Tag Archives: Travel

Planes, Buggies, and Chicken Nuggets – Part I


Disney Planes Fire & Rescue

I returned from Bogotá with a pesky scratchy throat. But more on that later.

At the end of every summer, my husband flies to Brazil to escort my stepdaughter back to the States. It is a law in Brazil that children may not leave the country with one parent without the legal permission of the other parent. So every year my husband flies all night to Brazil, collects my stepdaughter, and returns that same night to come back home.

He would be leaving Friday night and they would return together Sunday morning. I would be by myself with the kids for the weekend so I planned some fun things for us to do.

After the quasi-disastrous first experience at the movie theater a couple weeks ago, some people from an online support group for sensory processing disorder told me about “sensory friendly movies” at AMC. There was one scheduled for this weekend so I thought that would be a perfect distraction while daddy was out of town.

These special showings are infrequent and only a couple of theaters in our metro area offer them.  This Saturday’s feature would be the new Disney Planes movie. My kids never saw any of the Cars movies nor the first Planes movie. I whet their appetite by showing them the trailer of the new movies on the computer at home before we left.

My daughter asked to take the headphones with us despite the fact that I explained to her ahead of time that this movie would not be too loud like the last one.

We arrived at the theater in plenty of time before the movie was to start. I found booster seats to put in the chairs. (I had never seen this before. I wish it had been available at the dollar theater we went to a couple weeks ago).

Planes movie pic sensory

We stood in line to order a medium popcorn and some Bunch a Crunch. I had brought a couple of plastic containers to divvy out the popcorn for them. Passing around the popcorn bag doesn’t work with small children.

The sensory friendly movies had been advertised as something where kids could feel free to get up and move around, as they needed. The lights would be kept up during the movie. The volume would be kept down low.

I had some expectations for what this experience would be like. I expected to see lots of autistic kids in the theater. I expected it to be noisy and was prepared for potential meltdowns.

There was just one noisy kid in the theater that morning. Only one kid burst into tears and demanded to be taken home.

My kid.

I ran into some of the theater staff as we made our way to the potty during the previews. My daughter still had the headphones on her ears and  tears streamed down her cheeks.

The staff apologized and said that the trailers were always louder than the actual movie. They explained that they had turned down the volume as much as possible. I told them I was surprised at my daughter’s reaction. I really was.

My daughter has never had enough checkmarks in the right categories to be diagnosed with autism though she showed definite warning signs as a toddler. I am well aware that autism is always accompanied by SPD (though the opposite is not always the case).

I expected to see other kids acting out in the theater, not mine.

I could have taken the kids home at that moment, but I chose not to for two reasons:

1. I felt that my daughter should watch at least the first 15 minutes of the movie before giving up on it.
2. I felt it would be unfair to my son to deny him the experience.

I have witnessed my daughter exposed to much higher levels of sound without incident many times. I believe that she is at a place where the anticipation of noise is far worse for her than the actual noise. She is still highly sensitive to noise; however, I am familiar enough with her threshold to know about how much noise she can tolerate.

She eventually calmed down and settled in enough to watch the movie even without headphones.

I had expected there to be drama in the movie theater (in the seats, not on the movie screen) from the other kids. However, we were the ones providing the most in-seat entertainment. My kids talked the loudest, cried the most, and moved around the most. I started to think I was the “bad mom” in the crowd among the eight families there.

After finally making it to the end of the movie that didn’t really hold my kids attention, we headed to McDonald’s to get some food. It was already their naptime so I just went through the drive-thru. For my typical kid, I ordered a happy meal with all the usual fixin’s knowing he would eat every bit. For my SPD kid, I ordered just four chicken nuggets.

The movie theater was about a 25-minute drive from our house. My youngest fell asleep in the car. (You parents of young kids know what that means). By the time we arrived home with our food, this little kiddo was rested and energized.

I went to get our food out of the bag at home. There was only a happy meal. No separate order of chicken nuggets. I was already feeling tired and testy from the events of the day. I said “stupid McDonald’s” under my breath. OK, maybe I said it out loud.

I checked my receipt and it showed I had indeed paid for it. I grumbled because I always make the same order for my kids and on more than one occasion, they have forgotten the second order of nuggets.

I called the store and the woman I spoke with immediately apologized for the mishap. She gave me a credit for a 10-piece nuggets the next time we came in. I had to take a moment and tell God that I trusted Him to take care of us despite the food shortage. It was too late to drive all the way back there.

I divided the nuggets between the two kids. My youngest proceeded to eat everything but the nuggets. I was somewhat in shock. I was able to give the other two to my daughter.

As expected, my little boy never fell asleep again after his restorative catnap in the car.

