Tag Archives: Travel Here

Teach Google to Help You Travel

Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas

TRAVEL TALK: GET OUT THERE!

This afternoon I’ll be boarding Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas for a short cruise in the Gulf.  We dreamed up this idea one recent Sunday evening to celebrate Bill’s birthday and by Tuesday afternoon our cruise was booked.  I would have had it booked the next day, but Bill needed a day to cogitate.  Three weeks later, we’ll be on board.

CTC – Tell Sandra I sent you

How’d You Do That?

Moments after booking our cruise, I shared my glee on Facebook.  That Sunday a friend asked me how I had done it, because she figures that’s the only way she’ll ever convince her husband to go – a last minute decision.  I was a little surprised at the question.  I am so travel-focused I thought nothing of booking a cruise on short notice.  I Googled around Sunday night, had a list of the best bargains ready for Bill Monday morning and called my travel agent Tuesday morning.

Let’s start with the travel agent.  Use one!  Mine is Sandra Rubio at CTC and I highly recommend her, but wherever you are, find one and use them.  I like to do my own preliminary research, but when it comes to booking, I trust Sandra.

See, I have booked online.  It takes forever.  I’ve booked on the phone.  It takes even longer.  What’s worse, you cannot trust anything they tell you.  They don’t know.  They’ve never been there.  They may never have been out of their small town in Minnesota, but they are advising you on how to book your cruise.  You’ll have this one-time transaction with them and you could never find them again if your life depended on it.  Yet you are willing to trust them with at least $1000 of your money and more importantly your vacation!

Any deal you see online, your travel agent can get for you for the exact same price and you don’t pay them a penny in commission.  It’s their job and the cruise lines are so happy for them to do it, they gladly pay them for it.  So please, once you have an idea of your budget and where you want to go – call your travel agent!

What Not to Do!

Amazed that my friend needed coaching on booking a cruise, I asked a few pertinent questions, trying to find out what her issues were.  There were two.  She was using her phone to click Facebook advertisements.  Don’t do that!  Google what you want and do it on a computer – either a desktop or laptop.

My friend said, “When I click on the link, what I get has nothing to do with the ad.  It’s called click bait.  Just don’t.

The other issue is space.  There is only so much you can see on your phone – even if the site is optimized for it.  On a cruise site, whether it is an actual cruise company, your local travel agency or a travel consolidator, there are all kinds of tabs, buttons, searches.  You can look for places, ports, dates, ships – all kinds of stuff, but if you are looking at your phone, its like kissing through a screen door.  You can’t fall in love that way.

Go Googling

Just for fun, I googled “I want to cruise” as I wrote this post.  The first three listings were ads.  Ignore those.  They are actually marked as ads on the results page, but you have no idea how many people I discover who are amazed at this.  They’ve been looking at it for years and never saw it.

The next four results were for a site called “iwantacruise.com.”  Ignore those, too.  Somebody paid big bucks to get that url, but that doesn’t mean they know anything about cruising.  Suspect all sites that mirror your query.  In addition, I usually ignore everything from Yelp, Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon, Thumbtack, Expedia and such until I know more.  All these types of sources let companies pay to get noticed.  It might as well be a straight out ad.  Yes, there are reviews from consumers, but until you know more, you aren’t ready for reviews.

Below that is where the good stuff is – the actual cruise lines and Cruise Critic (which is a great resource).  Because it was a non-specific query, I then got a You Tube video.  A few responses later I found Carnival Cruise Line and found out they have a pretty good website crew, because they dominated the next 10-20 listings.  That still doesn’t tell you whether Carnival is going where you want to go or even if they are a good cruise line, only that they invest money in SEO (search engine optimization) specialists.

In the search above, the first cruise line I got was Royal Caribbean.  You want to know why?  It has to do with what I’ve been looking at recently.  I’ve been all over the internet looking for information for my cruise.  I’ve researched shore excursions, looked for reviews of the on board dining, maps of the ship and the price of beverages.  I’ve been in and out of the Royal Caribbean ‘My Cruises” site, booking my cruise extras.  I’ve got emails in my Gmail from my travel agent about my cruise and an email from Royal Caribbean about my Crown & Anchor membership.  In case you hadn’t realized it yet, Google is nosy.  It makes itself aware of what I am doing on the internet – whether it’s online searches, emails or even social media.  When I asked about a cruise, it assumed I wanted to know about the cruise I was about to board.  A little creepy, but true.

