Saturday, March 28, 2015

Our flight to Italy - the trip from hell

Well, we just arrived in Italy late last night.  It was a hell of a trip.  It's about a 1.5-hour drive to the San Francisco airport for us, and with slow traffic for much of the way it took us quite a bit longer.  Actually, back up to the morning - we were supposed to leave at 10:30 am.  My hubby decided Turtle should try to sleep without an overnight diaper the night before, and I was super skeptical, but stupidly didn't say anything.  Of course as luck had it, Turtle wet the bed.  So the morning of our flight, in addition to all the last-minute packing and cleaning and getting the house and the cat ready for our departure (I had to set the cat up to stay inside alone with a cat-sitter coming every other day to feed her), I also had three extra loads of laundry and a bed to strip and remake.  And hubby was working from home that morning, ending his last call right at 10:30.

Somehow we made it out of the house at 10:50, which was still plenty of time, even with the horrid traffic most of the way there.  Turtle complained about headaches and stomachaches, which he does often, so it was hard to know how serious he was being, but he didn't look great in the car and threw up as soon as we arrived at the off-site parking lot (thank goodness after he was already out of the car).  The shuttle took us to SFO, we checked in pretty quickly, passed security, grabbed a bite to eat, and got settled in at the gate, where the usual mess of people were pushing and shoving and jostling to be the first ones on the plane.  It drives me nuts.  I assume they want to be first to make sure they get a spot for their giant oversize carry-ons, but it still drives me nuts.

And there we were, plane boarded and ready to go for a 2:45 departure ... or so we thought.  HA.  HAHAHA.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

First, they announced that there was luggage on our flight that wasn't supposed to be there (????? how does that even happen?!), so we had a slight delay while they looked for the misplaced luggage in the cargo hold to remove it.  Then, suddenly, the plane lost power, which was really noticeable because the lights and AC switched off in the whole plane.  It immediately started to get hot and people were fanning themselves.  The captain came on the radio to tell us that we had lost the auxiliary power unit, which powered the plane while on the ground, but it wasn't necessary for flight and after a short delay we should be on our way.  A woman sitting near me had had enough - I had overheard her telling others that she was on a flight from Hawaii the day before that had to turn around for a medical emergency and she had missed her connecting flights and spent the night at SFO and was just done with it all.  So she left the plane.  Then we had to wait for them to find HER bag and get it off the plane.

In the meantime, apparently they did a more thorough investigation of the auxiliary power unit, and found that a vital engine fire extinguisher also was malfunctioning, which would require another 30 minutes, and we were invited to deplane if we wanted.  Tadpole and I decided to leave the plane, stretch our legs, and buy a few last-minute gifts we hadn't had time for earlier.  On our way back to the plane, we ran in hubby and Turtle, carrying all of our carry-ons - the plane had been delayed another hour, to 5pm, and they had forced everyone off.  We got coffee and snacks and went back to the gate to wait, starting to get a bit worried about missing our connection.  We only had 3 hours in Frankfurt, and we were leaving 2 hour and 15 minutes late at that point.  Still, I reasoned, we could get through the airport in 45 minutes, we'd probably make up some time on the way, and they'd probably hold our flight if they knew we were coming.

Ha.  HAHAHA.  While we were waiting for our new 4:30pm boarding time, another announcement - the captain and flight crew would be over hours and we needed to get a new crew and captain, so our flight would be delayed until 9pm.  4 more hours.  So much for our connection!  Everyone else had the same problem, and an insanely long line immediately formed at the gate for rebooking connecting flights.  Deciding there was plenty of time, I sat with the rest of the family to wait for a while before trying to get our connection rebooked.  In the meantime, I updated my sister on our situation and she asked why I didn't just call the customer service line - brilliant idea!  I called Lufthansa customer service (since we booked through them and our connecting flight was with them), and they got us rebooked in just a few minutes - they even booked us on two separate flights, one which we could probably make if our plane actually left at 9pm, and another later one just in case.  Whew!

So we had hours to kill - we went to try to get into United's lounge - no dice.  They sent us to customer service in the domestic terminal, where after some arguing and discussion, they gave us meal vouchers, and we had a quick dinner before heading back to the gate for our new 8:30 boarding time.  HA!  Hahahahahaha.

