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The year was 1989 and the vehicle was a brand new 1989 Red Jeep Grand Cherokee. To christen this new vehicle – the first brand new vehicle my father had ever purchased—the family was going to pile into the Jeep for two weeks and road trip West.

Clark Griswold, did you call? Because my father had those high hopes for family magic as we planned our route from Minnesota through South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho and back through Montana, Canada and North Dakota.

Three kids aged 5, 8 and 10 piled into the backseat of a Jeep…a man’s dream come true.

Just a few days after I finished the second grade, we loaded up our Jeep with clothes our backpacks filled with the most recent book order score, as well as workbooks to prepare for 3rd grade for me and 5th grade for my brother.

There were little cardboard game sheets with slider views to play license plate bingo, trivia cards, coloring books and crayons and books, books, books all neatly organized in little backseat travel organizers as we hit the road from Minnesota bound for The Badlands. In the minds of my me and my siblings? We were headed for Wall Drug!

It was everything we had dreamed about and more. It was HUGE and there were all kinds of neat things…like this little packet that rattled like it had a snake in it. Genius! There was also, FREE water. After a short stop so that my parents could at least stop hearing about Wall Drug the entire trip, we were on our way to Mount Rushmore. There were some giant heads of dead guys in the side of a mountain. It was cool, but now we were distracted by the thought of swimming in the pool at our hotel. Also, by the sound of explosions from the Crazy Horse monument being formed.

That was exciting.

1989 Yellowstone

I would be the little boy on the far right. Also, I am not a boy.

My poor parents – they just couldn’t win with us in South Dakota. Honestly, they couldn’t really win with us for the rest of the trip, either.

We journeyed on westward, as I read West from Home letters from Laura Ingalls Wilder home as she and Almanzo journeyed westward. Even as an eight-year-old I thought that was pretty ironic. Our next destination was Yellowstone National Park. This stop provided several benefits for my parents in keeping our attention. The first was we were to see Old Faithful shooting into the sky. Though we hadn’t seen explosions on Crazy Horse up close, this was guaranteed to explode! Next, we had the thrill, and really the terror, of seeing bears looming upon us for our visit. Finally, it was my brother’s eleventh birthday while we were in the park and we were going to go horseback riding with a chow truck!

We did indeed get to see Old Faithful erupt, although I remember the waiting being simply excruciating. We did not get to see any bears, but the garbage cans were really hard to open because they had bear covers on them. We were fairly impressed by this. I was mostly impressed because I remember I was unable to take the garbage out at our little cabin because I couldn’t open the lid myself. So far, my parents were two out of three!

Unfortunately for great plans, we were unable to ride horses. My youngest sister was too little to ride, so we had to ride along on the wagon instead. I might have held a grudge against her for a while. This grudge lasted approximately until I was fed, when my crabbiness wore off. Or, it was later that evening when I discovered the Yellowstone Ampitheater. Wide awake as the sun still seemed so high in the sky on that summer evening, I sang and danced on stage. I could pretend I was famous! As I played around on the stage my family watched. Then strangers that came walking by the theater as well. They even clapped for me!

It was my first public performance that was not at a school or a church.

The exhilaration of making and audience smile, whether on stage or through words saved the entire Yellowstone experience for me. That and the three bison that we could almost touch – although we were not allowed to reach out the window of the Jeep—as we drove out of the park the next day.

Thus began the driving portion of our trip. And when I say that, it isn’t like we weren’t driving before…but now it was JUST DRIVING. One day the big excitement was finding a church playground to play on. I am pretty sure my parents were just sick of hearing us whine from the backseat and wanted us to burn off some energy.

I just remember for the first time in my life, running and actually enjoying it. We ran back and forth in the field because the playground was about three swings and one of those metal monstrosities for climbing that were prevalent in the eighties.

My parents made us our picnic lunch and then piled us back in the car. Once my dad is on a mission, and I am much like this myself, that mission will be accomplished henceforth with no disruptions.

In an effort to make the détente reached between the three siblings stuffed in the back of the Jeep, my parents acquiesced to stops at used book stores along the route as they were seen. They were not seen often. My brother and I made our way through the pre-trip books procured from the magic store we knew as B. Dalton at the mall in rapid succession leaving us to entertain ourselves in other which sometimes consisted of games or reading to our younger sister, who did a fine job making the stories up herself by looking at the pictures.

