California: Day 11 – Santa Cruz

The next day, we checked out of the lodge at Yosemite and headed for our last stop before heading back home: Santa Cruz. We had rented a cute little house in neat little neighborhood that wasn’t too far from the beach.  The property manager talked with me on the phone on the way there and gave me some recommendations on things to do with the kids and where to eat. She also brought over some Meyer lemons from her lemon tree!

Even though Santa Cruz isn’t that much further south than San Francisco, it was surprisingly much warmer, which I really loved. I liked San Francisco, but I have since decided that I couldn’t live there because it was way too windy and cold in June.

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The kids and I hanging out at the house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After settling into our new place, we went out to explore. We drove a short distance to Capitola and ate at a little beach bar type place that had a pretty view of the water. We got there in time for happy hour and those things were strong!!

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At dinner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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After dinner, we walked down along the water before it got too cold.

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We Are Going to Greece!

I have written before about how we were considering visiting Greece this summer, and we ended up booking this trip about a month ago. Needless to say, we are working on our itinerary. So far, this is what we’ve come up with:

Wednesday – Flying all day

Thursday – Arrive in Athens mid-morning

Friday – Athens

Saturday – Athens (possibly a day trip to a nearby island called Aegina)

Sunday – Athens (this day is Anya’s birthday, so we are trying to plan something really fun for her!)

Monday – Athens, take the bus to Nafplio

Tuesday – Nafplio (day trip to Mycaenae)

Wednesday – Nafplio (day trip to Epidavros)

Thursday – Nafplio, taking a private taxi back to Athens airport, flight to Rhodes (the island)

Friday – Rhodes

Saturday – Rhodes

Sunday – Rhodes

Monday – Rhodes

Tuesday – Rhodes, flight back to Athens

Wednesday – Athens (possible day trip to Delphi)

Thursday – Athens

Friday – Fly home

 

Some of the things we definitely want to do while in Athens include visiting the Acropolis (of course!), visiting Sounio where the Temple of Poseidon is located at around sunset (you should definitely google “Temple of Poseidon at sunset”), attending a Greek Orthodox service, and lots of other things. While on the island of Rhodes, we plan to spend at least one day at the beach and maybe one day visiting Lindos, a popular cruising port. One issue I’m having is the fact that we might be able to see Turkey from where we will be on Rhodes, so of course, I’m looking into whether or not we could actually spend part of a day at a small port town. It may not work out, but I feel like we need to at least look into it before making a decision.

We were able to get the great deal I wrote about previously. We have also booked the rest of our hotels and the flights to Rhodes and back. We were able to get 12 nights of lodging (the other 3 were included in the flight package) for $932, which is pretty amazing, and our flights to and from Rhodes were around $360 for all of us. Not bad at all! With the flight package, all the hotels, and the flights to the island and back, we are still sitting at around $1,000 less than what it would have cost us to purchase just flights on our own, so I’m pretty happy with how it is shaping up.

The next order of business is figuring out how we will get ourselves to Nafplio and back, as well as booking a private taxi tour to Delphi. Then, I can start planning our itinerary for each day.

What do you think we should do in Greece?

Around the World 2017: Greece

Part of my plan for 2017 is to make some international food at home. I have been slacking in this area, but tonight we did make some Greek food. We chose chicken souvlaki with tzatziki sauce and served it with salad and bread. It was surprisingly easy and healthy because I got the recipe out of an international Cooking Light book. It was also something the kids could eat, though I saw Anya almost throw up when eating a piece of zucchini;)

I was proud of how well my tzatziki turned out and I was happy with how simple it was. I think we will be making this one again!

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Check out what other meals we have tried:

 

France: Part 1

France: Part 2 and 3

France: Part 4

Costa Rica: Part 1

Costa Rica: Part 2

Portugal: Part 1

Portugal: Part 2

Jamaica

Czech Republic

Italy: Part 1

Italy: Part 2

Spain

February into March

Where did February go? How is it March? I know that February is short, but it literally flew right by…

Travel:

  • January Wellness Weekend 
  • Weekend away with the kids - We are planning a camping trip for part of spring break. Stay tuned!
  • Anniversary weekend away
  • Family vacation - We have booked parts of our trip to Greece this summer. Watch for more information about the things we will be doing there!

