizza place just off Times Square, and when her friends decided to go back to their hotel, Lynnette came with us to find an astronomy lecture that was going on in Central Park.

I'm not sure if you've ever wandered around Central Park in the dark, but it's REALLY DIFFICULT to figure out where you're going. Plus, it was really cloudy, so we weren't even sure if the lecture was still going to happen! By the time we found Belvedere Castle, where the lecture was supposed to be, the Park Rangers leading the session were packing up their equipment. Boo! But one of the Rangers was nice enough to yell down at us from the roof and point out some of the planets that were still visible.

We walked Lynnette back to Penn Station, making sure to take the most sketchy-looking roads possible on our way out of Central Park. At one point we walked through a tunnel, and Ricky told me afterward that he was preparing a speech for my family on how we got my 19-year-old cousin killed after being with her for an hour. "But we didn't get killed," was my retort. "So there."

Lynnette's bus from the station was supposed to leave from a certain gate at a certain time, but then they moved the gate and we had to do some sprinting around the bus terminal. It was exciting but also really horrible, because sprinting.

Ricky and I had our bags because we thought we were going to the airport. That was pretty annoying, but at least we only had personal bags! Suitcases would've been terrible.

After we saw Lynnette off, Ricky and I hunkered down for a little while to charge our phones...

...and then we may or may not have fallen asleep until around 1 AM, when a security guard woke us up to tell us they were closing that section of the terminal. I had picked out a cafe for us to hang out in until it was time to leave for JFK, but instead we slept in a bus terminal. Whatever works, I guess.

We made it to the terminal around 3:30, only to discover that the security gate didn't open until 4:00. We took the opportunity to sit on the floor.

Shout-out to Tash, who let me borrow her awesome fur-lined boots, and to the girl on eBay who sold me her fleece-lined leggings.

When security finally opened, we were first in line and the first people at our gate. When the closest food court opened, this happened:

This was about 5 minutes after I bought them. That's a lot of donuts for 5 minutes. No regrets.

And WE FINALLY MADE IT HOME! We slept the whole plane ride, which is kind of a waste of flying JetBlue, because it's the only airline where the time passes fairly quickly. (Yay TV!) It was so nice to be enveloped by the Florida warmth when we got out of the airport. Ricky took the day off work, but I had Important Things To Do and so I went into the office around noon and tried not to fall asleep at my desk.

Overall, it was a blast. It was also pretty affordable, as far as weekend trips to NYC go! Since we've gotten a lot of questions about how we were able to go so cheaply, here are some of my travel recommendations:
-Try for free lodging. If you're going in the off season, you can find a private hostel room for about $80/night. (That's what we did the last time we were staying in Manhattan.) But free is better! If you're not set on staying in Manhattan, hostels in Brooklyn or New Jersey are a lot cheaper and only about 30 minutes away.
-Fly a budget airline that charges extra for carry-on bags, checked bags, and picking seats. The tickets themselves are usually super cheap, since they get all their money from bag and seat charges. If you can fit everything in a free personal item like a briefcase or a big purse (we've gotten very good at this), and don't have a rigid schedule, you can save a ton of money. We took a direct Allegiant Airlines flight from Punta Gorda to Long Island.
-JetBlue has their hub in NYC, and most of their flights connect through JFK. That means you can usually fly into/out of NYC for a really reasonable price: normally it's under $100 for a one-way ticket out of/into Florida. It was more this time for us since we were booking only a few weeks in advance. (Special tip for those in VA: You can get a round-trip bus ticket from DC to NYC for around $30. Or at least you could in 2008.)
-If you're going to Broadway, be willing to get up early and wait at the box office for rush tickets. Not every show has a rush option, but if it does, it's so worth it! Check the Rush Report to see how early you need to get there.
-We saved a lot of money in transportation by walking instead of taking the subway. If it's only a few blocks away, walking really doesn't take much longer--and it's normally not worth the $2.50 to take the subway.
-Sign up for Groupon/Living Social in whatever borough you're going to be staying in. You can get discounted tickets to shows and cheaper food that way.
-And, obviously, find all the free or cheap activities to do. Even in the winter there are a million free things to do, but it's even better in the summer.

(Here's my obligatory apology for having too many words and not enough pictures. It's practically impossible for me to blog even the most simple thing without giving a minute-to-minute accounting, which is probably why I'm terrible at keeping a journal. It's overwhelming!)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

new year update!

One good thing about having a 99 in 999 list is that it absolves you of any guilt over not making resolutions for the new year. Instead, you're just reminded of all the times you haven't blogged about said list for most of 2013.

Since I've spent most of New Year's Day playing board games and watching Miyazaki movies with Ricky (BEST DAY), I squeezed it some time for an update on how my list is looking so far:

9. visit another foreign country

I've been meaning to blog about our Portugal trip for FOR. EV. ER. I kept a travel journal (good choice, past self!), and took lots of pictures, so I figure that's good enough.

