Saturday, December 12, 2015

Washington DC: The Bonus Trip to Chicago (Part 3 of 3)

During a recent job interview the hiring committee asked me how I deal with ever-changing priorities. Situations change constantly and not just with work. I can't tell you how many times I've set out to cook something only to find out I don't have one of the ingredients. Sometimes it's a simple adjustment: no brown sugar, substitute white sugar and molasses. Sometimes it's not that easy, like trying to make pumpkin bread with no pumpkin.

Things aren't always going to go as planned no matter how fool-proof the plan may seem. That's life. I've slowly come to realize, after much trial and error, the importance of learning to adapt to my situation. Maybe the pumpkin bread becomes banana bread. Maybe I scrap the whole plan and bake chocolate chip cookies instead. 

So how do I deal with change? 
First, by evaluating my situation.

For example, Thanksgiving morning I set out to bake brown butter pumpkin cupcakes and an apple pie. I had made a double-crust pastry for the pie and had all my ingredients set out for the cupcakes when Nick looked over my shoulder and said, "Oh. I kind of want pumpkin pie." I couldn't blame him. Pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving tradition. 
The Situation: I needed to add pumpkin pie to my menu.

Next, I re-prioritize my tasks.

Could I adjust and make a pumpkin pie instead? Yes. I had all the ingredients for both pumpkin and apple pie but only two single pie crusts. Not ideal for apple pie. So what would I do for the apple pie? Did I need to make an apple pie? Yes, or Colin will be very sad. Did I have time to make a new pastry? Nope. 
The Priority: Figure out how to make an apple pie with a single pie crust.

Finally, I draft a new plan by creating a list of steps I need to take.
The Plan: Use one crust for the pumpkin pie. Use the other crust for the apple pie and top it with a crumble topping.
No problem! Easy peasy!

But it's not always easy peasy, is it?

Like take our flight home to New Mexico from Washington DC. Ten minutes before our plane left Dulles we found out the second leg of our flight, from Chicago to Albuquerque, was canceled. And that we couldn't book a new flight that day or even the next day. The earliest we could get a new flight home was two day later.

The kids were crying because they were tired from walking all over DC and being in an airport all day. They were scared because every person on the airplane was freaking out about their connections being canceled. We all just wanted to be home, see our dogs, and sleep in our own beds.

The Situation: We were not getting to Albuquerque that day. We could get off the plane and stay in DC without a place to stay and without our luggage. Or we could follow our luggage to Chicago.
The Priority: The kids are upset so my priority was to reassure them, keep myself from freaking out, and make the most of the situation. We were nowhere near home but we were together. Colin and the kids were off that Monday and I could call in sick from work, no problem. We've always wanted to see Chicago. This was our chance!
The Plan: Find a place to stay in Chicago. Book a new flight home. Make arrangements with my family to watch our dogs and house a couple more days.

No problem! Easy peasy!

A woman on the plane from Chicago helped us find a good hotel room in downtown Chicago at a great rate and we made reservations before we even left DC. She also recommended some places to see and restaurants to eat at. Basically, she turned being stranded into a vacation. She is an angel and I never learned her name. Whoever you are, I want to say thank you so much for helping up!

We flew into Chicago and booked a flight home but found out that we could not get our luggage, it was headed to Albuquerque without us.

The Situation: We had no luggage but we did have a flight home and a place to stay in the meantime.
The Priority: Get to the hotel and eat dinner. It may be inconvenient, but we could survive without our luggage. I was pretty sure Chicago had a Target or some other store where we could get toothbrushes and whatever else we needed.
The Plan: Get to the hotel. Eat dinner. Find supplies. Go site seeing.

No problem! Easy peasy!

We decided that since it was 14F and our winter coats were on a plane without us, we would walk to the Art Institute of Chicago. We could spend the day perusing art in a warm building. And the Institute had an amazing cafeteria with gourmet food. We were eager to buy our lunches so we could eat when our bank cards were declined.

"Are you from out of town?" the cashier asked us. "The bank probably just put a hold on your account because of all the out-of-town charges. It happens all the time, just call them."

The Situation: No cash (we'd used that for a cab). No bank card (account frozen). But we had emergency credit cards.
The Priority: First, get the kids food. Second, deal with the bank.
The Plan: Use the credit cards to pay for the food. Eat lunch. Call the bank. Spend the rest of the day enjoying Chicago.

No problem! Easy peasy!

Except, I forgot to mention it was Sunday. And our bank is not open on Sundays.

I have to admit that at this point I lost my cool. I had done an excellent job rolling with things up until that moment. I did not follow my steps. I did not adapt. Instead, I had an ocular migraine. Then I pulled myself together and got back on track.

The Situation: The bank is closed on Sundays. But there had to be a way to get the hold off our account, even on a Sunday.
The Priority: Try again to contact the bank.
The Plan: Check the banks website and call any and every number I find until I get in touch with someone who can help us.

A slight hiccup but no problem! Easy peasy!

And after some digging I found a number for cards with holds. We called and had the freeze on our bank account instantly lifted and spent the rest of the day enjoying the art. The rest of the trip went smoothly and we made it back to Albuquerque without a hitch.

See: No problem! Easy peasy!

I'll admit it wasn't the ideal way to see Chicago but it was an adventure. Colin and I have agreed that we need to go back and do Chicago right. But I'm not getting on a plane any time soon.

And, by the way, I was offered the job and I accepted the position. That means I no longer have to commute to Santa Fe for work! Yay!!!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Washington DC: The Monuments (Part 2 of 3)

That Washington Monument is hard to escape.

