Is there anything better than going home for a visit? Not if you’re me.
Joey and I spent a long weekend over Thanksgiving with my parents, and it was exactly what I needed. I’ve loved living in New York these last (almost) five years, but sometimes a girl just needs to get out of the city.
Besides, going home means so much more than a change of scenery. If you’re me, it means your mom cooking you breakfast every morning and making your favorite dinners most evening. And if she’s not cooking, your dad is taking you to your favorite local restaurants, as well as a few new spots. So now, I’m sharing the wonder with you.
Here’s a quick guide on what to do (and, let’s be real, what to eat) should you ever been lucky enough to spend a weekend in DSM.
First, a few things you can’t eat unless my mother is also your mother:
Our first night home, my mom made my favorite soup IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, Italian Wedding Soup. But trust me, it’s so much better when my mom makes it.
The next night, we had a family dinner. FEAST YOUR EYES (since you can’t feast your belly):
Dinner featured a few of my favorites, like my mom’s sweet potato casserole, butternut squash casserole, and corn bread. (My name is Justine, and I like carbs.)
The next day, I hit the gym with my dad (to work off the aforementioned carbs), shopped with my mom, had ANOTHER delicious dinner by my momma, and then hit up downtown Des Moines with a few of my oldest friends. If you’re in town, I recommend El Bait Shop if you like beer, The Lift if you like hipsters and creepy art, and Fong’s Pizza if you’ve gone to the other two places and need something to soak up all the incredibly inexpensive drinks you ordered.
Because, guys? I didn’t pay more than $6 for a single drink all weekend. And the $6 one was fancy.
The next evening, my mom had a party for some of our family friends, so we got dressed up and ate fancy apps for a few hours.
Aren’t my parents cute?
The next night, we had another family dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in Des Moines, Centro.
I got the Avocado Tartine, and I wasn’t disappointed.
And that night, Joey, my parents, and I stormed downtown Des Moines, grabbing dinner and drinks at The Continental (so many cheap cocktails and apps…) and playing a few rounds at the arcade bar Up-Down (I own at skeeball).
Our last day, we had lunch at Zombie Burger (the one place Joey requested) with my family and a few friends we hadn’t had time to see yet. If you go, I highly recommend getting one of the milkshakes. (Spiked, of course.)
Sadly, then it was time to pack up. And while it is nice being back at our home, I’m already looking forward to our next trip back to Des Moines.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’m not a camping person.
I like the food, remember? I like hiking and lakes and campfires.
So at this point, I thought I could safely say that while I may not be the ultimate camper, I do like camping.
I thought wrong.
As I actually pointed out in the post at that first link, I had only ever camped in cabins before. Bare-bones-wooden-bunk-communal-restroom-type cabins, but cabins nonetheless. I had never expressed nor felt the desire to camp in a tent. And if I had just followed my (prissy little) gut, I might never have had a bad camping experience.
I’m sure you see where I’m going with this.
Last weekend, we joined a few of our friends in Vermont for a little camping adventure. I knew going in that it was tent camping. I knew it. But I had convinced myself that it would be fine. FINE. I mean, how much time do you spend in your tent anyway, right? I would still have all the parts of camping I genuinely like. And the company would be great. WHERE COULD THIS WATER-TIGHT PLAN GO WRONG?
Actually, “water-tight” is particularly apropos. Because it rained. The entire time.
And what did we discover upon arriving at the campsite and opening our tent? That we were missing the top part that keeps the rain out. Le sigh.
Fortunately, Joey was able to fashion a frankentent out of a few extra tarps:
Unfortunately, the door zipper was also broken, meaning water could leak in from all sides. Fun!
After one night of torrential rain and damp EVERYTHING, I opted to sleep in the car. I have no regrets about that.
Other than the rain, though, it really was a nice trip.
We toured the Magic Hat Brewery:
Visited the Ben & Jerry’s factory:
Shopped at a local farmer’s market that made me miss the Midwest like whoa:
And, you know, spent some time communing with nature:
Plus, we swam and rowed at the lake, ate way too much of everything, and enjoyed the company of our friends. All in all, can’t complain.
Though I think we can rule out tents for the rest of my life.
My mom is pretty great.
In the last couple of years, she’s dealt with the stress of marrying off two of her children, the addition of multiple grandchildren, and being diagnosed (and beating) cancer.
Like I said, a pretty awesome lady.
