The After-Thanksgiving [E+C Blog] Special

When you grow up in a different time zone than your cousins and grandparents, attend a college that's a 21-hour drive from your home town, watch your sisters settle down in three separate states, marry someone from a state that makes hot dishes instead of casseroles requires a plane ticket home, and spend more time interacting via technology than you do face-to-face, you learn that distance does not always dampen a relationship.

In fact, living with family spread across the country has its advantages. Most recently, I've discovered that it provides us unique opportunities to gather together in unusual combinations of "mico-families." Just this last weekend I had lunch at the airport with my grandma from South Dakota, my Minnesota-based aunt, and my uncle from South Dakota and his daughter - but not her siblings. We were all missing people from our immediate family unit, and I'm sure the thought crossed all of our minds that we'll likely never be together with that specific group of people again. But it was fun, and I'm grateful for long layovers and that my family takes advantage of these little opportunities to stay connected.

Notes from C: November 2013

It's been a while since I've made a post inspired by the little notebook I carry around with me. I think I'm rather seasonal in my creativity and thinking and am drawn to these types of ponderings in the colder months. And colder it is, at least here in Minnesota. Saturday morning at 8am Evan and I, along with his sister and brother-in-law, were at the starting line to our Turkey Trot ... with temperatures just reaching 4 degrees. Lesson learned: if you only wear one layer of winter running tights you will be nursing your numb legs back to health for a good half day. Also, chicken noodle soup is a necessary post-race treat.

As I was saying, the change of seasons feeds my creativity, and fall is the start of my new creative year. To be more precise, it's actually the weeks that follow those colorful peak days that are my favorite of all. Yup, call me weird, but I like to watch the colors gradually fade, when the textures and patterns of tree branches become the main attraction, and the entire landscape settles into one of muddied, muted tones, contrast and mystery. Give me a quiet, chilly scene and top it off with a vibrant sunset that only November can produce and my mind is more alive than on a sunny day in July. Only when it gets cooler and the world begins to turn inward do I have access to those scenes and thoughts.

This time of fall makes me want to be a painter, so I can capture every blurry smudge of color, the long brush strokes of branches, the texture. It's past the peak, the "show" is over, but life continues on. Trees don't wear life solely in their branches; their life is within, calm, steadfast, determined ... resilient. I think this is why I love the coming of winter. It strips away your "accessories" and shows who you truly are. There is less of life around, but the life that remains is persistent and true.

Wouldn't it be nice if we saw aging like this too? Where "past-your-peak beauty" was more striking than prime-time youthful beauty? Wrinkles are just life's way of adding more contrast, texture, shadows ... I'll try and remember that.

Jet-lagged in Pisa

Everyone will tell you not to go to Pisa. There's nothing but an underwhelming tilted bell tower packed in with tourists and trinket carts bent on selling yet another leaning-tower key chain (which, as it turns out, you can purchase at any other city or tourist trap throughout all of Italy). While there is some truth to this, and there are far more impressive sights in nearby Florence and the Cinque Terre, do not cross Pisa off your list just yet. No, do not overlook this under-appreciated city nestled between its far more glamorous neighbors. In fact, a brief visit to Pisa might be just what you need.

Pisa is like the training wheels of Italy; it's the perfect city to get oriented to the culture, comfortable with the maps, and most importantly - to recover from jet lag.

If you're anything like us, you'll fly across the pond from the U.S. with too much excitement for your upcoming adventure to get a wink of sleep. (It doesn't help when you're flying first class for the first time!)

You'll touch down at 7 a.m. Pisa time, which will feel like the middle of the night to your eyes. After a quick outfit change and brush up in the bathroom, you'll strap on your money belt, pull out your trusty Rick Steve's travel book, and head outside into the morning light. Since Pisa is a relatively small city, it is quite navigable on foot. If you were arriving during the night you'd probably hail a cab for safety reasons, but walking through the streets in the morning might just be the best way to shake off that it's-the-middle-of-the-night-why-am-I-not-asleep" feeling.

Have you ever arrived in a city at daybreak? If you land in Pisa at 7 a.m. and decide to walk through the streets, you will notice that your rolling suitcase is the loudest sound around. Women will open their green shutters (which you'll soon learn is the color of 99 percent of all shutters in Italy), sweep off their patios, and go back inside to drink their espresso (or so you assume). Cats catch the morning sun on old stone walls and recycling bins sit next to garbage cans on every street corner, because Europeans are organized like that.

