Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Visiting Seattle

Today, I flew up to Seattle to visit my Dad who lives in Port Orchard (on an island across the sound from Seattle).  My dad is sick and is going to have a heart valve replaced next week.  My dad is 84 (almost 20 years older than my mom).

I didn't grow up with my dad.  He and my mom divorced when she was 8 months pregnant with me.  It was an incredibly tragic love story...and the reason my mom's life went into a downward spiral (imagine, it's 1965, you're 22 years old and your husband leaves you because he decides you're too young and he's embarassed that you're least that's the story my mom told me).  I've never had the guts to ask my dad his side of the story.

I met my dad when I was 18.  I had a horse accident when I was 12 and child services (or some such entity) had contacted him to pay my hospital bills (all unknown to me or my mom).  They also had him start paying child support.  When I turned 16, we were contacted by some government organization and told that there was a pot of money from my dad paying child support.  I don't know why it took them 4 years to let us know about the money, but it was a nice surprise at the time.  My mom told me that when I turned 18, if I wanted to contact my dad, I could.  So, when I turned 18, I contacted the organization and they put me in touch with my dad.

Meeting him was incredibly surreal and over the years we developed a bit of a relationship.  He lived in Northern California and I was in So Cal. so I didn't see him a lot during college.  But, when I went to law school in San Francisco, he lived in the Santa Cruz mountains and I saw him quite a bit more.  Since then, he's moved to Port Orchard and I see him every 12 - 18 months (mainly because the home office for the franchise I own is near Seattle and I always stop and see him when I'm up visiting the home office).  We have a pleasant relationship, but he has three other kids (all from prior marriages to my mom) who grew up with him and are part of his everyday life.

Now my dad is sick.  My mom died in February and I've told my dad that I can't handle him dying this year.  I think he thought I was kidding...I really wasn't.  I do realize I have no control over this, and whatever happens, happens.  But, I'm sure hoping he makes it through the surgery and gets well.  I don't have anymore tears in me this year...or maybe I'm just afraid if I start to cry...I won't stop this time!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fourth Tip...having friends always helps!

As you know from prior postings, we had many adventures in France.  Sometimes those adventures were challenging.  Looking back, I realize that the key to having a successful home exchange is to make sure you have a good friend (or friends) who are willing to assist the people coming to your home while you are away and vice verse.  (The vice verse is probably even more important for you!)  Also, make sure you leave a list of numbers for emergency a plumber, mechanic and a friendly doctor.

Because we were in a country where we didn't really speak the language, many things were more difficult that they should have been.  When our phone & internet service went out at the house...we didn't know who to call at the phone company.  Even if we did know what number to call, they didn't speak English, so we wouldn't have been able to figure out what was going on.  Because our exchange house had free international calling, we were planning on relying on making calls from the house to home.  We didn't have an international plan on our cell phones.  We had gotten a French sim card for our cell phones and would be using them to make local calls.  When the phone and internet went out, we had to scramble to figure out the best plan on our cell phones and get that activated.  And, we learned, there is just no good data plan for international use.  The prices are exorbitant!  So, we ended up relying on wifi...which wasn't so bad in places like Paris...but out in the countryside it was pretty much non-existent.

When our phone first went out, we spoke with the folks that our exchange family had told us would be able to help with any issues we had.  These folks (the Mopins) would become our saviours over and over again.  From helping us get our phone back up (which took 15 days and multiple calls to the carrier...all conducted in French), to dealing with car troubles, to plumbing issues to finding a doctor for one of us and accompanying us to the doctor and pharmacy...they did it all.  They also had us over to their house for dinner multiple times and introduced us to others who also opened their homes to us.

At our home, our person picked our exchange family up from the airport and took them back at the end of the trip.  She also handled dealing with the pool person when the pool had issues, showing our guests how to work various things when they couldn't figure out the instructions we'd left, and loaning them a Garmin...since our GPS system was on our cells phones and we hadn't thought of leaving one for them.  She also made sure that all the parking tickets got paid in a timely manner, since I wasn't able to set up an auto pay for those (since I didn't realize we'd be having tickets to pay over the summer!)