So, to find out what you want to know on the internet, you first have to know what you’re looking at.  What’s clickbait?  What’s an ad?  What’s real?  I live and breathe this stuff, but Google is gambling that we don’t.  If you’re going to use Google as your resource, invest the time in getting to know it.

Long-Tailed Keyword Phrases

This day and time, the more specific your query is, the more likely you will get the information you want.  These types of queries are called long-tailed keyword phrases.  You may not care what they are called, but they are your friend.  When I came home on that recent Sunday night, I didn’t google cruises.  I googled “3 day cruises from Galveston,” because I knew that’s the port I wanted to depart from and because I wanted the shortest cruise I could find.  I also googled a couple of other things like “cheap Galveston cruises.” I usually try several queries to see which gives me the best responses. Then I start shopping, but I’ve already gone on too long about this for one post.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you more.

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Filed under Cruising, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Travel Show Treats

TRAVEL HERE: VACATIONS START HERE

Remember when they tried to tell us travel agents were going to disappear, because everyone was going to shop for their travel online.  Well, go ahead and shop, but when it gets time to buy, call your travel agent.  They haven’t gone anywhere and they still book the greater majority of travel.  Besides that, they are free and that’s my price.  My travel agency is CTC  and my travel agent is Sandra Rubio.  Let me tell you about their recent travel show.

What I Didn’t Know

I’ve traveled a lot in my life, but it would be impossible to know everything about the travel industry, because things change all the time.  The the more you know, quite frankly, the better you will travel.  Most of the things I heard at CTC’s travel expo I already knew, but as always, I picked up little tidbits.  Some things help me get better value for my travel dollar.  Others introduce me to exciting new opportunities.

Here’s some of the new tidbits I can picked up this time:

  • BOOK CRUISES EARLY and the more you care about when, where, what boat and what cabin, the earlier you need to book.  2019 is already filling up and some of the best things in 2020 are already gone.  And the industry is very, very serious about this.
  • Yes, you can get short cruises.  Used to be the norm was 14-21 days, but that doesn’t work for Boomers or Millennials and that’s who’s driving the industry now.  There are lots of short 4-5 day cruises leaving American ports and 8-10 day cruises all over the world.
  • Say good-bye to losing your boarding card.  Royal Caribbean will be giving you a watch programmed with all your essentials.  Another line is working on a piece of jewelry that can be worn in several ways that will hold you essential info – not just your beverage program, but how you like your martinis!  Thank RFID technology.
  • Being single is becoming less of problem.  Remember those Boomers and Millennials who are driving the industry?  Well, most of them are single and even if they are not, some of them prefer traveling alone.  The travel industry has listened!  There’s an emerging market of single bookings available.  Price quoted double occupancy is still the norm, but you’re no longer required to make friends with a stranger or put up with your crazy cousin to afford traveling alone.  You’ll still have to do your homework, for now.  There are limited choices, but watch for this to pick up momentum.  For now, check out Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Cunard.
  • Get a passport!  Changes are coming.  Security and documentation for travel, even domestic travel, is quickly getting more and more demanding.  While for the time being you can still enjoy closed loop cruising or domestic flights without a passport, the clock is ticking.  They’ve got things in the works that will make flight documentation so cumbersome that you’ll want a passport – even if you’re just flying from Dallas to San Antonio for a long weekend.  And by the way, 13 airports in our world now have bio-metric security measures.  Expect it on your travels soon.
  • Thank Millennials for  community spaces in your hotel.  Have you noticed business centers have moved to the front of the hotel?  There was a time when finding the business center to check your email or send a fax (Ha! remember faxes?) meant wandering into the bowels of your hotel and you’d be very alone when you got there.  If you’ve visited a new hotel or a newly renovated one, then you’ve probably noticed bright, comfortable workspaces near the entrance.  These inviting communal spaces, the snack/wine bar and other property amenities are there to lure Millennials.  Since so many of them are self-employed, tele-commuting from home or working in other alternative spaces, they crave getting out of the four walls of their hotel room.  They want places to meet with their clients without taking them back to their room or going to Starbucks.  Their demand is our gain.  Not only is there a more attractive place to check your email, chances are there will be an inviting buzz in the lobby around 5 o’clock, the workout room will not be a grungy place where old gym equipment goes to die and who knows, there might even be grill on the patio!
  • All the new fees are not a product of your imagination – get used to it.  It started with the airlines, but it didn’t stop there.  First, it was baggage fees and box lunches.  Now, there’s fee for having an assigned seat or legroom.   Who knows when they’ll figure out how to charge you a fee for the air you breathe!  But that’s not the worst part.  The hotels, resorts, car rental agencies, tour operators, etc., etc. etc. of the world observed what the airline industry did and now you’ll find they are adding fees to their tab, too.  Tickets represent only 71% of airline revenue and with Spirit Airlines, that goes down to 60% – everything else is fees.  Hotels took in $2.7 Billion (with a B!) during a recent year and the number is just beginning to climb.  Bottom line, that online price is just the beginning.  Another reason to get to know your local travel agent!
  • New ships coming!  Cruising just gets more popular everyday.  Ninety-seven new cruise ships are scheduled to be launched from 2017-2025.  Yes, some of them are huge, like Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class, but smaller ships are wildly popular, too.  Ritz Carlton will be launching 298-passenger yachts. Emerald,a river cruising enterprise, is about to enter the small ocean-going ship market.  Celebrity is about to launch a new ship concept with The Edge.  Viking is churning out longships and small ocean-going ships as fast as it can.