It was awesome to get back to the place where Ricky lived for two years while on a church mission. We went to his old apartments, visited some new cities, and spoke a lot of Portuguese. (Everyone was really impressed at how good Ricky's Portuguese is after being away for 7 years! The only word that stumped him was "olive," of all things. I could understand a lot but only spoke a couple complete sentences.)

We started in Lisbon...

...moved on to Sintra (my favorite mainland city)...

Check out the hair action! The castle's up on a mountain/huge hill, so it was crazy windy.

...trained over to Guimarães...

When the cheapest umbrella you can find is zebra print, you rock that umbrella SO HARD.

...moved on to Coimbra...

Train. So cold. Why?!


...stayed two days (and fought off illness in) Porto...

...ended with a flight to Madeira, a Portuguse island off the coast of Africa...

...and had to buy a 10 suitcase from a loja chinesa (Chinese shop) in order to get all of our swag home. It broke literally as we pulled it off baggage claim back in the States.
Check out the Portuguese BOOKS. All 7 HP, the LotR trilogy, Agatha Christie, Peter Pan, a Calvin and Hobbes collection, a few Animorphs, and a handful of selections from native Portuguese authors. Portuguese books are impossible to get shipped over here.
 52. buy one thing that's over 100 years old
My favorite souvenir from Portugal is a set of four tiles from the late 1800s. Portugal is famous for its tile decoration on all of the old architecture: museums, apartment buildings, train stations, cathedrals, everything. It's beautiful. Supposedly these are from "an old factory that closed down" (where they just sat untouched for 150 years, right?), but more likely they were pulled off an old building. I'm okay with supporting vandalism as long as they lie to me about it.
15. rent or own a house
We decided not to go the buying route, since we're still not sure Naples is where we want to be long term (does anyone else feel claustrophobic when they think about such a permanent commitment? it can't just be me), so we found a nice 3/2 + den to rent in the meantime. We love it! It's almost unbearable ugly from the outside, but the inside is a lot better...thankfully. I'm realizing right now that I haven't uploaded house pictures to my laptop yet, so here's a picture I pulled from a real estate website. Our yard looks way more gross than this now. But seriously, pink stucco?! Where is this, Miami? And what's with the one random tiny window on the side facing the street? Just imagine the inside looking much nicer. Maybe I'll come back and add inside pictures later.
22. buy Ricky a well-tailored suit

Portugal again. This mall shop in Porto was having an awesome sale, so we sat through fittings and selections until 11 p.m. (that's when malls over there close, because they're cooler than ours). Ricky looks awesome in it. He's got like ten suits, but the fit on some of them is just a little off, so he was in need of a sharply cut addition to his wardrobe.

24. attend a book signing by an author I like


Waiting for the reading to start. The event took place in a big Jewish temple. It was neat!
Ricky didn't come with me due to church obligations (I may or may not have skipped third hour?), so I wound up sitting next to a guy I had struck up a conversation with in the line outside. He was well versed in the Neil Gaiman comic book canon, but had never read any of the novels, and I had read the novels but only one of the comic books. So it was fun filling each other in on Gaiman magnificence.

Beautiful copy of his new book! (It's awesome, by the way.) I preordered it so I could pick it up at the event.
 Gaiman did a reading from the book (I followed along, but no one else around me did! Come on, people!! You can't just listen when the book is right there!) and my heart twinged a little. He also did a Q&A and gave incredibly thoughtful answers. Authors rock, man.

Standing in line for the signing...I lucked out with a wristband color that was one of the first ones called up. I only waited about 30 minutes.

It looks like he's giving me an exasperated face here as I'm talking, but he was SO NICE. Seriously. This was right before he reached across the table to hold my hand.
 I was fangirling so hard, y'all. You know when you go to meet people you're starstruck by and you worry that they'll disappoint you? He did the exact opposite. Now I love him even more.

25. go to another performance of Les Miserables

Les Mis has been my favorite musical ever since I saw it on Broadway during a field trip in 8th grade. I had no idea what it was or what it was about, and I certainly wasn't expecting to cry buckets by the end, but cry buckets I did. I devoured the book in high school (followed by Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is a must-read for every human ever), and it's been my favorite everything* ever since.

*Besides movie. I thought the movie this past year was really good, but if that's the only Les Mis you've ever seen, you NEED to see a live performance. Put it on your bucket list right this second.

So when our community theater announced that Les Mis was the summer musical, I knew I HAD to do it. I wanted to be in the cast so badly, but auditions were during my finals week (curse you, graduate school!), and so I settled for volunteering on the crew. I ran the light board, which is basically a job you could train a semi-intelligent monkey to do, but it meant I got to watch the complete show about two dozen times over the course of the summer. SO GREAT.

