Months ago, I accepted a rare work gig that was going to take me out of town for 5 days.
I figured Husband and our girls could, would do fine. That is, until I looked at the calendar again and realized, gulp, this work trip meant I was going to miss the first day of school.
Keep in mind, our girls are big-starting 10th and 11th grades. They are capable of getting themselves ready.
But first day of school means that ever important first day of school photo!
One might accuse me of being a bit over-invested in this. As if, without that photo, the rest of the school year won’t count.
Trust me, only I know how to capture that moment in time, please grandparents, share on social media.
Dear Reader, how do you turn over to your spouse the very important thing you are usually responsible for?
It’s not like this crew hadn’t given me reason to worry.
The girls are not exactly willing participants, squirming fake smiles, complaining when I insist on single shots, two-shots, full body shots. “The more shots give me more choices to get the best picture,” I explain.
Then there’s Husband, who has a tendency to run, what’s the word, oh yes, late.
The night before, I spent most of our phone call coaching Husband with tips on how to manage time, where to place the girls for the best lighting, how to coax them to cooperate.
“Got it covered,” he said without great enthusiasm.
And so, I mentally prepared myself for the blank space to go in the scrapbook for “First Day of School 2015.”
Fast forward to the next morning. There I was interviewing some CEO mucky mucks in Las Vegas when my phone chimed.
Husband came through, after all.
As I went to look, I didn’t even care if the quality wasn’t perfect.
The thing is—
These photos were great.
Maybe, perhaps, even best ever.
Husband sent a single shot, one above-the-shoulder shot. And one of the two girls together.
They are smiling, happy and relaxed.
“Gosh,” I remarked, to one of the girls that night. “The photos are really good. I didn’t see a single fake smile.”
“That’s because Dad didn’t drag out 13 cameras and make us take 400 photos,” she pointed out in an only slight teen exaggeration. “We only had time for three shots on his phone. We were running a little late, y’know.”
Wife cuing up Frank Sinatra.
Husband did it his way.
Now, to get booked out of town for the start of school next year.
It’s the only way to get the best first day photos.
Joy, the emotion instantly drained from Brian’s heart when he received that phone call a couple weeks ago.
Maybe you’ve gotten one of those phone calls, Dear Reader.
One with the worst news possible.
While Brian was working out of town, Joy was involved in a single-car accident.
He was on the next plane back home, staying by Joy’s side for 10 days.
Stayed there until doctors said there was nothing they could do, explaining that it looked like his wife was there, but she wasn’t. Her brain had no activity. There was no Joy.
But there was something he could do that would change at least four lives.
Would he, could he, give permission to donate Joy’s organs?
What might seem like an obvious answer for you, wasn’t so easy for Brian.
Of everything they had discussed in their 20 years together, they had not gotten clear on organ donation.
“There’s a chance she wouldn’t have wanted to do this,” he shared with me.
She was also the woman who couldn’t turn away a rescue dog or cat.
Who couldn’t say no to that kind of life.
So, Brian said, “Yes,” choosing to make Joy the ultimate rescuer.
“They know for sure they had people waiting for her heart, pancreas, and kidneys,” he shared looking for some glimmer of meaning his tragedy.
“The phone call,” I said. “Maybe we can think about the phone call.”
“As awful as the phone call you got a couple weeks ago,” I offered. “Can we think about the phone call at least four families got this week?”
One with the best news possible.
I reached out to a wonderful family who knows both calls.
My neighbor’s niece, Camden, died in a car accident in 2000. “Her brain injuries were irreversible and we too had to decide whether to donate her organs or hold her when she took her last breath,” her mom, Maury, shared with me. “We chose life. For others. We donated her organs.”
There’s another chapter to their story.
Eight years after the death of their daughter, Maury’s husband, George, was gravely ill, the one in need. It was as if losing his only daughter and slowly, literally broken his heart. Now, he was the one waiting for a heart transplant.
That’s when they received another midnight phone call, the one telling them there was a new heart for George.
This time the miracle was theirs.
“There’s nothing you can say that’s going to make this all right for Brian,” Maury counseled me. “With grief comes so much guilt and the ‘if only’ and ‘what if’s.’”
I know that.
I prefer for life to feel tied up with a neat little bow instead of the mess of tangled spaghetti it so often does.
Maybe you understand.
Maybe even in the mess, you, too can appreciate how much can change with a single phone call.
You could’ve called it the worst anniversary dinner ever.
This week, Husband and I were excited to celebrate our third wedding anniversary.
Yes, can you believe it?