That should be enough to tempt you off your sofa (even with all the fees).  So come on out and choose a vacation.  You’ll be glad you did.  Tell them Jane sent you!

 

 

 

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Filed under Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

A Museum Sort of Afternoon

TRAVEL HERE: BRIGHTENING AN OTHERWISE DREARY SUNDAY

So I was just about done with my local art museum.  Lately, every time we showed up for an exhibition, we’d look at each other and ask, “Really?”  I had already tossed the most recent renewal of membership letter into the trash, but a still small voice asked, “Do you know what special exhibitions are coming?”  I didn’t, but I assumed they’d be more of the same stuff which had been disenchanting us for a couple of years.  I was wrong.  Berte Morisot is coming!  Berthe’s exhibition won’t be here at least a year, but I couldn’t abandon the museum when they were organizing a fairly incredible exhibition.  Besides, some of the smaller productions on exhibit right now seemed of interest.  So, I renewed my membership and decided to go to the museum as soon as we could.

 All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins…or Not

Arriving at the Dallas Museum of Art on a recent dreary Sunday, I dropped by the information desk to confirm the location of the exhibits I wanted to see.  We only had two hours before closing  – plenty of time to view my wish list, but not if we wandered aimlessly.  What I did not plan on viewing was an installation created in 2016 titled All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins.  I mean that’s the same vintage as the cheap wine in the grocery store.  Galleries are where you go to see the latest in art.  I think museums should focus on more proven vintages that have been laid down for awhile.  Obviously, there are plenty with another opinion.  All the general public tickets had been sold for the day and only my membership would get us a timed appointment for that particular afternoon.

Taking the bait I bellied up to the membership desk to claim my free, timed viewing ticket.  We had half an hour until our slot so we strolled up the concourse.  We’d seen Truth: 24 Fames Per Second and didn’t need a repeat showing.  We’d also been to the latest installation in the Keir Collection several times since April.  We stuck our head in the gift shop and dropped by the small Focus Gallery exhibiting Hopi Visions.  Interesting, but not among our favorite genres, so after a few minutes we were back on the concourse.

My husband likes to touch things, so he detoured into the Center for Creative Connections.  Tagged C3, this is the area where kids of all ages can make art rather than just look at it.  We looked over the shoulder of a few budding artists, handled a few touchable objects and then returned to the concourse.  We were still a few minutes away from our designated ticket time, so we checked out the Barrel Vault.  This area is ground zero for Contemporary and Modern Art, so we don’t usually spend much time here – you know my vintage issues.  However, one of the side galleries had just what I was looking for, Edward Steichen:  In Exultation of Flowers.

