Living the High Life on the High Seas

In the spring of 2003, the travel industry was still trying to bounce back from the repercussions of 9/11. People were gun-shy about the safety travel. My intrepid travel buddy – Lisa—and I were not.  We were both seniors in college. I was at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and she was at the University of Wisconsin—Madison.  For the first time in our four years in college, our spring breaks were scheduled for the same week.

We began to plan our escape.

As we were college students, we were poor. We were both also starting graduate school in June and were trying to find a decent place to live together (bless her soul for living with me), this meant our trip had to be inexpensive.

We found a heck of a deal! For both of us, a three-day cruise with airfare for $1500 total. That was just tax refund money! We were in.

We would fly to Miami and sail to Key West and then Cozumel, have a day at sea, and return to port. We departed on St. Patrick’s Day of 2003 and arrived to a festoon of spring breakers and older clientele boarding the ship.

Lisa had cruised before, but this was my first experience aboard a cruise ship. We waved good-bye and shouted “Bon Voyage” as we were pulled away from the dock.


We made our way to our cabin, and soon discovered part of the reason our Spring Break had been so affordable. We were on the bottom floor of the residential cabins…directly next to the engine room. We barely had time to focus on this miniscule detail before we were whisked off to the deck for the lifeboat drill. I was not aware that this was something one had to do. Every day. (Or at least, there was one held every day).

We were finally able to begin exploring the ship…and of course we started with the dining room. I had always heard about how food aboard cruise ships was amazing…and it was okay, but it was mass-produced food. I was also slightly underwhelmed by the fact that, as a senior in college, having a drink was so costly. But I was soon over it and we were off to enjoy the nightlife of the ship.

As the two hip, young travelers that we were: this consisted of seeing a show and then retiring to our luxurious cabin to sleep and found the excitement of the Bow Cam to almost make up for the lack of window in our wall.


The Bow Cam, at night, has one little light that shines in a screen of black.

But, when we opened our eyes the next morning, the Bow Cam showed Key West! We were up and ready to explore as we disembarked the ship. What we found were a lot of touristy shops. There were restaurants too…but our time was short and there was free food on the ship. So we proceeded to follow the handy little map that was provided to us on the ship to all of the free deals we could receive from our walking tour of Key West.


On our way, we did manage to walk by Ernest Hemmingway’s house. (Score one for the English major). I also learned that he was the first person on the island to have a pool. I learned this by standing outside the gate and listening to the tour going on inside. Five years later, I would return to Key West with my husband and we would actually pay to take the tour.

Finally, for breakfast, we had Key Lime pie…because how can you go to Key West and not have Key Lime Pie?

Back aboard the ship, we decided to entertain ourselves by attending an art auction.

The only reason we attended? For the free booze, obviously. Chad, our art buddy, just happened to be a solid addition to that experience.

Then, I discovered, the Casino.


I am not a gambler, and I believe that it was all slots aboard the ship. I don’t know because the only thing I had eyes for was GOLD COAST! It was one of those games where you drop in a quarter, almost like Plinko on The Price is Right and then watch as the additional quarter either does or does not push the other quarters over the edge, where you win the coins and more chances to play again. Having this game aboard the ship had a double bonus – sometimes the boat would rock and the quarters would just fall down. If I checked back periodically – I could play for free.

Our second day we had schemes in store.

Our ship was docking at Cozumel, but my friend’s parents were staying on the mainland—just a ferry ride away—in Playa Del Carmen. After crunching our poor college student numbers, we realized that if we paid to take the ferry to Playa Del Carmen we would be able to eat and drink for free with her folks.

It was on. We had researched the very tight time schedule for when the boat would dock and when the ferry would leave. We also had to take into account our return ferry to ensure that we weren’t stranded without our cruise ship.

We were jostling to get off and made our way speedily toward the ferry ticket station as the rest of the college revelers made their way ashore to various drinking establishments. We were able to elbow our way to exchange our money for pesos and in some way managed to barter our tickets in order to board the first ferry that was leaving. It’s Mexico, that stuff happens.

Arriving in Playa Del Carmen, we had no clue where to find her parents. Their address was a palapa on the beach. We wandered back and forth across the sand, and finally managed to make our way to THEIR little hammock far down the beach. It was a day that was working in our favor. It continued that way as Mama and Papa decided to treat us to Carlos and Charlies for lunch and drinks.

And when I say drinks…I mean the Big Mama Margarita. It was a 34-ounce frozen, lime drink served in basically a bowl with stemware. We sat on the beach with her parents, drinking out of yard glasses, and swilled the booze.


Before we were to catch our ferry back to Cozumel to meet up with our ship, we thought we had better take a swim in the ocean, since we were floating on it for three days. If you have ever gone swimming in the ocean and felt the sand shift beneath you and grasped for your footing…well multiply that times fifty. That was swimming in the ocean after the Big Mama.


We said adios after the swim and ventured aboard the ferry for the relatively quick trip to Cozumel. It was here that I made Lisa take a picture of me reenacting a scene from a Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys Super Mystery that I had read when I was younger. Nancy was on Cozumel and left chloroformed on the beach. So, I pretended to be chloroformed and lay passed out on the sand. No one seemed to notice anything amiss except the feral dogs that came to either see if I had food, or make me into food.


Luckily, we had to run to catch our ship and didn’t wait to find out.

Waking up lazily after two days of running for excursions, our day aboard ship began. I used the gym before we headed to the pool. There were a few other people who thought that they would also head to the pool on that day too. We found a table in the shade and ordered a bucket of beer and fries. Sun, beer, and fries? That was a good day.