The only true peace in the east, was to supply us with more books.

Our reading frenzy became so associated with the trip that even as we drove along the pass through Glacier Mountains my parents were oohing and aahing from the front seat about the gorgeous views. They couldn’t figure out why we were so quiet, until they turned around to see each of us missing the scenery and instead lost in a book.

I am sure that never in any time has any parent ever said, “Put that book down and look at the window!”

Except my father.

With all of the natural scenery being presented, we should have been enthralled with our journey west. However, we were kids and the strangest items are what stick out from the great family road trip.

Idaho was a big state for us. We stopped in Boise to visit my aunt and uncle who lived there, and my two cousins. They all took us hiking up some mountain. But what we really remembered was the Tootin’ Tater, a little train that ran back and forth around the bottom of the mountain with no tracks. I mean the title of the Train had Tootin’ in it – that meant farting. Hilarious!

1989 Tootin' Tater

Despite the beautiful mountains, another highlight was swimming in the pool with our cousins and the freedom of running around the Holiday Inn in Boise and playing with people that weren’t my siblings. By this point in the trip, we had begun to tire of each other’s constant presence. We had started off gangbusters– we had books of mad libs that we would play with each other and laugh and laugh and laugh.

The most hilarity inducing word in each of our Mad Libs?

Kleenex Box.

It was funnier than the Tootin’ Tater!
Beyond the Tater and the pool, we also visited my dad’s friend up on Lake Coeur d’Alene. Apparently, Lake Coeur d’Alene is quite phenomenal in in’s beauty. The Google images that I have seen tend to support that, and there is a small inkling in the back of my head that I may have observed this beauty as an eight-year-old and quite admired it.

But there were distractions abounding. My dad’s friend lived on: A HOUSEBOAT! His house – was a boat. Eight-year-old world rocked. Because when you live on a boat, that means you have to go to the bathroom on the boat. My mother would later realize that my sister and I had an obsession with bathrooms.

Pause.

Actually, my obsession with bathrooms began when I was two and a half. We were out to breakfast after Mass one Sunday and my mother took me into the ladies’ room at the Country Kitchen. I walked out and immediately announced very loudly that the bathroom was extremely dirty.

As my mother said, if a two and a half year-old could figure out it was dirty, it was bad.

Later, I passed the obsession on to my younger sister. We developed a bathroom rating system regarding size in gymnastics terms. I am still not sure that my mother realizes that this system was implemented by actually attempting a handstand (the smallest), somersault (medium), and cartwheels (the largest).

Cartwheels were also often characterized by ash trays with fancy stamps in them.

In this enlightening moment in time, my obsession was with the houseboat bathroom. It was tiny. And the toilet? It was plastic! PLASTIC! I had obviously never been in a camper before as this BLEW MY FREAKING MIND! Also, when my dad’s friend realized how obsessed my siblings and I were with this toilet, he brought it out onto the deck. (AUTHOR’S NOTE: I can neither confirm or deny this fact as my eight-year-old brain was rather fanciful.)

You could pee on the deck!

I honestly have no idea what else the trip brought after that experience. It literally changed my life on the possibilities to how people could live.

In comparison, the rest of the trip was bleak. I remember some crappy hotel in Canada where the pool was outside and filled with leaves and it was cold. I believe we also bought me a boy’s wind suit while in this dumpy locale, but that is all I remember.

After the tragic night in the dump armpit of Canada, my siblings and I were about done with the traveling.

We had been gone almost two weeks and we were ready to go home.

My dad was not.

He wanted to go to Banff, Canada. He had heard it was beautiful and since that was the theme of our trip, it was next on the agenda.

But the crappy hotel and boy’s wind suit sealed the deal for me. Whining commenced. I am not pleasant when I whine and my whining tends to help my siblings feel more comfortable whining as well. Our entire experience in Canada had been tainted by a crummy hotel and boy’s wind suit. As I now absolutely adore Canada, and while I was there this summer attempted to find a Canadian husband so I could move there (sorry, current Hubby. I love you), at the time we were not fans.