Whoever you select to be your ombudsman, make sure they like you a lot!  You never know what issues might arise when you leave your home, especially for the first time.  Your ombudsman may be called upon to perform all sorts of duties in your absence.  Also, realize that when you return, you will probably owe this person a lot of favors.  You might want to start doing favors for them before you even leave...this way the karmic scorecard won't be completely one-sided when you return.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Third Tip for Doing a Home do I say water?

When we first decided to do a two month home exchange, I knew immediately that I wanted to go to France.  The food and wine were calling my name.  I had taken a year of French in college (after 8 years of Spanish in high school and a little dabbling in Russian also).  In college, I was an International Relations major.  This meant that it was required (almost) to spend a semester abroad.  I was slated to go my senior year, however I encountered a little obstacle.  I met the love of my life, the man of my dreams, my soul mate...the person with whom I would spend the rest of my life. 

St. James and I met spring semester of my junior year (his senior year) of college.  Ours is a romantic story and if you haven't heard it, here it is for you.  (If you have heard it...maybe 20 times or so, feel free to skip this part.)

James and I went to college in different states (me in California, James in Oregon).  We met at a Model United Nations conference in Sacramento, CA (which was just about half way between our respective colleges).  We were both on the Security Council. 

If you don't know what the Security Council of the UN is click here.  (See, this blog is educational as well as entertaining..I hope!)  The Security Council is a rather small group by UN standards.  At our Model UN meeting, there were about 20 of us on the Council.

The Model UN Conference was held at the Red Lion Inn in Sacramento and this was my third year attending.  The prior two years had been educational and interesting...but mainly it was an excuse to party with several hundred college kids from all over the west coast.  It was a three day conference, which provided plenty of time for mischief.  Given that my son, my nieces and nephews and other young impressionable minds read this blog...I won't go into the details of those first two meetings...I will only focus on my third one...which is PG rated!

My school was representing the country of Holland and James' school was Egypt.  During our first meeting of the Security Council, I receive a note that says:

Would Holland do me the pleasure of going to dinner with me?
Signed...Blue Shirt

Cool, I thought...then looked around the room to see who my secret admirer was.  Of the 15+ guys in the room, at least 10 had blue shirts on.  Oops!  How was I going to figure this out?  I looked at the note again and saw that it was on country stationary...across the top was printed EGYPT.  Well, that narrowed it down.  I looked across the table at the Egypt delegates and there were just two.  One in a white shirt and one in a blue shirt.  I thought...ooh, the cute boy in the blue shirt wants to take me to dinner!!!  I smiled at him to indicate my acceptance.  At our next break, he came up to me to introduce himself and discuss details.  He told me that he knew of a great Chinese place and that he could use his school's van (that's how his group had come to the conference) and that we would need to go "dutch" as he didn't have a lot of money.  For many girls, this combination would have been a no go.  Chinese food, school van, going dutch!  But, he was so darn cute and I liked that he was honest about not having a lot of money.  So, I happily agreed.

Later that evening, he picked me up and we went to the restaurant.  Now, I never even wondered how he knew about a Chinese restaurant in Sacrament, when he was from Oregon.  Turns out, his group had eaten there the night at least he knew that it was edible, clean and relatively cheap. 

Here's what I remember from that dinner.  I have a faint image of the restaurant in my mind, an acceptable place...clean, bright.  I have no memory of what we ate.  I do know that after just 10 minutes of conversation with James, I knew he was the one!  This was the man that I was going to marry.  No doubts in my mind.  I'd never met anyone quite like him.  He was serious but had a wicked sense of humor (a sarcastic wit that has been passed on to our son)...he had a plan for life, he was smart, handsome and quite a charmer.  I felt safe with him and could tell he was a gentleman through and through (not just a first date act)!  Here I was, all of 20 years old...and I was ready to take the plunge after 10 minutes of conversation.

We spent the rest of the weekend getting to know each other between Council sessions, then had to part ways.  We spent the next two months writing letters (almost every day) to get to know each other even more.  This was before email (heck, it was before the Internet) and long distance phone calls were still very expensive.  We talked once a week, if we were lucky.  We fell in love over those two months.  I poured my heart out in those letters and told him everything about me and he did the same.  (And yes, I still have the original note and the the attic somewhere.)