Travel Day Preparations

Happy Friday! It was an early start to the day here at the Pierson house. Evan is always an early bird, and has that unusual quality of being the most cheerful version of himself before the sun rises. Seriously, the man tries to rouse me from my slumbers with made-up jingles and random songs, most of which I hear for just a second before diving back under the covers. But today I had the task opportunity to rise and shine with my better half (seriously my much better half at that hour). 

Because there's lots on the agenda today!

1 - Watch this How I Met Your Mother video to get some packing tips:

2 - Remind self to find trusty hand's-free belt satchel

3 - Check the weather for my weekend locale: 

4 - Wake up Mr. Purple

5 - Sketch out a meticulously detailed route to the donut shop. Return route must include stop for first and second and third donut breaks. Don't forget to leave room in carry-on for my stash of buttermilk donuts. And another stash for Mr. P. 

6 - Select airplane reading material 
(I've had this book on my shelf for years and I think it has finally "ripened")

7 - Be a grown-up and get some work done ... trying to do a few hours from home for one job, followed by another few hours on site at my other job 
(okay, so this may actually be the majority of my day. Not as fun to write about though, is it?)

8 - Look at photos of hot air balloons for half an hour to prepare for the big St. Louis hot air balloon festival this weekend. Get sidetracked and start searching for your copy of James and the Giant Peach to see if a peach could ever really fly. 
(but seriously, there's a hot air balloon light show tonight I'm super excited for, if it doesn't get rained out)

9 - Consider aborting plans and flying to NC instead when your sister sends you a photo collage of her new puppy: Alfred Pennyworth. (don't worry Kirst, I'd choose donuts you over a puppy any day)

10 - Check flight loads to see if I will even get on the airplane. 23 seats open on the 3pm, I'm number 9 on the list. Not too shabby. I'll try my chances. 
(But all it takes is one cancelled flight and I'm out of the game! #livingontheedge)

11 - Cross fingers (and toes!)

Wondering how we're flying standby this summer? Read about Evan's job at the airport here.

Summer 2013 Destinations:

Fairbanks, Alaska (I have more to say about this amazing trip!)
New Jersey (and some NYC)St. Louis, Part 1
TO COME: New Jersey, Part 2; North Carolina; Colorado


The best laid plans of mice and men go aft astray ...

I'm sure you've all been there. At the beginning, it seems easy. You're in that morning coffee-high phase where everything is possible. You can get a workout in before work every day, keep up around the house, take on extra freelance work, and travel 90 percent of your summer weekends, all while documenting each adventure on the ol' blog. Well, the run before work was never a part of my game plan and I tried to scale back on the freelance work. But the last one I was really envisioning as a fun summer project where I'd fill ya in on all sorts of travel adventures with witty writing, travel tips and of course some awesome photos.

Since it's Evan's first week back at school as Mr. P-who-teaches-chemis-try, I thought it only fitting that he give me a grade on my attempt: C-

Yup, I only managed to post a handful of times and have way more photos and stories waiting in the wing than I do on the page ... err screen. But maybe that's a good thing? It means I'll have material to fill the space in the coming months and instead of quickly posting about the "whats" of our trip, I can take my time reflecting and weaving together some of my favorite stories: when we happened upon rats in the Mediterranean, (almost) bonded with an Italian girl on the train who knew "cups," experienced a little Italian heat for not finishing our meal, got caught in a (terrifying!) storm while biking (alone!) in Tuscany, walked through olive groves by moonlight, and found an oasis atop the busy streets of Rome.

But for now, I am letting those thoughts and stories germinate while I enjoy a new destination this weekend: home. Yes, it is quite exotic and a place I haven't been in a while. I looked back through my calendar the other day and realized that this will be my third weekend at home since Memorial Day where we don't have company or some other major social event - and those other two days were way back in June. So as you can imagine, I'm spending the weekend getting the house back in shape*, going on a run, and maybe, if I get to it, sorting through some travel photos.

