The Planning Process

I took a little New Year break, in case you didn’t notice.  Not the fun, Christmas-vacation sort, but rather the “is this Covid or the flu?” kind of a break.  (Think it was the flu.  Still waiting on test result.)  But I’m back, and I want to talk to you about….going away.

If I had money, I would pack a bag and take off right now, to God knows where, perhaps even against the CDC’s recommendation.  Carnival Cruise line sent me a fabulous offer just two days before the news told me to stay off the cruise ships.  Not that I would be going anyways, because money.  I am a very thrifty traveler, because I do it very rarely.  All the major trips I’ve ever really been on have been with an organization or other folks that planned everything and let me tag along. 

Now, I am going to Salem in the fall with some friends, and I realized right away that I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, so I looked around for tips on travel planning and found: travel planners.  The “travel agent” of old still exists, it’s just morphed a bit for the future.  I chatted to one for a second and then mid-conversation, I realized I was a blood traitor, politely ended the text chain, and immediately messaged my cousin, Sarah Hamar.

A little about Sarah.  She is not only a travel planner, but a mom, wife, and athlete.  She used to work at a bank, but recently left that job to pursue travel planning fulltime with Marvelous Mouse Travels.  Now, the reason I didn’t think of her at first was because I associate Marvelous Mouse with Disney, and I am not a Disney girl.  Sarah most definitely is, so it’s the perfect job for her.  She’s been going to Disney every year since she was born, and as a kid I envied her trips, more for the sunshine than the Mouse.  Alas, my little self thought of her family as world travelers, especially when she started killing it in hockey and joined road teams.  However, it wasn’t until she found herself in Scotland one day, taking a college course, that Sarah herself realized how much she loved travelling.  She told me it was the best experience of her life, and ever since she has made travel important to her, venturing all around the US and even working in Disney for a time.  Oban, Scotland, specifically, has been her favorite destination so far.  (I had to look up photos…they’re in the slideshow at the bottom.)    

Anyway, eventually Sarah got a husband and a couple of kids and a day job at the bank, which was fine, but didn’t scratch the adventure itch.  So, she got involved with Marvelous Mouse, and spent about 8 months working 10-hour days just so she could quit that day job and do travel planning full time.  Now, she does what she loves and has extra time with her family, and yeah, I’m super proud of her.  I’m biased.  She’s my cousin, after all.

Anyway, I was also super curious, because she’s an independent contractor, and that’s the dream as far as I’m concerned.  I was surprised by how similar her schedule is to mine, though we are in such different fields, but I suppose all freelance work has its similarities.  We both do our email and our social media, then work on our projects.  Sure, mine is a book or a blog and hers is this awesome-sounding Halloween Disney Cruise that even my non-Disney self would attend.  I also asked what motivated her, and she said success, so that must run in the family because I am fueled by book sales, Patreon subscriptions, and general compliments.  If she’s not booking travel, she’s not making money.  I feel that.  If I’m not writing something down, then there’s no potential money down the line. 

So, anyway, my broke-self was worried I couldn’t afford her services, and then I come to find out…it’s FREE, guys.  Resorts pay her.  Cruise lines pay her.  You don’t pay her, so of course, my thrifty inner traveler screamed “Sign me up!”

But I don’t want to go to Disney. 

Casually, I ask if she does other destinations and she tells me yes, sure, wherever, and inner traveler rejoices again.  See, in 2005, when booking your own hotels online was first a thing, I made some reservations for a hotel in New York for a night because I had an audition in the morning.  It was more stressful to book and plan that small trip than it was to actually audition at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.  Now, I haven’t booked my own travel since, and I’m sure technology has made it worse somehow, so I am soothed by the presence of Sarah and others like her who can figure it out for me. 

I really enjoyed learning about her experience, and as I approach 1k words here I realize I’ve just been selling you my cousin this whole time.  Which is kind of the point, see.

I love my cousin, so I think you should love my cousin, obviously.  But that aside, she has a talent that I do not possess, and I feel that should be applauded.  I mean, my very favorite compliment is “I wish I could write like you.”  Girl, I wish I could plan like you!

I am very much looking forward to my upcoming trip, which I am sure I will write more about as it approaches, so here is another character in the story for you.  Sarah Hamer, the travel planning princess.

Country Living

To start, I did not catch a fish.

Despite my brother-in-law Jason’s guarantee that we would catch something, he was of course the only one to reel anything in.  We did however buy K a pole, and teach her how to use it, and she took to it like a natural. 

But let’s back up.

On Thursday of last week, Hubs and I ventured across New York state to visit his family in the country for his step-father’s memorial service.  Honestly, I don’t remember much of Thursday.  There was lots of driving for me since Mark doesn’t, and I was tired at the end of it.  We ate dinner and had a few drinks for his sister Dawn’s birthday, and I went to bed early. 