So a few months ago, I decided I wanted to do something nice for her. I thought about flying us both somewhere, but ultimately decided I couldn’t afford it. Then I remembered I live in a destination city. Why not just fly her here and have a little “stay-cation”? (For me at least.)
That’s exactly what I decided to do.
With my dad ensuring she didn’t make plans on the weekend I had in mind, I set out making reservations, buying show tickets, and generally planning the ultimate NYC weekend for my momma.
A week and a half ago, I sent her a package of five envelopes:
As she opened each envelope, she found a clue as to what her surprise was. (Spoiler: It was that she was coming to New York. Have you really not been paying attention?)(yuk yuk yuk)
Once she got the packages, we only had to wait a few days before her visit. And now I’ve decided to share our weekend with you! Here’s where we stayed, what we ate, and what we did.
FridayMy mom got in on Friday around noon. Joey and I both took the day off to pick her up and keep her entertained.
That night, we headed into the city for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, The Smith.
Fun side note: The Smith is actually where I first heard of my favorite drink, the French 75. So obviously it’s near and dear to my heart.
My mom had the trout, I had grilled shrimp with jalapeno grits (AMAZING), and Joey had the moule frites. It was all pretty great. We ended the night with the Quarter Pounders, three homemade chocolate chip cookies. If there’s one thing you need to know about me, it’s that there is nothing in the world I would prefer to warm chocolate chip cookies. So…yeah. I liked the dessert.
Saturday I had planned the New York-iest day I could think of for my mom. We started out by heading in to the city early in the morning. After dropping off our luggage at our hotel (more on that later), we headed to Union Square. After a quick breakfast (at Panera…not every meal can be fancy!), we took part in a little retail therapy.
I mean, is it really our fault that our first appointment was on 5th Avenue? No, no it is not.
Next, we headed to Bloomingdales (because why not more shopping?), and then headed back to the hotel to rest and get ready for dinner.
We stayed at The Sanctuary Hotel, which was conveniently located near Times Square. The rooms were…compact, but not in a way that felt claustrophobic. More like, in a way that made you feel like you were in a well appointed New York City studio.
Post-primping, we hopped in a cab to dinner at The House, a restored 1854 carriage house in Gramercy Park. We started off with drinks (I had The Ellington, my mom had a gin martini) and a deviled egg tasting appetizer, followed with the tile fish and the sea scallops. For dessert, we had a cookie sundae topped with fresh berries.
And, you guys. It was so good. Like, ridiculous. We couldn’t stop talking about it.
Then it was time for the highlight of the evening: Newsies!
We both loved it — the singing/dancing is pretty awesome. Plus, the cast is made up of cute, talented boys. Definitely a good choice to take your mom to. (In case you were wondering.)
My mom and mother-in-law had The Three Sisters sandwich, my sister-in-law and father-in-law had burgers (one beef, one kangaroo), Joey had an omelet, and I had a spinach salad with shrimp. We all had mimosas. Because it’s brunch, you guys.
Then it was time to take my mom to the airport. (Sigh.) The weekend was over too fast, but we definitely made the most of it. Can’t wait until we’re together again!
I’m officially back on the East Coast. In all its 34 degree glory. Le sigh.
At least things seem to have continued plodding back to normal. My in-laws have power, the gas shortage is mostly over, and you can get fresh food at the grocery store. The curfew in my town is apparently still on (yay…), and there is still a ton of damage in some areas, but things are definitely going in the right direction.
The only complaint I could possibly have is that my usual train still isn’t running (despite all the other trains on the same line running…?), but I’m keeping that in perspective. There are other trains.
Anyway. Let’s talk about happier things. Warmer, sunnier, happier things. Our trip to California!
We went to see my brother and his newly enlarged family (now plus two twin nephews), and we had a really great time.
Joey and I joked throughout the long weekend that this trip was our peek into parenting. My two nieces are six and four, and combined with two brand-new babies, we got a glimpse of the first few years at least. (Though, in our case, we most likely won’t start out with four.)
We spent most of our time with the girls (lacking a few vital abilities required to keep the boys happy), taking them to a movie and the zoo and playing a few hours of tickle monster.
I had tried to warn Joey before we left that this wouldn’t be a relaxing trip. The kids are high-energy and looking for as much attention as they can soak up, meaning there wouldn’t be a lot of downtime. We fell into bed utterly exhausted around 9:20/10:00 every night. I’m not exaggerating.