Since they were both awake, it was time to do what I had been dreading all weekend. I hadn’t had time to grocery shop before my husband went out of town and we were totally out of food so now was the time.

I debated a lot over where to grocery shop. I have been going to Walmart in order to keep the grocery bill down for our family of five, however going by myself with two little kids makes things much more complicated.

Publix is the most expensive regular grocery store we have here. (I’m not counting specialty stores like Whole Foods). However, there are some real benefits to shopping there. It is a much more kid-friendly (read: parent-friendly) experience. They have plenty of shopping carts designed to hold more than one kid and they always take your groceries out to the car for you.

I decided in the end that I would brave Walmart. I had a talk with both the kids before we left, explaining to them that they would have to take turns sitting in the cart. By the time we got to the store, they were prepared for this. My little one stayed in the cart while the older one walked. I parked right next to the cart return so that would be easier.

I remembered at some point during our shopping trip that church was at 7pm that night. Oh boy. How was I going to manage that? I was exhausted and hadn’t had time to get anything ready for my stepdaughter’s return. There was lots of cleaning to do. I finally decided I would need to attend one of the Sunday services instead.

That evening as I was preparing dinner for them, I began the vigil to see if my husband and stepdaughter would get seats on their flight back to the U.S. They were flying standby. The flight was somewhat oversold in coach but still had seats in first class. I had been confident they would have no problems.

Anyone who is in the airline family knows how nerve-racking the vigil is, especially for travel overseas. The stakes are higher. I can make it by myself with the kids for a few days; however, my husband has a job waiting for him.

Fortunately, they have free Wi-Fi in their airports in Brazil so we were able to keep in touch.

They were bumping paying passengers for the flight. The two of them stayed there until the very end just in case a miracle happened. After failing to get on the flight, they returned to his aunt’s house to spend one more night. Things didn’t look any better for the next day’s flight.

I thought to myself that at least I would sleep better that night. I never sleep well when my family is on an airplane flying over the ocean.

Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow.

Note: My self-hosted website is under construction. More details to come!

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Posted by on July 30, 2014 in Parenting


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Romancing the Kidney Stone


The sonographer was Cuban. He was one of the few health care professionals that ever dared attempt to pronounce my very long Portuguese last name when calling me from the waiting room and the only one who ever pronounced it perfectly.

By the time I had the ultrasound of my kidneys, the stone I had been dealing with the week before had mercifully already passed.  He told me I was among 15% of people who pass stones with minimal or no pain.

I prepared to be on call the next few days for work.  At around 9:30am on the second day, I got the call.


I had not been there in at least two years. I have avoided going there because of the high altitude of 8,300ft (2500m). Memories of my last couple of trips there still resounded in my mind. On one of those trips, I was pregnant with my son.

Not a fun way to spend a layover.  I was thankful however, that this trip was on my schedule and not something more difficult.

I whisked the kids to the sitter, returned home to get ready, and headed to the airport in the afternoon.

I still remember the first time I landed in Bogotá. Upon exiting through the airport doors, the scene was exactly like what you see in Romancing the Stone. Mobs of people everywhere. You had to push your way through to make it to your car. I wished that we all had a rope to hold on to like in elementary school.

This trip, however, was different. I arrived in a beautifully renovated terminal. It was clean, well organized, and easy to navigate. Our time going through immigration was briefer than I had remembered, and there was no mob waiting for us on the curb.

I made it to my hotel room and took a little time to unwind before bed. Our stay would be brief so I needed to rest well.

I woke up one hour and a half before my alarm feeling completely drained. The lower concentration of oxygen in the air is difficult to adjust to if you normally make sea level (or close to it) your home.

When I moved to New Mexico for college years ago, it took about six weeks to adjust to the altitude. Until then, I coughed all the time with congestion in my lungs and had to come home to my apartment and rest after short periods of exertion.

I haven’t figured out the secret yet to surviving these short trips to high altitude locations. (Aside from being in great physical shape with regular exercise).  I honestly wondered how I was going to have the strength to get ready to go downstairs.

As I had heard that staying hydrated was key, I downed the entire of the large unopened bottle of water I had with me.

I prayed on the armor next. By the time I was through, I felt physically transformed. I felt strong enough to make all my preparations before heading downstairs for breakfast.

Ah breakfast.

I had no idea what awaited me downstairs.

As a Spanish-speaking flight attendant, I have seen some good breakfast buffets in Latin America, but never anything quite like this. In addition to the traditional breakfast ham and cheese, there was also turkey ham and chicken ham!

There was something called oatmeal smoothie. I was unable to discern what its American equivalent would be (I don’t think there is one).  Check out this great website for a recipe for this drink as well as other Colombian delicacies.