We spent our second day in Washington, DC walking around the Mall touring the Memorials. On the walk from our hotel to the Mall we cut across a park only to find our path blocked by a building surrounded by a big black fence. 

Me: "I wonder what that building is. I guess we'll have to go around."
Nick: "Mom, that's the White House."
Me: "No it's not... Holy crap! That is the White House!"

I'm sure Secret Service thinks I'm an idiot.

This is were my lack of planning let me down. I did not know that you could get tickets to take a tour inside the monument. You can pay for tickets in advance or go the day of and get tickets free on a first-come-first-served basis. But by the time we got there (at the late hour of 9 am) the tickets were all gone for the day.

The Washington Monument...again. What inside? I do not know.
We walked from the Washington Monument to the World War II Memorial...

World War II Memorial star.
...On to the Lincoln Memorial.

"...(A)nd my very favorite, the Lincoln Memorial. It's this crazy statue of this giant monster sitting on a chair that represents all of America's enemies." -Andy Dwyer, Parks and Recreation

The Vietnam War Memorial:

The Vietnam Memorial. I looked but didn't find my dad's name. That's good because that might mean he's a zombie.

The Korean War Memorial:

Reflection of the Korean War soldiers.

The Martin Luther King Memorial:

Around the Tidal Basin to Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial:

And around to Jefferson Memorial:

George Washington was the Commander-in-Chief during the American Revolution and the country's first president. Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery. Thomas Jefferson. What did that guy even do anyways? Oh yeah, he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Good job, Thomas.

After lunch and another round of the Natural History Museum we took a quick tour of the Sculpture Garden.

By this point the sun we setting low in the sky and the building would only be open for another half hour and we still wanted to see the National Gallery and the Capital Building. 

In the end, we didn't actually go into the Capital Building. It was just a little too far away and it would have been closed by the time we got there. I calculate that we walked over 10 1/2 miles that day. Good job, Nick and Mina!

On our final morning we found a coffee shop and had pastries then toured the residential streets behind our hotel just to see how Washingtonians live.

We were less than impressed. Just kidding!

Before we knew it it was time to head to the airport for our flight back to Albuquerque, with a brief layover in Chicago, or so we thought....

That is until we got on our plane and found out:

We won* an all-expenses-included** vacation*** to Chicago!!!

*By "won" I mean that we were forced against our will when Midway International Airport canceled all flights out of Chicago.
**By "all-expenses-included" I mean that we had to pay for all our expenses.
***By "vacation" I mean an unanticipated and highly stressful sojourn in which we had to take additional time away from work and school to be stranded in a city far away from our home and luggage.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Washington DC: The Museums (Part 1 of 3)

I love it when a plan comes together. And believe me, I love to have a plan. Take a typical Saturday. I always ask Colin over our first sips of coffee, "So what the plan?", even though the plan is always the same. My pockets and purse are filled with to-do lists. I'm constantly running around the house screaming, "Where is my list maker?!" (pen and paper).

So it was slightly out of character of me to not create a detailed itinerary for a trip we planned to Washington DC. Colin was to be attending a conference and the kids and I decided to tag along. We weren't going to have a lot of time there. We'd fly in Wednesday night and fly out Saturday morning which would only leave Thursday and Friday to see the city. 

No one said anything about the elephant in the room.

I have been told that I can be rigid and high-strung but I prefer to think that I just like to be prepared. I decided this trip was my chance to show that I can roll with things. The plan was simple: I'd take the kids to some of the museums on Thursday while Colin attended conference sessions all day and then Friday, when Colin had a little more free time, we'd all check out the monuments together. 

I didn't fuss over details like how we'd get to the National Mall from our hotel or where we'd eat. I didn't stress over navigating through the city by myself and two kids. Because, honestly, I didn't care. I figured anything we saw would be amazing.

Is a sea cucumber preserved in a jar a sea pickle?

It turned out the Mall was about a mile and a half from our hotel, a relatively easy walk through the busy city streets. The Museum of Natural History, where we spent most of Thursday, had a cafe. And, as it turned out, it rained Thursday making it the perfect day to be indoors.

Looking into those museum lights all day would make anybody's eyes bloodshot.
Mina morphed her face into the early human Australopithecus africansu.
Nick morphed into the early human Sahelanthropus tchadensis. I think he looks more like a werewolf. 
We stood next to real mummies or "dead bodies" as Mina called them.
Who's job is it to wash and brush the dead animals? I want that job.
We probably spent six hours in the Natural History museum that day. Afterward, we took a quick stroll around the Air and Space Museum.

Then we went on to the National Gallery. As we went through security the guard asked if we'd been to the National Archives yet. We shook our heads and he said, "You have to! That's where they keep the Constitution." Enough said. 

The kids began an incessant Bart-and-Lisa-Simpsonesque chant: "Can we see the Declaration of Independence? Can we see the Declaration of Independence? Can we see the Declaration of Independence?" 

We spent just enough time in the National Gallery for me to take this picture before the kids dragged me across the street to the National Archives.

The National Archives was one of the most amazing stops on our tour. It was incredible to see the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights along with many other historical documents. 

No photography is allowed in the Archives to protect the documents, however, there was a scuffle as we tried to get in the elevator to leave:

Nicolas Cage! What are you doing with the Declaration of Independence?!

Colin met us at the Archives that evening. We stopped at Five Guys for burgers, fries, and milkshakes and then walked back to our hotel together, exhausted but excited for day two.

Next: Washington DC: The Monuments (Part 2 of 3)