Friday, August 14, 2015

SNAFU Avoidance #3 and #4

SNAFU (Situation Normal All F*** Up) avoidance is my main goal when traveling internationally. Since I've had so many mishaps and summer is the time when people travel the most, I thought I would give some helpful tips I've picked up on the way. If you missed the first two parts of this series, you can read them here and here.

Rule # 3: Clean Your House Before You Leave

I think this rule applies anytime you go on vacation but it's especially important on an international trip. In my opinion, there is nothing worse than coming back from a totally awesome vacation and facing a dirty house. Oh, it's such a buzz kill. 

It's even worse when you're exhausted from traveling. You've probably spent the last 12 hours or more traipsing through airports, dealing with security, eating bad food, and wrestling with your tray table and movie selector while crunched into a seat for hours on end. Once you're released from this special kind of purgatory, the only thing you're going to want is a shower and a bed. 

And having clean sheets ready and waiting only makes that process easier. :) So, do yourself a favor and clean before you go. You'll be happy you did. 

Rule #4: Prepare for Jet Lag

Jet lag sucks. I'm mean, seriously sucks. For me, it's one of the worst parts of traveling probably because I love my sleep and can never really manage to get it on the plane. 

BTW, I seriously admire those people that can sleep anywhere. I've seen people sleep in the airports on those hard chairs. They sleep on the plane. I've even seen them curl up on the floor. I cannot do this. At all. I've had trips where I was awake for more than 24 hours, so tired I can't make a complete sentence, but I still won't be able to sleep on the plane. 

Anyway, the longer your trip, the more jet lag you'll have. Prepare for it. Don't schedule your return flight for the day before you have to be at work. You'll be stupidly sorry. 

A good rule of thumb is one hour for every time zone you cross. I don't think that's exactly true, since many people can recover faster, but it's a good starting place. Definitely plan on feeling like you've been run over by a train for the first few days. You're not only dealing with the jet lag, you're also recovering from the long travel. Try to reduce the number of things you have to do during those days following your trip and be gentle with yourself. It will take time for your body to adjust.

What about anyone else? Do you have some great travel tips? If so, comment below. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

SNAFU Avoidance #2

SNAFU (Situation Normal All F*** Up) avoidance is my main goal when traveling internationally. Since I've had so many mishaps and summer is the time when people travel the most, I thought I would give some helpful tips I've picked up on the way. If you missed the first part of this series, you can read it here.


Rule 2: Leave at least 2 hours to make it to your connecting flight

It never fails. I go to book my flight to Texas and the airline will arrange my connecting flight within an hour or an hour and a half of my previous plane landing. For example: Once I flew from Athens to Paris and then had a connecting flight to Houston. The airline swore up, down and sideways that one hour was plenty of time to catch my connecting flight from Paris to Houston. 

Not. 

My Athens to Paris plane landed late and I missed my flight to Houston. Three planes and more than 24 hours later, I finally arrived in Houston. Oh, and I should mention I had a three year old and a one year old with me. By myself. 

It was a nightmare. 

I would love to say this has happened only once but, alas, I cannot. Similar situations have happened to me at least six times. I have run through nearly every airport I've ever landed in, often times with two little kids in tow. 

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I've been ambling my way through the airports and just lost track of time. No, no dear reader. Last year, my plane landed late in Frankfurt. It was only supposed to land a little late, and since I'd played this game so many times before, I took a new tack. I tried talking to the flight attendants. I explained to them about my connecting flight, the two children, etc., etc, and I asked for assistance to get to the next gate. The response: We can't provide it and, hopefully, the next plane knows you are coming. We're crossing our fingers for you. 

Thanks. 

The plane ended up landing so late that my connecting flight was already boarding. And I hadn't been through Passport Control. And the connecting flight was in another terminal. A terminal far, far away from the one I had landed in. 

Oh, and it was literally the middle of the night for me so I wasn't exactly firing on full cylinders. We made the connecting flight, but only after I pushed to the front of the line in Passport Control and raced through the terminals (stairs included). We were the last people to board the plane. I watched the gate clerk close the door behind us. 

(BTW the time between planes was so small that we made it on the plane but our luggage did not. Second time that's happened to me which is another reason why I always carry an extra change of clothes with me. Our bags showed up the next day.) 

Between the running and the stress of potentially missing a flight, it's a wonder I'm not prematurely grey. It seems like a minor thing, missing the next plane. And, as I said, it has happened to me. It wasn't the end of the world. I did get home. But it took A LOT longer to get there and I had to change planes in three different places. As an adult, it's hard to do. For my kiddos, it's even worse, so I do everything I can to avoid missing flights.     