Reading:

  • Read 30 books. (7/30)
  • Read 2 “self-help” books or books about fostering creativity. (1/2)

Writing:

  • Daily Q&A – Still keeping up with this!
  • Post in my blog at least 5 times a month or 60 blog posts. (10/60)
  • Work through the Right to Write. (43 chapters) (8/43)
  • 500 Writing Prompts – 3 writing prompts a month (36 total) (6/36)
  • Work through Writing Better Lyrics. (2 chapters per month, 24 total) (4/24)

Spiritual:

  • Practice and complete a daily devotional. I have been able to keep up so far!

 Music:

  • Create one new Singalong packet for my Singalongs (for work). (0/1)
  • Learn at least 3 new Classical pieces on the piano. (0/3)
  • Work on learning at least 3 of the modes. (1/3)
  • Listen to 10 classical music pieces. I have a new book about listening to Beethoven’s piano music that I intend to use for this purpose. (1/10) - I started reading this book and I am starting to listen to some of Beethoven’s first concertos.
  • Earn at least 20 CMTE’s (continuing education). (0/20) - I am finishing up a CMTE course right now that would give me 10 points, as well as supervising students that will eventually give me an additional 2 points.

Home and Organization:

  • Complete Bonus Room Transformation.
  • Fix the other part of the deck and stain it.
  • Wash windows and glass doors in the house.
  • Go through and re-organize the pantry. -
  • Go through refrigerator.
  • Go through freezers.

Family:

  • Inflatable Fun Factory 
  • CMoe
  • Game Night
  • Movie Night We watched Pete’s Dragon this past weekend and it was a really good movie.
  • Gatti Town or Chuck E. Cheese
  • Make a home video with the kids.
  • Paint with the kids.

Service:

  • Provide at least 3 meals at the Ronald McDonald house. (1/3)
  • Volunteer at the soup kitchen at least once.

Physical/Health:

  • Run the 10-mile River Race in May. - I am planning to start training more in March.
  • Complete at least 5 fitness challenges. Doing these kinds of challenges helps me to keep carving out time to do something physical and it gives me a chance to focus on some areas that I feel like I need to work on. (1/5) - I am in the middle of my second challenge. I’m having trouble keeping up sometimes but I’m making it work.
  • Drink at least 64 ounces of water on most days. - I kind of fell back into old habits, so I am working on getting back into this.
  • Do something active at least 3 times a week. – This has been working out so far!

Miscellaneous:

  • Eat at 8 new restaurants on our list of places to try. (1/8)
  • I plan to cook at least 10 international meals this year. (1/10) - We made a Greek meal this past weekend.
  • Take at least one day to “retreat” and work on my writing, music, etc.
  • Do something nice for myself at least 20 times. This could mean taking a bath, spending time playing the piano just for fun, buying a piece of clothing that I want, reading a book by the fire even when I still have work to do, or anything that contributes to the idea of doing something nice for myself. (1/20)

In February, we also celebrated Valentine’s Day and went to Disney on Ice with the kids.

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How is your year going so far?

 


California 2016: Day 10 – Yosemite

We spent our second day in Yosemite doing the things we had hoped to do on the first day, but it all worked out.

We did more hiking and got to see a really impressive waterfall, as well as hike to a little lake area where the kids took their shoes off and got in the water. We also saw climbers climbing up one of the really high mountains. They were hard to spot at first, but when looking through binoculars, you could actually see them on the side of the mountain.

On the way out of one area, we spotted a bear so we pulled over. It was in a meadow-like area and far enough away from us that it wasn’t even paying us any attention, but Anya was freaking out. Eric was holding Felix and he kept telling Eric not to get too close. Anya, on the other hand, was panicking and kept trying to pull me away from the grassy area but was actually pulling me into the street, though I kept explaining to her that we were more likely to get hit by a car than be hurt by the bear with as far away as he was.

We also drove for quite awhile on a really scary road to get to the top of the mountain to see a gorgeous view of the valley. On the way, Felix swore he saw a bear and looked for it on the way back down as well. Anya couldn’t stand that he had seen it and she hadn’t, so she kept asking him questions like “Are you sure it wasn’t a squirrel or another animal?”

We were lucky that we had great weather this day and were able to do a lot of hiking. I will leave you with more pictures.

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See what else we were up to in California:

 

San Francisco: Days 1 and 2

San Francisco: Day 3

San Francisco: Day 4

San Francisco: Day 5

San Francisco: Day 6

San Francisco: Day 7

Napa Valley: Day 8

Yosemite: Day 9

California 2016: Yosemite, Day 9

The 9th day of our vacation was also the first full day we got to spend in Yosemite, which also happened to be Father’s Day, which also happened to be one of the few days that President Obama decided to spend in Yosemite as well. While I admit that it was cool that we were in the same area as the President at the very same time, we did have to change our plans a little, because Obama’s presence in the park meant that things were closed off at certain times and this was causing major wait times to get in and out of the places he was visiting. This all caused a slight change in plans but it all worked out.