I was working on my senior paper at that point, and had several books that I was reading in my pursuit of Fisher King information in the Arthurian Legend. I had kept The Once and Future King for the trip, as it was almost light and fun. It was light and fun in comparison to Tennyson and Malory that is. By the time the beer and the fries were gone, it was almost time for what would be the highlight of our day.

The Chocolate Buffett.


All chocolate. Perhaps you are beginning to understand why I worked out that morning.

As if Beers and Fries and Chocolate Buffett weren’t enough, we still had our dinner that evening. We were seated with a family that had an approximately seven-year old son. A sassy son, I would add. Though not rude, he was not afraid to hassle someone back. This was aimed primarily at me. I was, I am sure asking for it in some way, but he convinced the waiters that it was my birthday and they sang to me as we dined that evening.

Our dinner was brought to a close quickly with the onset of the final show of the entire voyage. Ricky, our host from the first night’s show, was back again and tearfully sending us on our way before the magician took the stage.

My new best friend from dinner was seated with the rest of the Kid’s Club participants. And after the show, I decided that it was a super good idea to go and embarrass the little sass-monkey by kissing him in front of his new friends. As I approached him, the boat hit a wave and tilted and the two of us went crashing into the floor with me on top.


I was lucky I wasn’t arrested as a pedophile.

Had I been wearing the outfit that I changed into that night for the Luau dance…I most definitely would have been detained at sea for it. My mother and father had returned right before we left from a trip to Hawaii. My mother bought me a lovely Hawaiian outfit made up of basically a halter top and then a wrap skirt. She bought it for me to wear on the cruise.

Obviously, crazy going out ensembles weren’t particularly necessary for the two old ladies that we were. However, our last night aboard, we decided we would go dancing at the club on board. In my outfit.

What we found were a lot of crazy college kids, a fact that did not escape us despite the fact that we were ourselves technically college kids. Lisa met a new boyfriend that night. He was very stylish, he wore a paper hat and enjoyed sticking his tongue out all the time. That relationship didn’t go any farther than that one dance.

Finally, we hit the hay one last time in our berth with the glow of the bow cam illuminating us the next morning to our arrival in Miami. With several hours to kill until we flew home, we booked our only excursion with the ship company.

We were going to ride airboats around the Everglades in search of alligators, like the crocodile hunter. We even had styling earplugs that made all of our pictures look as though we had ears of bright green, miniature corn sticking out.


Our hunt was successful and we saw two alligators in the Everglades. But, just in case the tour failed to accomplish that task, we ended our excursion at an alligator museum. With just a bunch of alligators. In what looked like a pig pen. It was not so impressive as it sounds.

As we flew home that evening, we congratulated ourselves on surviving yet another trip where only shoe beating was involved to solve disagreements. It was, a success.

I do..Sure, Why Not? I do too!


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Although travel is a terribly minimal – really altogether ignorable in our wedding story – it is nonetheless a story that must be shared.

My husband and I had dated for almost five years by the time Valentine’s Day of 2008 rolled around. I had been expecting a proposal any day now for approximately…two years.

There had been one close scare, when we were up skiing on the North Shore of Lake Superior with my family. My boyfriend was allowed to come along, although he was staying in “the boys’ room.” He awoke me early one morning as the sun was beginning to lighten the sky about the crashing, icy waves. He wanted to go for a walk to watch the sunrise along the lake.

It sounded quite sweet to me, so I dressed in my outdoor attire and we began to walk along the breaking morning waves.

He stopped and said he was right behind me at one point, and I continued to walk. I turned back to see what he was doing, and his back was to me and he was kneeling on the ground.

My heart dropped. I thought for sure this was a perfect proposal moment, and he was down on one knee. Instead of rising and presenting me with a ring or a kiss, he turned around having put something in his mouth.

My beautiful proposal in one of my favorite places on earth crashed from my dreams louder than the waves we were watching.

Fast forward a few years. We were still dating. My husband finds it hilarious to mention that we would still be dating if the story hadn’t played out as it did.

I assure him that we would definitely NOT be dating.

It was February 2008. I was at the end of coaching a successful ski season and looking forward to enjoying time off from work. The state meet coincided with Valentine’s Day week every year, and as it was at a ski hill four hours away, it was always an overnight endeavor.

When I arrived at my house, it was 10:30. I had work emails to catch up on and a class to plan for the next day. On top of all that, I was trying to manage and catch up on my own personal life.

As my boyfriend and I were not engaged, I was intrigued by a contest he had called to tell me about. It was a radio contest he had heard advertised. It was to win a wedding at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul. To paraphrase him, “It is right up your alley – it’s a theater wedding.”

I knew if he told me about it, I had to enter it. I am a person of action, where he is more of an idea person. He may not have realized that if you tell me something like that, I will follow through.

But I did. I figured it may be the only time I ever had the opportunity to hold his feet to the fire!

It was 11:45 that night as I sat writing an essay in a browser window explaining why we should win this wedding. I would love to be able to put the words right here for you to read – but I didn’t even bother saving a copy. I typed it up and hit send. I know I covered the fact that I loved theater, and he didn’t so much.

I fell asleep exhausted and was off in the machine of a work day before I even thought about the contest again.

My cell phone rang with an unfamiliar number during an English department meeting, and I let it go to voicemail. I assumed there would be no message. Instead, when I got out of the meeting, there was a message. A message informing me that the contest committee had enjoyed my essay and that we were chosen as one of the five couples that would be voted on by the public after our public appearance.

I was giggling with hysteria as I tried to dial my boyfriend. He was also at work and didn’t pick up. I didn’t know what else to do, so I called my parents’ house as my dad was retired and I knew I could tell him. I was a little worried that he would disapprove, as it wasn’t really going to be a Catholic wedding if it happened.

To my surprise, he started laughing along with me.