It’s already been three years since this forever-single lady found a perfectly imperfect man who wanted to spend his life with me.
We had reservations at a fancy, new restaurant in town. And sure, we could’ve gone there and had the latest “farm-to-table” dishes.
But at the last minute, we looked at each other with a shared streak of rebellion. “Let’s ditch this predictable Popsicle stand and head for an adventure.”
We pulled up an article featuring a list of authentic, ethnic restaurants we’ve been wanting to try.
That’s how we ended up at a little hole-in-the-wall Mom n’Pop Korean restaurant about a half-hour away.
Things went goofy from the start.
As soon as we were seated, the server ran up to our table. “You should try the seafood pancake!” she insisted, pointing to the item on the menu written mainly inKorean. “A man ordered wrong pancake. Doesn’t want it. You should eat it.”
Before we knew what was happening the steaming, previously untouched, unwanted pancake was sitting in front of us with side dishes known as “banchan.”
It was delicious.
Meanwhile, we ordered the special chicken dish mentioned in article that alerted us to this restaurant.
“So sorry,” the server apologized when she came back a half hour later. “Chef cooked your food. I gave it to someone else. We make you another one!”
And with that, she was off giving us no chance to protest.
So we waited again.
While we were waiting, I took the chance to ask Husband, “So how has the first three years of marriage gone for you?”
I asked knowing he could call this the worst marriage ever.
There’s my old stinky dog, raising teenagers, my obsession with finishing my first novel, my ailing elderly mother on the other side of the country. All things that often get my attention ahead of him.
“This marriage has far exceeded my wildest expectations,” he smiled, taking my hand.
Does he not see all my flaws and our challenges?
Because let me assure you, they are on full display every day.
He says he sees a wife who doesn’t nag, who is a great mom, who travels the world with him, and laughs at about a third of his really bad puns.
I see a man who is incredibly generous with what he chooses to see.
Which brings me back to that darn chicken.
It finally came.
A huge mound of steaming chicken, rice noodles, chiles and spices.
I have to say it far exceeded our wildest expectations.
So yes, you could call it the worst anniversary dinner ever.
I’d call it perfect.
A reminder and celebration of life.
So often you can’t control what you get served up or when it arrives.
And a crazy chicken dish, like the right wonderfully imperfect man, sure is worth waiting for.
She survived a life milestone which I had no idea was supposed to be so challenging.
And yet, as it often is with life passages, things like puberty, parenthood, or gray hair, we learn from those who bravely go before us.
My cousin has picked her grandmother name.
As my mom’s first cousin, she’s actually kind of late to the grandparent game. Her older daughter hasn’t had kids and her youngest just got started.
There we were connecting at the modern, cyber family reunion, aka, Facebook, oohing and ahhing over pictures of her new granddaughter when I had to ask, “What’s your grandma name?”
“I am Nana,” she replied, beaming her new name through the online universe. “Sally, (her mom, my grandmother’s sister) was Nanny. The other grandma is Grammy. So Nana was available. Who knew it could be so complicated?”
Apparently, the new baby has two sets of grandparents on her father’s side. One of them jumped on the Facebook comment thread, “We’re going to let the baby decide what to call us.”
Was this equally new grandparent suggesting my cousin somehow robbed their mutual granddaughter of some right?
What I took as a jab, my cousin handled with total grace. ““Isn’t our little one lucky to have so many grandparents,” she wrote.
So is this a thing?
Is picking and claiming grandparent names the new contact sport for Baby Boomers?
Both my grandmothers were “Nana.”
There was Nana Lil and Nana Ann.
There was no confusing them, as they were two very different women.
My mom is Nana.
I’m prematurely prepared.
“I already have my grandmother name,” I announced last year to my girls.
They looked at me with dread.
“I want to be called, ‘Guppy!’” I announced with gleeful anticipation of a day that is hopefully many, many years away.
‘Guppy’ was the girls’ first nickname for me as we were becoming a family about 5 years ago.
Okay, so it came because I had a case of Bells Palsy for a couple of months and my face looked like it was melting off my head. The girls decided I looked like a guppyfish. Maybe not the easiest of times, but Guppy it has been ever since.
“I will be Guppy. And Dad will be Puppy! Guppy and Puppy!”
The kids’ expressions looked like I had just served them up a plate of rotten spaghetti.
Who knew there would be an added benefit of this Grandparent name game? I do believe I just came up with a new version of teen birth control.
Forget about sex ed, just come up with a horrifying grandparent name. These kids will not be making me a grandmother anytime soon.