Of course, we carved out a little time for grown-up stuff too, visiting a brewery for a beer tasting and eating Thai and sushi just the two of us. All in all, it was a great trip and we had such a wonderful time reconnecting with everyone.
Out general conclusion was (not surprisingly) kids take a lot of work, but they’re still pretty great. (And we definitely want to ease into things with one at a time when we’re ready to start having kids of our own.)(Though watching Joey holding a tiny baby was definitely among the top five cutest things I’ve ever seen.)
For now, we’re very okay with just being the fun aunt and uncle.
Hooooo-boy. I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that I’m in a much better mood now than I was when I wrote that post yesterday. THAT was a doozy. (And in case you’re wondering, no, United Airlines still has not replied to my complaints. The ball’s in your court, United. Make it right.)
Anyway. Let’s talk about something fun, shall we?
The rest of our trip was actually very nice. Don’t believe me? Check it, Instagrid style.
1. Home, sweet home. Joey calls this Hotel Blanchard. And boy do they treat you right.
2. Pictures of the corn I took along my morning run. Yes, parts of Iowa do look exactly like what you think they look like.
3. Downtown Des Moines, where we had lunch with my parents at my favorite DSM restaurant, Centro. See? I TOLD you it’s a city.
4. Trip to visit my dad’s office.
5. My adorbs parents at the movies later that night.
6. Dairy Queen Blizzard. We have to get our fix while we can. (Now in the cute-as-pie mini size!)
7. Turning my husband into a corn-fed country boy one ear at a time. Not that he’s complaining.
8. Lunch at the Des Moines Art Center restaurant with my sister and her husband.
9. BBQ with friends and family Saturday night. Here’s me and my lovely momma.
10. The IOWA STATE FAIR!
11. First stop: days-old piglets.
12. Second stop: my favorite, the baby goat born that morning. If I ever own enough land, I’m totally getting a goat.
13. Prize winning crops, including a wall of corn.
14. The men and their turkey legs. 1,136 calories each. And worth every single one.
15. Butter cow! ‘Nuff said.
16. THE LONG-AWAITED CUP O’ COOKIES. I’m not even exaggerating when I say this is the best part of the fair. AND MY LIFE. (Okay, that’s a mild exaggeration.)
17. Deep fried Twinkie, anyone?
18. And we ended the night with a little Matt and Susan and a couple of Fat Tires at The Royal Mile. The perfect ending, if you ask me.
All in all, a pretty great trip. We saw a bunch of friends and family (even though hardly any of my friends live in Des Moines anymore!), ate great food, and got loads of sleep. Thanks to my parents for hosting and everyone else who helped make it such a great trip!
You guys! You guys, I’m back! I’m back, you guys!
I missed you so much. Seriously. Cried myself to sleep every night.
Okay, not really, but I did think about you. Occasionally. I mean, I’m not a stalker. I JUST REALLY LIKE YOU GUYS OKAY?!?
Phew. Feelings, amiright?
So anyway. Some of you have called me out on the fact that I did not return as promised on August 14th. You are very, very correct in this accusation.
BUT. I have a good reason. A very good reason. A reason so good that I have honestly been putting it off for a bit because I wasn’t ready to re-live it.
I’m ready now.
First things first, we had a lovely trip to Iowa. Those of you who follow me on Instagram (@justinelorelle, if you’re interested) or Twitter got a few sneak peeks at everything we did, but for those of you who missed it, I promise to do a post after this one with the deets. (And, let’s face it, most likely an Instagrid to sum it up.)
But first, the bad news.
It all started at an all-too-early hour on Monday morning. The hubs and I were due to depart at 6:30 a.m., which meant a 4:00 a.m. wake-up call. We had grabbed a drink with Susan and Matt the night before, so we were running on approximately four hours of sleep at this point.
It was, predictably, just lovely.
After throwing ourselves together in about 20 minutes, we loaded up the car and I checked my phone. Missed call at 2:30 from an 800 number. Strange, I thought. Then I checked my email.
Only to be greeted by a lovely message from Orbitz informing me that our flight had been canceled. And rescheduled for 5:30 a.m. the next day.
Barely awake enough to even process this information, I hopped on my parents’ computer and confirmed on United Airlines’ site that our flight had, in fact, been canceled. Seemingly without explanation.
DID YOU KNOW THEY COULD DO THAT? WELL, THEY CAN!