I had to wait several hours for the bf to call. When he FINALLY called me back, he couldn’t believe that I had actually entered the contest.

“Well, you told me I should. So I did.”

“I didn’t think you actually would!” Was his reply.

We’ve been together 14 years, and I still don’t think he has learned his lesson. You want me to do something, I’ll do it.

The following week, we made our way down to Minneapolis where we were interviewed on 102.9 LITE FM. As we began to fill the DJ in on our lack of true engagement, she egged my husband on enough to propose on the air.


The proposal was announced over the air as having been solidified with a twist-tie ring. There was no ring– if we won a ring was included. If not, all in good time.

My now-husband capped off the radio interview with his rendition of “Ice, Ice Baby.” It was a truly romantic proposal.

My husband went back to work after our radio debut, and I did too. The voting for the five finalist couples — of which we had been the last to be interviewed–would begin.

The students and staff in my district, and indeed my entire community where I taught and had grown up, responded in full force.

There was a link put on the high school homepage where I worked. Students in study hall would vote, clear their cache, and vote again. The local paper ran an article urging people to vote for us. The dawn of social media and Facebook as an influence in people’s donation of clicks was at hand, and pleas were made on our behalf. Finally, after a week, it was decided…we had won with over 40% of the total votes.

That’s when the actual whirlwind began. We were interviewed on a local morning news show announcing the date of the wedding. You see, the catch was that the wedding date was already set – March 22 of that year. We had three weeks to plan the wedding and arrange for our guests to make it.

Luckily enough, there were certain things that public would continue to vote on. They picked my flowers, and in a divine intervention on our wedding – the popular vote went to my favorite flowers – calla lilies.


They also voted on my husband’s tux, another divine intervention, as he didn’t have to think one iota about it. This is still his favorite selling point of the entire affair.

In addition, we won the opportunity to be only the second couple married at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. The first couple had been the daughter of the owner and her husband. The wedding was supposed to take place immediately following a matinee performance of The Drowsy Chaperone. My fiancé and I had tickets to see the show on opening night, and we were given fifty free tickets to give to guests.


And that was where the sticky wicket of the affair was found. We had fifty tickets and fifty invitations that we were able to use. My father comes from a family of eight, my mother six. You multiply those offspring, we are already separating out family members. Add the six siblings in my husband’s father’s family and two more on his mother’s, we were in a pickle.

We already had our best man, his cousin Lee, and my maid of honor, my sister, Claire. We had her fiancé to consider and Lee’s wife. Unfortunately, my husband lost his father at an early age and we only had one parent on his side…but three living grandmothers for him at the time. Also, he had four sisters and their families and guests to consider.

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Both my parents would be there with bells on, and obviously, my sister. Sadly, my brother was stationed on Okinawa in Japan at the time. He was unable to attend. My one set of living grandparents would be in attendance. Despite the fact that the wedding took place the day before Easter (marriages are not permitted in the Catholic church during Lent…the fact that it was so unique allowed my priest to give us a pass) and that the wedding would not be performed by a priest in a Catholic church, my devout grandparents were thrilled with the whole experience. Especially as their eldest son, a judge in the state of Minnesota, would perform the ceremony.

I invited my closest friends, only one had a boyfriend that would attend as two of them had to fly in from out of state.

This left my husband’s close friends and their spouses.

This didn’t leave much room for aunts, uncles and cousins. I know there were hurt feelings in our selection of those who received tickets. As in all families there are certain relatives that influence you more than others and these were the few that were selected.

Over the course of the three weeks we were also treated to picking out our rings at RF Moeller Jewelers. They were wedding bands, of course. To this day: I only wear the band. My husband said the other day that he would like to buy me an engagement ring and although I had one in my head while we were dating, I love the story behind the single band.

We also met with the Serendipity Photography as they were the gifted photographer with the wedding. My sister and I went to Brides of France in Edina and picked out my wedding dress and her bridesmaid dress, gratis. In addition to getting to see the hilarious musical, which I subsequently got the soundtrack to and listed to nonstop, the best part of the tornado of events was the cake tasting.

Free cake? Yes, please! Free cake from one of the best bakeries in the Twin Cities? Hook me up with that ANYTIME. Especially since my husband doesn’t have a sweet tooth, the visits to Wuollet Bakery were far more enjoyable for me.


There was that wedding dress that I had picked out to consider, however.

My husband and I needed to register in the short time, as amidst all the appointments to arrange the event, we had a family shower on my husband’s side. I had a bachelorette party, which just happened to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish Girl in me rejoiced! My sister, and my maid-of-honor threw the party and it included what she and I had always dreamed of…men in Scuba gear dancing around a la Mama Mia. So my husband and his boys showed up and made it happen.


St. Patrick’s Day also happened to be the beginning of my spring break, which was INCREDIBLY fortunate! Because of those days off I was able to scurry around and take care of dress fittings, buying presents for our bridal party and all those other last minute wedding items. My husband’s one task was to organize the Groom’s Dinner. He chose Town Hall Brewery, close to the University of Minnesota campus. The food was delicious the beer was good…it made a great choice.

March 21st rolled around – the day before our scheduled wedding. My grandparents in their nineties were en route from the north section of the state. They would be staying at my uncle’s about an hour away, my uncle who was to perform the ceremony.

I brought my accouterments that I would require to my sister’s house, where I would spend the night before the wedding as I lived forty-five minutes away. My husband’s apartment was not far from downtown so he would return home for one last night before we moved to the apartment I was living in at that time.

My sister and best friend, Lisa, and I slept on the couches in the living room. It was really not very comfortable, but I could barely sleep anyway. I was up early to take a run, and returned to Lisa making Monkey Bread – a wedding day tradition.