This year I had three hours between flights and it was glorious and relaxed. We were able to calmly traverse Customs and Passport Control. We ate something in the terminal. We made it to our gate with plenty of time to spare. It was wonderful. Stress free. Heart attack free.

So if you can chose to have your connecting flight be more than two hours, take it. That way, even if your plane lands late, you can still make the connecting flight without having to pretend your in the Kentucky Derby. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Touch of the Personal

Normally, I like to keep this blog lighthearted and fun. I don't often delve into politics or world news but occasionally there are times I can't stay silent.  

This is one of those times. 

Over the last few weeks, as everyone who watches the news has been aware, Greece has been on the brink of economic collapse. And, despite a 17 hour marathon Euro summit last Sunday, it seems the deal agreed to could fall apart at any moment. Whether today, in the Greek parliament, or Friday in the German one. Or within the EU itself, since there is now fighting among the member states regarding which funds will be used to support the Greek economy until a final, complete bailout deal can be reached. 

As a lawyer, I'm trained to look at things from all sides. And what I see is that no one in this situation is blameless. The Greek government spent money like there was no tomorrow. The EU kept lending funds even after it was clear the debts probably weren't going to be able to be paid. 

The solution, it seems, isn't making anyone happy. This has never been more obvious than in the last few weeks. The Greek people desperately want to stay in the EU but don't want the harsh measures of austerity which have crippled their economy with no end in sight. The Prime Minister of Greece went on national television and said he doesn't believe in the deal reached on Sunday but knows there are no other options. Greece is not prepared, nor does it have the ability, to switch currencies with ease. The Finance Minister of German is still talking about his exit plan for Greece and that he believes its the best option. The IMF has publicly released documents that state the bailout won't work, the Greek debt is unsustainable and they won't agree to any deal unless debt restructuring is included. All together, through the finger pointing and name calling that seems to have developed in the EU recently, a real mess has been created.

And I'm sad. At the moment, it feels like there isn't any good solution just a whole lot of bad ones.

This is personal to me. While I'm a proud American, and will always be, my ties to Greece aren't insignificant. My husband is Greek, my children are half-Greek and we, as a family, have chosen to make our life there. In many ways, my attachment to my adopted country is stronger than by blood.  

It's by choice. 

And, in the five years since I moved there, I have fallen in love with it. The beauty of the countryside, the strong close knit ties of the neighborhoods, the generosity of its people. The Greeks are amazingly tough, resilient and smart. They have so much to offer. 

I don't know what the outcome of the next few weeks will be or what it will mean to my family. The one thing I do know is that we are lucky enough to have options. We can leave Greece. Not everyone has that choice. And they are the people my heart weeps for most because they will be the ones to bear the burden should things go badly. 

I fear the load will be more than they can carry. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

SNAFU Avoidance

SNAFU as many of you wonderful readers probably already know, stands for Situation Normal All F*** Up. This pretty much describes every international trip I've ever taken.

Since I live in Greece, I usually travel once a year to Texas in order to visit family and friends. Before that, I was traveling the opposite direction to see Hubby's family. So you could say I'm a frequent international traveler and there are some serious tricks I've learned by doing them the hard way. 

I'd like to share my rules for taking international flights with you in an series of blog articles. It's my hope that those of you making international trips this summer can learn some ways to make your vacations just a touch easier. Let's call it Rules for SNAFU avoidance. :)


Rule 1: Travel light and tight


Basically take as little physically on the plane with you as you can. I've seen parents board the plane with their bags weighed down. They have practically packed their house in their carry on - which might work when you are taking only one flight and traveling a few hours. But international flights, particularly ones like mine which can average 16 hours in length, are a marathon. There is Passport Control Stations (more than one) and Baggage Customs. There can be frantic runs through the airport if the first plane lands late and you have to race to make it to the connecting one. None of this stuff is something you want to do with two kids and three carry on bags weighing 20 pounds each. 

Think necessities. And only necessities.  

For me, since I'm traveling with school-age kids, that means:

1. An extra change of clothes for everyone. 

Accidents happen and, in my case, I have a child who - without fail - gets air sick. Nothing can ruin a 16 hour plane trip faster than having to take it in clothes that smell like vomit. 

I've also had the pleasure of having someone else's child toss their food tray onto me. I was ticked off, but I would have been more so had I not had an extra change of clothes. Believe me, it's worth the space in your carry on bag.   


2. Tablets/Entertainment 


We always have to take two planes to make it from Athens to Houston and vice versa. On the long, trans Atlantic flight, the plane has movies and entertainment stations for each person. However, on two separate trips I've had at least one of my entertainment systems inoperable.  And one of those flights was pack full which meant we couldn't change seats. In addition, there is always waiting time in the airport and a second plane shorter plane ride with no entertainment. So I always bring tablets full of new games, books and activities to entertain the kiddos in case we need them. 