8:30 came and went.  At 9ish, they announced that they hadn't been able to get together a large enough crew, and we were still waiting on flight attendants.  Our departure gradually got pushed back to 10pm, and we finally boarded around 9:45.  I was still thinking in my head that maybe, just maybe, if we made up enough time, we'd still make the earlier connection in Frankfurt.  My husband continued to ask me why I was being so optimistic.  We once again sat on the plane wondering what the hell was going on - why weren't we getting ready to take off?  They made yet another announcement - more people had decided to bail on that flight, and they needed to find even more luggage from the cargo hold.  It took another hour.  We didn't take off until after 11pm.  By the time they served us dinner around 12:45 am, the kids were sound asleep.

For some reason they didn't tell people to close their windows as they usually do on these overnight flights, and I had a chair kicker behind me, so I only slept a few hours on the plane.  In addition I couldn't get the in-flight entertainment website to work on my laptop, and our headphone jacks didn't work so watching movies on the main screen was also not an option.  What an awesome flight it was turning out to be!  We also hit quite a bit of turbulence, although nobody paid any attention to the seatbelt sign.

About an hour from when I thought we should be landing (without an individual screen, I had no way of knowing exactly where we were), the flight attendants started serving breakfast.  I have done enough international flights to know that one hour out is not a whole lot of time to serve and then clean up after meal service for a full 747 and still prepare for landing, so I was a bit skeptical - maybe they were just providing those little breakfast boxes that they sometimes hand out quickly?  But no, they started a real meal service, including bringing our kids' meals first, which were pretty gross and our kids weren't too interested.  I could tell we were starting to descend; my ears were popping, and I could feel the pressure changes in my head.  I even told my hubby that it seemed strange they were just getting meal service started when it seemed like we were descending pretty quickly.  Indeed, they announced shortly after that that we would be on the ground in 12 minutes!!!  So they not only wouldn't have time to finish meal service, they would not be able to pick up the trays they had already handed out and we needed to store them under the seats in front of us.  What a mess!  We had a bumpy landing, which met with a loud round of applause from a plane full of people who were completely sick of being there and many of whom still had connection problems to fix.

In Frankfurt, my husband's phone wasn't working, but a nice Italian guy we met on the plane let him borrow his so he could call his father.  His dad hadn't gotten the email we sent explaining about the delays, so he had gone to the airport and had no idea what happened to us, since the airline wouldn't give him any information in the interest of privacy.  Poor guy ended up waiting in Turin from 2:30 until 10:30, since it wasn't worth the drive home by the time he figured out what had happened.

We had three hours to wait, and there were still lines everywhere from all the SFO people trying to get their new connecting flights, so we went to hang out in a quite area for a bit.  The area where we landed was basically deserted, all the stores closed, and not much to do, but it didn't make sense to go anywhere until we knew which gate our next flight would be at, and that wouldn't be available for a while.  We needed new boarding passes, but there was no rush.  So we just hung out, tried to entertain the kids, and my husband finally gave in to his churning stomach and went to vomit in the bathroom.  I still ended up waiting in line for a good half hour to get our boarding passes, then we had to rush to our gate.

Luckily, our last flight went smoothly, we arrived on time despite leaving late, and our luggage came quickly.  Finally, something that went smoothly.  We still had a 1.5-hour drive, which wouldn't get us home until after midnight, and we were SO TIRED at that point.  About 5 miles from my husband's town, we were winding our way up into the mountains on a dark, narrow, curvy mountain road when all of a sudden my husband shouted "Look out, look out!!!!!!!"  My father-in-law slammed on the brakes and swerved and we veered somewhat out of control around a huge landslide that had blocked most of the road.  A police car had arrived on the other side, but the slide was so huge that we couldn't see its flashing lights from the direction we were traveling.  Luckily, my father-in-law is a good (if extremely fast) driver, and managed to keep the car under control as we careened around the landslide, our hearts pounding.

We made it home, got the kids something to eat, and put them to bed, where they actually fell asleep pretty quickly.  Only to have Tadpole wake me up from a sound sleep 3 hours later, wide awake and ready to play.  Ugh.  I hate jetlag.  At least when the flight is over, no matter how awful it was, it's over.  Jetlag hangs on for days.