That means for now, I need to live vicariously through you, Dear Reader.
Do you have a good story behind your grandparent name? Or the name you call your grandparents?
I shared how my dog has been showing signs of slowing down, how she’s preparing me to let her go after more than 15 years together.
I know, you can’t even think about that with your own dog without pulling out a tissue or a bucket or swimming pool to catch your tears.
You’ve been so sweet to share with me the story of your dog. Of the great love you shared. Of his or her final days. Of how hard it is to say, “Goodbye,” to your best friend.
You’ve also been wonderful in offering advice. Ways to have the vet come over, books to read, videos to watch, poems to read.
The time you’ve taken to help me cope and ultimately grieve has been humbling and overwhelming.
Which leads me to the thing I feel compelled to share this week.
Something I need to let you know, because, well, you and I have that kind of relationship.
See the thing is, my dog is alive.
Not just alive. Very much alive.
Yes, she’s still over 15 years old. Still deaf. And was definitely having some struggles.
But it seems since I wrote that column a couple weeks ago, Darla has undergone a renaissance of sorts. It’s kind of like when you call the dishwasher repairman and have him show up only to watch the darn machine work just fine.
I wake up to emails, texts and phone calls bemoaning Darla’s passing, only to see a dog scrambling to get to the front door for our daily walk.
It’s as if she’s living the old quote, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
Darla gets the last laugh.
And why not?
We’ve been laughing together since she was a six-week-old puppy and I took her over to a friend’s house for their one-year-old’s birthday party. They freaked out thinking I was gifting them and their baby with a puppy. The punch line was I just didn’t want to leave her home alone.
Darla was probably giggling as I had to email my sweet neighbor, the one who dropped off a condolence card the other day. I explained that he shouldn’t be freaked out if he sees Darla prancing down the street on one of our walks.
She still spends most of the day snoozing behind the couch. I do that thing where I tip toe over to watch, feeling that lump of joy and relief rising up in my throat each time I can see she’s breathing.
Your efforts are not wasted, Dear Reader. The calendar tells me this renaissance cannot last forever. I’ve tucked your email away for the time I will need them.
I’m that lady you’re trying to discreetly poke your travel partner. “Check out the woman over there,” you whisper. “She’s crying her eyes out.”
Dear Reader, what is it about airplanes?
The recycled air?
The isolation 36,000 feet above the ground?
Whatever it is, I’m a goner.
Just say, “Boo,” and I’ll start crying.
Watching a movie, that on the ground would bring a tiny tear to my eye, inspires a flood of water works.
Recalling a simple, pleasant memory leaves me a mess.
Working on some of my more heartfelt columns— well, forget about it.
My friend, Tricia, who is good at making me not me feel not entirely crazy, confessed one day that she is equally tear-challenged on airplanes, as well.
Now, when either one of us takes a trip, we text, “Safe travels!” along with that particular emoticon face with tears streaming down the cheeks, because we know what’s coming.
I find myself thinking about this particular condition as I fly back from a trip with my baby sister.
A few months ago she called me and said, “Come join me for a Sisters’ Trip in the French Alps after I wrap up a business meeting!”
There were only two things to say, “Mais oui!” and “Husband, could you please cash in some miles?”
Sister and I had a grand time. We hiked, we laughed, we shopped. We ate. We took care of no one but ourselves.
It was simply bliss.
As I fly home, I’m thinking about the lifetime gift that is my sister.
I remember our parents telling my brother and me they were going to have another baby.
I remember my brother hauling me in the backyard and threatening me to beat me up if I told any kid on the block that our mom was pregnant. He was 8, I was 7. The difference of that one crucial year meant he understood what our parents had done to create this situation and sure wasn’t going to spread news like that around the neighborhood.
I remember her being born, winning the bet with my brother that the baby would be a girl, as this was back in the day when you had to wait to find that out.
I remember creating slumber parties for her friends, driving her carpool, being her protector, so many of the things a tired older mother is happy to pass onto an older child.
And here we are a zillion years later, married, living in different countries, still able to giggle like we are kids.
Her world knows her as a big time entertainment executive.
I know her as my little sister.
I’m so proud.
Wait, I better head to the plane’s bathroom for some Kleenex. Either that, or ask to borrow the sleeve of the stranger sitting next to me.
She knows what’s coming in the way dogs know before we do.
About a dangerous stranger, earthquakes, or bacon.
She’s gently letting me know it will soon be time for her to go.
It’s one of an infinite number of brilliant conversations I’ve had with my best friend.
The friend who has never uttered a word in our more than 15 years together, but has taught me so much.
