review: How to Pack

How to Pack

How to Pack: Travel smart for any trip by Hitha Palepu

As a habitual overpacker, I am always looking for insight on how to do that less. My biggest issue is that I always want a bunch of extra of any given item just in case, so I’m not sure that any plan is going to help me get rid of that impulse. But I’m interested in learning regardless. This cute little book’s cover is designed to resemble an old-fashioned suitcase and is divided into sections addressing pre-packing, choosing clothing, selecting accessories, figuring out what toiletries to bring, how to maximize space in your luggage, and tips for dealing with airports and such. It also includes a number of checklists for various types of travel and destinations. Appealing hand-created illustrations are included throughout.

full disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Blogging for Books


vacation bag proof

I used the Two Zip Hipster I made for our trip throughout our travels and it was perfect! I was able to carry the necessities with me but not be burdened with a heavy bag or a sore shoulder. Cross-body bags are great for travel, too, as it’s nearly impossible to set them down and forget them.

Two Zip Hipster (pattern by Dog Under My Desk) fits the Universal tour package binder perfectly

As it turned out, Universal gave us a little notebook with all our tickets and stuff inside, and it was as if this purse was designed to hold it. It could not have been a more perfect fit!

Two Zip Hipster (pattern by Dog Under My Desk) fits the Universal tour package binder perfectly

As you can see in the photo above, it fits inside with just enough room to zip the zipper above it. I do find it interesting that Universal still likes to give you a hundred little pieces of paper to manage, whereas I believe Disney now does everything on a wristband if you book a package (for our day trips they issued us a card that contained all our ticket, fast pass, and dessert reservation info). If you’re going to Universal and doing a package, I definitely recommend making this bag.


Universally vacationed

The week before last we went on a vacation. Woo! We hardly ever go on far-away trips so this was a treat we were looking forward to for awhile.

We booked through a local travel agent and we were so happy with their service! I called one day before they opened in the morning and left a voicemail and within a few hours, they emailed me a number of potential itineraries that suited the various options we wanted to look at. I love this kind of thing! Getting to see the full details of each option is important to me for decision-making and every time I asked them a question it was answered right away. I highly recommend Valley Travel!

A Daisy sized tree #meijergardens #bonsai #blythe #blythedoll

We ended up with a very early flight on Monday, so we got a park-and-ride deal at a hotel in Grand Rapids, which was nice. It was handy to have the car taken care of while we were gone and to not have to get up in the middle of the night to drive over an hour to the airport. I’m so glad that our travel agent recommended it. Since we had Sunday night booked for this, we ended up heading to GR a little early and visiting a few of our favorite spots. We checked out Meijer Gardens to see the ArtPrize entries and happened to see a way cool bonsai show that was happening that day. I totally want to grow bonsai! I had seen something on instagram the day before about the Grand Rapids Symphony playing a series of ArtPrize concerts, and when I texted our pal Michael he confirmed that they’d be doing three that afternoon at a space downtown. We were so happy to get to see him and listen to the concert, even if some of the music was a little cheesy. Part of the concept of these mini concerts is to get people interested who might not otherwise think about the symphony, so some of the pieces were adaptations of famous works with more of a contemporary feel (eg: add electric bass and trap set). I’d rather hear the originals, but it was still a really fun show and the audience was super receptive which was neat to hear. We then played some pinball at the Pyramid Scheme and had a very filling dinner and beers at Hopcat. I sometimes forget how many fun things there are to do in GR, so I’m glad that we had an impetus to take advantage at the last minute.

Our room is kinda fancy #universalstudios

We stayed on-property at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando. Part of the deal with staying on-property is that we each got a free Express Pass, as well as complimentary water taxi service to and from the Universal CityWalk (which is connected to both of the parks). The hotel is very nice, but we did not have a great experience staying there. Virtually all of the time we were in our room, we could hear dogs barking. And not just in the distance, but loudly enough to wake us up. We don’t spend a lot of time in luxury hotels, but to me, it seems unacceptable to have this kind of noise happening, especially to have it happening repeatedly for days on end. We had to call the front desk a number of times because the barking just would not stop. I’m really surprised that they don’t have better soundproofing to avoid this being a problem. I’m all about seeing cute dogs, but if I’m paying a room rate of over $300 per night, I shouldn’t have to hear them from inside my room. (Note: This was BEFORE the hurricane happened, so there’s no special circumstances. More on the hurricane later.)

