Friday, July 29, 2016

Would you go on a surprise vacation?

I LOVE to travel.  I have always loved to visit new places.  My mother always said I had wanderlust.  I have travelled with my husband. I have travelled with my daughters.  I have travelled by myself.  I have now travelled to 40 out of the 50 states and over 16 foreign countries. 

Yes, I think Travel is encoded in my DNA so I was really intrigued when I heard about a fun new travel trend – Surprise travel.   I saw a post that a friend shared on Facebook that introduced a new company called PackUp & Go. 

According to the Pack Up & Go website, “Pack Up + Go plans 3-day weekend trips around the United States. All you have to do is tell us your budget and fill out a quick survey.  We'll take care of your travel + accommodation arrangements - all while keeping your destination a surprise.”

According to Lonely Planet, “Customers have a choice of embarking on a road trip (starting at $450 per person) or booking a vacation that includes air travel (from $650). All you have to do is choose your dates and tell the company your budget, and then fill out a quick survey and check off a list of things you enjoy, such as craft beer, live music, comedy clubs, outdoor activities, etc.” Your plans include an itinerary based on your survey answers. 

I am sure this kind of travel isn’t for everyone, but for those with an adventurous spirit, the company does all the planning and you simply show up when they tell you.

I am so excited about this concept – I am thinking of doing a surprise trip for my husband’s birthday.  I promise to share about our experience. 

Is a surprise trip something you would enjoy?  You can check out their website at

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Beware of Discount Airlines

 I should have known better.  I will admit that.  The warning signs were all there, but I forged ahead because the low price was so tempting.  I was planning a trip to see my daughter in Tennessee and my husband found the irresistible ‘low fares’ of Allegiant Airlines.   I mean sure it only flew to Memphis, three hours away from where we wanted to go, but hey – I have always wanted to check out Memphis.  I could just rent a car and make this a fun bonus to our vacation. 

And yes, the flights are ONLY on Fridays and Mondays – I mean that’s a little weird, but hey with such a low price we could work around that. 

Then the fees started to add up.  Extra fees for luggage – okay lots of airlines do that.  Extra fees for a carry-on bag?  Well the price is really low.  An extra fee to reserve a seat?  Well I can’t stand the whole flight.  An extra fee if I don’t print my boarding pass at home?  That could be a challenge when I am travelling – what if I don’t have a printer?  Charging for drinks and snacks on the plane – gosh these fees are really adding up, the price is still low, but not nearly as low as it seemed at first. 

I was happy once we got to Memphis, and we enjoyed our vacation, but as we got on the road to return to Memphis I got a text saying our flight was cancelled.  That’s it – no other info, just cancelled.  What do I do now – I have to turn in the rental car. I don’t live in Memphis.  I have to get home.  What am I supposed to do?  I tried calling the airlines.  I waited on hold for over 45 minutes and finally got through to an agent who simply said, the flight is cancelled. I asked how I am supposed to get home.  He replied, “We will have another flight tomorrow.”   Ummm – tomorrow?  How does that help me today?  He then says he can refund the return portion of my trip.  Sure but you guys are the lowest cost airline – how am I supposed to get home?  No response from the agent. 

Thank goodness for technology – my daughter got online and found a flight home, unfortunately the cost was $500 more than the Allegiant flight. 

I have tried to contact the airlines to get back the extra cost I had to pay to get home, but the only option to contact them is via e-mail and according to their website it can take up to 60 days for a response.  I’m not too optimistic but I will keep trying. 

Unfortunately it was a very expensive lesson for me – Beware of discount airlines.  You really do get what you pay for.  Next trip I will use Southwest, I may pay a bit more up front, but I am fairly sure I will have less frustration. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

My thoughts on Race & the Black Lives Matter Movement

I am an unapologetic liberal.  I have always believed that everyone is deserving of love, no matter what the color of their skin or the person they choose to love.  I worked hard to ensure that my children were raised to judge people on their actions, not their skin color, national heritage or religion. This message has never been more important than it is today.  In a country that seems to be so racially divided, we need people to challenge racist views. 

I recently had the incredible privilege to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis Tennessee.  Walking through the museum with my daughter was such a moving experience.  The story of racism in a divided America is not a new story.  The museum exhibits provide a tangible demonstration of the dangers of intolerance.  I was looking at the burned up shell of the Freedom Riders bus and the jail cell where Dr. King spent time for his challenges to segregation laws and I was struck with such a sense of frustration and a resolve to challenge the racism that seems to persist in this country. 