When Memorial Day rolled around, he decided to make the trek to Southern California to see me at school.  What I didn't learn until years later is that he had to sell his fly fishing equipment and a stereo to get enough money to make the trip.  Love makes us do interesting things! 

By the end of the school year, I had decided to change my life completely.  Instead of graduating in a year...I decided to graduate in December.  Which meant I would not be going abroad my senior year, as I needed to take an impossible number of units to graduate early.  I took classes over the summer and an extraordinary load in the fall and was able to graduate in December.

Over the summer, James had moved to Los Angeles to live with his step-grandmother and work and be closer to me.  I spent the summer working for my mom's company in San Diego.  At least we were only two hours away instead of 12.  The first weekend that James came to San Diego and met my family, my mom fell in love with him!  She offered him a job for the summer and  to share my brother's room in the converted garage.  She took me aside and told me that if we were ever to break up, she wasn't sure that I would be the one that the family would stay connected to.  Normally, having this much of a family blessing can be a turn off for a young adult, but for me it was so nice to have my choice validated.  I knew I was going down the right path.

James went back to Oregon to work on his Masters and I finished my last semester of college.  It was very difficult to be apart that semester, but we survived.  I moved up to Oregon in January and James and I applied to law schools together.  We were lucky to get into the same schools and selected Hastings in San Francisco.  He proposed in February and we left Oregon at the end of the summer and moved to San Francisco for law school.  I will save for another day some of the stories of living in Oregon together and our law school years. 

I told you all of this so you'd know why I missed my year abroad in college.  Which is also the reason that my French is less than stellar.  Actually, my French is really non-existent.  While I can understand a bit and can say hello and goodbye and order croissants in a bakery (notice that word is the same in French and English!), I am no where close to being able to hold a conversation. 

However, I do know how to ask for water (une bouteille d'eau, s'il vous plait).   Although, many people did not understand me when I was asking for water, at least I knew I had the correct words.  My sister, on the other hand, had a heck of a time getting water. 

Kerry is a runner and most mornings would get up and run about five miles along the country roads.  She
would finish her run through our little town and stop at the bakery to get a bottle of water.  For some reason, she always had trouble with this.  She said they always looked at her like she was crazy when she asked for a bottle of water.  Finally, she found a little shop where the owner got to know her and knew what she wanted!  When we were having lunch in Strasbourg, she ordered water from the water by saying "Azul, s'il vous plait."  The waiter looked at her like she was crazy and I started cracking up.  I told her she had just ordered Blue (in Spanish).  I asked her if this is how she'd been asking for water all this time and she sheepishly acknowledged that yes, she'd been asking for Azul.  It was even funnier at this point because we were in a Mexican restaurant (ok, fake Mexican restaurant...but they were trying hard!)

My third tip for doing a home exchange is to study the language a bit before you go.  It's important to be able to say hello, goodbye, please and thank you and to be able to count.  Being able to ask for water also comes in quite handy.  And, if your car breaks down or your toilet explodes or you get lost...being able to ask for help is also quite useful!

PS...James and I are starting a conversational French class tonight, so hopefully next year will be a little easier in France!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Second Tip for doing a Home Exchange.

Here's my next tip for doing a home exchange.  (I really hope this doesn't offend anyone...but it I apologize in advance!)

Make sure you are not exchanging with a bachelor.  Or, if you are exchanging with a bachelor, make sure he's not a professional photographer!  In our experience, Bachelors tend to have a different idea as to what is needed in a kitchen to cook gourmet meals.  Bachelors tend to not be so worried about the little cobwebs in the pantry, spiders in the shower, propane in the tank for hot water, comfortable furniture and other little things like that.  I could be completely wrong and this could have nothing to do with the fact that our exchanger was a bachelor (he does have a lovely girlfriend, who came on the exchange with him...I'm just not sure she had added "a woman's touch" to his house yet).  But, I have to find some lesson to be learned, and this is what I've gleaned.  In our next exchange, I will be looking for more feminine touches in the house photos!