There was a separate bar area only for any type of sweet bread you could imagine.

There was a selection of fruit-flavored yogurts on ice as well as tropical juices.

There was an omelet station.

There was a large pot of creamy oatmeal.

There were several cereals available for the more gringo taste.

Breakfast meats such as bacon and ham. Chicken and mushroom pie. And a mixture of seasoned beef and chicken (my personal favorite of the morning).

Arepas, of course. I have had these in Venezuela, however, the Colombian version I had here was white, and with no seasoning whatsoever, just a deliciously tangy white cheese for dipping. As I savored all these brilliant assaults on the palate, I wondered if the average Brazilian would find Colombian food quite lacking in salt. Although the food was delicious and savory, it was not salty.

Arepas on the grill

Arepas on the grill-Courtesy Wikipedia

Then there was the coffee.

Although caffeine and I aren’t friends, it’s almost impossible for me to resist the mixture of fresh Colombian coffee mixed with piping hot steamed milk poured into my cup at the table.  In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t ruined it with Splenda.  I had come this far.  Why not put real sugar in it?

I was inspired enough to seek out some Juan Valdez coffee in the airport. Even my Brazilian friends rave about this stuff. I thought I remembered paying around $7 for it in the past; however, it is now $14. I skipped it.

I was relieved (as I always am) once we were in the air and headed home.  I am very grateful to have had the experience of enjoying Colombia and her people again.

I probably won’t seek out one of these trips in the near future. I will allow time to pass again so that I may savor each and every one of Colombia’s charms again next time.

Note: This has been a very tough week in the aviation family.  My heart and prayers go out to the loved ones of MH17, GE222, and AH5017.

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Posted by on July 25, 2014 in Travel


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Returning to New York City

Grand Central

The first time I ever saw New York City was from the bird’s eye view of an airplane. It was September and not a cloud in the sky. I flew over Manhattan on a flight from Boston to Washington, D.C. I never realized how large Central Park really was.

I would later move to NYC for a summer as a flight attendant. That’s another story to tell which I will save for another day.

For now, I would like to tell the story of my most recent trip to New York. I was fortunate enough to trade an existing trip I had for one with a layover there. I would be by myself for 17 hours in a hotel in Lower Manhattan.

I was mentally prepared for this trip. I knew my hotel was in a great location. I also knew that meant small hotel rooms and no coffee maker in the room. I don’t normally drink coffee in the morning; however, I like to be able to boil hot water for the oatmeal I always bring with me on trips.

I suppose I am always apprehensive about trips to New York because I feel out of my comfort zone there. I am from Southern Suburbia. That means I get in a car and drive anywhere I need to go while blasting the A/C during the hot months. The hot months I spent in NYC, I walked everywhere and lived in an apartment with no A/C (except a window unit in the room I slept in).

I prayed about this trip because I felt I needed God’s grace. I was a little nervous about being by myself. I was also nervous because the airport had been renovated since I last flew in there.

After arriving at 6:45pm at the gate, I walked with my co-workers toward the transportation area. As we walked, I was able to look out the windows and see something I don’t see much in my city. I joked to our captain that there was lots of “airplane eye candy” for me to look at. I saw at least two Airbus 380 double-decker airplanes. I also saw plenty of other jumbo jets of many international airlines that don’t fly into my city.

After a very long walk, I was able to make my way out to the transportation area and connect with my ride to the hotel. The driver was young and the van had that new car smell to it. I asked him as we made our way out of the airport terminal how long the ride would be to the hotel. He said it would be about an hour with traffic. I pondered spending that time buried in my cell phone looking at lots of “important” things on the internet.

As I thought about it, I realized that this person does a lot of waiting around all day in between trips and possibly doesn’t get much conversation on those trips as crews are talking to each other or buried in their phones. Small talk does not come naturally to me and I am not bent towards extroversion. Despite my shortcomings, I decided to strike up a conversation.

I asked him if he grew up in NYC and he said he did, in Queens. I told him I had lived in Queens before briefly. He said, “You didn’t like New York, did you?” I confessed it was true. He had been to the South before and he remarked that the people were a little more warm and friendly than in New York.

I related to him the story of when I first moved to NYC and having to walk many blocks to a pharmacy to buy medicine when I got sick with a bad cold. Back home in my city, I would have gotten in my car to drive the two minutes to the closest pharmacy.

As we drove along the highway, I got a glimpse of something I had not yet seen in person: the Freedom Tower. Since my trading on to this trip was at the last minute, I had not had time to think about what I might get to see during my stay.

I had some hardship stories on my mind as we arrived at the hotel. I was quite tired, having flown almost 8 hours that day. I was also hungry. It was around 8pm by the time we got to the hotel and I pondered how I was going to get some food.