We ended up visiting the Sequoia Grove and Tuolumne Meadows instead of our original plans. We did some hiking at both of these areas and got to see a huge tree that was carved out in the middle so that you could stand inside it. There were also some beautiful deer in the meadows we walked through.

The day is best told in pictures…

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Read about the other days of our trip:

 

San Francisco: Days 1 and 2

San Francisco: Day 3

San Francisco: Day 4

San Francisco: Day 5

San Francisco: Day 6

San Francisco: Day 7

Napa Valley: Day 8

A Different Sort of Love…

So it’s Valentine’s Day and everywhere you look, there are signs for Valentine’s Day specials, Facebook posts, and couples strolling arm and arm or deep in conversation over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. There are people who love celebrating Valentine’s Day and there are those who see it as just another day. Some see it as just a Hallmark holiday that makes those of us in a relationship feel like we have to go all out and spend a ton of money for our significant other. But what if Valentine’s Day didn’t have to be about romantic love? What if it wasn’t even about platonic love or the love one might have for a friend or a parent or family member? What if we look at Valentine’s Day as a way to reflect on the love we have for ourselves?

Self-love has always appeared to me as a strange sort of subject, and it’s not something we think about much. But that doesn’t make it any less important. Maybe it’s time we ask ourselves “Do I really love myself? Do I love the person I am? And if I don’t, what is it about myself that keeps me from loving that person?” As a music therapist working in mental illness and substance abuse, I come across people every single day who have serious issues, and much of it goes back to self-esteem and how they feel about themselves, among other things, of course.

How we feel about ourselves dictates the way we act towards others and the way we allow ourselves to be treated. And the way we allow others to treat us flows down to our children. If they don’t see us taking care of ourselves, they won’t know that it’s important to take care of themselves. I know that seems impossible when you think about a child who is selfish and always puts himself first, but eventually that child will grow up and much of what they do at that point will be affected by what they saw and experienced in their own childhood.

So how do you know if you love yourself? I don’t think it’s an all or nothing situation, unfortunately. You may love certain aspects of yourself or your life but absolutely loathe others, and I imagine that the balance of those things puts us all on a sort of continuum of self-love that measures how content we are with ourselves.

Some questions to ask yourself…

1. Do you allow yourself to take a break from time to time? Do you allow yourself time to do things you enjoy? Many of us don’t give ourselves this kind of time unless we are finished with everything else we have to do, which is never, because the list is usually never-ending. This means that we don’t do a lot of things for ourselves unless someone pushes us. There has to be some sort of balance here. We can’t just go around doing nothing all the time and not getting things done, but we also can’t do anything BUT work, either.

2. How do the people around you treat you? If we are surrounded by people who don’t value our needs, then that will often rub off on us and make us feel like our needs aren’t important. Do you let the people around you talk you out of things you know you’d like or want? Or are they supportive of your desires and goals?

3. Do you mentally beat yourself up if you don’t do everything you think you’re supposed to do? Are you the kind of person who tells your best friend to take a break but then expects yourself to get it all done because “I should be able to handle it?”

4. Do you value your needs and see them as important, or do you always find yourself doing what others need first? If you are a parent or a “giver,” you might feel the need to always be looking out for others before yourself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing…the world needs people like this. But the truth is, you can’t pour from your cup if it’s empty. In other words, if you aren’t taking care of yourself, then you can’t really do as much as you think you can for other people.

I could literally go on and on, but I won’t. What it all boils down to is that how we feel about ourselves is every bit as important as how we feel in the relationships we’re in. So maybe this year, that is something to ponder. I won’t pretend that I have it all figured out, because I don’t, but it’s something that I’ve been working on in my own life for a few years now. Yes, I said a few years. It’s not an overnight thing…stuff like this takes time and it’s a process.

I suppose it began with the realization that I am not at the top of anyone’s list of priorities. In fact, I’m not even sure I’m #2 on any of those lists, either. The sad part was that I wasn’t sure if I was even on my own list at all. I found myself wanting to do things, but then I would think “but (someone else) would rather I do this instead” and then I would proceed to do what someone else would prefer that I do instead of what I wanted to do in the first place. Of course, there’s a time and place for that, but that’s not every time it comes up. It sounds weird to say but the first couple of times I did what I wanted to do anyway, it felt weird because I hadn’t really done it all that much before. But I can tell you that it gets easier the more you do it, and I am slowly, but surely, starting to sink into a new way of thinking. You should try it sometime!