My mother finally pitched in to the cause of the children, and convinced my dad that we needed to move on back to our own beds and the comfort of not driving for hours at a time. Our entire experience in Canada had been tainted by a crummy hotel and boy’s wind suit. As I now absolutely adore Canada, and while I was there this summer attempted to find a Canadian husband so I could move there (sorry, current Hubby. I love you), at the time we were not fans.

Instead of Banff, we drove to the wonderful city of Fargo, North Dakota where we were properly appeased, as we had a Holiday Inn with a pool that we could actually swim in it because it was indoors and not filled with leaves. And the added bonus? Video games in the pool area. Banff-Schmanff – the Fargo Holiday Inn was the place to be.

A little more than ten years post-car trip, this defiance in the face of natural beauty was thrown back in our faces. My father had driven through Banff as a part of a business trip through Canada. The following Christmas, we all received Banff sweatshirts.

2000 Christmas Banff Sweatshirts

The lesson?

Dan the man will always have the last word on family vacations.

 

Spring Break! WOOOO!

It was going to be the cliché spring break that every college kid dreams about – ten college friends and Disney World.

We ranged from nineteen to twenty when we flew out that March bound to meet up with our friend who had worked with the Disney College Program. The shenanigans began almost immediately. As this was just barely into the year 2001, we were still able to carry on liquids such as beverages in a bottle. Including, for some involved, spiked juice and pop bottles.

I can actually say that this did not include me as I very logically, at the age of twenty, gave up drinking for Lent that year.

You may have surmised from the fact that we were college kids going to Disney World over spring break that we could be a kooky bunch of friends. This was true and the inside jokes, that still run through my head and aren’t really that funny, started almost immediately in the airport. To this day when I hear the last name Marshall, somewhere in my head rings out a deep voice paging in the airport for “Bill Marshall.”

Aboard the plane, we were scattered a bit as we had not all booked our tickets at the same time and on the same transaction. We were cruising along having just enjoyed the complimentary airline food–or at least we picked at it—when the pilot put the fasten seatbelts sign on warning us that there was turbulence ahead. I continued to eat my meal, although I can’t remember what it was I know it was meat because we flew out on Friday and I refused to eat it during Lent.

Suddenly, as the flight attendants were about collecting trash and trays, our plane dropped.

And dropped.

And I thought I was going to die on the way to Disney World. The woman next to me, whom I had chatted with about the meat in my meal, grabbed my hand as we well in a freefall and said, “Pray for me.”

I was praying. It probably didn’t last as long as I think it did, but the freefall seemed to take 15-20 seconds. One of the flight attendants flew up from the floor, hitting the ceiling of the plane. If you have ever watched the pilot of Lost, that is what it looked like for that poor woman.

When the pilot finally gained control of the craft, there was mass chaos as my friends and I looked for each other from seat to seat. And my best friend searched for her bottle of booze that had flown up and way amidst it all.

She was very upset by this fact.

There is something about nearly dying, and this is very cliché, that brings people closer together. (Not to mention the loss of alcohol to students under 21). Upon touching feet upon airport flooring, we were immediately swapping stories of how we survived the traumatic incident.

And then, we got over it because we couldn’t wait to start our Disney vacation.

We had reserved two rooms at the Disney Institute. There were five boys and five girls, but upon checking in we immediately divided not into boys’ room and girls’ room. Rather, it felt like an episode of Survivor as we formed alliances and bunking partners. There was a couch and two double beds in each room and decided sleeping in the room would be more awkward with four people than the couch. So I took the couch and had my own room.

I think it was a fair trade off.

Our first full day in Florida we didn’t actually go to the park. Instead, we decided we would go and lounge by the pool. Our nearly deadly flight had landed really late, or really early depending on how you look at it, so we slept in and then some. As we sat by our hotel pool, our pseudo-host who had worked at the parks, decided we should try and go to the beach at the Polynesian Hotel.

“Just walk through the hotel like you belong there,” he said.

So we did.

And we enjoyed the beach vacation for a while. Until an attendant asked to see our room keys which were required to be on the beach. We were busted and sent on our merry way.

Perhaps not quite so merry, but we were on our way.

And it was time for food. Downtown Disney does not require a ticket…so we decided we would eat and explore there. I am pretty sure that McDonald’s was stopped at, although I thought we ate at the House of Blues or another New Orleans type restaurant. It was near the little ferry ride that ushers people around the hotels complexes. Perhaps we just thought it would be fun to ride around.

