Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

I don’t want to share with you the day-to-day, minute-by-minute, picture-by-picture account of our family vacation this year. That would be pretty boring for you the viewer/reader except for the part where we all agree that my kids are the coolest. No I won’t do that to you. However being that this was my family’s first real family vacation in 3 years, its worthy of writing a summary of the learning experience I’ve had over the past weekend. So here’s my list of crap to think about next time you are planning a family vacation. I am going to base this assessment with the disclaimer that my kids are younger and have the attention span of most 3 & 5 year olds. In other words they get bored with stuff fast. Also I am assuming you don’t have money you can burn on purpose.

  1. Go somewhere you can drive – Flying is expensive and while it can open endless possibilities to where you can go, I really don’t find the reward of any destination worth the cost and the stress of packing all the stuff in your house for a short period of time. Also in a car, its only you that have to deal with your kids. Its probably not worth angering strangers because your kid all of a sudden doesn’t like her headband.
  2. Go somewhere with water – A body of water to a kid is like a babysitter you don’t have to pay (assuming your kids can swim or have a flotation device – Safety First). This vacation we went down to Southern Missouri around a national hub of washed up Country & Western stars, Branson, MO. Around Branson however, there are several large lakes perfect for all ages. We opted for what is arguably the nicest of them all, Table Rock Lake. By nice I mean a couple things: Clear Water & not a lot of boaters. Is perfect for families who don’t want to be around a bunch hoosiers. We also visited White Water in Branson. This was probably the worst body(s) of water we visited. It was expensive and there were way to many people in bikini’s that should have been wearing camping tarps instead. The rides were fun but my kids just weren’t into them that much so we didn’t go on too many of them. Finally, the hidden gem of the water this weekend was the community pool we had access to in our rental house. If we got bored we just packed up the kids and went swimming.

    This is as good as it gets.

  3. Go with some other families in the same situation – Kids like to play with other kids and adults like to booze with other adults. As long as you can remotely stand the family and their kids, you are golden. The water will fill in the gaps. Luckily we went with 2 other families both with 2 children a piece. It worked out great. The adults we went with are normal people who don’t let their kids go bat crap everywhere and the kids are kids that are as socially normal as our kids. It was great. (if you are one of said families reading this, this is how I compliment people. Not the most flattering way I know, but hey be happy you were even mentioned).
  4. Stay in one house/condo/structure – This is mostly for the adults. With everyone under one roof, sure you have to live in everyone life, but the boozing when all the kids are asleep is worth it.

    Adult beverages rule!

That’s the down and dirty of how to have a fun family vacation. Now go get one in before Summer if over!!!! So like this weekend…

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In true Project Manager fashion, John Offered up some Lessons Learned after the weekend.

So this weekend is the 90th anniversary weekend for Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity being founded on the campus of what is now known as Truman State University. This matters to me because I went to Truman State and was in fact a Sig Tau. Depending on where you live you may have never heard of the school, and if you’ve never heard of the school, chances are you haven’t heard of the fraternity.  We aren’t very big nationally (as evidenced by the 15 minutes it takes the website to load up) compared to some other houses. In Kirksville, however, we were the first and have always been one of the biggest houses on campus. I’ll spare you all quite a bit of intra-fraternity chest beating here and just say… nothing (which is exactly what they would have taught us to say had we believed in hazing, which we didn’t, because hazing is wrong).

This was the only picture I could find from college.

It’s been ten years since I’ve been in Kirksville, and I’m sure a lot has changed (more with my friends and me than with the town, sadly). As I’m beginning to show my maturity and professionalism, I’m going to break the potential for this weekend down with a SWOT Analysis.


  • I haven’t seen a lot of these guys in a long time. Can’t wait to catch up and hear how fatherhood has changed the life of the guy who once put a Chevette in the basement of a house or how the guy who used to put vodka in a beer bong is now a doctor.
  • I can now afford good beer (which I couldn’t do in college). Of course, I’ll still be buying Natural Light to remember the good old days, so the strength here is that I’ll save some money. I may even spring for bottles.
  • I can also afford cabs and hotel rooms now. No more long walks home.


  • I’m fairly certain I’m not cut out for rolling out of bed at 10 am to pull a beer out of the fridge and keep that pace going until 4 am anymore. I’m actually 100 % I’m not. I’m just hoping I don’t have one of those terrible drinking days where I take a nap half way through and wake up with a headache just in time for everyone to need taken care of.
  • I’m not sure I’m still properly inoculated against whatever strain of e. coli is residing on the TV room couch in the old fraternity house.
  • Speaking of a weakened immune system — and this is tough for a man as pretty as I am to admit — but in the midst of a month-long battle with Poison Ivy, I’m not looking my best. Some patches are still visible, and I’ve literally put back on the 15 or 20 solid pounds I’ve taken off and kept off since college.