Our flight to Orlando was really early, so we ended up having almost a full day more at Universal than we originally thought. We spent most of Monday and all of Tuesday and Wednesday at the Universal parks. Our original plan was for two days and that really would have been enough. We ended up feeling like we had done everything we wanted to with time left to spare, so I’d definitely recommend just two days – one day per park is plenty.

Hoggy warty Hogwarts #universalstudios

Our package included breakfasts at the two quick-service restaurants in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, the Three Broomsticks and the Leaky Cauldron. We ate at the Leaky Cauldron first, and then at the Three Broomsticks the day after, and I found it very interesting to see the differences. The two restaurants are almost exactly the same – the decor is slightly different according to what we know about the two establishments according to canon, but you can really tell that the Leaky Cauldron was built later (along with the rest of Diagon Alley) because it has some definite improvements in terms of the experience. The Three Broomsticks has a pretty typical quick-service counter setup – you approach the counter in queues and behind the checkout registers is the window pass-through to the kitchen. This means that you can see into the kitchen – seeing the chef in his whites and workers dumping pillows of preconstituted scrambled eggs into warming pans definitely makes the experience a little less than authentic. The Leaky Cauldron, on the other hand, has a much more immersive experience. You still queue to place orders at counters that look strikingly similar, but then you take an oversized candlestick (featuring a number) to another queue where you’re seated, and then someone brings your order to your table (located by that number on the candlestick). This definitely felt more like a fully-realized experience than the older restaurant. The breakfast menu was almost identical at these two places, so I feel like it would be possible to skip the Three Broomsticks and not really miss much. The Leaky Cauldron for sure has what I consider to be more of a Disney level of experience.

Speaking of which, it is very interesting to see the differences between Universal and Disney. At Disney, you NEVER see someone in costume en route to or from work in an area of the park where they don’t belong. At Universal, we felt like we were constantly near someone who was out of place as far as their costume/uniform was concerned. At one of the post-ride Harry Potter gift shops, two of the workers were having a loud conversation about something on pay per view – talk about removing you from the experience!

And speaking of the post-ride HP shops, they were all SO DARK! Customers were seriously using the flashlight app on their phones to even see the merchandise on some racks. It was atmospheric, sure, but it definitely discouraged shopping, which seems counterproductive.

We did buy the wands and play with them ‘doing magic’ at the preappointed spots in both HP parks, but there was pretty much always a line of kids waiting to do them and most of them are in direct sun where I didn’t feel like standing around waiting, so we didn’t make it a point to do all of them. They also work less well when it’s sunny, so it took forever to get some of the sensors to pick up the motion.

Water taxi #tiredeyes #universalstudios

Another thought: when we visited Disney before, we found the meal plan to be a really good deal, but the Universal one was definitely not as good a deal. For one, it turned out that the only full-service restaurants that participate in the plan are in Citywalk. Not one of the restaurants in our (on-resort) hotel participated! And there just are none in the parks that are open for dinner (they’re LISTED as being open for dinner on the literature, but in reality closed at 3 or 4pm). So that was kind of annoying. We also ended up with more snacks and drinks than we really needed – we used them up, but it felt a bit wasteful. I’d recommend skipping the meal plan at Universal.

The rest of the Universal Parks were fine, but nothing was as much fun for me as the HP stuff. Hearing other guests exclaim with excitement as they entered Diagon Alley or see the Hogwarts Express was pretty magical. My favorite rides were also in the HP parks.