Since our exchange, I have reviewed the pictures that were posted of our exchange house, trying to determine whether I should have seen some of the more rustic parts of the house.  This is where the "don't exchange with a professional photographer" rule comes in.  The pictures are beautiful.  There was no real hint of what the house really had in store for us.  Now, when I look at pictures for our next exchange...I know what to look for.

First picture posted on Exchange site...we assumed this was the front of the house...shot from the road.
Nope, this was the back of the house...shot from the fields.

This was the front of the house...shot from the road, by us.  The house sat about 20 feet from the road...which had a lot of cars on it late at night...and they were very noisy!  Completely unexpected for a country house.  Notice, no lovely beautiful flowers.

To see other pictures of the house that we took

Trust me, none of these shots were included on the home exchange site.

In reviewing the pictures of your proposed home exchange, look at the details in the pictures.  Are there any dark spots on the walls...could be holes...or other more unsavory things.  Are there any full pictures of the kitchen or bathrooms?  If not, could mean that only one wall of those rooms is "presentable" and the rest of the room...not so much!  Look in the corners of the rooms...look at the tile work (is there any tile work?).  Basically, just look really carefully.  What at first appears to be a beautiful, romantic country home...could be just an old country house that needs lots of work!  Which can be totally long as you are prepared! 

Pulling up to your exchange home and thinking you must have the wrong house is not the best way to start off your exchange.  In conclusion, don't be afraid to ask for more pictures.  If there aren't any pictures of the bathroom(s), ask the proposed exchanged to send you some (ask for pictures of the shower).  This way, you know up front exactly what the house holds in store for you!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

First tip for doing a home exchange!

I have many things that I learned about doing a home exchange.  I realize that my posts tend to be very long.  Boy, I guess I have a lot to say.  So, in the interest of brevity, I am going to post short tips on things I learned about doing our next home exchange.  I'm hoping that others can learn from my mistakes and not have to go through them too!

First tip...don't exchange your own car.  Many home exchangers exchange cars, as well as homes.  In theory, this is a great idea and another way to save money.  Here are a few reasons it's a better idea in theory than in practice.

1.  If you accidentally put the wrong type of gas in the exchanged could end up having to replace an engine.  With a rental don't have to worry about it.

2.  You don't really know what shape the car you are borrowing will be in.  It could be a brand new car with no issues...or it could be an older car with specific requirements ( can only put in a little oil, don't fill it up or it won't run properly) that you don't find out until you've already done what you weren't suppose to do.

3.  Things can get broken on your car because no one takes care of your car like you do.  For example, a small tear in a convertible top becomes a very large tear because you weren't there to show your exchange family how to carefully put the top up and down.

4.  Speeding or the exchange family can get radar tickets and not even know it until you're back home (this, luckily didn't happen to us, but it was a constant worry for our host, as he had the maximum points allowed on his license and if his car got anymore tickets...he'd lose his license.  Needless to say, we tried not to speed...which really wasn't a problem since we had filled up the oil on the car because it was low, the day before we found out that the car was temperamental and you should only fill it up half way or it would be sluggish ( way you could do the speed limit on the freeway without a big downhill running start!)  Or, someone could get a ticket in your car for making an illegal u-turn on the freeway (this did the US...not France...we're waiting to see if this becomes a problem for us.)

5.  Parking need to really say anything here.  It's fun to come home and see what surprises there are in the mail!  (For full disclosure, our exchange family did pay for all the parking tickets they got.)

6.  Your tags could get stolen and your exchange family gets a ticket for expired tags.  Yep, someone stole our tags on the Expedition and the exchange family got a ticket.  I felt bad thinking we had forgotten to renew the tags, but turns out they were stolen off the truck.

With a rental car, none of these things are issues.  If you get a ticket, you deal with it.  There's no risk that your exchange family will have any problems from your tickets.  You almost always get a fairly new car, so it doesn't break down...and if it can call someone who speaks your language and have it dealt with.

In conclusion, it's probably not a terrible idea to exchange cars for a one or two week exchange (but all of the above are still risks)...however for anything longer, I recommend renting your own car!  Who knows, you might even get to rent something like this:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The first thing I learned in do have a choice.