Photograph from DMA.com

In Exultation of Flowers

Love a good story?  Back in the Twentieth Century an artist started painting a mural commissioned by some wealthy New Yorkers.  These members of Art’s Inner Circle knew all the best people and had their artist friend paint these friends of theirs lolly-gagging among flowers.  What’s not to love?  One wants to imagine them and their friends draped across art deco furnishing sipping cocktails and discussing the pros and cons of the completed murals – especially the one featuring Isadora Duncan in the nude.  But that’s not what happened.  By the time the murals were complete, the art patrons were in a bit of a financial bind and had to sell the apartment the murals had been painted for.  The murals were never installed and it’s been over 100 years since they were displayed together.

Enter the DMA, famous among art people today for their restoration and conservation abilities.  The DMA was commissioned to work their magic on Mr. Steichen’s murals and as part of the deal, the DMA would display the finished project.  Museum Girl loved this exhibit.  In truth, the gallery was a little small for the seven monumental murals, but they were delightful to behold, so all was forgiven.

The Psychedelic Portion of our Afternoon

My watch said it was time to view the pumpkins, so we headed to a nearby gallery.  Joining the line outside the large white box containing the installation, we listened to the instructions announced by a docent.  We’d have to put our stuff into the cubbies provided.  We’d be allowed inside the installation for 45 seconds, during which time we could take pictures, but we could not trade places with one another once the door was closed, because there was a falling hazard.  Hubby was whispering derisive comments into my ear, predicting how much we were going to hate this.

He was wrong and he was the first to admit it.  The charming time keeper engaged Bill in conversation as we waited our turn and she made all the difference.  Bill stepped in, oooh and aaaahed for 45 seconds and then we erupted into the rest of the museum.  Later he admitted it was his favorite item of the day.  I still prefer the murals, but the installation is worth at least 45 seconds of your life.

Other Things

On Level Two we found Paris at the Turn of the Century.  Featuring a few tidbits from the Posters of Paris exhibition of a few years ago, these small beauties are displayed in a tiny darkened gallery and did not evoke the joie de vivre of the full blown exhibit.  On Level Three was Art and Trade Along the Silk Road.  I’d forgotten that we’d seen it before.  It’s lovely, but we weren’t covering new ground.  From there we went on to the Reves Collection which continues to be one of our favorite things at the DMA, no matter how many times we see it.

From the DMA we wandered to East Dallas to try out Smokey Rose.  Great ribs, great atmosphere and we can’t wait until the weather is better to try out the patio, but the brisket and mac-and-cheese were less than amazing.

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Filed under ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Museums, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

So Maybe I Am a Little Neurotic

TRAVEL HERE: HOW HAPPY CAN $4 MAKE ME?

I once thought being a procrastinator proved I wasn’t obsessive/compulsive, but then I found procrastination is one of the first noticeable symptoms of the malady.  My friends politely speak of my perfectionism and I try to be normal, but it’s hard.  Recently $4 saved me from myself.

A Change of Seasons

When it came time to change my closet to my fall wardrobe, there was an issue.  I had enough hangers for all my clothes, but for some reason I suddenly didn’t have all the “right” hangers.  See, different kinds of clothes need different kinds of hangers and for some reason my clothes weren’t distributing themselves appropriately on the hangers I had.    I fussed over the problem with elaborate mathematical equations for a while, but finally convinced myself to quit being neurotic and instead be thankful I have clothes, because there are those who don’t.

A History of My Hangers

This hanger issue isn’t a problem I’ve always dealt with.  There was a day when I only had two kinds of hangers – the wire hangers from the dry cleaner and those nice clear plastic ones you get with the clothes you buy.  I didn’t think about hangers at all in in those days, but I did use my “good” hangers for my best clothes and everything else was on a wire hanger.