So here we are.  It's beautiful right now, I've never been here in spring.  The main road is closed for at least the weekend due to the landslide, but there is a secondary road that people are using.  I ended up sleeping all morning and would love to sleep more, but I know it's a bad idea.  We have the first of many big dinners tonight, at my husband's uncle's house, and a big family lunch or dinner tomorrow.  My husband and father-in-law took the kids skiing this afternoon while I unpacked my suitcase and went for a walk with my mother-in-law, and I'm just waiting for them to come back now.  I really should go unpack the kids' suitcase, as soon as I gather enough energy to get off the couch.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Future kindergarteners

I have spent hours today completing school registration forms for Turtle and Tadpole.  OMG, I had no idea that they would be this involved and complicated.  I'm still not sure I've done everything right, but I guess I will find out tomorrow at registration.

Our city has multiple special programs, including a Spanish immersion, a bilingual immersion, and a Montessori program, but we've decided after a lot of debate to just stick with our neighborhood school.  It's considered a very good school, it's centrally located near the community pool and the library, and it's an easy bike ride from our house.  Our kids don't need Spanish or bilingual immersion since we already speak Italian at home, and I wasn't that impressed by the Montessori program presentation last week.  Plus, it would make the kids dependent on me for transportation through the entire elementary school years, whereas here, they can ride by themselves to school as soon as I feel they can manage it safely.  Not to mention, I always see groups of kids riding to school together here, sometimes with just one parent herding whole groups of kids together (the biking version of a carpool, I guess!).  We live right across the street from the bike path that goes directly there without crossing any other streets, so it's incredibly safe.  And this way, they'll also be able to make friends within our neighborhood, which is a big plus as well.

So!  That's done.  Whew.

Back to life updates.  The kids are still doing violin, but really protesting practicing now, and I'm struggling to keep everyone motivated, including myself.  I don't know what to do.  I'd like to stick with it a little longer and hope they get more interested.  They really do like lessons, it's just the practice at home that I can't ever get to happen.

We went skiing two weekends ago, on a bit of a whim.  It was a blast.  The kids really love it.  I'm getting pretty excited to take them skiing in Italy with their grandparents.  We even went over jumps with them this last trip, which of course they loved.

I'm keeping really busy with work right now, my usual March madness combined with our upcoming trip has me just about over the edge, but I'm working pretty well on time management and I think things are pretty under control.  The house is suffering a bit, and I have lots of underlying things to finally get to, like decluttering, filing, etc., but I am actually working on that slowly here and there.  I still have lots of little things to do, and I think we'll be filing an extension for taxes, which is ok.  I can only do so many big projects at once.

That being said - it's time to get back to work.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Hey again

Hi again.  It's been 3 months since I last posted.  I had just run a marathon, one of my big goals in life.  Things got busy after that.  Christmas was insane this year, and I really hope to keep things more calm in future years.  My kids are in the midst of the gimme-gimme phase, and I'm having a hard time keeping things under control.  They don't appreciate the little things, and I ended up doing a lot of big things to make up for it, and it was just too much.

We spent New Years at Tahoe, which was tons of fun.  A bunch of friends of ours circulated in and out of the house we rented, and we spent the week teaching the kids to ski, which was a blast (if quite painful for our aching backs).  They've almost got it, but the terrible warm weather and lack of rain/snow (AGAIN) means we haven't been up to the mountains since.  To make up for that, we're going to Italy for a few weeks at the beginning of April, to spend what we hope will be a nice ski weekend in the Alps.

I started the kids in violin lessons in January, too, and they're doing great.  It's hard to get them to practice, and a TON of work to keep them motivated and creating games to make practicing more enticing, but it's paying off already.  It's amazing to see how quickly they learn at this age.  While I don't really care if they keep playing as they get older, I want to just give them a good foundation in music for so many reasons.  Even if they end up quitting, they'll keep so many of the benefits, and if they switch to another instrument, or voice, they'll have the basics already.

They start a higher level of soccer tomorrow, too.  We're all excited about that!  I don't know if we'll keep doing swimming this year, at least not as seriously as we did last year.  They can still swim (i.e. not sink/drown), and if they really enjoy it, I'm thrilled for them to keep it up, as swimming is one my favorite sports, but I don't want to push it.

And that's about it.  There's a lot more to talk about - my mom, my work, my hobbies, etc., but I have time.  I'll be posting more often, I hope, in the next little while.