Tomorrow, we will have been home for a week.  Today is the first day that we woke up at a normal time (6:30) and all got a full night's sleep.  Yeah!  So, it only took 6 days to get over the jet lag.  Although, I have to admit, my head is still in a bit of a fog.  I think part of that is because I don't have a plan.  There are about 268 things that I  need to do...but I am quite resistant to making a list.  James actually asked me to make a list of things that need to be done around the house.  Then he assigned things to Ethan from the list.  Poor Ethan!

I learned a lot of things about myself in France.  Some of them good things, some of them not so good things and a few ugly things.  Most of these things I've always known...but, haven't wanted to admit or confront OR I thought they were GOOD things.  I now see that there is a good and a bad side to some of my personality traits.  They serve me well in many ways, however, they also cause me a lot of stress.  The goal now that I'm home is to see how I can tweak things just a bit so that I am still well served, without being stressed.

The first thing I learned is we all have a choice.  Let's back up a bit to why I wanted to go on this trip.  I thought I needed to escape and have a break from all the things that were pushing down on me.  I felt like I was stressed out all the time, life was hard, I wanted out!  Turns out, that's where my head was, so that was my reality.  But, I was making a choice.  I was choosing to see things as stressful and hard and overwhelming!  As I learned in France, I could choose to see things as an adventure, as a challenge, as something to attack and survive...rather than seeing life as doing things to me...I could do things to life!

Unfortunately for my family, I didn't learn this lesson very quickly.  It took 5 long weeks of being handed lemons before I saw the way to make lemonade.  I swear, the second I realized that I had a choice in how I reacted to the challenges we were presented in France, that was the second those things were no longer challenges.  Sadly, this is a lesson I have learned before in my life...and had applied in my life for many years.  For some reason, the events of the last two years have had me feeling like I don't have choice.  That life is just happening to me.  That being happy, amidst all that has been going on, was impossible and just not right.  I realize I had gotten trapped in the idea that with so much suffering in the world, it was wrong to be happy.  Even if my life was good, even if I was loved and loved others, even if down deep I wanted to be happy.

Something shifted for me in France.  Maybe it was two months without the news.  No tv, no newspapers, no internet news.  I made a conscious decision to avoid it all.  For all I know, they've found a cure for cancer, or we have been invaded by space aliens.  Anything could have happened, and I don't know about it.  And to tell you the truth, I feel better!  I took a break from all the economic news...the daily stress of wondering are we out of the recession yet? 

I now realize that I got off track on July 11, 2008 when IndyMac Bank failed, the day after my 43rd birthday.  Looking back, I realize I was completely naive.  I never thought IndyMac would fail.  I had faith.  The bank had many, many good people working for it...trying to save it.  When it failed, a piece of me was forever changed.  I lost faith.  Faith in the American hard and you're rewarded.  Looking at my own business, we were starting to feel the effects of the downturn in the economy too.  I started thinking that it didn't matter how hard I worked, I couldn't effect the changes needed to keep my business strong.

Perhaps this is a stage that all business owners go through.  Wondering if you've got what it takes to be successful, when so many others fail.  Wondering if you have any actual control over anything...or if you just have to react to what life throws at you.  This is not a good place to be when you're running a business.  You don't want to do a business plan, because you start to feel like it's pointless.  Of course, this is the time it's more important than ever to have a plan and to work the plan!  (I sound like an AA member.)

I was happy in France.  Every day I woke up with hope and peacefulness (well, except those two mornings when I was sick as a dog...those mornings I just hoped for a swift and painless death!)  Every day was a new day with endless possibilities.  Every day was a chance for joy! 

So, why can't I feel this way at home?  What's stopping me?  I'm stopping me...plain and simple.  I've gotta get out of my own way.  There is happiness and peace and joy...all waiting for me.  Just waiting for me to say...come in.  So, I'm saying "Come in!"  "Come in today, tomorrow and every day after that!"  It's time and I'm ready.  Maybe I did need to jump off the cliff to see these truths again...maybe not...but it certainly helped.  I'm choosing happiness again and I am so damn happy about it! 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Last night in Paris and our trip home.