We had planned to spend Thursday at Epcot to experience the Food and Wine Festival, and we did – until they closed the park early at 5pm because of the impending hurricane! It had been sort of mildly gross all day, but not impossible to walk around in, and in the morning we got a call from Delta that our flight the following day had been canceled. I was able to rebook us for Sunday (everything was preemptively closed on Friday and there were no flights to be had on Saturday) after we got off the Living with the Land ride (side note: how do they manage not to mention indigenous peoples at all in this ride?! How did I not notice that the last time we rode it?!), as well as extend our stay at our hotel for another two nights. Hooray for smartphones! I can’t even imagine how much time I would have had to spend on that rigamarole if I didn’t have everything I needed right in my phone. By the time 5pm rolled around, the rain was coming down pretty steadily, and then, just as we bolted from under the overhang to get to our hotel car, it started bucketing down. It was raining as heavily as I’ve ever seen it, or at least it felt like it. We got safely back to our hotel and tucked in for a night of watching the local weather and checking in with family and friends on facebook.

Friday we were stuck in the hotel all day – everything in the Orlando area was closed, and almost everything in our hotel was also closed. None of the restaurants were open and the one singular option we had for food was a buffet set up in one of the ballrooms. This buffet was $25 per person per meal no matter what you ate. The food was just okay – typical conference food, which is not a compliment. It felt ridiculous to have to pay so much for a meal that wasn’t great, and to have absolutely no choice. We overheard another guest saying that she had food intolerances and couldn’t eat any of the buffet options (everything was sauced within an inch of its life – woe be to any kids or other picky eaters who aren’t into sauces) and the hotel staff was like, this is all we have. I totally get that options were limited and they only had limited staff on-site, but it really felt like the hotel was taking advantage of being the only food option. We ate breakfast, grabbed a couple of extra bagels so we could skip lunch, and then ate dinner. $100 for one day’s food that wasn’t even very good, bleh. The storm pretty much blew through overnight (early Friday morning, technically) and we saw some dead palm fronds blown down, but otherwise there didn’t seem to be damage to where we were. Despite all my complaining, we did feel very lucky that no truly severe weather hit us and as far as we know all our family and friends also stayed safe. We know that we are lucky to be whining about overpaying for food.

Friday’s house arrest was made slightly easier by a ST:TNG marathon on BBC America (why they’re airing that show is beyond me, but I’ll take it) and by planning for Saturday. We decided that we couldn’t handle another day of just sitting around and might as well take advantage of our proximity to other entertainment, so we got tickets to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for our last day. It turned out to be one of the most fun days of our vacation! There’s a lot of new Star Wars stuff at this park and it was really fun to see it all. We also got tickets to the Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party, which includes not just zerts, but also apps, an open bar and VIP viewing for the Star Wars fireworks show. It was SUPER worth it! Everything edible was Star Wars themed and really cute as well as tasty. The apps and zerts were close enough to being dinner for us. We also got a complimentary bottle of water during the fireworks and we each got a plastic Chewbacca mug to take home. The fireworks show involves a lot of movie footage shown on the sides of the big buildings in the center of the park. It was so great! I would not have expected to enjoy it as much as I did, but it almost brought me to tears! I super mega recommend doing this if you visit this park.

Overall I think that slightly less than one full day at DHS is enough – we had plenty of time for sitting and catching our breath throughout the day and managed to ride the Toy Story game twice, all before the relatively early start time of the Dessert Party. One thing that Universal has a better deal with than Disney is the Express Pass. During our day at Epcot, there were ZERO Fast Passes available for any rides. None! (We didn’t even attempt to ride the new Frozen ride in Norway.) At DHS, there were some fast passes, but it seemed like the ones that we got weren’t even really needed as the lines weren’t terribly long to begin with. Being able to just jump in a fast line EVERY TIME at Universal was really nice.

Then we flew home on Sunday and felt like we never wanted to leave the house again. I think that our original timeline of Monday-Friday was good for us and having it extended was just more time than we wanted to be away. We’re such homebodies!


Return from Up North

Last week we took a family vacation in the Upper Peninsula. We spent most of the week at a beach house on Lake Michigan near Manistique and then finished up with a night in Newberry.