The thing is, we were both supposed to be back at work on Tuesday. Something that would be difficult to do if we were, you know, 3,000 feet in the air above the Midwest.
I called the United customer service line and was told our flight had been canceled for “mechanical service,” (which, in case you didn’t know, can mean anything from a broken engine to a broken seat belt to a hungover flight crew) and that there was nothing that could be done for me and enjoy my flight in 24 hours.
My father, being slightly better rested than I was, found this unacceptable and called them back. Seeing as it was (we found out later) a call center in another country and not a dedicated customer service line, we were connected to a different person and had to brief them on our situation all over again. This person repeated what the first person had told us, but my dad told them that wasn’t good enough and they would need to schedule us on a different airline for the same day.
DID YOU KNOW YOU COULD DO THAT? WELL, YOU CAN!
First, they tried to convince us to take another United flight that would get us to Newark at midnight. Um, sorry. Thanks, but no thanks. Then they told us we would be rescheduled on a Delta flight leaving at 8:10 that morning. We would get in to LaGuardia at a bearable 2 p.m. That was acceptable.
Here’s where things got a little hairy. After my dad agreed to this new flight, he was put on hold for about ten minutes. The problem was, the cheery hold music that had been playing previously never came on, leaving us to speculate as to whether or not we were even still connected. Finally, we hung up and called back (reaching yet another representative), explained our situation again, and were told that we had been re-booked onto the 8:10 Delta flight. Huzzah!
Or so we thought.
I feel obligated to mention that we never asked for a confirmation number. That was our mistake. But when someone from an airline tells you that you are on a flight, you tend not to assume they are bold-faced lying to you.
We made our merry way to the airport. My dad dropped us off, and Joey and I got into a virtually motionless line at the Delta counter.
Thirty minutes later, we reached the desk and explained what had happened (again). The rep looked up our names in the computer.
Just in case you aren’t grasping the severity of this moment, we are just now realizing that we might not exist in any of the airport’s computers on any flights. We. Didn’t. Exist.
I’d also like to note that the women behind the Delta desk were super nice and helpful. They offered to let us stand to the side while I tried to work things out with United so we wouldn’t have to wait in the long line all over again once it was sorted out.
I called the same United number and was met with yet another representative in their call center.
This is what I like to refer to as “the darkest part of my day.”
I explained (AGAIN) what my morning had consisted of. The rep looked up the Delta flight we were told we were on and informed me that, “Oh, that flight is full.”
I (as calmly as possible) explained that, yes, two hours later, it probably was full, but that we had been told we were on the flight. She told me the agent had (for WHATEVER REASON) canceled that booking.
I think the most irritating part of dealing with this woman is that she would tell me a mistake that HER COMPANY had made, and then just pause as if to say, “So…there you have it. You’re welcome!”
Struggling to contain my frustration, I pointed out that we had not told them to cancel that booking. That was their mistake. So what were they going to do to fix it?
She blandly repeated my option to take the 5:30 a.m. flight the next morning.
“Isn’t there another flight on another airline you could book me on?” I asked, doing my best not to cry/scream/both.
This was a trick question. I knew there was a 2:00 p.m. Delta flight and a 10:30 American Airlines flight leaving out of Des Moines that day. I knew it.
“Well, I can’t transfer you to a different airline over the phone,” she replied casually.
UMMMMMMMM…WHAT. Because I’m pretty sure you did just that an hour and a half ago.
I pointed this out to her (okay, I was yelling at this point), and asked what was the difference now.
She told me that she couldn’t override what the original “agent” had done and that “agent” would have to transfer us again.
“Okay,” I replied, working again to keep my voice level, “then can you please transfer me to that agent.”
“Oh, well it’s a call center in India…so…no.”
Cue the implosion of the part of my brain that controls my urge to not scream.
I don’t know about you, but having an airline call system that only allows one person to transfer a flight and then LOCKS IT IN FOREVER NO MATTER WHAT sounds like a broken system to me. Especially because I had already had two agents offer to switch my flight that morning. You know. AN HOUR AND A HALF AGO.
Basically, she was lying to me. And I knew she was lying to me. But there was really nothing I could do when she is just repeating the line, “There’s nothing I can do” and then putting me on hold when she doesn’t want to answer my questions anymore.
Except, well, ask for her manager. WHO COULD CERTAINLY DO SOMETHING, RIGHT?