Because I live in Richy McRichville, our community theater has a ton of money pumped into it every season. You wouldn't know it's not a professional theater at all in architecture, and even the volunteer cast blew me away. They did a great job!

While we're on the subject, I should plug my favorite Eponine of all time: Rosalind James. She was with the 25th Anniversary tour that Ricky and I saw last summer in West Palm Beach. She stole the show. I've never been a huge fan of Eponine--Javert's always been my favorite--but this actress really brought out the anger and frustration in Eponine and I LOVED IT. (As an added bonus, she's an African-American actress among a lead cast of white people. Representation matters.) I want Rosalind James to be Eponine forever.

27. write a letter to a Senator or Congressperson

I was very, very worried about our potential involvement in Syria earlier this year, so I wrote (electronic) letters to both Florida Senators and my Congressman. It was amusing, because all of them wrote (i.e., sent forms letters back) to let me know they would not be taking my side on the issue, even though I was writing to two Republicans and a Democrat. (Note that this is not an invitation to political debate, but to democratic involvement. I'm really glad I had this goal on my list!) No picture, but rest assured that all letters were articulate and well argued. ;)

54. volunteer at a soup kitchen/food bank

For a youth group activity last month, we went to help sort food and stuff holiday bags (filled with stuffing, potatoes, gravy, yams, etc.) for the local food bank. It was a blast. I wish I had taken pictures! The people that work there are so kind, and you can actually feel the goodness that they bring into the room. It was a privilege to be there working with them. I hope we can make trips there on a regular basis.

69. properly display Ricky's baseball collection

Ricky's been collecting baseballs since he was a kid, and we've added to the collection by buying a ball from every stadium we visit. We had been keeping them in a basket on the table, but I knew Ricky really wanted to have them on display all I got him a display case for his birthday!

Literally took this picture two seconds ago with the iPad. You're welcome.
See how it's in the shape of home plate? Adorable, I know.

72. test drive a car

It was time for us to replace Ricky's BMW (that thing was sucking money like it was its dang job), so we finally bit the bullet and went to get a new car. Ricky commutes two hours every day (perks of working for the state? you don't get to choose which judicial district office you're assigned to), so we knew we wanted something that was going to have amazing gas mileage... we got a Prius! 35,000 miles, 2010, dark gray, 51 mpg. We're so glad we went with the hybrid. We love it. Plus, environment and stuff! (Heidi, this may be relevant to your interests? :) )

73. ride a horse on a trail

Portugal, again. The top "Thing to Do" on the island of Madeira is go horseback riding through the mountains, so that's what we did! The couple who run the tour are amazing, and probably spoke the best English out of everyone we met over there. It was chilly and my horse was s l o w and it was great. Ricky and I had both only been on horses once before, years ago, so it was nice to have easy horses and a guide that made us feel so comfortable. Totally worth it.

My horse only had two settings: "fall way far behind everyone else" and "trot fast to catch up and make Katie fear for her life." 
87. drive through Yellowstone

This has been something I've wanted to do my entire life, so when we got a chance to go out to Idaho for Labor Day weekend, I told Ricky we NEEDED to drive the four hours from his hometown to Yellowstone. Needed. The in-laws decided to come with, which made it even more fun. I have great in-laws.

Buffalo chillin' on the side of the road.

Don't remember what this face was for...but look how cute he is!

Old Faithful, of course


Only had to wait like 15 minutes until it erupted! It goes every couple hours, so sometimes people wait around for a long time.

Straight off "Oregon Trail," am I right?

Pictures SERIOUSLY do not do this place justice!

Devil stairs. Hiss.

Awkward family photo, courtesy of Ricardo Jensen
It's surprising how much of the park you can see in just a day. We washed down the trip with some middle-of-nowhere food and made it home around 1 in the morning. So worth it!

91. eat an entire meal with chopsticks

Don't laugh, you guys. I was tired of being the uncultured one still eating my various Asian foods with a fork, especially since my dad lived in Japan for two years and would probably eat everything with chopsticks if he could. So when my family went out to the nearby hibachi steakhouse over the holiday, I forced myself to use them for an entire meal, even though my hand usually gets tired and I wimp out. But you know what? Once you stop paying attention to it, it's no big thing at all. I was done with my food before I knew it. Go me!

96. go to a spa

Awesome Husband Ricky got me a gift certificate for a massage/facial last year on my birthday, and I realized 11 months later than I needed to use it within a few weeks before it expired. (Ricky also waited a year before using his Christmas gift from me. Schedules get crazy!) The massage I got was the bomb. I've never had one before, which means I literally have nothing to compare it to, but I thought it was great! The facial made me feel like my face was going to fall off, but my pores looked about 200% smaller afterwards, so I consider it a net gain. Thanks, spa people.

That's it, y'all. Everything I've done up to this point is documented. (As Jenny Lawson would say right now, you're welcome.) Hope everyone is having a fun first day of 2014!