I showered and then we were off to Evolution Studios, the salon that was donating hair stylists for me. After that, the day becomes a blur, as I suspect is the case for the majority of brides on their wedding day.

I know we drove from the salon to the St. Paul Hotel, where Tim and I were going to spend our first night together as a married couple. The photographer met us there and I was coiffed in my wedding dress. I was scheduled to meet Tim beforehand to take pictures and I was super excited to get the show on the road once I was dressed!

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Tim and his best man, his cousin Lee, were with my father at Heimie’s Haberdashery a few blocks away. They had been outfitted in tuxes, had straight edge shaves and were ready to roll out and meet us at the theater.

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To add to my already Rockstar feel, my town car was sent around for me to the hotel and it drove me around the park to the front of theater. As I stepped out of the car, and Tim emerged from the revolving door it all came home. We were about to get married…this wasn’t just a show…this was real life!

The car turned out to be superfluous as the photographer took the two of us outside for pictures, just as a light March snow began to fall.


We returned to the mezzanine of the theater, where the show was in progress and our guests with invitations were sitting, to take pictures with our family and wedding party. Sadly, not among our guests were my grandparents. Grandma was so excited by the wedding that she was hospitalized with a stroke near my uncle’s home. She was fine, but missed all the fun!

I was spirited off to the staff waiting area with my father, where we were able to wait for our big moment to enter on a grand staircase.

Don’t tell my husband, but this was probably my favorite time of the entire day. The pianist was below playing well-known numbers from musicals. As my father and I waited in the elevator bay, we sang along together. It is perhaps the most tender moment of the entire day.

Then, following that wonderful moment, we descended a great, curvy staircase with strange blue patterned carpet.

Down below, sat the guests and our families. At the other end of the alter, sat my nervously perspiring fiancé with scribbled, smeared blue vows written on his arms.

My father kissed me on the cheek and we proceeded to commence the ceremony.

My uncle, amidst all the hullabaloo of my grandmother’s stroke, had prepared vows as were written in some book that judges are given – thus saving my husband from having to read the smeared words he had scribbled on his body. The wedding was – well—it was a wedding. There were readings by my godparents and my best friend and the director of the musical I worked on at the school sang for us. Although it was a Broadway themed wedding, it was a Ben Folds song. “Luckiest.”


I was in performance mode through the whole ceremony. The only time that I came out of it was during the kiss, which was a little awkward but followed by a very genuine hug and our procession out where we practically skipped. For me, not that out of the ordinary. For my husband? Unheard of!


We were greeted by the guests in the atrium, where there was a cake and champagne reception. We also were interviewed by the local news channel.


There were several people who had been able to watch the ceremony from the upper level of the theater after the performance, despite the limitations on the number of guests they joined us as we toasted and cut our cake. One of those guests in attendance? An actress from the show, Georgia Engel, who had been on the Mary Tyler Moore Show!

The moment where I did tear up, as I am not a crier, was when my brother phoned from Japan. Thousands of miles away, he made sure that he wished me congratulations on my wedding day.


It was my second favorite moment of the day. (Again, don’t tell my husband!)

As the guests finished the cake and champagne, and we were kind of being hurried out of the lobby as to make room for the incoming audience for the evening performance, we climbed into our town car with our maid of honor and best man and their spouses. We drove around St. Paul for a while (I think?)) before meeting the guests, and many more who wanted to come out and join us at a local bar for appetizers and drinks. It was so festive and fun…in fact, my parents’ next door neighbor who was a St. Paul fireman, stopped by with the entire ladder.

There was karaoke and drinks and the hullabaloo of a wonderful time…and the relief that we were now married!

As we began to make our way from the bar to the hotel where we would spend the night, my mother was carrying the top of the wedding cake to save for our one year anniversary. As she walked across the cobblestone road, her heel caught between two stones and she stumbled, toppling the cake in its box. It was smashed…however, still delicious.

And we decided as we entered our room on that wedding eve, that despite the rush, the mad marathon of events and the lack of key people in our lives, it was truly the wedding that was meant for the Budigs.





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In a theme of traveling on my birthday, the following year when I turned the slightly-less epic thirty-one, we happened to be traveling to Long Beach, California for yet another engineering conference. Since the event was the week before my birthday, we decided that we would take the ferry out to Santa Catalina Island on the actual day of the event.

Rising bright and early, we headed down to the pier and caught the ferry. For the second year in a row, I saw whales on my birthday, cementing them in my heart as my favorite animal. Although it wasn’t quite as up close as the experience in Alaska had been, I was still awed by the omen.



My Spanish class name in high school was Catalina, from my first visit to the secluded little getaway. I was eleven and spent the entire ferry ride over as green as could be. This was only the second engineering conference I had ever attended, and to this day there are still people who bring up this trip and my stomach’s inability to handle the boat.

The island was just as beautiful and quaint and adorable as my memory had led me to believe, despite the tainted green tinge that covered the entire previous visit.

We were on a schedule, because in addition to visiting Catalina Island that day – we were going to go ziplining. Neither of us had ever ziplined beyond the simple tower-to-tower of a ropes course. This would be a half-day adventure with a ride up the mountain and them we would zipline back into town.

On my 31st birthday, I figured out what I was born to do with my life: zipline.

I have always slept curled up in a tight ball. I once spent almost an entire week of college sleeping on my friend’s papasan chair because I could simply cocoon myself and sleep like a champ.

When you zipline, you need to be in a tuck as you soar over the canyons – and I was a born natural. I had never really understood the obsession that had haunted generations of mankind—since Icarus—of soring overhead like a bird.