“She’s not going anywhere,” Husband tries to soothe and reassure me.
I appreciate this man who is wise in so many things. I also know he doesn’t speak Dog.
She’s letting me know in the way she’s eased me back from three, to two, to one walk a day, like weaning a toddler from multiple naps.
The way her back legs get a little weaker every day.
The way she’s had a few accidents.
Hers is not a straight decline.
She’s had some senior moments followed by some almost puppy like days, well, moments actually, if I’m being honest.
More than anything, it’s the look in her eyes. The look that says, “You’ve done so much for me these last 15 years, but you’re going to have to do one more. I didn’t sign up to be here as long as you did. You’re going to have to let me go.”
I know she’s not the dog who will want heroic measures.
The folks down the street are paying huge vet bills to give their dog chemo. I get it.
I’ve had that pet.
My first 3-legged cat was that way. A trip to the vet was an excuse to go for a ride in the car and get cuddles from the vet techs. He was up for every treatment to keep him here 20 years.
Not this dog. She has hated the vet since her first puppy shots. Any trip there has always been agony.
Even my wonderful vet reminded me of this when I called him a couple weeks ago when Darla was having a bad day.
“I’m happy to look at her,” he said. “But if you’re clear she won’t want anything done, why are you bringing her in?”
Thank God for a vet who turns away a chance to make a buck, who helps save Darla from my selfish wish to keep her here forever.
I know there’s a chance, you understand, Dear Reader.
That you’ve had to say, “Goodbye” to your best friend, too.
If you’ve done it before, like I did with Tripod, you can see signs you denied the last time.
Now, I can listen.
The master teacher is giving one last lesson.
Make her comfortable.
Enjoy every single walk, snuggle, and slurpy kiss.
It could be our last.
I look deep into her cloudy chocolate brown eyes, pools of love and wisdom, for the strength to give her the gift she’s earned a million times over the last 15 years.
I imagine most husbands’ idea of some time away means a few days at the beach? Couple days at a cabin?
I’m not really sure, as I’m very late to the marriage game and Miles Chasing Mad Scientist Husband is my entire husband sample.
Beyond family, MCMSH’s passion is collecting frequent flyer miles without flying and cashing them in to travel the world First Class on the fanciest planes, fanciest airlines, which he likes to point out upfront are not going to be US-based carriers.
So, buckle your seat belts.
Here’s the 12-day, around-the-world trip we just took.
Just the facts:
12 flights, 5 airlines, 2 boat rides.
31,754 miles flown.
Would’ve cost $87,532 for two if MCMSH was the type to pay cash or had that kind of disposable income. Neither of which will probably ever be true.
Instead he paid a whopping total of $383.45 per person!
Yep, flew around the world first class for less than it would’ve cost us to fly to California in Coach.
Husband complained when we landed in Abu Dhabi 13 1/2 hours later. “Flight wasn’t long enough,” he bummed, to enjoy all the fun stuff on board!”
Plenty of fun ahead. Spent the night in Abu Dhabi, flew out next day to Male, the capital city of of The Maldives, a nation of 1,192 islands spread over 35,000 in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I think MCMSH picked one of the most remote. From Male, we had another hour flight in a tiny plane and across the dark, choppy ocean in this tiny boat.
This resort was the original inspiration of the trip. MCMSH earned us four free nights by signing us up for the Chase Hyatt Visa. (See ** below for MCMSH’s rec on best way to sign up for this card.)
He wanted to spend those nights at one of the most expensive properties in the world.
Expensive with reason.
Check out our over-the-water villa:
Resort takes up the entire tiny island. No need to go anywhere, just step down off the ladder of your deck for the best snorkeling ever.
After 4 days in the Maldives it was time to get back on that darn boat.
Male-Doha-Abu Dhabi, where Husband revealed the trip’s big surprise. He’d planned the whole thing, but waited until the middle of the night, just outside the Etihad First Class Lounge to tell me where in the world we were headed next.
I now know one of the big reasons, MCMSH picked our next destination–Etihad had just started flying their A380 First Apartments on the Abu Dhabi-Sydney Route.
Once I woke up, I could order anything I wanted off the four page menu.
Apartment sets up so that you can invite a friend over to share a meal.
Did I mention, there’s a shower on board!
Etihad First Class ticket includes getting picked up at the airport in Sydney by Mercedes limo with driver.
And taken to our hotel, which was the incredible Park Hyatt Sydney right on the Harbor! Again, MCMSH cashed in points for a free stay.
So glad Husband picked Sydney!