On our way up north, K and I stopped in Clare for some of the famed Cops and Doughnuts sweet treats, which did not disappoint.

Vacation doughnuts! At Cops and Doughnuts

I wouldn’t have remembered them, but their highway billboards worked to give us the idea. ADVERTISING WORKS.

Our "cabin"

This beach house was lovely! It had plenty of room for all of us (me and K, my sister and her husband, my folks, and my uncle) and a beautiful view as well as access to a private area of beach.

Our view this week. Not too shabby!

Most of the fam took advantage of the opportunity to play in the water, and I happily spent time admiring the water from the deck and the family room.

I'm melting - gif

The first full day we were up, we went to Pictured Rocks and did some hiking.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

We had beautiful weather and I managed to get a minimum of bug bites despite it being a little more intense outdoorsyness than I was expecting.

We also took advantage of having a captive audience in the house to play some tabletop games, including Dixit, Ticket to Ride, Quiddler, Settlers of Catan, and Boggle.

Who's adorbs?  Coraline!

Coraline helped.

Later in the week we went to Tahquamenon Falls, where at the Lower Falls the majority of our group took a rowboat to the island, but K and I opted to walk the trail alongside the falls on the mainland (see again: melting).

Tahquamenon Falls

At the Upper Falls, we noted the majesty and then ate dinner at the Brewery (all state parks should have a brew pub on site).

Tahquamenon Falls

It was a tiring but fun vacation! I have to admit to being very happy to be home again, though – after a little bit of travel I always remember that I’m just more of a homebody.


sweet peas

While I was in Bozeman, I managed to squeeze in a quick trip downtown to visit the local yarn and quilting shops, both of which were quite nice and had friendly, helpful staff.

Sweet pea art at Stix in Bozeman #tcli
This piece of art was hanging on the wall at Stix, the yarn shop. The proprietor said that they had an art contest at a recent sweet pea festival, this being her entry. Pretty neat! I also found some locally made yarn there.

I also visited the Main Street Quilting Company, where I found the most helpful fabric shop proprietor I’ve ever encountered. She immediately asked about what I was working on and after finding out that I was visiting from out of state, pointed out some locally produced quilt blocks. I am trying not to expand my stashes of yarn and fabric too much at the moment, but did find a few small things that seemed reasonable and, let’s face it, probably necessary.



Whew! I just returned yesterday from a week in Bozeman, Montana. I was attending the Tribal College Librarians Institute, which was a terrific experience. Lots of awesome networking and useful information, as well as making friends with neat people! I had thought I might be able to post while I was there, but I was too busy having a fun and informative time.

Living that dorm life at #tcli
We stayed in the dorms on campus at Montana State University, and it was a real journey down memory lane! I can’t recall the last time I made a bed with two flat sheets. 🙂 And I managed not to forget my room key ever, even on mid-night trips to the washroom.

One of the highlights of the trip was an excursion to the Yellowstone National Park archives and Mammoth Hot Springs.
Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center (archives) #tcli

We got to have a tour of the archives and learned about some of the many various things they collect there, such as bear and deer skulls. This reminded me of The Brain Scoop!
Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center (archives) #tcli

In addition to nature artifacts and specimens, they have lots of documents, photographs, and similar items.
Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center (archives) #tcli
I thought this photo of visitors was neat – look at the clothing and hairstyles! And look how close they are sitting to that geyser!

Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center (archives) #tcli
There’s so much neat history about Yellowstone. It’s the 100-year anniversary of when they first allowed cars to come into the park (apparently there was one year of overlap with horses/stagecoaches and cars that did not go well, so they discontinued stagecoach entry the following year), and when the park was first opened, most of the visitors were extremely wealthy people. Most tours were all-inclusive including train ride to the area, stagecoach service in the park, food, and so forth. When cars were first allowed in, the ticket price was something like $1200 in today’s dollars, which was less expensive but still pretty darn pricey. That was the start of less-wealthy folks being able to experience this national park.