It's interesting how a bit of travel really changes your perspective on things. Yes, flying can be glamorous but most often it is not. Besides the fact that tickets cost a fortune, the act of traveling via airplane is pretty much the same as traveling by an other means: it's just transportation. Point A to point B. Whether you're in a car, plane, bus or train, luggage needs to be loaded, you have to wait to board, sometimes the air doesn't work, you get hungry, have to wait to use the bathroom, and there are inevitable delays.

When you fly standby you are privy to a peak behind the scenes that unmask the illusion of luxury; traveling is just a numbers game. Pilots traveling as passengers hop into jump seats so that you can get on the plane (like when your friend in college rides on the floor so you can all make it to Mall of America in the same car). You follow the stats online religiously for weeks prior to departure, tracking as the open seats fluctuate. And sometimes, when those numbers don't work quite in your favor, you get left behind.

If this guy hadn't come running to the gate I would've made it on!

Of course this doesn't mean we don't appreciate this lovely little travel situation we find ourselves in these days. It's just fun, especially for someone who already ponders things while flying, to have new thoughts to think on.

And now, I'm off to unwind the way most normal people do - with a movie and a fried egg. What? You don't eat fried eggs every night? It's kind of my MVP of night-time snacks.

* In typical E+C fashion, "getting the house back in shape" involves a little more than laundry and groceries (although those are begging for attention too!). 
Here is what the office looks like right now:

And the walls of our upstairs:

Oh, house projects, how I've missed thee. It sure feels good to be grounded for a bit!

Wondering how we're flying standby this summer? Read about Evan's job at the airport here.

Summer 2013 Destinations:
Fairbanks, Alaska (I have more to say about this amazing trip!)
New Jersey (and some NYC)
St. Louis
TO COME: New Jersey, Part 2; North Carolina; Colorado

E+C Tour Italy

Last night I dreamt I was in a castle, and when I awoke in search of the bathroom I could have sworn the hallway was made of stone. The night before, when Evan came home after I'd gone to bed I thought he was a Roman, come to steal me away. Apparently this is what it means to be suffering from jet lag, or else withdrawal from a wonderful vacation in Italy.

You see, for the last two weeks, Evan and I have been off on adventures abroad. In Italy, to be precise. The land where gelato is your daily vitamin, Duomos (cathedrals) sit majestically in every city, and where ruins of times long ago have become part of the landscape. Where cats congregate in Roman parks (we counted 15+ once!) and sleep in the corner of outdoor restaurants, but unlike strays in other countries, these Italian felines look well-fed and cared for, a true testament of Italian culinary habits. We soon learned that in Italy it is not acceptable to leave a meal unfinished, that a quiet night is a rarity, and that trains are the most efficient and economical means of transportation - and quite fun if you enjoy the sensation of being hurled towards the center of the earth. In Italy, old-fashioned leather shoemakers still exist, hog's heads can be found in street markets, you can rent a bike in almost any city, and brioche (pastry) is the new breakfast.

Of course it's easy to romanticize a trip, especially through photos that neglect to show the burdens of travel. The blistered feet when someone forgets to bring close-toed shoes, the soggy shoes when the other person neglects to bring waterproof shoes, the bruises and scrapes from a fallen bike and wheeling your carry-on down cobblestone streets only two-feet wide, the unpleasant smells of a country unaccustomed to the practice of deodorant (and the reality of living out of a carry-on for ten days), the blurry-eyed first day of jet-lag in a (hot!) foreign city, squabbles over who controls the map, and the added stress of not knowing if you will make it home.

See that last part is the reality of non-rev travel, which we've had the privilege of using all summer long. Sure, it's thrilling knowing you can jet-off almost anywhere on a moment's notice, but it is far less than thrilling when your return flight is over-booked by five, you are number 15 on the waiting list and you need to come up with an alternate plan that may involve an overnight train and giving up your comfy hotel room - true story. (With the right mindset this is also part of the "fun" part, but the right mindset is key!) Of course I can't forget to mention that Evan worked his butt off to make this trip happen. Although throwing bags at the airport ranks high on E's list of fun activities, it is no walk in the park. He's had to deal with predawn wakeups, back-to-back shifts, and cranky pilots (cool ones too!). His summer schedule has him working every Thursday through Saturday, so in order to take this vacation he had to trade away a bunch of shifts, and since no one wants to pick up a weekend shift, he often ended up working two in place of his one (or on the 4th of July) to get those days off. So as a preface to my forthcoming posts on our Italian adventures, I want to emphasize that photos don't tell the whole story, and that my photos and tales are not meant to trigger jealousy or any other feelings social media tends to feed. I simply love sharing our experience and find joy in the act of storytelling.