  • Kirksville has a super cheap standard of living. In college it wasn’t uncommon for 10 of us to be at a bar for 6 hours and have a tab in the $12-$15 range.
  • It’s entirely possible that some of the 30-40 somethings that travel back up with me will wake up on Sunday morning with rugburns their foreheads. Can’t wait to see them try to explain that away at work on Monday.
  • If I play my cards right, I can order a George (with Ranch on Sourdough, of course) to eat while in town and take a couple of frozen Ronzas home to share with the kids. I do miss you Pagliai’s.


  • I’m hoping for their sake that the bartenders we had when I was up there have moved on. I’m guessing this will mean our bar tabs will be a little more accurate than they used to be when I’d sneak into the kitchen and make everyone sandwiches for the after-party on our way out.
  • Last time I visited Kirksville was for a court date I had to attend because the second-to-last time I visited I took one step outside of a bar with a drink still in my hand. Ten years later I may just let the next one go to warrant.


While there are some potential pitfalls, I am really looking forward to seeing some old friends, drinking some beer, and feeling just plumb-god awful on the way home this weekend. My college experiences (almost all of which involved my brothers) are some of my favorites, and it’ll be nice to refresh some of those memories.

Here’s to thinking we look like this.

When we really look like this.

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St. Louis was recently named the 11th best place in America to raise a family. I actually found this a little offensive.

Being a transplant to this fair city — I originally grew up in Northeast Ohio. Lebron wasn’t the first person to get out while the getting was good — I don’t bring all of the home-town bias most metropolitan area residents bring with them to the city. I’ll spare you all my detailed rant on why St. Louis isn’t quite as great as everyone here seems to think it is, I’m just content that all of the World’s Fair talk has died down now that it’s been more than a century since it was here. Just because I don’t think St. Louis is the end-all, be-all of towns doesn’t mean, however,  that I like someone calling the place I raise my kids a great place to raise my kids.

To me, calling somewhere a nice place to raise kids is an outright insult. It’s on par with saying someone is a nice guy or that a girl has a good personality. None of those things are bad. You’d hope that a guy  is a nice guy or that a girl has a good personality or that your city is a great place to raise kids. You just don’t want that to be a defining characteristic. Because that means they are boring. If someone is awesome you don’t call him or her nice, you call him or her awesome. If a city rocks, you don’t say it’s a nice place to raise kids. New York rocks. Boston rocks. San Diego rocks. No one has ever said those were great places to raise kids. They say awesome things about them.

I recognize this list was put together as a means to drive web traffic or sell magazines, but I seriously doubt its accuracy. State’s Exhibit A – Washington, D.C. is the number one place to raise kids. I’m not sure if they are talking about the Washington that once had a crack-head mayor, the Washington full of powerful men who like to tweet their junk, or the Washington that used to always have the second highest murder rate (behind of course East St. Louis).  State’s Exhibit B , we were number 2 on this list just last fall, which was really like being number 2 on the number 2 list. That must have been a quick turnaround. Nonetheless, it really rubs me the wrong way.

St. Louis, I think it is time for us to stand up and be something more than “a great place to raise kids (because nothing good or bad ever happens here)” or “a great baseball town (because there isn’t anything else to do)” and give ourselves SOME sort of identity. Everyone hear thinks we’ve given Toasted Ravioli and thin-crust pizza to the world, but no one outside of the bi-state area has ever heard of them (or would eat them if they had). People have heard of the Arch. That’s it.

I don’t have all of the solutions right now. Maybe we try to get The Hangover 3 be filmed here and actually have it be funny. Maybe nobody wears pants to work next Tuesday (unless you are a “nice” or have a “good personality” — then you should probably keep your pants on). Maybe we divert the commercial traffic from the Mississippi and make it one big “Fifth Coast” beach party. Whatever we do, we’d better do something fast, or all of our kids are gonna move away once they grow up and no one will be left to hear us talk about how awesome it was when Poison and Motley Crue used to come to town every summer.

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Here’s the transcript of a conversation I had while I was in San Diego for the first time last week.

Me: Wow, this hotel is gorgeous. Did you know that when you ask for a wake-up call they offer to bring you coffee and fresh fruit for free?

Other Party 1: I did not know that, but it’s pretty cool.