It's Wednesday and we are all home, safe and sound.  But, I wanted to share pictures from our last night in Paris and stories of our trip home.  Leaving Paris, we have a 9:25 am flight on Monday.  We had decided it would be impossible to get to the airport from our country house by 6:30 am (3 hours required before an international flight), since some of us were going to have to take the train, while James drove the rental car with all of our luggage.  So, we made hotel reservations at a Holiday Inn near the airport for Sunday night and planned to spend the day and evening in Paris on Sunday.  We hadn't seen the lights of Paris yet, since we always left before 10 to catch the last train back to Joigny (and it wasn't getting dark until 10:30 or so).

The plan was to cram (and I do mean cram) all of our luggage and carry ons into our mini-rental car and have James drive it to the hotel, while the rest of us took the train into Paris.  James was going to have to drive all 8 of us to the train station in our host's car (5 seater) and then come back to the house and get the rental.  Man, this seems ludicrous as I write it!  And guess what????  It was!  Thank goodness, James had the thought to email our host and see if he wanted his car dropped at the airport (since he was arriving the morning after we were leaving.)  As it turned out, he did want his car at the airport, which turned out to be a life safer for us.  There was no way we would have gotten all the luggage and carry ons into the mini car.  As it was, we barely got everything into the two cars (with all the people too!)  But, we we drove into Paris.

Everything was going smoothly, we were following Garmin and TomTom, thinking we were right on track.  Oops...all of a sudden, we are in some neighborhood in Paris, 25 kms from the airport.  We had reached our checkered flag...but there was no hotel to be seen.  Turns out, the Garmin programmer (who shall remain nameless, because this could have happened to any one of us), programmed the address for Paris, rather than Roilly (which was the little town outside of the airport where our hotel was).  Unfortunately, every town seems to have the same street names.  So, we ended up in Paris instead of at our hotel.  After a few frantic calls to the hotel (by a very nice gas station attendant because I couldn't understand what the French recording was telling me when I tried to call the was telling me that I was dialing the number incorrectly...calling as if my phone were in the US, instead of France), we got everything straightened out, Garmin and TomTom reprogrammed and 45 minutes later we were at the hotel (lots of nasty traffic on the way!) 

After settling in, we got directions on how to get back to Paris.  Here's what we had to do:
1.  Catch Black shuttle bus in front of hotel to airport,
2.  Get off at Terminal 2 and catch the airport tram to Terminal 3,
3.  At Terminal 3, find the RER train station and catch the RER B train into Paris,
4.  In Paris, get off at the Notre Dame metro station, change to the Yellow line on the metro and head to the Eiffel Tower.

Makes me delirious just writing this out.  If it had been just James and me, I would have said let's go to the bar and drink champagne!  But, I had others with me, 3 of whom hadn't been up the Eiffel Tower yet.  So, we gallantly took off.  It only took about an hour and we were able to figure it all out and get ourselves into Paris.  Where, we tried to do a little shopping, but everything was closed because it was 5:30 pm on a Sunday.  Oh well...souvenir shops were still open and the girls managed to do a little damage there!  We had dinner at a place that I'm not going to tell you about because I'm embarrassed that this is where we ate our last night in Paris.

Oh well, I'd better tell you or you'll be thinking it was McDonalds!  It wasn't was a place called the Indiana Grill, an American style grill with burgers and ribs and onion rings and an adorable waitress who spoke wonderful English and spoke French to those of us who wanted to speak French.  We had a terrific non-French dinner.  And actually, it was perfect, since we'd had the perfect farewell French dinner the night before cooked by our wonderful friend Johanna...anything French would not have lived up to Johanna's dinner!

We had reservations at the Eiffel Tower for 9 pm, and since it was 7:30, we decided to walk from the Louvre to the Tower along the Seine.  A perfect way to end our time in France.  About 3/4's of the way there, the wind started to blow...HARD!  There were sand storms created by the wind blowing along the dirt paths above the Seine and we thought we were going to have to surrender and take a bus or the metro or a cab.  But, we persevered...even after it started to rain!

We arrived at the Eiffel Tower and saw this amazing sight:

It was cold and rainy at the top, but it was perfect.  The view was amazing and I'm so glad that this was how we spent our last night in France.