However, I did notice all the clothes in my mom’s closet were on those nice hangers from the store.  Of course, she worked in retail from the 60’s to the 90’s.  She made sure everything she bought home was on a nice hanger and with wardrobe attrition, eventually everything migrated to the good ones.  In fact, in my career girl days, probably the only reason I had those nice hangers was because of Mom’s generosity.  She gave me clothes for pretty much every occasion and even for no occasion at all, when she found something she wanted me to have and there was no occasion in sight.  Yeah, she was pretty amazing.  While I appreciated Mom’s closet, I guess I wasn’t neurotic yet, because I didn’t covet her closeting habits.

Then I went into real estate and we custom built a house.  You might wonder why selling real estate and building a house had any effect on which hangers I used.  Well, my days in real estate gave me some discretionary funds I hadn’t had access to before and when we moved into the custom house, one of the perks was a dream closet – complete with a dressing table.  One thing led to another and I suddenly had very specific hangers for all my clothes.  My evening clothes went on padded hangers.  Dresses, jackets and blouses went on those clear plastic hangers.  I had specialized multi-tier hangers for skirts and pants.  Everything else went on those white plastic hangers you can buy in bulk.  You cannot imagine the joy this brought me.  I would stand in my closet and derive pleasure from the mere sight of my clothes hanging on their appropriate hangers.  By then, Mom had retired and my closet was actually better than hers!

Maintaining My Obsession

There have been five houses since that customized closet and while none of those closets were quite so grand, I have maintained my penchant for hangers.  I’ve even expanded my collection.  I found heartier versions of the white plastic hangers that work great with jeans and outerwear.  I discovered specialized hangers for tank tops and camisoles.  Did you know they have hangers for boots, too?  To my dismay they “improved” the white plastic hangers, so I now have about four varieties of the white hangers in my closet, but I’ve had learned to ignore that hiccup.

Then suddenly my hangers were all wrong and no amount of switching could right the problem.  The bottom line was that I needed more white plastic hangers, but back in October I told myself I could do without them.  I’d just get by with a few variations on the theme.  Every time a hanger would break, the situation got a little worse.  Then I bought a few items from stores that thought tossing my purchases in a bag was enough. (You’ll be glad to know I didn’t lay down in the floor and have a fit.)  Soon it seemed as if some elf tribe was entering my closet each evening as I slept and trading out good hangers for bad, because it seemed as if the situation was worsening daily.  Every day more and more wire hangers were finding their way into my garments!

Mission Drift

So, what does all that have to do with $4 solving my obsession/compulsion issues.  Well, I was in Target to find a couple of items they’d been out of at Ulta.  Since I was there, I looked into several other items on my list, one of which  took me right by the storage department (though I can’t tell you exactly what item that was.)  There, I discovered a HUGE package of white plastic hangers was $1.99.  I’d been gritting my teeth for months over those “inappropriate” hangers and for less than 200 pennies I could just fix my closet.  I bought two packages!  My clothes are all hanging on the appropriate hangers now and unless those elves I talked about return, I’m set for a couple of years – and all for less than $4.

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Filed under DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Shopping, TRAVEL

The Year I Tried Too Hard

Travel Here:  Sometimes Your Plans for Christmas Go Awry

I was asked to participate in a Women’s Program at church.  The pastor’s wife suggested I read a poem or a story that reminded everyone to keep their focus on the reason for the season.  I looked around for something in my library or on the web, but I kept thinking I’d lived the perfect example of getting off track.  So I wrote a poem based on a very funny Christmas Day, that wasn’t quite so funny while I was living through it.  I’ve shared it with the ladies at my church and am now sharing it with you.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Year the Hot Rolls Stole Christmas

T’was a few days til Christmas and I was all ready.
The dinner was ordered and the weather was steady.
I’m not a kitchen hero like my Mother and Aunt.
They’d have done it better, that much I will grant.

Gourmet turkey and fixings, pecan pie and more
Would be waiting for me at the grocery store.
I had made a good plan for a perfect dinner,
Had it gone as I’d planned, it would’ve been a winner.

We know what they say about those good intentions.
How many catastrophes have been their inventions?
My Waterloo started with an innocent request
And a very sweet lady who wouldn’t let it rest.

“Can I help with Jane’s dinner?” Eddie Jo asked my mom,
She meant it for good, of that I have not a qualm,
But it turned into a disaster before we were done
I can say that nothing about it was very much fun.