Me: And it is so close to the beach. I walked down there for lunch yesterday and ate fish tacos and watched people surf.

Other Party 1: Yep, the beach is close and it’s amazing.

Me: Yeah, I spent a week at a Cancun resort and it wasn’t anything like this. FYI, the whole Fish Taco/surfer voyeur thing has always been my Pacific Coast fantasy.

Other Party 1: OK, that’s pushing creepy, but I appreciate your enthusiasm. Please excuse me while I was away hep-ly..

Me: And it is gorgeous. This morning it was foggy and pushing the limits of chilly, but not “uncomfortable”-chilly, just sort of “I recognize some people would consider this chilly”- chilly.

Other Party 2: Yeah, people here call this “May Daze” and sometimes “June Gloom” because it’s about as bad as the weather gets here.

Me: You people are selfish jerks. You should bask in this all the time.

Other Party 2: Being from here and with nothing in my entire life to be upset about, I’m gonna let that slide.

Me: Even you people are amazing. I haven’t seen ANYONE here who even looks gassy, much let upset.

Other Party 2: What can I say? The weather is beautiful, the ocean is beautiful.

Me: And the food is amazing. I tried oysters here the other day for the first time and I nearly wet my pants. I had a Stone IPA and nearly wet my pants. I had 8 more, and I did wet my pants.* Why don’t more people move out here?

Other Party 3: People like to visit, but we do have relatively high housing prices.

Me: This is too perfect. You are all vampires, aren’t you? And San Diego is nothing but a huge nest to lure people here to visit and then you eat them, isn’t it?

Other Party 3: Yes. We’ve figured out how to live in the sun and not be all stupid like those Twilight jerks. Fortunately for you, this is So Cal and we try to be low-fat, so you should be OK to make it back to the airport.

Me: That’s rude, but it’s true, and I’ve been here long enough to relax and take it easy. Can I have another one of those Stone’s?

*Note: I didn’t actually wet my pants, but if I had I wouldn’t have been upset about it. It’s literally impossible to not smile the whole time you are there. It’s like they put Xanax in the water supply.

This is what a Wake Up call should look like.

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Recently just got back from a trip to Secrets Silversands in Cancun, Mexico (the trip was second best thing I got for Christmas), and I left feeling somewhat conflicted about the experience. As a result, I’m giving myself some rules to live by on my next all-inclusive vacation. Please note that not all of the following points are based on my own behavior.

  • I will recognize that “All-Inclusive”, for all intents and purposes, means “Largely-Inclusive”. Regardless of how much the website and travel agents tell me that tipping is “optional”, I will bring a couple hundred bucks in the smallest bills I can find because I don’t want to spend all freaking week being the only a-hole standing at the bar dying of thirst while 4 or 5 bartenders somehow manage to not make eye contact with me while I am the only person standing there. I will never again be frustrated by generally appalling service on a trip that cost a couple of thousand dollars just to save a couple of hundred dollars. My principles aren’t worth it. Tipping in this case is protecting my investment.
  • If I am going to Nair my back (which I really should do; other people have paid to come here and see nature at its finest), I will be fully prepared to itch like a mofo when the hair starts growing back in through my peeling sunburn.
  • When I first book my trip, I will do some sort of little upgrade. I will pay the extra $200 to be a member of the “preferred club” or to have a swim-out or an ocean-view or something. The way it works is, nobody pays for all of that stuff, so in order to have enough room for everyone they have to bump some people up. They start bumping by who has already paid the most. Not paying anything extra really hurts my chances at a free upgrade.
  • I will use the Do Not Disturb sign. Literally like 7 staff members will come to my room every day. They come to clean the room. They come to bring a paper. They come to stock the mini-bar. They come to stock the coffee and snacks. They come to make sure they didn’t miss anything when they stocked the mini-bar. They come to turn down my bed. Oddly, they never seem to come when I am at dinner, or even within 15 minutes of each other. I am on vacation. I may want to… take a nap… or something…  that I don’t want anyone walking in on. I will use the Do Not Disturb sign. Especially on my birthday.
  • I won’t spring for the romantic dinner on the beach. It’s nice, but not $200 nice, and the food is cooked by the exact same hands that cook the free food. Instead, I will put on some linen pants, order some room service and sit on my ocean-view patio to eat it, then walk down to the beach.
  • In certain locales, it is perfectly acceptable (encouraged in fact) to avoid unsightly tan lines. I won’t get caught looking and ruin it for everybody.
  • I realize I came to an all-inclusive to not spend extra money. That said, taking a day trip to someplace like this might be the highlight of my trip. Not all day trips are worth it (this one was really expensive, but awesome) but I might want to at least LOOK.
  • I will spoil myself with a pedicure. I’m not even gonna blame it on my wife. My tootsies deserve it.
  • I will leave myself lots of time to check out on the last day, especially if I have charged anything to my room. I recognize that some people will smile at me, tell me my coupons were applied, charge my card in foreign currency, then let me do the math in my head while waiting on my airport shuttle only to realize I was overcharged by like 20% to then have to explain to someone that my coupons really weren’t applied and then stand there while my driver (hopefully) looks at his watch while I make everyone late.