We found our way back to the institute, and the party began. There was spying on strip poker, and a lot of drinking. I, of course, was sober. So I made fun of the drinkers. And there was plenty to be made fun of…It was also the night we discovered that the neighbors were early to bed and early to rise Disney park attendants.

Finally, the next day we made our way to the parks. But first, there were Donuts in Bed. We had grabbed donuts the night before, and I served my roommates their breakfast in bed…henceforth spoken as Donuts in Bed similar to the way the sketch Muppets in Space was introduced. This seemed a fitting allusion to start our day at MGM, where we did indeed see Muppets. Only, they were in 3D and not space. Our favorite ride of the day was the Tower of Terror, which drops you straight down. We rode it over. And over. And over. It was also where my dancing fad was born. It started off with a lovely Pulp Fiction impression outside the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster…with my fly down.

Unzipped

Despite the fact that we should have been exhausted, we decided it was a good night to go out. There was an 18+ dance club at Downtown Disney and we were going. There was some pregaming as we were all under 21, and under the mislead belief that in order to dance booze had to be involved. As I wasn’t drinking, my awkward dancing would have to do.

Roommate chicks

Roommate sUpon entering the club we were given a certain color ID bracelet because we were under 21. There were different color bracelets for those of legal drinking age. A couple of my girlfriends befriended some older guys who were purchasing them beers.

A security guard noticed them, grabbed them, and the rest of us watched as they were marched out of the dance club.

We were terrified! Were they going to get minors? Were they going to lose their Park privileges?  But when they met us outside, they recounted their punishment.

The verbal warning they received, and I still quote this to some extent to students, was “Do not mistake Disney’s kindness for weakness.”

They lost their bracelets for the evening. That was it.

There was much celebrating back in the room.

Ride the Train

For eight minutes. Before the neighbors called security on the group.

We realized that this was going to be a regular occurrence every night we were in our rooms. We didn’t really think we were wild and crazy kids, there were ten of us and there were people talking after ten. Maybe we were louder than we thought we were, and we apologize now for our thoughtlessness.

Especially because the majority of the group has kids now.

The morning after the Club incident, there were a few people who chose to sleep in. The other four of us decided we were going to check out the latest addition to the Disney family of parks – Animal Kingdom.

I say this, and not too proudly.

It was my most normal part of the trip.

I feel as though I need to keep repeating that I was sober throughout the entire trip, because looking over photographs one would think that was wasted. All the time. Rather, I like to think that the majority of the trip I was simply embracing the inner child while at Disney World.

The wildest thing that happened was that we mistook one of the performers for our friend sleeping by the pool back at the resort.

Eventually our other cohorts met us at the Magic Kingdom. We were going to hit the last of the parks, Epcot, to watch our friend Andy’s sister march with their high school band around the park, so Magic Kingdom was our afternoon.

Baby B

From said afternoon, and evening, such fabulous group lexicon was born. For example: hot coffee man. You may think that this had something to do with an attractive barista in the park. Even though I did frequent the coffee shop by the pool of our resort daily, hot coffee man was actually a super hero that my friend Amy and I invented while waiting in line for the “It’s a Small World” ride. Coffee is hot – if someone is attacking you, we decided, you should throw it at their face.

There should all be a super hero who goes around saving people in this manner.

Gang with Mickey

He could also be hot.

The growth of the group lexicon, and indeed the culture that would henceforth define us, makes almost no sense to the outside observer. Actually, the farther I get from the trip and time period in life, the less it makes sense to me.

It does not stop me from laughing out loud while alone when I hear certain phrases or even fragments of said phrase.

In short? Our inside jokes are still hilarious though their origins were so banal.

The intensity of the group was both binding and restricting.

What if you weren’t there when the latest addition was initiated. Traipsing through a bunch of families at Epcot the next day, it became apparent that we would have to break up the gang for smaller posses.

Thus the day of my progressively weirder photos emerged. The group of friends I was with encouraged this and whichever country I happened to be visiting I chose to pose in a semi-appropriate fashion.

This was only punctuated by my random eighties and nineties dance moves being busted out.