Eddie Jo’s baking prowess was realized far and wide
At a Baptist church known as Lakeside,
But Mom was the baker’s best friend by a mile,
So she was constantly delivered sweets with a smile.

The urge to say no was strong and most wise,
‘Cause Mom’s freezer was full of Eddie Jo’s cakes and pies,
But mother gave in so she could please her friend
And suddenly my peace was about to end.

“How about some hot yeast rolls?” my mother opined.
She had no desire to be mean, cruel or unkind
In her mind she saw formed rolls ready to bake.
She wanted it easy for her daughter’s sake.

‘That’s a wonderful idea,” Eddie Jo agreed with glee.
She wanted to do something thing for little old me,
But a pan full of rolls was not what she provided
A bowl of dough is on what she decided.

When I called my mom, as was my daily habit,
She told me of the rolls, quick as a rabbit.
In spite of my concerns, I did not a fit pitch,
Even though I realized this was a big glitch

“You’ll need to drop by on the day before,
Even though you’ve got errands and chores galore.
And though I know it’s inconvenient, tell her you’re glad.
Any other response will make her very sad.

So, I rearranged my life to pick up the baking sheet
Of yeast rolls to put into the oven and heat.
That’s what my mom told me that I could expect,
When I picked up the bowl, I thought, “What the heck?”

I heard her instructions wearing a terrified smile,
Feeling I’d been given an unnecessary trial.
I called my mom and was filled with terror
She thought I’d succeed without any error.

Twas the morning of Christmas when I pulled out the dough.
I had to form it into balls, which into rolls would grow.
I hate to sound like I’m being picky,
But that dough, let me tell you, was very sticky.

Then I tried to tame it with a little white flour.
I must have worked on it for at least an hour.
Finally, though I feared to wake Bill from his sleeping,
I had to rouse him, because my sanity was seeping.

I was covered in flour from my head to my toes,
With fingers stuck together and dough on my nose.
My husband thought I was trying to be funny.
He said, “Go away and leave me honey.”

That’s when the held back tears started to fall
And my emotional stability hit the bedroom wall.
It wasn’t a joke poor Bill quickly found out.
It was time to get up or he’d be a lout.

Now I must tell you Bill knew less than me
About making rolls, that was easy to see,
But he had to help me or a wife he’d lose.
Together we searched for sticky dough clues.

The pan of rolls certainly looked like a mess,
But now I was late and needed to dress.
I got other foods started and was filled with hope
That family members wouldn’t think me a dope.

The first to arrive was my beloved Aunt Edie.
I was running late and for her help was needy.
The catered food was not cooking with the promised ease.
She heard my despair and rolled up her sleeves.

Mom and Dad arrived with Susan and Larry,
But by then things in the kitchen were crazy and scary.
The decision was made to open presents first,
But my Dad was hungry and his attitude was the worst.

The delay seemed to fix everything but the turkey.
Aunt Edie decided my oven was quirky.
When it was finally time to eat the rest of food
My dad’s comments had become kind of rude.

The very last step was to bake Eddie Jo’s rolls of yeast,
So we started to cover the table with our feast.
I checked on the rolls every few minutes.
Once again my sanity was at its limits.

We said the prayers and each filled their plate,
As on those yeast rolls we continued to wait.
I went back to the oven and opened the door-
And then my chin fell on the floor.

The oven was cold inside, like it had never been heated!
I certainly felt as if my success had been cheated.
My voice rose with frustration, venom and anger.
Those hot rolls had been a big game changer.

My sweet Aunt Edie had been trying to help
When she turned off the oven, so I couldn’t yelp,
But my holiday dinner was turned upside down
And all of my hopes had become a sad frown.

Twas the day of Christmas and I had certainly failed.
This was not how the birth of Christ should be hailed.
It’s not about yeast rolls or turkey or dressing.
It’s God’s love that we should be confessing.

The problem hadn’t been Eddie Jo’s rolls at all.
It was my own attitude that caused me to fall.
Keep your eyes on the reason for the season this year.
His willing sacrifice gave us nothing to fear.