After swinging my way back to the town of Avalon, where the ferry had deposited us early that morning, I took a dip in the ocean and then joined my husband at the bar for a predinner drink. We were chatting about the adventure, and decided where we should eat before we headed back to the mainland, when we overheard the couple next to us arguing. They were fake arguing, and my husband and I both laughed as we recognized ourselves in the two of them. We began to chat and decided that we would all have dinner together.

Our new friends decided they were going to go and change, they were in their beach attire.

“Do you want to come back to our room and shower?” Came the question from our new friends.

My husband and I politely turned their kind offer down, and we arranged to meet the couple at a restaurant downtown in about forty-five minutes. As we meandered past the Historic Casino we were talking about the offer.

“Ummm…that was kind of weird.”

“Yeah it was. It was either really nice, or we are on a date.”

My husband said it was a joke, but we slowly turned to look at each other. Were they swingers? We had never met swingers, we weren’t sure how bold the couple would be if it were the case.

We debated standing up our dates, but decided the island and town were too small to avoid them until our ferry departed.

So we showed up.


They were a little later than they had expected to be, and we both lived in hope that they had decided we weren’t swingers and we could enjoy my birthday dinner with just the two of us.

Not only did they show, but my new bestie immediately told the waiter it was my birthday. They didn’t do a free slice of cake like most restaurants — they gave Birthday Cake shots.

As I rule, based on my absinthe story you may figure out why, I do not take shots.

But I succumbed to the peer pressure. I still think she was trying to get me drunk. We ate our dinner, and then (despite the fact that we were three blocks from the ferry landing) my husband and I excused ourselves from our date and escaped. We wandered around surreptitiously until the ferry came and we returned to Long Beach…having swung from the trees ONLY.

Salmon Slayer


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For my 30th birthday my husband and I decided to go to Alaska. We had always wanted to go and had thrown around the idea of moving there. Mostly this obsession stemmed from the fact that my husband loved Deadliest Catch and some show about Jewel’s family.


The moment we came into view of Anchorage on our plan, I realized that Alaska was like living in a picture. It was breathtaking and worthy of my utopian imagination. We were further thrilled to find that our resort, The Hotel Alyeska, was luxurious. For instance, you could have them call and wake you up if there were Northern Lights, that was a service that they offered.

Sadly, we weren’t given the opportunity to make use of that particular perk.


We were able to rise before the sun, which is rather difficult in Alaska in August, to go salmon fishing. We drove along the inlet shore from Girdwood where we met our guide. If we had thought that paying for a guide would mean a large ship with other people, which is what we had done in other locations, we were wrong.


A fisherman in his boat that looked like a typical Alumacraft with an Evinrude met us on shore. Hope Charters: It was a good omen for the day. We were outfitted with poles, galoshes, and bait. He also gave us instructions on how to catch the most fish. I listened intently, as I am not a fisherwoman, normally. I like to go when it is an adventure, but not since 1988 have a wandered down to my parents’ dock and dropped a line into the water.

My husband the pro-fisherman between the two of us, seemed to dismiss the advice of our guide as though these were his local waters and he knew the spots as well. As we passed under the bridge from the inlet into Three Mile River, where we would find the salmon, the sun was starting to lighten the edges around the mammoth mountains with hints of pink.


The wind blowing my hair out of control, we raced towards my new nickname.

Dropping our speed and lines we anchored underneath the painting coming into view over us. After only a ten-minute wait, my pole jerked. I began to pull and pull and just like that — BAM — I was the proud huntress of a Coho Salmon.

“Beginner’s luck,” my husband joked.

Until I hooked the next fish, and reeled it in.

Then he buckled into competitive mode.

Which is approximately about the time that I grabbed the last fish for me, which was technically in his limit for the day.

I had just limited myself out, and half of his limit.

He was on a mission.

As he fished more furiously, and I pulled back a little to let him catch his Salmon, the guide told me that it happens all the time — the women catch more fish than the men.
“They listen to what I tell ‘em,” was his reasoning.

So my husband performed a miracle, and listened. And BAM, he a caught a fish. BAM, he caught another fish! Okay, so it might not have been that fast…I know I had to climb on shore and take the longest pee of my life at one point. My husband said it caused a landslide…another epic first for me on this day!

Eventually, the guide caught a fish, and we were officially at our boat’s limit for the morning. So we pulled to shore and he proceeded to gut the fish and fillet them for shipping back to Minnesota. It was during this time, when I ate fresh salmon roe from the belly of my catch, that my husband officially dubbed me, “Salmon Slayer.”










The Canada Trip that Wasn’t


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This story is perhaps the most infamous of the Hoolihan family lore. Mostly, because it was a horrendous, awful moment by a spoiled nineteen-year-old.

I can say that, because I was that spoiled, self -centered, nineteen-year-old.


My sister and I had joined my parents Seattle for another engineering convention. We had been there the whole week, and we weren’t flying out for another day. My father, free from the duties he had to fulfill as the Past-President of the sponsoring organization, was ready to relax.

The day dawned beautifully as we met my uncle at a Denny’s for a breakfast. We were going to plan out our adventure for the day.

I cannot remember my reason, except probably I didn’t want to sit in a car that for the entire day, I was very much against one particular plan that brought us to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Over a breakfast of planning the day, I sat and stewed. I would like to say I was silent, however, I know that is not my MO when I don’t want to do something. In fact, I am sure that I shared my opinion, as it was decided that we were going to Vancouver. When I challenged my wonderful, forgiving, loving father, I was far from polite.

I was told that “We would be going to Vancouver as this was a dictatorship.”

In insolence of nineteen-year-old youth, I looked directly at my father and said, with emphasis on the first syllable, “Yeah. A DIC-tatorship.”