So, let's begin!

At the top of this post is a map showing our path through Italy. When Evan signed on to the airlines earlier this spring, we knew we wanted to go somewhere abroad to fully take advantage of his benefits. Let's be honest, there would have been no Italy trip whatsoever had we not had these perks, so that's precisely the type of trip we wanted to take. Italy was on the top of our list because there are so many different areas one can visit in such close proximity - and the flight loads looked pretty good with multiple airport options (which is essential when flying standby). And who doesn't want to go to Italy? We really only began planning in earnest a couple of weeks before departure, and we booked all of our B&B and hotels just one week before we left. For such last-minute planning, we really are quite proud of how prepared we were - we even purchased our train tickets ahead of time (the main ones anyway), so as to save time and hassle in the stations later, and exchanged some $ at our trusty bank. Most of our planning is thanks to Rick Steves and his wonderful guidance in Italy 2013, which we borrowed from the library of course.

1 - Pisa, because the plane was practically empty, and the city is quite manageable in size and thus easy to navigate when struggling with some jet lag. Lucca was a short train ride away and perfect for an evening bike ride and dinner. It's a small old town with a wall around it, so the bikers and pedestrians far out-number the automobiles.
2 - Cinque Terre (Riomaggiore is where we stayed) because it's awesome. Nothing else like it. Google it and you'll understand why.
3 - Florence, for the art, history and food (our favorite food was in Florence). Fiesole because it was a quieter place to stay, overlooking "Firenze" (Florence).
4 - Orvieto, because it was right off the rail line and is older than Rome! A quiet break before the noisy streets of Roma.
5 - Rome, because going to Italy without roaming around Rome just seemed silly. And there were lots of flights heading back to the states so it seemed like a natural place to end the trip.

We stayed at a few places, one, and one straight up hotel purchased through LivingSocial. I'll go more in depth on these in a future post. For now I'll just say that we loved our variety of "hotel" experiences as they let us talk to locals and save a little money (except for in Rome). We're kind of frugal travelers, and get a thrill out of staying on a budget.

I'll leave you for now with a quick list of the top things we'll miss about Italy. And to be fair, I'll also include what we missed most about the U.S. Turns out a 10 day trip is pretty much our sweet spot, so we're glad we didn't get stuck in Rome for another day or two (although we almost did!).

Now if you'll excuse me. I'm off to rest up and begin the daunting tasks of editing 1300+ photos! I'll be back shortly with a quick post that will likely be titled "Piersons in Pisa."

Things We’ll Miss About Italy
-Brioche (chocolate croissants!)
-Good public transportation
-Our daily gelato
-Duomos in every town
-The history, around every turn. Always something to learn/explore
-The amaaaaazing pucker lemoni granita in Corniglia (Cinque Terre)
-Bonding with strangers just because we speak the same language
-Talking with local Italians who don’t understand a lick of English, and those who do.
-Reading maps - a new one in every town/museum/station!
-Swimming at the Radisson Blu, overlooking the busy streets of Rome. Most refreshing pool ever. Like a sauna and Lake Superior all rolled into one.

Things We Missed about the U.S.
-Free water at restaurants (or anywhere!)
-Free bathrooms (although we were stubborn and never once used a pay toilette)
-Cheaper food ($ not quality)
-Balanced/Complete breakfasts (brioche was tasty but doesn’t fill you up for long!)
-Earlier dinners (their time frame messed with my desire to be out walking during sunset after dinner)
-Variety of food (kind of sick of carbs, not gonna lie)
-Quiet nights/uninterrupted sleep
-Smoke-free air
-Knowing how to order a meal without feeling foolish

Wondering how we're flying standby this summer? Read about Evan's job at the airport here.

Summer 2013 Destinations:
Fairbanks, Alaska (I have another post about Alaska coming soon!)
New Jersey (and some NYC)
St. Louis

In which I travel to STL for a donut

Yup, the title pretty much sums it up. Well, and I got to hang out with my oldest sister and her new husband, of course. But donuts were definitely involved, as you'll soon see.