Friday, all my nightmares and worries materialized when I woke up and immediately ran to the bathroom to vomit.  My inner monologue was rampant with fear as I tried to calculate how long it would take to get me to the nearest hospital.  I took my Zofran and a Xanax and fell back asleep, and when I awoke it was after two and I had slept though the service.  Discombobulated, I walked outside in search of my husband and instead found most of my in-laws partying in the barn.  Had I realized it was so late I would have changed my clothes or brushed my hair or something, but I was in a fog.

I was sitting at a picnic table by the pond when E came around the corner.  She saw me and ran to give me a hug.  The kiddos headed up on Friday with their mom and step-dad, and this was going to be our first adventure as one big happy family.

Once, years ago when I worked at the daycare, Mark volunteered to help with our annual carnival.  I remember explaining a family to him-one of the kiddos was there with his mom, dad, and step-mom.  Mark turned to me and said, “I hope we can do something like that someday.”  This weekend, he got his wish.

Saturday was the day we would spend all together.  It began with fishing with Jason, as previously mentioned, wherein I caught nothing but seaweed and sticks, and also managed to snag my hook in a tree.  We did do a little off-roading to get there though, and at first I was scared Mom’s Toyota wouldn’t make it up the path and back, but it took it like a champ-like it was nothing.  Take that, Ford trucks.

After that we went swimming at a place called Stewart’s Landing that had a big dam.  Mark started telling us tales of jumping off of it, and then decided he wasn’t as old as he actually is and took the plunge.  Afterwards, K wanted to try.  I was nervous, watching her climb over the railing and standing on the edge.  She’s a strong swimmer, so it wasn’t the water that worried me, just the jump.  After insisting we all stop watching her, and then asking Mark to jump again so he would be down there if she needed him, she summoned her courage and leapt.  Mark was unbelievably proud.

After swimming we went to Jason’s for a fish fry.  I ate 2 whole fish (well, minus the head,) bones, fins, and all.  And it was absolutely delicious.  I pretty much just relaxed and visited while the boys shot BB guns with their cousin and the girls rode ATV’s with Mark and their mom.  Their step-dad also taught the girls to play horseshoes, and at the end of the night the boys decided they would have a sleepover at Jason’s.  So, the girls went back to the hotel with their mom and me and Mark had the night to ourselves. 

We went and hung out with his mother and his sister Dawn and did shots in the barn.  Then our nephew and his friends showed up and we hung with them for a bit before I headed to bed. 

In the morning, after the kiddos hit the road, Mark’s mom took us to McDonald’s for breakfast, and then we headed over to the Little Falls canal lock to do some fishing.  Mark somehow got me to climb the thing, which was terrifying.  I have seen locks before, since I live at the end of the Erie Canal.  We have one in the river, and one in the aptly named City of Lockport.  I have never stood atop one though, and it was very high up.  I’m not afraid of heights per se, but I am deathly afraid of my glasses falling off my face. 

We fished for a bit and nothing came of it, except for a story about how John (the man whose memorial we were there for) used to use nuts as sinkers when he was fishing.  Mark’s mother had gifted him John’s tackle box, and it was in the trunk of the car.  Right after Lauri told me this story, Mark opened the tackle box to find a dozen or so nuts.

He’s keeping them.  He’s hoping they bring us luck.

In the evening, we drove out to my sister-in-law Carrie’s, to visit with her and her boyfriend Sal.  Her kids, who I met ten years ago when they were all babies, are now almost adult-sized.  Afterwards, we drove home and I got a good night’s sleep, knowing I would have a long drive ahead of me the next day.

In the morning, I awoke before everyone.  I made some coffee and went out on the porch and watched the hummingbirds flit between the feeders.  When everyone woke up, we went to the grocery store so Lauri could get some stuff for lunch, and then we went to Tammy’s house.  Tammy is Tommy’s wife, who is Mark’s other late step-father.  On Friday, she told me she bought my book and read it cover to cover, telling me which poems she liked and praising my efforts.  She insisted I come by to sign it, so I did.  We also visited briefly with Mark’s grandmother, Vera.  Then Tammy was kind enough to gift Mark with some prints that were Tommy’s.  He was pleased.

We headed back to Dawn’s and had a nice lunch, and then we hit the road.  The ride home seemed a little quicker than the ride there, as it always does, and when we walked back into our lives there was an air of disappointment.  We spent such a lovely week out in the country with his family.  We were never bored for a second, even without our gadgets and such.  Everyone was kind and hospitable, and I will miss them.  I know Mark will too…he always does.

Anyway, it’s back to the real world…and the real world arrived in the form of an envelope.  I opened it to find a check for my book sales in May, and I burst into tears.  Guys…I have never been paid for writing before.  I remembered my first theater paycheck back in 2002-that was a big deal, but this is much bigger to me.  For the first time…finally, blessedly…it was real.  The shock had worn off, and I accepted the fact that I was indeed, an author.

Anyway…that was my week.  How was yours?

Mark and K about to jump.