I thought it was quite a clever play on words for one-quarter of a millisecond. Then I watched my father’s face turn a shade of purple that I had never seen on him before. I also prayed that I would never see again.

If we had not been in a Denny’s, I am sure I would have been rightly slapped.

Instead, he quietly paid the bill and we proceeded awkwardly to the rental car where we spent the day.

Driving around Washington State.


I had gotten my way, and I learned one of the hardest lessons of life. Never, ever think that you are so cute in your words that you forgot the feelings of those who hear them or even read them. I continue to try to ingrain this lesson in my own brain with my husband…who is now the most often recipient of my nasty side comments.

We returned home, and one-week later, my father and I drove a six hour silent ride to Milwaukee, where he dropped me off at my dorm.

Then left.

I cried. I had never felt so alone, and it wasn’t the Freshman experience, but the lack of knowledge that my father and I would ever repair our relationship.

I am by birth, one of the luckiest people on earth. My parents are loving and forgiving, and my father and I were able to mend our relationship, and I continue to cherish the bonding he and I have over his Electrical Engineering, that I know nothing about, but help him with.

And I still have never been to Vancouver.

Aloha OY!


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It was going to be a dream vacation: Surfing, Volcanos, the Hilton on Waikiki…except for the tiny fact that we would also be working. Every year, give or take a few, since 2006 I have helped my father at his International Symposium on Electromagnetic Compatibility. You do not have to understand what EMC is to know that standing on showroom floor during the show was not the ideal location to spend this dream vacation in Hawaii.


The whole Hoolihan family was going to reunite on Oahu during the 50th Anniversary of the Symposium—nerdily, but fortunately, celebrated in the 50th state to join the country and coincidentally over my father’s birthday.Despite the fact that we would be forced labor, we were all set to enjoy some sun and some time together, as even our brother would be joining us from his station on Okinawa in Japan.

I wasn’t going to look a gift-horse in the mouth, but…I wanted my boyfriend (and future husband) to travel with me. Dan-Dan Hoolihan wasn’t going to be paying for a hotel room for shaking up, no matter the promise my future-hubby and I had made to wait until marriage.

So, I paid for the hotel room myself.

My sister’s boyfriend, and future husband, shacked with my brother while my sister was the roommate of parents.

Despite that hiccup in the planning of the dream vacation, the excitement was rampant! The first night that my siblings and I arrived to share the trip with my parents, we headed straight to the little hotel bar right on the beach. Mostly, we were starving and were in search of food, but had to have a drink too!

Sitting and taking in the view, my sister proceeded to order a Pink Coral. As in, the living ocean item, however, she pronounced it corral—where a cowboy would keep his horse.

We were off to a raring start!

Several nights later, the next gen Hoolihans were celebrating the fact that we didn’t have to be at the convention center the next day with an impromptu party in our Shacking-Up Shame Hole. It was in this very location that my now-husband and now-brother-in-law decided that getting my brother drunk for the first time in the safety of the nest of siblings was a great idea.

For new readers who are unfamiliar with the back story on the bro, here is a quick recap. Super smart guy. Super GOOD guy. Went to MIT got a degree in Civil Engineering and then worked designing hulls on nuclear submarines. It was not the adventure he dreamed it would be, and after 9/11 decided to enlist in the Army where he entered into the Officer track.

As he explained it to us, he was always driving the other guys when they were drinking.


So, Hawaii was to be the first time he was inebriated.

I was not overly keen on the idea. I didn’t want the heroic picture of my brother that I had painted in my head to be tarnished. But, I was the little-big sister in this case, and had to accept that this was happening.

I could not even tell you what they drank. I know we had MaiTai’s and probably beer early in the evening, and I know that we had stopped at the ABC to buy beer and liquor. I know there was beer, because as the night wore on, and I went to bed like a party pooper, there was a bottle that was broken in the shower.

I believe the beer had been shaken and was being taken to the shower to overflow, but who knows.

I did manage to make it out on our patio for the highlight of the evening.

My husband had accomplished his task, and my brother got sick from drinking. He managed to evacuate the contents of his stomach off the patio, and not in the hotel room, thankfully.

As my brother gazed at the pile below him, he looked at us with more excitement than someone who had just upchucked should have look. Furrowing his eyebrows, he looked at us and said,” That’s so…. post-modern.”

Only my brother.

In the morning, I am not sure that he found the experience quite as intriguing as the night before. My sister and I had risen bright and early as we had known we would need to do to get tickets to visit the USS Arizona. The boys did not join us as we made our way to visit the most historic place we knew on Oahu. We were able to secure tickets for ourselves that afternoon, and we waited most of the day to see the bubbles of Black Tears rise over the graves of the deceased.


When we returned from the ferry, there were the boys, they had arrived just to be in the essence of the historic locale. They had finally woken up.

The Dance of the Green Fairy

Still obsessed, to this day, with Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! I was incredibly pleased that upon our continued Christmas trip throughout Europe, we would be staying in Prague…where I could sample the Green Fairy – also known as absinthe.

Prague was a lovely train ride away from Salzburg and breathtaking – though chilly—to walk through. My brother, who was on leave from the military on this trip, thought stalking the rest of the family through Prague like a spy tremendously entertaining. Running into him in the dark hallway of the laundromat, was mostly bizarre, but we all agreed – slightly entertaining because he was 26 years old.

As we were all adults, okay my sister was in college and although I had a job that provided health insurance and full-time salary, I was definitely not an adult. And fully able to consume alcohol in the European countries we traveled to, Absinthe was on our list of items to check off while visiting Prague.

Absinthe in Prague was meant to be sipped. It was the crazy shade of a Green Screen and I was not a sipper of alcohol. Again, not quite an adult, although I was molding the minds of eighteen-year-olds, my mind was not quite fully formed.