My one job before this trip was to give MCMSH a list of names and email of friends I have living around the world. He used the info to set up dinner with Bruce and Teresa who have been living in Sydney since we were next door neighbors in Phoenix 20-years ago.
Time to leave all too soon. That means not going home direct.
And finally ride home, the next day from Seoul to Atlanta.
Complain about airplane food? Without a doubt Korean Air First Class had the best food of any airline we flew over the trip. Only complaints here–they don’t stop feeding you! 3 meals over 14 hours. First meal alone, was 7-courses of fine dining.
By the way, does it look like I’m wearing a lot of the same clothes in many of the shots? One of the rules of traveling with MCMSH–everyone goes with carry on luggage only! Just in case, he gets wind of an even better flight we can catch, he doesn’t want us beholden to already checked luggage. This means squishing 12 days of clothes into one small suitcase and one backpack. That includes making space for my “Big Girl Camera,” laptop, and bag of electric converters to fit in an of the six countries we passed through over the 12 days. So, yeah, fashion takes a hit.
((For the credit card that gets you the free nights at any Hyatt property in the world. MCMSH recs that you got to Hyatt.com. Start process to book a room. Select city, dates, room type. That will take you to the “Complete Your Reservation” Page. At the bottom of that page, you’ll see an ad for the same card I mentioned above. This time, though, it has a “Get a $50 Statement Credit.” Click through there to apply. MCMSH says this is the best offer out there for this card. Once you’ve applied, you can cancel that fake reservation you were making. If you and your partner, spouse, or friend each get a card, you suddenly have 4 nights paid at any Hyatt property in the world, including Park Hyatt which are nicest hotels. Yep, this is the brain I live with.))
I hope this gives you a taste of our different way of traveling. How luxury travel can be fun and affordable. For more tips on how you can get on board check out my regular website, DarynKagan.com.
He tries to wow me once a year with some over-the-top experience.
Let’s just say sitting on our deck in The Maldives over looking the Indian Ocean as I write this, he done pretty darn good.
For him, it truly is not the destination, it’s the journey. He wants to fly on the fanciest plane of the fanciest airline, all while paying pennies.
For this trip he booked us on Etihad Airways 787 Dreamliner. First Class Suites. We flew from Atlanta to Washington, DC’s Dulles Airport where we boarded the fantasy airliner.
The tickets to get here for the two of us would’ve cost $46,000.
That’s just one way!
Mad Scientist Miles Husband paid $7.
This is what $46,000 plane tickets look like:
Coffee was just the beginning. Anything you can think of that you would want to drink, they have on board. The man pouring the coffee? He’s the personal chef on-call for the 13 1/2 hour flight who will cook up anything the eight passengers in First Class can think of ordering.
Kinda makes MSMH crazy, but with this flight taking off at 10 pm est, I was more excited to catch some sleep. I skipped dinner and made use of the lie-flat bed.
The flight was so awesome that MSMH was bummed when it landed in Abu Dhabi.
“13 1/2 hours is too short to enjoy everything!” he complained.
“Enough, already, Daryn, stop teasing and show us how MSMH pulled this fantasy trip off!”
Here you go:
We use credit cards for everything we spend, making sure to pay off all balances each month and making our money bring in additional value. For this trip, MSMH says he signed up for three credit cards like the AAdvantage Aviator Master Card.
He redeemed 180,000 AAdvantage Miles. Yes, you can use American miles to redeem on other international airlines with better service.
That’s the earn. Anyone who has tried to redeem frequent flyer points lately knows “the burn” is even harder. MSMH figures he spent 12 hours figuring out how to piece together this trip, knowing which airline websites to search for award space and which airline currency to use.
This man is nothing if not determined.
And I do have to say, hanging with this miles-crazed man is not for the faint of heart. Little domestic trips don’t float his boat at all. We stayed overnight in Abu Dhabi, took another 4-hour flight to Male, the capital of the Maldives. 2-hour layover we took a regional jet to an even smaller island, where we boarded a speed boat for a one hour crazy ride across the Indian Ocean to get to the luxury hotel on a small coral reef atoll. We are frankly, a dot in the ocean in the middle of nowhere.
A dot with wifi, thank goodness, so I can share this journey.
The luxury hotel? Paid for with points, as well. I’ll share pics from here and how MSMH pulled this one off, as well, in a later post.
For now, I hear the coral reef right off this deck and rainbow fishes calling my name.
So many folks asking for Mad Scientist Miles Husband’s tips. You’ll find more miles content at DarynKagan.com