Blurry because I was shooting without a flash and had to hold the camera for a long exposure.

We returned to the hotel, following the directions in backwards order (almost, I had us a take a little detour, that almost caused us to miss the last shuttle to the hotel...but it turned out alright in the end).  We got to the hotel about 12:30 am and crashed, having to leave the hotel at 6 am.

In the morning, we needed to find a gas station to fill up the two cars.  I'd gotten directions from the front desk, that seemed pretty straight forward...alas no directions in France are straight forward.  After 2 loops around the entire CDG airport (including all three terminals), I stumbled upon a gas station and then managed to find our way back to Terminal 1 to park and start the journey home.  For the record...I HATE THE CDG AIRPORT!!!!!  With a passion.  Not once you're inside, it's fine inside.  But the design for getting to the terminals and the parking is AWFUL!!!  AWFUL!!!  AWFUL!!!  That's how I really feel and I had to share.

When we checked in for our flight, turns out it was going to be delayed an hour.  We were flying to Houston and we had just one hour to make our connection.  What I didn't know when I booked the flights was that we were going to have to go through customs in Houston.  This meant, collecting all our checked baggage, going through customs and then rechecking the baggage and then getting to the plane.  Liza and sent me an email after she got home telling me it was pretty tight to make it in an hour (although she had managed...but she was by herself, not with 8 people and 500 lbs of carry on luggage and 500 lbs of checked baggage...yep I weighed it!)  Now that our flight was delayed, it seemed impossible that we would make this connection.  The airline folks said if our flight landed too late, they would automatically move us to the next flight.  I decided to just trust it...I knew we'd get home eventually.

Our flight did leave about an hour late, but with good head winds...we actually landed at our original time.  We raced through the airport and went through immigration, then to baggage claim, claimed our baggage, took 8 baggage carts, loaded everything up and headed for customs.  On the plane, we had filled out our customs forms, disclosing that the Irey family had 12 bottles of wine and the Silveria family had 7 bottles.  The limit is two bottles per family.  However, the duty was suppose to only be a couple of dollars a bottle, so I thought we'd have no problems, just pay the duty and be on our way. 

The custom forms also asked if we had been on a farm or in contact with any livestock.  I thought we should be honest (we had been on lots of farms and had petted numerous cows and horses), but I checked with a stewardess who said "I didn't say this...but say NO! You will definitely have all your bags completely searched if you say yes."  Good thing I asked.  Since we had no products from any of our farm adventures, I felt ok answering no, plus, it had been a few weeks since we'd last been touching livestock...well, except for Eva, the horse on our second to last night.)  Ok, so I'm a criminal and I feel guilty, but I wanted to make our connection.  So, I told all the kids to answer no if they were asked if they had been on a farm.  (I felt bad about that too!)

At customs, there was a guy in training who decided, against the advice of the guy training him, that we needed to go to the room where they search your bags.  Bummer!  In we march...eight people, eight push carts filled to the top with luggage.  The guys in this room looked at us with a lot of amusement!  (Except one...who wasn't amused at all.)  After a lot of dialogue and being admonished that none of the kids could be pushing or pulling any luggage that contained alcohol (which caused us to rearrange all the bags on the carts), they finally can go through.  Without opening our bags.  It was a miracle!!!  It was 2:05 pm, our flight was at we still had a chance to make it, we dropped our checked bags at the check in place, and thought we were home free, until we rounded the corner and saw that we had to go through security again. took a while to get through security, with on of Megan's bags getting searched twice...discovering a small snow globe and having it confiscated by a very anal TSA person.  The boys headed off to the gate while the girls finished up at security.  Now it's 2:15 and I'm thinking we probably don't have a chance, as we still have to run to our gate and don't they close the gates 10 minutes before the flight???

A guy with a shuttle car for folks in need drove was empty and we were in need so we begged him to let us have a ride.  He agreed and when we arrived at the gate, they hadn't started boarding the flight yet.  It was about 10 minutes we made it...with a few minutes to spare.  Unbelievable!!  The rest of the trip home was uneventful, except one of our bags didn't make the connection, but it came 45 minutes later.  So all in all, a great trip home, with just one or two stories!!!