Not being one to do all of the work, I’ve written a few rules for the people I run into when I get back as well.

  • When you see me and find out I’ve been in the tropics. Don’t remark on how tan I’m not. You can’t expect to overcome years in a cubicle with one week in the sun (under SPF 50 sunscreen).
  • Yes, I am aware that is possible to go on vacation and spend approximately 5% what I did. I don’t care. I get out about once a decade, and I don’t feel like Pricelining my trip and risk ending up in either of these roles.

Hopefully these rules can help you have a great time on your vacation as much as they’ll help me. I had a great time, but if I had known then what I know now, it would have been ever better.

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Death Flight 2011

Flew from St. Louis to Chicago to Charleston, WV this week, and there were more than a couple of moments that I was less than thrilled about it.

I should probably preface this by saying that I have a knack of working for places that operate in pretty remote locales. My last job was for a healthcare company that served the largely rural portions of Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma and I currently work for a coal mining company (and obviously the views in this space are mine and not those of my company yada, yada, yada) which operates largely in Central Appalachia and the Mountain West areas. I actually do typically enjoy the travel (I don’t have to do it much, and it’s nice to get out and see how the money gets made), but it typically involves lots of short flights in a row. I’m not what you’d call a nervous flyer. The worst part to me is only having 20 minutes worth of airline magazines to read but 40 minutes of flight time where I can’t turn on my electronic devices (note to self: grab a newspaper before flying home), and somehow still not getting the extra special TSA pat down (kidding, mostly).

So, this week I was flying from St. Louis to Charleston, WV via Chicago. Aside from leaving the gate late (which doesn’t even qualify as an inconvenience anymore) the first leg was pretty uneventful. From St. Louis to Chicago is literally up and down — they don’t even bother to pretend they are going to serve refreshments.

The second leg, however, started off a little more ominously. We (I was on the trip with a coworker) got to Chicago late, but fortunately our connecting flight was even more late, so we grabbed something to eat at the Chili’s Too (do they even have Chili’s standalone restaurants anymore? The link I just included would lead me to believe “yes.”) which was directly across from our gate. Which had a paper sign (taped to the functioning monitor) that said simply “Charleston, WV” in Sharpie. Good thing we chose that spot, because they started boarding far sooner than they were supposed to. Only through my Herculean efforts was I able to ensure that none of my French fries were left behind; my traveling companions burger was not so lucky.

We then hurried onto the plane so we could be passively aggressively directed (“we’ll pull away from the gate as soon as everyone has turned off their electronic devices”) in order to rush to the tarmac where we waited for 45 minutes to take off in a torrential downpour. Once in the air, it only got more fun as the captain came on the speaker to warn us that they were going to try to retest some system that wasn’t flashing right on the flashy thing in the cockpit, and that if that didn’t work out we’d be going back to Chicago to land in the torrential downpour. Then the plane got really loud as it sounded like they were trying to open the bomb bay doors. Immediately after that sound subsided the plane banked strongly to the right, and everyone let out a groan because we were obviously going back to Chicago. Two minutes later the captain came back on and said everything was fine.

As an aside, I’ve never understood the whole “if something is wrong we’re going to fly back and land at where we just took off from” mentality. To me, if we are going to crash, I’d just as soon do it at my destination as opposed to my starting point. If we have a terrible landing in Chicago, it isn’t like I’m gonna want to hop on the next plane to Charleston. If we have a terrible landing in Charleston, at least I have two days to get over it before I return home.

After that, things got much better. The <sarcasm>cheery</sarcasm> flight attendant apologized for the rough flight and gave us all free trail mix after assuring us that this was his best flight of the day. Free trail mix cures a lot. Maybe <more sarcasm>I’ll start bringing that home when I forget my anniversary</more sarcasm>.

The rest of the evening was pretty unremarkable aside from our luggage being wet and the Mapquest iPhone app sucking. Can’t wait to fly back home. Hope it is on American Eagle, again.

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