Gather your family and friends. Give to your favorite cause.
It’s even OK to invite Santa Claus,
But keep your heart tied to what matters most,
The Father , the Son and the Holy Ghost.

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Filed under DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, TRAVEL, WRITING

Happy Holidays

My house, ready for Christmas

TRAVEL HERE: CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

When I was a kid, my Christmas activities were tied to my school, my church and my family.  The other constant was driving around to see Christmas lights.  We moved back to Dallas in 1966 and hit the Christmas bonanza.  Highland Park, specifically Beverly Drive, was the most amazing Christmas array of outdoor decorations you can imagine.  Nowadays there are many neighborhoods vying for top dog status, which is probably a relief to the Beverly Drive residents.  What’s more, my hubby is just not to excited about crawling bumper- to-bumper through any neighborhood for any reason that does not involve profit.  The other big deal in my childhood days was the After Christmas Sales.

Post Christmas Shopping Frenzy

This Black Friday business is a recent phenomena.  The big shopping event used to be the day after Christmas.  Aunt Edie, Mom and I were enthusiastic about this annual event.  My sister Susan and Aunt Tommie would often join us, but they weren’t quite as pumped about rising early to fight the crowds.  For us the primary focus of the day was Christmas decorations.  Susan and I would stand in the long lines while the adults rushed about gathering the deals and parking them with us.  Sometimes I’d make treks out to the car to unload the purchases into the trunk and then hurry back in for the next retail foray.  Sometimes we would fill up the car at one mall, deliver our goodies to the house and head to another mall.  It was madness.

In those days, Mom and Aunt Edie used to trade off Christmas and Thanksgiving.  One year Mom would do Thanksgiving and Aunt Edie would do Christmas.  The next year Aunt Edie did Thanksgiving and Mom did Christmas.  One of the benefits of this was the variety it added to our post-Christmas Shopping Orgy.  In Dallas we hit all the big malls and shopped the department stores.  Aunt Edie lived in Temple – a much more boutique experience.  Aunt Edie’s shopping habits made her a known quantity in her small town and her arrival was always treated with elaborate gestures of welcome.  We’d visit florists, small shops, hardware stores and drug stores.  On occasion, we’d hit Salado rather than Temple.  What fun we had!

All this started when I still lived at home and eventually I did have my own place, but I still didn’t have a lot of discretionary income.  Collecting ornaments was something I did as a traveled, on a one-by-one basis, rather than stocking up at years end.  In defense of Mom and Aunt Edie, they used the sales to buy up on holiday gifts for the next year.  They both belonged to a wide variety of organizations which required them to participate in gift exchanges.  By December 27th of one year, they’d be stocked up for Christmas in the coming year.  Occasionally I noticed, however, that what one December was bought as a gift, might actually end up on our tree or coffee table.

Eventually, the day arrived that I could afford to join in the fun.  I was married with my own two-story house to decorate.  In a few years we moved out to California and built an even bigger house.  Mom and Aunt Edie would come out to visit and though they were no longer so interested in the holiday decor for themselves, they were more than happy to help me find things I couldn’t live without.

Thrice Blessed at Christmas

Now Mom and Aunt Edie are gone.  Aunt Edie didn’t have any kids and my sister didn’t catch the holiday decor bug, so I inherited two houses worth of Christmas.  While I did do some culling and selected only the creme de la creme from both collections, when I declare it’s time to start decorating, I’ve got a lot of Christmas to spread around.  It is a task of joy.  I’m a visual sort, so the very sight of these treasures unleashes so many memories.  I can recall the very day we bought them and from which store.  If they were Mom or Aunt Edie’s I can tell you where they used them around their house.  For the entire month of December, it’s as if they have come for a visit.  We reminisce about the Christmases of the past and enjoy the season together.

I don’t go to the after Christmas sales now.  Why would I?  Every nook and cranny already has it’s own bit of Christmas and there’s always plenty left over, just-in-case.  When we first moved into our house here in Heath, I did realize I suddenly had ten windows on the front of the house, something none of us had contended with before.  That first year I was Scrooge – until I could hit Hobby Lobby the day after Christmas.  In about 10 minutes I’d picked up 10 wreaths with big red bows and made it through the lines.  Bill went with me that day, but so did Mom and Aunt Edie – at least they were there in spirit.