Over the past four years I've visited St. Louis six times (this was the fourth in just a little over a year!), but usually we have lots of events and activities planned. First Kirsten graduated from Wash U in 2009 (a second post here), then Evan and I went all out for Spring Break 2011, Mother's Day 2012 was filled with lots of wedding planning fun, Kirsten turned 30 in November 2012, and then was married in April 2013! So now that I have these lovely travel perks, I thought I should take advantage and enjoy a relaxing itinerary-free weekend in good ol' St. Louis. The only thing on my to-do list? Visit the donut shop, and make a movie, naturally:

Now that Scott has shown me his magical video-processing techniques I hope to turn my own stockpile of video clips into something fun.

In case you're wondering, this is what a relaxing weekend in St. Louis looks like:

Bike ride through Forest Park with a stop at the fountain

Reading and picnicking in Forest Park

I took this photo to demonstrate to my mom that we're repurposing our childhood sheets as a picnic blanket - but aren't the fountains cool? Makes me feel like I'm in France.

Taking in a play at the outdoor theater: the Muny. We say Nunsense, with Phyllis from The Office! "Sorry I'm late" she says as she steps on stage a few scenes in. "I was in the Office" .. buahaha. The show was full of all sorts of one-liners and catered towards the St. Louis crowd.

These kitties proved to be nice little alarm clocks! : )

A farmer's market brunch, complete with a World's Fair donut. Can't beat it.

Movie making magic

Our produce doesn't look like this yet in Minnesota!

No trip to STL is complete without a trip to the Arch

We embraced the crowds down by Fair St. Louis to enjoy a FREE Counting Crows concert

and Fireworks!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Fourth of July! Can you believe that school supplies are back on the shelves already? Evan starts twitching around this time of year, anticipating the end of his summer vacation ... and our flight bennies!

Wondering how we're flying standby this summer? Read about Evan's job at the airport here.

Summer 2013 Destinations:
Fairbanks, Alaska
(I have another post about Alaska coming soon!)
New Jersey (and some NYC)

Just the Clothes on our Back

There's a certain pleasure in traveling light. It makes packing that much quicker, you don't have to worry about losing a checked bag, and you get to take a vacation from material possessions for a short while. Wearing the same shirt two days in a row? No biggie. Don't have the perfect cardigan for your outfit? You work with what ya got. This mentality has gradually been ingrained over the years and I have a distinct memory of my aunt joking when she showed up at our house that grandpa only let her pack a diaper bag. On our recent trip to New Jersey we decided to have a little fun and pack ultra light - because we could. Evan carried a backpack with a few clothing items, while I literally stepped on the plane with nothing but the clothes on my back (and some underwear, socks, and a swim suit in a backpack). That's the perk of flying home where your sisters still have closets full of cute clothes!
Travel Tip: If you only have carry-on at MSP, try checkpoint 10 and skip the lines
I wish I could say this was a surprise flight that I only announced once boarded the plane (how fun would that be?!), but it wasn't. The family knew we were coming. But I still get a rush every time they close the doors and we're officially sealed in the plane ready for takeoff.

Our weekend in New Jersey was quite eventful, per the usual Pearson style.

We enjoyed a beautiful day at the Jersey Shore (Ocean Grove!)




There was ice cream

Father's Day involved a bike ride in Mercer Meadows (who says we don't have nature in NJ?)

A little Father's Day chores

Quality time with da pup

Quality time with the family (I love this maxi dress of Sarah's!)

 Since we were leaving out of Newark we decided to head into NYC for a few hours beforehand. 

On-route to NYC - they went to a ballet!

We checked out the Freedom Tower and 9/11 Memorial

and wandered the streets in search of a falafel

We only had three days after returning from Alaska before we flew to NJ, so by the time we got back to Minnesota we were ready to be grounded for a while.

Where are YOU headed this summer? As much as I love to travel, it's always a treat to spend some quality time at home as well. Last weekend we were at the family cabin and today we're enjoying the 4th of July with a picnic and bike ride.

Wondering how we're flying standby this summer? Read about Evan's job at the airport here.

Summer 2013 Destinations:
(I have another post about Alaska coming soon!)

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