3. Kindle

I think this one is self-explanatory! I love reading on the plane and having tons of books at my fingertips just makes it so much better. 



4. Inflatable Travel Pillow

OMG, this was a new one for me this year and I'm so sorry I didn't invest in this earlier. It made falling asleep on the plane so much easier and, since it deflates, it takes almost no space in my carry on bag.   


5. Laptop

Of course, since I'm a writer, this must go with me. especially since I spend several months away. If I was traveling to the states for a classic vacation, my laptop would stay at home. 


6. Misc

This includes my cell phone, wallet, passports, a hairbrush and a pen. Simple, lightweight and all necessary items. 

And that's it. That's what I take in my carry on. Whatever you think you might need, take it. But keeping your carry on to necessities only will make the exhausting trip so much easier. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Advice

I watched an interview with Justice Ginsburg a few months ago. If you've never heard her speak or be interviewed, you're missing out. She's an amazing woman with an interesting perspective. Plus, she's delightfully witty, which only adds to her awesomeness.




Anyway, during the interview, she shared many stories, one of which include a recommendation she'd given to a colleague.

"It's important to be a good listener and not to be so attached to your own view that you close your mind to another way."

This piece of advice struck such a chord in me, especially as an author. Writing is often a solitary business. It's you and the computer and the characters/world you create there. But - unless you are writing only for yourself - it doesn't stay that way. In the traditional publishing world, you have beta readers, agents, editors, and eventually readers who will all share their opinions with you about the novel you've created. 

In fact, before publication, there are going to be things you will asked to change in your novel. And, if you're like me, the initial reaction is always no. Nope, no way, no how, I can't. 

Which is where Justice Ginsburg advice comes in. If you don't listen, if you don't really think about what the other person is saying, you may miss something. Don't be so attached to your own vision that you close your mind to another way. 

One thing I've noticed in myself, and for my writing buddies as well, is that distance and time helps. Ideas you initially were completely against, if you let them stew for some time, will actually turn out to help you the most. 

So when your beta readers, or your agent, or your editor, or even your readers make comments and/or suggestions, really listen to them. Move past the initial rejection phase and open your mind to their advice. 

And then, after you've given yourself some time and distance to think about it, decide which way you want to go. 

You might find a change in perspective was just what you needed.  
  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Who Died Now?

Television has been depressing me lately. I don't watch too many shows but the ones I do, I'm religious about. However, I'm taking a long break for the summer and I'm seriously thinking about switching to comedies only. Why?

Because the last two seasons have found many of my favorite dramas killing off one of the main characters. 

Now I know, this is a favorite plot device of drama shows. Why not? I mean, nothing sends an audience into a tizzy like the murder of a favorite character. 

And yes, once or twice I can handle. But every - single - show. No thanks. 

So bye, bye, TV. We'll talk again (maybe) in the fall. In the meantime, I have loads and loads of books on my Kindle just waiting to be gobbled up. 

And since they're romance, I know I'm getting a HEA every time, which is exactly what I need right now. 


Monday, May 18, 2015

Stumbling Across History

My awesome hometown of Houston, Texas was established in 1836. It's pretty old, not as much as New York or Boston, mind you, but still 176 years is nothing to sneeze at. 

However, one thing I've learned about living in Greece is that calling Houston "old" is a joke. Hell, the US is celebrating 240 this year and that's still only infant stage compared to ancient Greece. 

And the most amazing thing about living in a place rich in so much history is that it's literally right outside my door. 

The city is doing construction on the street next to my house. After taking my kiddos to school, I passed by two old men. They were staring down into the hole the workers had dug in preparation for the new trolley line. Both of them were in a heated debate, gesturing and pointing. Curious, I strolled over closer. I had to know what about this hole had them all riled up.  

Imagine my surprise when I discovered they were arguing about whether the workers had dug far enough down to hit the road that existed in Jesus' time.

Yes, Jesus.  

I thought these old guys had lost their marbles until I mentioned it to my husband, only to find out I was the ignorant one. Apparently the road I traversed everyday for the last several years existed in ancient times. They just built the modern road over the old one. 

And by ancient times, he means before Jesus. 

It blows my mind. When I dig down, or the water company digs down, in Houston they hit...a whole lotta dirt. Of course, we have some interesting things like dinosaur fossils, etc but those are few and far between. It's not in my backyard. 

In Greece, it's actually underneath every step I take. They have so much history and so many ancient ruins, they can't protect or isolate them all. They have to remove what is the most important and then build the modern buildings and roads over the rest. 

So if you visit Athens and you see some cornered off ruins on the side of the road, just remember, that's a small section of what truly exists right underneath your feet. 

And it's a lot older than 176 years. 

Pretty amazing, huh?