My family was ending a lovely dinner out about the town in the hotel lobby bar, and Absinthe was on our minds.


We ordered a round as we sat at the bar. The others sipped their drinks, debating the hallucinogenic qualities people always claimed the drink to have.

I subsequently shot my drink, and my family and the bartender watched in a mixture of shock and curiosity as my face turned bright red.

In spite of the fast-acting color change that occurred, I didn’t seem to feel anything out of the ordinary with my Absinthe experience. I felt as though I had an alcoholic beverage, but that was it.

My sister and I went back to our room, and that is where it got silly. I imagined that my vision would be cloudy upon the consumption of The Green Fairy, but it was fairly clear. I simply felt like I was a little kid again.
We frolicked around the room, smart enough not to leave the room and wander (okay, I am crediting that to my sister, I am never so reasonable when intoxicated.) We proceeded to empty the contents of the mini-fridge (we did not open them, we weren’t ready for the wrath of Dan on that expense) and took pictures like this. Was it because I was passed out drunk? Nope. Was it because I had no idea what was going on? Nope.europe-christmas-trip-2004-032

Why? Because we could. Also, because we were 21 and 24 and we had just tangoed with the Green Fairy, and she had more than led. She had dragged our butts across the dance floor.

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

It all starts with Star Wars. Or, it could have been Sven our aptly named German foreign exchange student when I was a freshman in high school. I say, aptly named as I grew up in America’s Little Sweden…the name Sven is plastered on just about every building. Or one. As you drive into town.

I had chosen, as I am the black sheep of my family, to take Spanish instead of German as a foreign language when I entered high school. However, at the very same time that I was starting high school we had a foreign exchange student from Germany stay with us for a few weeks, before my brother went to study in Germany for a few weeks. I decided, upon venturing with the German foreign exchange students to family outings that there was a hot exchange student as well as a senior that I was madly crushing on that spoke German.

I would learn German, too!

Of course, I could not fit two foreign languages into my schedule and so I was to study German independently with Frau, my family at home and Sven.

I made it through only the first few chapters, and I lost interest. Why did I need to know how to say “I am going (by walking) towards my house?”

Well, apparently for the hilarity of my family while we visited Austria nearly ten years later.

My sister had studied abroad the first semester of her Junior year in college, in Salzburg, Austria. It was decided that the rest of the tribe would fly in and we would celebrate the holidays in Salzburg, Prague, Vienna and Munich. I was dating my boyfriend for only the second Christmas (I married him, so we have a lifetime to celebrate Christmas together now) and I was a mopey crabfest.

One night, the entire family went to the Augustinerbrau and I loosened up by drinking some radlers. After one, my sister decided that it would be a good idea if I tried to speak to the guys at the bar in my German.


Luckily, I remembered yet another riveting phrase from my short stint studying the constant and saliva filled language.

“Du die rokmusik hier ist toll.”

So, I sidled up to two guys around my age at the bar and employed my handy and bar-friendly phrase.

They stared at me like I was insane as my sister laughingly stepped in and cleared up the fact that I was German illiterate.

All I could think as I shamefacedly walked away was the last of my German phrases.

“Mit die Macht mit Dir sein.”

(May the Force Be With You).

Clearly, saving any bar cred I had left.


Culture Club


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In June of 2009, the whole Dan Hoolihan Clan landed upon Japanese shores. Now, Dan Hoolihan himself, had already been there PLENTY of times for business, starting in the early 1990’s.

Japan is cool. One might think. Seems like it might be a little bit of a distance for an entire family to travel to be together.


My brother was getting married there.

He had been stationed for the last few years on Okinawa at Torii Station where he met and fell in love with the sweetest, most wonderful woman from Osaka.

So we were Japan bound, after a brief rest in Honolulu where we definitely enjoyed a MaiTai. We had already had one on the plane, courtesy of my brother-in-law’s mother’s friend. She was a flight attendant on our trip, and made that possible, along with a tour of the cabin where the crew gets to sleep hidden away in the belly of the plane.

We also met up with one of my brother’s oldest friends, practically our other-brother, who was going to attend the wedding. He was a pilot and bummed a ride. He also claims that he tried to bump my sister and her husband and my husband and I up to First-Class, where my parents were seated. He tried, but couldn’t remember our married names.

A likely story.

Although we tried to sneak up to the First-Class cabin anyway but were straight up denied.

Finally, sleepy and arriving at about midnight, our feet touched the airport floor and the clan was reunited once more.

To say we were punch-drunk from lack of sleep (not MaiTai’s – I swear it had been almost nine hours, we didn’t have freebies on the second flight) is a gibangous understatement. Everything was HILARIOUS! Hilarious…and thus began the Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto Tally. EVERY TIME we heard Arigato, at least one of us would sing the song. EVERY TIME.

Our brother and his wonderful fiancé, met us at the train station near our hotel, where the Happy Smile Wedding was about to take place…in a few hours.

Rather than make the responsible decision to get a few hours of sleep, we took my brother out for a bachelor party. Yes, my sister and I went too, to a modern Hostess Club.

It was upon this first mission out in Osaka, in the wee hours of the morning, that we learned several important tips for navigating our way through the cultural differences.

  • McDonald’s is always open. And they have shrimp burgers, and they are pretty good.
  • DO NOT SPIT ON THE SIDEWALKS. My husband did this at one point, and my brother’s Army friend kindly pointed out that it was disrespectful.

McDonalds…all the time

It took us longer in the trip to determine the rest of the lessons we learned, but those were in about the first hour we were in Japan.

The enlightenment we received in our travels covered lessons of transportation, gastronomy, and more etiquette.