When I was based in NYC before, I was single with no kids. I flew trips to many international destinations. I was brave and bold. I had no fear to get out and explore, oftentimes alone.

I lost some of my gumption after having a family. However, as I pondered over these fears, I also remembered that I had prayed for grace, therefore, things were going to work out just fine.

I just didn’t know how yet.

Getting the key to my room was a seamless process. I rode the elevator up 10 floors and after a little bit of confusion, found my hotel room tucked away in a small hallway. I entered the room and found it to be as I expected, old and small. This was a very old hotel but in a great location. There was no central air in the hotel, just a unit by the window. The bathtub was badly in need of a new glaze. The wallpaper was peeling in the bathroom.

As I looked at the disrepair in the bathroom, my mind wandered to a flawless hotel I had stayed at recently in Minnesota. The contrast between the two was stark. However, NYC hotels are all about location, location, location!

As I did not have enough food in my bag, I decided I must venture out to eat. I had one thing on my mind: pizza.

As I walked out the doors of the hotel, all of my apprehensions, fears, and bad memories melted away. All of a sudden, I was back in the most exciting city in the world! All of a sudden, all the good memories were reactivated in my mind and my heart warmed.

I remembered the city that had everything you need within just a few blocks. I remembered a city that had every type of food you could possibly imagine to eat. I remembered a city full of color, culture, and diversity.

As I walked out of the hotel and on to the street, I checked the maps app on my phone to see what there was to eat around there. My phone, however, seemed to think I was driving in a car because it was only giving me options that were a minimum of 3 miles away.

I decided to ditch that idea and go exploring on my own. There was still plenty of daylight out.

At 8pm, there were still lots of people on the streets. I saw many that looked like they were on their way home from work. I saw one woman who wore a skirt and tennis shoes walking briskly towards her destination. I saw men in suits with briefcases and thermoses.

I saw something else I had not seen in a while: trash, lots of it! Many businesses were closing and placing trash out on the sidewalk for pickup. Most places had at least 20 bags of trash piled high.

I made my way one block over from the hotel and saw signs for two pizza places. Then I saw something that stopped me in my tracks.

The Empire State Building off in the distance.

Empire State Bldg

I decided that I should put my feet to the pavement and see as much as I could while there was still sunlight. As I made my way towards the skyscraper, I looked to my left and saw Grand Central Terminal in the distance. I decided to see Empire State first, and then swing around to the station.

NY Public Library

New York Public Library

One thing I learned from my previous time in NYC is that objects are often farther than they appear. The building that looked so close ended up being a good nine blocks from where I started. I finally made it there and snapped a few photos. I then turned around and headed east to start towards Grand Central. I passed the Public Library and took pictures of it too.

As I got close to Grand Central, my body began failing me. The pain that had been severe in my body last year is less severe now. However, it flairs up when I have had a long working day on the airplane. I could also feel the pain in my left foot that has been aching for a while. I knew that I would need to wrap things up quickly.

Grand Central 2

Grand Central Terminal Interior

Grand Central 3

Grand Central Terminal Flag

After a few pictures inside the historic, elegant station, I headed back to where I had seen the pizza.

Pizza place

One of the places I had seen had closed during my long walk. The other was still open. I was able to get a huge slice of thin cheese pizza, a Vitamin Zero, and a protein bar for breakfast in the morning, all for around $8. I headed back to my hotel.

I admit I was proud of this mama for getting my gumption back and exploring the city that many times intimidates me. I sat and ate my pizza slice while guzzling down my cold drink while watching one of those weight loss programs on TV. Since we don’t have cable at home, I get to see what I’m missing (and not missing) when I go on layovers.

I slept hard that night and woke up feeling rested. I did not have time to do more exploring in the morning. I had a lukewarm shower, which was just another reminder that this hotel was all about location.

Old JFK Term 3

Remnants of Old JFK Terminal 3 in the distance

My ride got me to the airport with lots of time to spare before my flight home. I looked out the terminal window to see the recently demolished old Pan Am Terminal 3. I know many are nostalgic, but I honestly do not miss it. By the time it closed, it was no longer a pleasant place for passengers anymore.

After taxiing for what seemed like forever out towards the runway at JFK, I was given one final reminder of things I remember about NYC. We would be delayed at least 30 minutes to take off.

Once we were finally taking off and climbing towards cruise altitude, I felt a relaxed sigh. I felt peace knowing that God’s grace had been more than sufficient for me to enjoy New York without being overwhelmed by it. I also felt peace knowing that I was on my way home.

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Posted by on July 3, 2014 in Travel


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