Having spent the morning at the archives, we then had the afternoon in Mammoth Hot Springs, which was super neat.
Mammoth Hot Springs #tcli
More of the springs were dormant than I expected, but it was still beautiful and fascinating and full of many things to look and wonder at. My walking partner for that day and I kept remarking that we wished for more informational signage! #librarianproblems

Mammoth Hot Springs #tcli
Another fiber enthusiast there noticed the same thing I did – that this formation reminded us of knitting!

I even managed to climb all the way up to the top, seeing all there was to see! I wasn’t sure with the altitude and my not-suited-ness-to-sun, but I made it!
Me at Mammoth Hot Springs #tcli

My trip back to Michigan was full of delays, but all turned out to be relatively minor, and I made my connection and got home before dark, so I’m calling that a win. I think some of the other attendees who left later than I did ended up stuck in airports for many hours. I hope they are all home safely now!

I feel so lucky to have been able to attend this conference! I look forward to going back in future years.


Fab tab


I’m traveling again, this time to Montana for another professional conference. Last trip I hooked a carabiner on the strap of my Take-off Tote, which worked fine to hang my water bottle, but occasionally it would slide around, especially when I had the tote on the handle of my carry-on. So yesterday I whipped up a quick mini strap and sewed it onto the existing strap to form a tab. So far it works great!


a grand time

We recently went for a mini-vacation weekend in Grand Rapids. It’s not a long way from where we live, but we haven’t made the time to head over there in quite a while.

Grand Rapids Public Museum - Lego exhibit

We went in with a goal of visiting several museums and we met that goal! Our first was the Grand Rapids Public Museum, which had a special exhibit of LEGO buildings. There weren’t as many buildings as we’d hoped to see, but the ones in the exhibit were indeed impressive and, as you can see, on a pretty large scale.

why is Troi carrying a purse?

Having been through the standing exhibits in the not too distant past, we just visited a few highlights including their collection of American toys throughout history. This ST:TNG scene is terrific.

Karl is playing pinball. I am helping

In addition to cultural stuff, we also made time to experience a few recommendations from friends, including happy hour at the Pyramid Scheme. It’s a bar and performance venue with a pretty decent collection of pinball machines. Continuing my fangirl appreciation, I did the best on the ST:TNG machine and spent most of my time playing that. After this we walked over to HopCat for a delicious dinner and brews. Best of all, we were seated right away when we arrived and noticed that a large line formed practically moments later, so we super lucked out on that.

Andrea Kowch - Sojourn, 2011

The following day we went to the Grand Rapids Art Museum after an amazing breakfast at Sundance Grill and Bar. They offer Tex-Mex food that was SUPER delicious and the portions were huge. We definitely felt well-fueled for a day of walking around. The Art Museum was showing works from last year’s ArtPrize, which was cool since we didn’t make it over to see anything during last year’s competition. This painting is Sojourn by Andrea Kowch. There’s at least one Margaret Atwood novel in which a woman paints things that this made me think of – I may be thinking of descriptions from more than one story.

Elizabeth Brandt - BodyMap, 2012

The last couple of pieces we came to happened to be the thing I am most interested in: art quilts! This one is BodyMap by Elizabeth Brandt. The vibrant colors she used are really appealing and really highlight her construction. I like that she used different stitch techniques on different sections of the quilt.

Ann Loveless - Sleeping Bear Dune Lakeshore, 2013

This, Sleeping Bear Dune Lakeshore by Ann Loveless, was almost the last work we saw, and it was a great finale. It’s really four large pieces, framed and hung in a sequence that creates one visual whole. This was the first place people’s choice grand prize winner in last year’s ArtPrize competition.

Ann Loveless - Sleeping Bear Dune Lakeshore, 2013

The detail she put into this piece is really impressive.

Ann Loveless - Sleeping Bear Dune Lakeshore, 2013

I love the colors and how well she captures the look of a sunset.

selfie at Frederik Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids

We also visited Frederik Meijer Gardens for the first time. It was SUPER hot and muggy by the time we left, but we still quite enjoyed walking through the greenhouses and the grounds. There were a ton of weddings happening that day (I’m sure it’s a popular summer wedding spot) and I felt thankful that I wasn’t enduring the humidity in super dressy clothing.