Cabbage Patch

As entertainment for the rest of my gang, one of these dance breaks was located over a fountain that emerged from the swirled paint on the ground.

FountainIt was not sprouting water one second and the next I was soaked.

It was a truly classy moment for me.

I was matched in classiness by my best friend who wore one black flip-flop and one blue the entire day.

We all came together to watch our friend Andy’s sister march and met up again that evening for fireworks.

It allowed us a fairly early evening and the following day was slow…our week catching up with us. The morning was wet and we watched a lot of television with the closed captioning on. The person typing the translation was horrible, and from this lazy day came the vocabulary word Snoofment. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what the actual word was supposed to be.

Our accomplishment for the day was making dinner reservations with characters. Without Jon, our tour guide.
It was our last night and this was supposed to be special.

If Captain Hook wanting to have an orgy with us was special, then we definitely succeeded!

After our fancy dinner, we changed and prepared to go to Magic Kingdom at night. It was staying open extra late to allow people to ride. As we flew out at about 6 the next day, we figured we would stay up almost all night and go home. We stand up all night. The insanity which had been temporarily tempered by the calm day was ignited with the lack of sleep. When you are posing for pictures with bowls on your head, and you aren’t me, the. It is probably an indicator that you are tired.

Roommate Insanity

When you are having conversations about the Double Tree logo and how much you like it, and laughing hysterically about it. We arrived in Minneapolis safely with no falls from the sky but the knowledge that our stupid Disney World lingo would forever bind us to the survival of our fall from classy.

Appendix A: Fleugen das Trippens Memordah (Translation: “Of the Trip Memories.”

 

Mullet Count—It began at the airport in Minnesota. Spring Break is the time of year where all types of travelers emerge. Especially the Mullet Wearers. We also found man of them throughout Disney World from other regions of the country.

 

“Come on Ride the Train”—To get from one park to the next we needed to take the monorail, or the train. If one person did not break out into the verse of the Quad City DJ’s classic, I am sure there would have been an accident aboard.

 

“Bridget, your zipper is down” – My strange ability to break into random dance moves that were not hip began in the lobby of the Disney Institute on the first night. The next day at MGM while reenacting part of the dance from Pulp Fiction, it was loudly shared with the crowd that, indeed, my fly was open.

 

“Blancos basuros” – A reference to the mullet count and the sneakiness with which we were referring to a common phrase at the time “white trash.”

 

“blah, blah, blah, HA HA, HA!”—In an effort to boost the prevalence of “Das German,” in our discussions, this was occasionally thrown in as we walked around the park in an effort to fool those around us into thinking that we are from a different country. Picture a minion speaking in German.

 

Hook getting in trouble for wanting an orgy. – A common reference to the fact that Captain Hook was enamored of our group and also, probably, a college student himself.

 

Das German – The faked language used around the park in order for us to convince people that we were from Germany. Except, of course, the actual people visiting who spoke German.

 

“We’re fucking.” – During the first evening of debauchery took place in the neighboring hotel room to mine. They were set up the same way, there was a door leading into a sleeping area as well as a wetbar/living-type area. A group was playing strip poker in the bedroom area and every time those of us outside knocked, this was the standard answer.

 

“13”—One of our friends studied ASL in college as her “foreign language.” The number 13 was apparently two fingers pressed together and twitched twice.  The dirty connotation that went along with this became a rallying cry for our posse. ASL included in the cry, for those around us this would benefit.

 

“With the sister and the band and the playing…”—A reference to Andy’s sister playing at Epcot the day we chose to visit that park. Subsequently used to help define the rest of the week’s plan.

 

“I’m calling 9-1-1 –for real.”—While lounging around the pool one day, there was a young boy playing by himself. He kept saying this, whether it was to us or the imaginary playmates he had, we are uncertain. Either way, a child in a pool saying they will call 9-1-1 was concerning. Group assumption: Must be the child of the neighbor who would call and complain about the noise after 9 pm.

 

Kristina dies in the shower. – My best friend showered one day, okay, probably more than one day and she fell in the shower. It sounded like the entire bathroom caved into the floor below. We obviously assumed that she had died.