California 2016: Day 8 (Napa Valley)

For years, Eric and I have been wanting to visit Napa Valley, especially during the period of time that we were really into wine. Unfortunately, these days, it just makes us sleepy. But being in San Francisco, we decided it would be perfect to stop by on our way to Yosemite. We had rented a car the day prior to go to Muir Woods so we drove to Napa ourselves. We weren’t planning on visiting more than a couple of wineries, so we figured it would be ok to drive ourselves. We had considered a tour but they are really expensive and not very cost-effective when you have kids with you.

The roads on the way from San Francisco to Napa are very windy. Unfortunately, Anya got queasy because she was reading, and we actually pulled over and she got out of the car and threw up. Poor thing….she did better the rest of the day, though. Regardless, the views were beautiful!

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I have a friend from grad school who also happens to work at a winery in Napa. Finally…after years of saying we were going, we finally did. In fact, we got to do a wine tasting at her winery (Caymus Vineyards) and she was our hostess! She got us a great deal and we brought home a couple of bottles of wine.

 

 

I accidentally drank a little too much but it was a good time:) We then stopped at a supermarket to pick up some sandwiches for lunch and visited one other winery on the way. Not all of them allow kids, so I had to choose carefully. Also, they all charge tasting fees, which is something we aren’t used to, as most tastings at wineries in Indiana are free.

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After those two visits, we began the trek to Yosemite National Park. We had reserved a room at a lodge right outside the park. We got to stop at Starbucks on the way so we could try to stay awake. Our cell phone service lasted until about 45 minutes away from it; it was that remote! The views while we were driving were outstanding!

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San Francisco: Days 1 and 2

San Francisco: Day 3

San Francisco: Day 4

San Francisco: Day 5

San Francisco: Day 6

San Francisco: Day 7

2017: January into February

It is really hard to believe that January has already come to a close…what was typically my most difficult month of the year actually turned out to be mostly ok this time around…

Travel:

  • January Wellness Weekend – This is amazing and happens at exactly the right time. Since I’ve been going to this in January, I have felt so much better this month.
  • Weekend away with the kids
  • Anniversary weekend away
  • Family vacation - Right now we are thinking about going to Greece!

Reading:

  • Read 30 books. (4/30)
  • Read 2 “self-help” books or books about fostering creativity. (1/2)

Writing:

  • Daily Q&A – Still keeping up with this!
  • Post in my blog at least 5 times a month or 60 blog posts. (5/60)
  • Work through the Right to Write. (43 chapters) (4/43)
  • 500 Writing Prompts – 3 writing prompts a month (36 total) (3/36)
  • Work through Writing Better Lyrics. (2 chapters per month, 24 total) (2/24)wpid-wp-1483131403684.jpg

Spiritual:

  • Practice and complete a daily devotional. I have been able to keep up so far!

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Music:

  • Create one new Singalong packet for my Singalongs (for work). (0/1)
  • Learn at least 3 new Classical pieces on the piano. (0/3)
  • Work on learning at least 3 of the modes. (0/3)
  • Listen to 10 classical music pieces. I have a new book about listening to Beethoven’s piano music that I intend to use for this purpose. (0/10) - I started reading this book and I am starting to listen to some of Beethoven’s first concertos.
  • Earn at least 20 CMTE’s (continuing education). (0/20) - I am working on a CMTE course right now.

Home and Organization:

  • Complete Bonus Room Transformation.
  • Fix the other part of the deck and stain it.
  • Wash windows and glass doors in the house.
  • Go through and re-organize the pantry. I did this on a whim this past weekend and I LOVE how much more organized it is.
  • Go through refrigerator. I am adding this to my list.
  • Go through freezers. I am adding this to my list.

Family:

  • Inflatable Fun Factory - We attended a birthday part here and the kids had fun.
  • CMoe
  • Game Night
  • Movie Night
  • Gatti Town or Chuck E. Cheese
  • Make a home video with the kids.
  • Paint with the kids.

Service:

  • Provide at least 3 meals at the Ronald McDonald house. (1/3) - We made a meal this past weekend and had a great time doing it. We need to schedule our next visit.
  • Volunteer at the soup kitchen at least once.