 

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Filed under Shopping, TRAVEL

Is Variety the Spice of Life?

TRAVEL HERE: AND THE WINNERS ARE…

We give up.  Perhaps the perfect meal kit service doesn’t exist, but we’ve identified some dogs.  He likes Hello Fresh for this and that, but if Home Chef is going to continue to delight me with dishes like Yorkshire Pudding, well I want it, too. Blue Apron, finally fell off the wagon for a variety of reasons. So for now, I’ll be juggling two services and hopefully I’ll figure out a system to insure that we don’t end up with two boxes of food for any particular week as I did a few weeks ago.  Perhaps someday down the road, one of the services will pull ahead of the others, but for now, I’ll just claim variety is the spice of life.

Why Not Blue Apron?

This journey began with several months of Blue Apron.  I’d done my research and read from several sources they were the best value – not the cheapest, but the one who provided the best product for the greatest value.  I loved it so much.  It wasn’t perfect, but it beat my own meal planning and food management, for a while.  Then Bill demanded a change of pace and did he ever get it!  He’s dizzy from the carousel of meal kit services.

As we sat down to discuss who would win the brass ring, I recounted all the reasons I used to love Blue Apron:

  • Interesting gourmet touches with every meal and lots of variety
  • Unique ingredients never available at the local grocery store
  • Usually the highest quality in meats, fish and vegetables – with some uneveness in the beef department and the occasional vegetable fail
  • Clever packaging that was fun to open and unload
  • Cute knick knack bags for their special ingredients
  • Great recipe cards with easy to follow instructions, helpful upscale photos of the cooking process and finally the best pictures of the plated meals
  • They’d made me feel like an accomplished chef

Even with all these pluses, I had to admit they couldn’t be THE meal kit service, because quite frankly, for the last few months, every time we used them all we had were problems and the food wasn’t as good as it used to be.  All the great recipe cards in the world can’t make up for food we don’t want to eat.

Why Hello Fresh?

Can you say Chicken Under a Zucchini Blanket?  Of all the meals we had from any service, this was Bill’s favorite meal – and I have to admit it was a winner.  Their other strengths were:

  • Not a single packaging or quality issue in six meals (something that no other besides Blue Apron can claim)
  • User friendly recipe cards that did the job (if not as well as Blue Apron)
  • Ingredients that were as least as good as what I would pick out for myself at the store
  • Good healthy food that Bill and I both enjoyed (but nothing in the least exotic)

I didn’t want them to be THE meal kit service because:

  • Unpacking my meal was just not as much fun
  • I don’t like the big brown bag per meal or their graphics
  • A little too main-stream-all-the-time for my palate
  • They said Parmesan Crusted Fish and it turned out to be tilapia
  • While the recipe cards did their job, they were less than excellent
    • less than pristine utensils used in cooking photos
    • a downgrade in overall ambiance
    • instructions were good, but not a s good as others
    • finished plate photos are not inspiring

Why Home Chef?

They had me at Yorkshire Pudding!  Not merely the fact that they offered Yorkshire Pudding, but because the dish was easy to make from scratch and it turned out perfect.  Their other two dishes for the week were quite tasty.  Here’s the other reasons they made the cut:

  • While not as adventurous as my friends at Blue Apron, Home Chef does get creative and almost exotic.
  • None of the ingredients were particularly unusual, but they came up with some unique dishes nonetheless
  • Great quality and no ooops yet
  • Clear plastic bags hold most of the ingredients together for each meal.  While this is not as exciting as obsessing over all the separate items in a Blue Apron Box, it beat the big brown grocery bags from Hello Fresh
  •   The recipe cards are great.  They actually offer a few items of information not provided by Blue Apron, but no points for plated dish inspiration.  They use the same distressed wood table for each shot and the same boring white plate.  (YAWN!)
  • I feel more like a chef with Home Chef than I do with Hello Fresh.

Some day they may actually pull ahead and be THE meal kit service, but till then, I’ll keep juggling.

And there you have it.  Wondering what I’ll come up with next week?  Come back and find out!

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Filed under DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Shopping, TRAVEL