My husband continued to push the boundaries of International Incidents, as he interacted with those around him. Should anyone outside of the five of us shoehorned into the tiny hotel room been in that room that night, they would have been appalled and baffled at the obsession that the pilot and my husband shared with the toilet.

It was a combination of a bidet, and a toilet. They could make the water go down the hole, or come out of it. This provided them an extended period of entertainment late the first night, or early the first morning.

My sister and I were more fascinated with the public bathrooms in the New Archaic Hotel. There were little boxes in each stall that played a sound much akin to that of a flushing toilet. It was later revealed to us that due to the very reserved demeanor of the Japanese women. They would play the sound while they used the facilities to cover up the sounds of their own bodily functions.

We continued our Japanese bathroom adventures when my husband discovered the Indian type bathrooms at the train station. He had never seen one before, and needless to say, it was not a great time for him to have to discover this phenomenon.


Cutting into the rent-a-cake.

Another exciting lesson was that at the Happy Smile Wedding, the beautiful cake my brother and his wife cut into was a FAKE. There was one slice of cake in a plastic ice castle rent-a-cake that they cut out and fed to each other. The cake that we ate was just a sheet cake that was cut and distributed from the back.


Conveyor Belt Sushi

Japanese food innovation continued to amaze us when my sister-in-law brought us to a neighborhood sushi place where the rolls and sashimi were distributed to us on a conveyer belt! It was seriously awesome. The equivalent of a cruise buffet with really good food instead of mediocre. I was hooked. We also gleaned, although I continue to have a hard time convincing my American friends of this, that it is perfectly acceptable to eat sushi with your fingers. This solidly embedded sushi has my favorite Japanese cuisine, followed solidly by Green Tea Ice Cream.

My husband continued to be our fish out of water when he discovered that upon complimenting someone on their possession in Japan, it is customary for the complement receiver to dispense said item to the complement distributor.
A new pair of shades found its way to my husband a la the bride’s brother in this very awkward (for my husband) way.

One of the most wonderful cultural differences that we found in our trip, was the utter generosity and kindness of the people. Not only was this gift of sunglasses a kind way to welcome an international buffoon, it was done out of true generosity.

The experience that best exemplified the trustworthiness of the Japanese society as far superior to that of the American culture, was when my sister absentmindedly left her backpack on the train.

We had decided to take a day trip to Kobe from Osaka, which was just a quick train ride away. Thanks to my new sister, we were pros at maneuvering through the system. Or, we simply followed her. In our hurry to exit the train following in her footsteps, my sister inadvertently left her backpack in the overhead compartment where she had stored it. She was attempting to make more room for more people. We were standing on the platform and the doors had just closed when my sister realized this, and she turned to the closed door just as the train pulled away.

Super sister-in-law was on the case, she proceeded to the help desk. There she was assured that the stationmaster at the next stop would retrieve the bag and hold it for my sister to arrive. Chasing the missing backpack, a small party of our contingency hopped aboard the next train in hopes that the bag didn’t disappear in transit.


The only kind of Kobe beef for me.

I was one of the hangers on in Kobe, and proceeded to take pictures with the cow statues throughout the town commemorating the internationally acclaimed Kobe beef. After what seemed like forever…the search party emerged backpack in hand! The integrity of the Japanese people had helped to return the pack to its owner, highly doubtful on any mass transportation system state side.

Final lesson learned: Japan and the Japanese people were gracious hosts to a slew of American tourists fascinated by, well, everything along our journey.

Holy Courting

To begin, my family is Catholic. We attend mass every week and my parents support many missionaries. One of those included a rehab center in Africa. The lead priest of this center was Irish. When he had been visiting the area, he stopped by to visit with my parents and have dinner. He and my father formed a relationship to which they still devote emails and cards.

My parents were also pleased as punch that I was going to study abroad in Ireland, and when my dad passed along this information to Fr. Brendan, the priest exclaimed that he would also be home in Ireland at the same time! He would love to take me around Dublin!

The calendar date for the event was set. The travel schedule of the study abroad program did not allow for many free moments. But that night came, and I left my friends and met Father in Dublin. He had a whole evening planned. We began with sandwiches at Burger King. I assumed this was dinner. This man was a priest, for heaven’s sake and I didn’t assume that he made much money. He then said we needed to eat quickly because we were going to the Theater Royale to see “Da’” the critically acclaimed new Irish play.

This was right up my alley and was both floored by the generosity as well as this amazing opportunity.

When the play was finished, I was ready to thank Father profusely and head back to my host mom’s. We had dinner and went to a play, I was in college – this was a really expensive date.

Instead he proceeded to say that we had dinner reservations at a restaurant in Temple Bar. So off we went across Dublin to an Italian restaurant where we had bread, and salad, and pasta and wine…it was fabulous! And once again, the priest picked up the check. I know that they preach and practice generosity, but this was beyond anything I expected for the evening. Upon thanking me profusely, he then drove me home rather than allow me to take the bus or a cab.

The next day, my group was off on an adventure to Glendalough (where I was dropped out of a tree). However, before we left I had a phone call from Father wondering if he could take me out to another beautiful spot in Ireland. Sadly, my time there was packed solid and I had to decline. Hopefully, in heaven I will not be judged for dumping a priest.

Note: I am a devout and practicing Catholic. With the unfortunate events surrounding clergy in the church, I wanted to make sure that it was ultimately clear that this was not a date. My family and friends have subsequently named it as that for the humor in it. There was nothing more than a kind, Irish priest who happened to be home in Dublin from his mission in Africa showing around a college student who happened to be in Dublin at the same time. We had met once before when he came to my parent’s house fundraising for his mission, and he wanted to make sure that I felt the Irish experience.