Physical/Health:

  • Run the 10-mile River Race in May. - I have been running short runs on my treadmill and working more on speed training, but I will need to start really training for this in a few weeks.
  • Complete at least 5 fitness challenges. Doing these kinds of challenges helps me to keep carving out time to do something physical and it gives me a chance to focus on some areas that I feel like I need to work on. (1/5) - I finished my first fitness challenge. I need to choose my next one. 
  • Drink at least 64 ounces of water on most days. - I may not be drinking exactly 64 ounces every day but I am drinking a lot more and I can tell that I feel better.
  • Do something active at least 3 times a week. - I have been able to get something in 3 times a week, even if it’s just a short ride on the stationary bike we have.

Miscellaneous:

  • Eat at 8 new restaurants on our list of places to try. (0/8)
  • I plan to cook at least 10 international meals this year. (0/10)
  • Take at least one day to “retreat” and work on my writing, music, etc.
  • Do something nice for myself at least 20 times. This could mean taking a bath, spending time playing the piano just for fun, buying a piece of clothing that I want, reading a book by the fire even when I still have work to do, or anything that contributes to the idea of doing something nice for myself. (0/20)

Travel has picked up quite a bit so some of these things are not as far along as I’d hoped they would be. That being said, I’m sure time will even out and I will have more time for them at a later date.

How is your year going so far?

 


Need Help Planning a Trip?

They say that January through March/April is the busy season for travel agents because the holidays have finally passed and everyone is looking forward to spring break and summer plans. Now is the time do think about what you want to do this spring/summer!

I actually (mistakenly) always thought that it was more expensive to book trips through a travel agent, but the truth is, you just might find a better deal. It’s true that for some of the trips we have planned in the past, we have been looking for a specific type of hotel and we couldn’t get what we wanted through an agent, but in a lot of situations, we actually got a better deal, so it is always a good idea to have them price something out for you. If it’s better, then it’s better, and if it’s the same price, then you’re getting out of having to do all the work and letting her/him do it for you. There is just no reason not to have your agent check pricing for you.

Here’s why.

We really want to go to Greece this summer. We’ve been thinking about it for years and I think we are really going to do it this year, but we were really discouraged by the fact that flights are almost $1500 apiece. That’s almost $6000 in just flights for the four of us and nothing else. When I looked in one of my supplier’s databases, I was able to find flights for the four of us and 3 nights in a hotel room in Athens for right around $3600. Yes, you read that right. $3600. Over $2300 cheaper than doing it outright and by just purchasing flights, we still wouldn’t have any hotels included in it. For $3600, we could get flights for all of us and 3 nights in Athens at a hotel. And this is before my agent discount. This is a deal I could get anyone. Is it the hotel we would have chosen on our own? No. It’s not. But that $2300 savings is the difference between us being able to actually go, even if we have to stay in a hotel that we wouldn’t normally have chosen, and not being able to afford to go at all. I will also add that there is nothing wrong with the hotel we would stay at. We just typically prefer smaller bed and breakfasts or apartments, and this hotel is a chain. But like I said, it is going to be totally worth it to spend 3 nights there if it gets us that kind of savings.

So, please always check with your travel agent to get pricing. You never know what you will find.

Other reasons to use a travel agent, besides the fact that they might get you a better deal:

1. They have access to all kinds of suppliers that are offering different deals that you would know nothing about. Sometimes suppliers offer deals that only agents have access to.

 

2. They can make sure you are booking a service with a reputable company. There are a lot of scams out there.

3. More than likely, they have a network of other agents to ask specific questions to if they don’t have the answers.

4. If something goes wrong with your trip, she/he might be able to help get things sorted out. The very first trip I booked had a glitch. I got a call early one morning from my client who was in London and had missed their flight to Vienna, which meant they were going to miss their train to Salzburg. I was able to call the supplier to have the hotel notified that they would be arriving late and I was able to get the name of the train station my client needed to go to and the times for train options that evening. I was also able to start their insurance claim.

6. Speaking of insurance, travel agents can get you a great plan…and on any big trip that has non-refundable parts to it (like flights) really should be insured in case you need to cancel for a covered reason. And anytime you leave the country (if you live in the US), you really need insurance because it’s very likely that your primary insurance does not cover you medically when you leave the country.

All this being said, please contact me if you need me to check any prices on anything. It is worth a try, and it costs you nothing to have me check something for you. You can contact me through email at RachelM@MyAmbassadorTravel.com. I will also be adding a travel contact page on my blog that will make it easier, but that is the way to contact me for now!

 

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