 

BEEP BEEP YEA—My understanding of where this onomatopoetic phrase emerged was from when we initiated group movements. In order to get the herd going, this call would be proclaimed. Then we would just say it randomly when there was a lull in conversation.  My memory might be slightly hazy on the origins.

 

The snoring impressions—Our beloved roommate, who shall not be named, suffered from sleep apnea. The race was to fall asleep before he could so that you wouldn’t be kept awake by it. (Another win for sleeping on the couch I the next room.) One night, my friend, Katherine, crept around the room to the sonorous crescendo and decrescendo of the sound.

 

Boob pageant – On our clubbing night, the girls were out. I don’t mean us, I mean our chests in lowcut tank tops. The three ladies in my room held a pageant with a winner, a runner-up and Miss Congeniality. The picture exists somewhere in the article, you may assign those monikers as you deem appropriate.

 

“I like the Doubletree hotel logo.”—After staying up all night at the park and then getting a cab to go to the airport, we were in fine spirits. The giant Van-Cab that we requisitioned to be our chariot to the airport that morning erupted into sleepy-drunk giggles as one of us commented on the joy the double tree logo brought.”

 

“Jay-mee-on and Lin-deemon. HA HA HA HA.”—With the German and the speaking, we adapted two of our friends’ names into fake German to be spoken when we ran out of things to say in our made-up language. Again, picture a herd of minions parading around.

 

“Bill Marshall. Paging Bill Marshall.”—Before we even left Minnesota the first quote was born. The repetitive call of “Bill Marshall, paging Bill Marshall,” as we waited for our plane was so engrained in our brains that TO THIS DAY if I hear the last name Marshall, the entire phrase rings through my head.

 

Naked Guy—I am a daily runner, and there was a little pond in the middle of our resort complex that I would run around daily, even back then. On the first day that I was up and at ‘em to run on the trail I made a few laps. The lower sliding glass doors were usually, at this time of day, covered with the full- length blinds. All but one room. Upon my second pass of the room, I glanced over. It must be human nature. There, just as alluded to on episodes of Friends, was an ugly naked guy. I ran faster to get by and thought, well perhaps I accidentally caught him. The next time around, darn it if I didn’t look again, and there he was. Still in the glass door. Still naked.

 

“We don’t spit in Minnesota because it freezes before you hit the ground.” – At one of the parks my attractive friends seemed to have a magnet attached on the southern gentleman. At one point, as they were walking along with the group, one of the jail-bait boys spit on the ground, probably a mouth full of chaw. My friend, in an effort to ditch the little kids announced rather loudly that “We don’t spit in Minnesota because it freezes before you hit the ground.” They believed her.

 

“8 Minutes from the time they got back…8 Minutes!”—As previously mentioned, our closest neighbors at the Disney Institute did not take very kindly to us staying up later than they did. Upon returning from our friends’ narrow escape at the club, it took eight minutes for us to get a call from security that we were being too loud. We barely had time to speak out loud.

 

Por favor montegonse alejado de las puertas.—Every time the group rode the sky rail to the parks, we were advised to stay away from the doors as they closed and opened.  The musical cadence of the Spanish version, or our attempts at it, were chorused amongst the group every time as well. I am sure this was quite annoying to native Spanish speakers as well as other riders alike.

 

“Marco…I hate this game.”—Upon our afternoon in the pool, we commenced to play Marco Polo as any group of college age kids would do. Our dear friend, who had spent the majority of the time in the pool pretending to snipe the squirrels about us, realized that he indeed hated that he could not find anyone in the classic children’s pool game. This was decided midgame in the phrase, “Marco…I hate this game!”

 

Dancing in the institute lobby for that family—The dancing phase I was going through did not end even as we left the institute lobby. The early morning/late evening insanity of our exit from the Disney…World left me dancing one last time in the lobby of the Institute while we waited for our giant van to pick us up. There was a little family that was checking out as early as we were, probably headed for our same flight, and the small children were very, very unhappy about the hour. So I danced for them hoping to increase the smiles. It didn’t work. I guess, even after all week there, I was not Disney certified.

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.

ghetto-room

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.

bowcam

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.

ernest-hemmingway-home

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.

gold-coast

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.

big-mama

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.

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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.

cozumel

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.

chocolate-buffet

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.

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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.

everglades

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.

contest-announcment

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.

my-bouquet

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Swinging

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.