In what can only be seen as a perfect example of ironic timing, I had reserved a room at the famed Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis.  My girls loved the story of the Peabody ducks when they were younger and I thought it would be such a fun experience to see the duck march in person.  As my daughter and I sat in the luxurious lobby, we started a conversation about the lack of diversity among the hotel guests, and the concept of what white privilege actually means.  It seemed so appropriate that the day after our museum visit, there was a large Black Lives Matter demonstration march in Memphis.  I heard the protesters as they marched right past our hotel.  My daughter and I went outside to cheer on the marchers.  We met some wonderful people, and we felt so energized by the marchers.  

I have heard many misinformed but well-intentioned friends discard the Black Lives Matter movement, using the "All Lives Matter" slogan.  I really believe that many of these individuals truly do not understand the dismissive and racist nature of using #AllLivesMatter.  There is no question that all lives do indeed matter, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  The BLM movement is trying to address the significant disparities in how people of color have been and are still being treated in this country, very much like the protests led by Dr. King.

I read a wonderful and simple explanation for people who do not understand this message.  If your house was on fire and you called the fire department, imagine if they sprayed water on your neighbor’s house instead of the flames in your house.  You yell to the firemen and scream “But my house is on fire” and the firefighter responds “But all houses matter”.  It would seem like an absurd response – because obviously not all houses have the same need at that moment.  The Black Lives Matter movement is a clear message that the African American community is feeling marginalized and disenfranchised, and there are some very real challenges to deal with.  Being dismissive of the movement does not address any of these issues. 

As we continue to deal with the most divisive election in this century, it is important to remember the lessons of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Dr. King gave his life in pursuit of true equality for all Americans.  Standing at the Lorriane motel in Memphis, looking at the exact location where a murderer took the life of Dr. King, the message and the meaning of Black Lives Matter has never been more important. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

The 4th of July - Celebrating our Freedoms

The 4th of July is a uniquely American holiday.  Its images of red, white, and blue are etched into our memories.  July 4th is camping trips and barbeques, hot dogs and slices of fresh watermelon, with juice running down our chins, and of course loud, colorful fireworks lighting up the sky, commemorating the battles we fought for our freedom. 

But for me, the 4th of July has another meaning, and an interesting bit of our family history, one that really commemorates the importance and true meaning of this great holiday. 
Grandma Ray

The 4 of July is my great-grandmothers birthday.  Well actually we don’t know when her birthday was, but we celebrated Grandma-Ray’s birthday on July 4th because that’s what it said on her immigration papers.  My great-grandmother immigrated here as a young child from Russia. According to the story my mother told me, she didn’t speak English, and as she arrived on Ellis Island, along with ‘Cousin Essie’ the officer at Ellis Island asked about her birthday, but without any papers he simply assigned a birthday.  To Cousin Essie he gave Saint Patrick’s Day and to Grandma Ray he gave the 4th of July.  I’m sure he probably chose that date simply for convenience, but for my great-grandmother that date was especially poetic, she travelled across the world as a young child, to escape violence and persecution against her people and seek a better life here in America. 

From what I have gathered through family stories and some research on genealogy websites, my great-grandmother was born just outside Warsaw, Russia, Poland did not exist at the time and the area of Poland was part of the Russian Empire.  She was born sometime between 1885-1889 - there are several dates listed so it’s hard to know for sure. 
Grandma Ray and my great-uncle

There was a great deal of violence against the Jewish people during that period of history.  If you have ever watched the play or movie version of “Fiddler on the Roof” with Tevya and his daughters, you might remember the term ‘pogrom’ that Tevya used to describe the violence.  The term "pogrom" means large-scale, targeted, and repeated anti-Jewish rioting. 

Two million Jews fled the Russian Empire between 1880 and 1914, with many going to the United Kingdom and United States.  My great-grandmother was one of the Jews who fled that violence and came to the United States.  I can’t help but wonder what she felt as her boat sailed into New York and passed the statue of Liberty. 
Grandma Ray and my brother

I was very young when Grandma Ray died, so I never got the chance to ask her what she was thinking or feeling as she arrived in America.  I do remember having a big party on the 4th of July and my great-grandmother was there.  We had a big cake, with 4th of July sparklers on it.  I didn’t realize it back then, but as I look back on it now, I think celebrating Grandma-Ray’s birthday on the 4th of July was perfect, she understood the true meaning of this holiday, and for her, this country really was the land of freedom.