Monday, March 4, 2013

All the Little Ducks in a Row

To some people, I'm a little crazy.  For some, it's simply having 4 kids, but that aside, on the whole I'm pretty normal.  A little lazy, a little manic, a little depressed, a little messy, a little hyper, a little OCD, a little controlling, a lot introvert and a ton content.  I'm like every single one of you.

In order to be normal, I'm a planner and a list maker.  It helps pull everything together and make me at least seem sane.  I don't like being late, I don't like missing opportunities, I don't like forgetting things, I don't like not knowing what's around the corner.  The Foreign Service life is perfect for me.

Grocery list.  That's a novice move.
To Do lists, everywhere, who doesn't?
Wall calendar.  Another novice move.  Add in the purse day planner, the iPhone Cozi app, and the homemade whiteboard weekly calendar by the front door and you can see where I'm heading.

I'll skip my other life-organizing lists.  Don't want to bore you before my actual blog topic even starts.

Wake up. *poke poke*

Today is all about what's been encompassing my days and nights for a few weeks now.  It's been a while since we had an R&R, five years now I think.  When I plan an R&R I go a little, well, organizationally nuts.  My husband refers to my binder, and mocks me every chance he gets.  Deep down, I think he loves it.  His mockery covers it up really well.

Filled with page protectors, it's ready to take whatever I throw at it.  The cover calendar is always in pencil until reservations are secured.  I'm on the third incarnation of the same calendar as I've tossed the others and started over.  Using a blank calendar lets me visualize the time we have to travel, and really, how little time we have.  Initially our plans included driving up to Scotland, and that added about 10 hours of travel.  It also crowded the calendar and I felt like we were going to spend more time driving than we really wanted.  Unfortunately, that meant dropping Scotland.  It took me days to accept that.  I didn't want to give it up.  I wanted to see Highlands and Games and kilts and Nessie.  But the calendar told me I couldn't see all that and still see Ireland.  I've never been to Ireland.  Ireland took priority.  So I waved goodbye to Scotland and focused on time in Ireland instead, and I felt better for it once the decision was made.  We'll see you next time, Nessie.

The calendar tells me when I need to arrange hotels, or in this case cottages and hotels.  It tells me at a glance if we need a car for part of the time or all of the time.  It tells me what days I need to look into ferry tickets.  I note down distances/travel times on travel days so we have an idea of when we should hit the road.  Ferry times, opening times, closing times, it all goes on the calendar.

Open the binder and the real fun begins.  The UK and Ireland are chock full of everything and anything anyone could ever want to do or see.  We are 6 people who all have different interests.  This makes it both easy and difficult to plan a trip.  For one, there's something for everyone.  For another, there's about a hundred things for everyone.  Picking and choosing is not my strong point, I want to do it all.  I also prefer to do some off-the-beaten-path days, but who can miss the big things?  Windsor Castle? Bletchley Park? The London Eye? A West End show? The Guinness Brewery in Dublin?  The Aran Islands?

The first few pages are dedicated to airline info.  When we receive our tickets/reservations, in they'll go.  Since those tend to get bought last minute those pages stay empty for now.

Setting up places to stay is essential for us, especially when traveling in summer.  Earlier is better.  We knew we wanted somewhere we could be outside and see green and breathe fresh air.

I spent hours perusing rental sites.  I checked through UK B&B sites, specific hotel sites like Marriott, orbitz,, the CLO listing through the Embassy in London, government holiday sites, and finally settled on for all our rental needs.

A place to lay our heads all figured out, the next thing is transportation.  A car seems like an automatic choice for a family of 6, but London is a pain to drive through and park in. For where our cottage is we'll still need a car for our entire time, but to get into London I checked other options and settled on the London Pass with Travel.  Six tickets are pricey, but it covers train/tube/bus transportation and entry into a number of the places we wanted to go anyway.  For a day.  Or two days. Or three.  That is still to be determined, depending on what else fills in the calendar that week.

So with a place to sleep and a way to get around all figured out, the last part is the best part and takes up the most space.  What to do.  We range from an 11yo boy to a 17yo girl to us parents.  Everyone needs to be happy.  I do it like an easy diet... a rounded day is hard to achieve, a rounded week is easy.  One day we plan to go to Bletchley Park, which will most likely bore a child or two.  Another day we'll go horse riding, which will probably make my husband a little cranky.  I'm an equal opportunity misery-maker.

Since no one else has any say in what we do, where we go, where we stay, or pretty much anything to do with our trip other that how we'll pay for it (hi, Ian!) it's everything I want and more.

I read up on activities that sound fun and everything that meets my criteria of making someone in the family happy is considered. Basic info, ticket prices, directions and a map, and interesting tidbits all get printed. The highlighter comes out. Notes are made.  For places that require on-line ticket purchases or offer reduced price on-line ticket prices, I'll refer to the calendar and decide which day works.  This can be a tricky part especially for activities that are dependent on weather.  Sometimes you have to press "Buy" and hope for the best.

What I really enjoy about the hunt is finding links or suggestions through initial sites that lead to really cool things. Like discovering the cemetery that has buried Michael Faraday and Douglas Adams.  We are so going to take a tour through there.  How about a tour of London's graffiti art?  I know one kid who would find that enthralling, but it might give her some unfavorable ideas.

I live by the motto, plan everything yet be flexible for anything. I do not do spontaneous. Yes, I schedule downtime, but the worst part of any trip for me is to hear "What are we doing today?" and not having an answer.  If folks want to spend a day at an Irish beach instead of a farmer's market like my calendar says, that's fine, but to have nothing planned leaves me feeling lost, and then I get annoyed and cranky which isn't good for anyone.

It helps me to see it all laid out with plenty of options, costs, and time involved.

What I really appreciate about my binder is not just the ideas at our fingertips but how it becomes a depository for everything during our trip.  Receipts, ticket stubs, postcards, and little trinkets are slid into sleeves each night from our day's activities.  If the binder contents never make it into a scrapbook, the book can still go on a shelf in its binder form and be its own record of our trip.  If it does go into a scrapbook, everything is there, in order, and ready to go, minus the photos that get added after developing.

Obviously, my way doesn't work for everyone.  In fact, many people would probably read this and get hives.  That's OK, it's all good.  Some folks get more flexible the more kids they have.  Some are just naturally adventurous and go with the flow.  Hand them a plane ticket and they are happy, free to follow where the winds and roads take them.

I am not that person.  I *heart* my binder. And deep down, I think my family *hearts* it too.


  1. Your binder is so neat and professional looking!! I plan and print and make calendars too, but my results tend to be random print-outs with multi-color high-lighter all over everything, and my 'binder' tends to be some recycled paper folder from the kids' last year's school supplies. I'll usually have a pink beat up folder, "Honor's 2nd grade math" scratched out, and "Mom's Stuff, don't touch!" scrawled in Sharpie on the front (classy huh?). It gets us where we're going, but yours looks like you paid good money for it. I'm impressed!

    1. If I didn't have roughly a thousand empty binders in the house it would look like yours, no worries :)