Roxy Paine - Neuron, 2010

The outdoor pieces are really nicely arranged with walking paths and frequent benches that are placed so that you can appreciate whatever piece of sculpture is nearby. We didn’t take time to sit as the humidity was making us feel as though if we stopped, we’d never get started again. This piece, Neuron by Roxy Paine, was one of our favorites. There are lots more pics on my flickr of the various artworks we saw on this trip.

With a well-formed appetite after that exercise, we headed over to Founders for lunch. Sitting in the beer garden, we met some nice folks from downstate with whom we enjoyed our sandwiches and brews. Following that, we visited with some dear friends we haven’t seen in far too long, and of course we were having too much fun to remember to take any photos. We had dinner at Brewery Vivant, which was decadent and delicious – duck nachos! – and then listened to our pal Dan play dueling pianos at the BOB. It was a jam-packed weekend but totally fun and really refreshing. And almost everything was within walking distance of our hotel! We’re such homebodies a lot of the time, so it’s good to be reminded of how refreshing it can be to find some new surroundings every now and then.


let’s hear it for the sisterhood

Last weekend, I went with some lady friends to a cabin up north for some rest, relaxation, and grrl time.

Shade Monger

We went to the beach one morning, which I actually enjoyed, thanks to lots of shade, a good book to read, and great company. (While we were up north I finished the final book in the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter series, which I heartily enjoyed. They are the coziest of mysteries, featuring a fictionalized imagining of Beatrix Potter’s life in the Land Between the Lakes, where she in real life purchased and maintained a couple of farms. I’m a little sad to be done with them.) As you can see, I am under a beach umbrella, under a canopied chair, and wearing a large sun hat. Plus lots of SPF, of course, should any stray piece of myself have managed to encounter the sun.

@shinyinfo 's Zen garden

I watched Kristin create a mini zen garden on the beach and enjoyed people-watching as well. There was a BT far down the shore, and someone was paddle-boarding with a boxer/mix! It was lovely.

Cool moth

There was lots of my type of communing with nature (meaning, for short periods of time and without a lot of direct contact) and this moth hung out on the screen for almost the entire weekend. I thought it was quite pretty. Anyone know what kind it is? (We took a group promise to not look things up on our phones for the weekend – we’re all librarians and tend to be the one who seeks out the answer to any question posed, so it was nice to give that a rest for a few days.)

Being outdoorsy, tried and enjoyed a smore #personalgrowth

I also attempted some personal growth in the form of being outside around the campfire each night and expanding my taste to include enjoying a s’more. I’ve been averse to marshmallows for years, but I decided I’d try one since it’d been decades since I last did. Turns out, it was alright! Not a taste I’ll probably pursue on the reg, but when in Rome, I can hack it.

The best part of the weekend was just getting to spend time with some of my closest female friends. We don’t get together often enough! We danced, we sang, we imbibed, we talked about body hair and the patriarchy – what more could a woman ask for?

 photo 10593321_514110358689751_1369144211_zpsb3a0c2d9.jpg

Thanks, ladies! I can’t wait to do it again!


San Francisco, USA (part three)

We knew we wanted to set aside time for the California Academy of Sciences, which had been recommended to me by several friends. We started off seeing the planetarium exhibit, which was awesome. It was all about earthquakes and was really interesting and was put together very nicely.

Among the many creatures there, we admired the albino alligator:

California Academy of Sciences

And one of the smaller snakes:

California Academy of Sciences

The rainforest exhibit was really cool, with tons of awesome plants, creatures, and butterflies:

California Academy of Sciences

I thought this guy was neat:

California Academy of Sciences

His color is awesome, isn’t it?

California Academy of Sciences

California Academy of Sciences

These are the highlights but there are plenty more photos on my flickr if you’d like to see more. We had a wonderful trip and I’m so glad we got to go!