After another ten minutes on hold, another woman answered the phone. The only redeeming quality she had was already being somewhat briefed on my situation so I did’t have to repeat the sorry tale over again.
That was her only redeeming quality.
She basically gave me the same “there’s nothing I can do” song and dance.
Side note: I’ve decided there is nothing more infuriating to me than someone in the service industry telling me there is nothing they can do for me. You know why? Because there is literally always something you can do. (Sound familiar?) Even if you legitimately cannot move my flight (even though I know you can), you could move me to first class. You could check my bags for free. You could give me a meal voucher. You could give me a freaking free drink. I am not an unreasonable person. In fact, I would say I am probably too willing to forgive businesses if they make the slightest effort to show that my business is in any way important to them. Especially when making such effort would cost them virtually zero effort.
Anyway. Back to our story.
This is the point when I essentially lost my cool. I angrily pointed out that all her company had done for me was cancel my flight for no reason and then repeatedly lie to me under the guise of “helping.” I asked her what possible reason they had given me for continuing to be a United customer.
She sniffed and told me that if I was looking for compensation, I would need to go online and file a complaint on their website.
I’M SORRY? YOU TELL ALL OF YOUR ANGRY, DISSATISFIED CUSTOMERS THAT THEY HAVE TO DO MORE WORK TO GET JUSTICE?
I roared (internally) and asked her (audibly) what she could do for me, because so far I so no reason for her position to exist.
She told me she could give me a confirmation number for a Delta flight they could put me on later that afternoon. (So much for our relaxing day back in New York before we started work again.)
Somewhat defeated, I said fine. And proceeded to wait for five minutes while I listened to her computer keys clicking in the background. After five minutes of silence punctuated by clicking (during which I assumed she was fetching that confirmation number), I asked (nicely, I swear) if there really wasn’t a single other flight out of Des Moines that could eventually get us to New York.
She repeated the story of how she couldn’t transfer me to a new airline over the phone (BUT YOUR COMPANY JUST DID A COUPLE OF HOURS AGO!), but if I could go to the airport they could possible help me at the desk.
Cue the other side of my brain imploding.
“I’m AT the airport. And apparently I’m going to BE at the airport for SEVEN hours. Didn’t you think telling me that they could actually HELP me here would be a good thing for me to know HALF AND HOUR AGO?”
Instead of answering me, she tried to interrupt me three times to tell me all she could do was give me my confirmation number.
Again, I admittedly lost it.
“I’ve been waiting FIVE minutes for you to give me my confirmation number and you STILL HAVEN’T GIVE IT TO ME.”
She gave me the number. I hung up after she reiterated that there was a possibility the United desk could do nothing for me. Fantastic. Thanks for nothing.
I went to the United desk and waiting 15-20 minutes to get through their line. I want to point out that the woman at the United desk was very nice. She genuinely wanted to help me and started scouring all the flights leaving out of Des Moines that morning. They were all booked solid. While she looked, I told Joey he could get out of line at the Delta desk because it looked like we were just stuck on the later flight.
While he was sitting, one of the (SUPER NICE) Delta reps came up to anything and asked if she could help him with anything. He asked if she could get us to New York, and she replied (with the voice of an angel), “Well, let’s see!”
Joey called me from the Delta desk and (after the United woman sadly told me there were no other open flights) I went over. It turns out there was a Delta flight that was supposed to leave earlier that morning, but had been delayed a few hours. It was leaving in about ten minutes, and they just might be able to sneak us on.
The problem? United apparently STILL had not transferred our information to Delta’s system. STILL. After about FOUR of their employees had told me that we were ON a Delta flight.
I gave them the confirmation number the United manager had given me. GUESS WHAT? IT WASN’T A DELTA CONFIRMATION NUMBER. IT WAS MY ORIGINAL UNITED CONFIRMATION NUMBERS.
It’s important to note that those Delta women did EVERYTHING they could to get us on that morning flight. One of them was literally sprinting back and forth between the desks (which were located on opposite sides of the room) trying to get our information in their system. There just wasn’t enough time.
After we missed that flight, I may have broken down crying at the desk. In my defense, I was going on four hours of sleep and we had been dealing with this for about three. It’s not good when you’ve already had a long day at 8:00 a.m.
I pulled myself together, and they finally got us on a Delta flight leaving later that afternoon. My mom took an earlier lunch break so she could pick us up for a few hours and take us out for lunch. (She also offered to just drive around so we could sleep in the car. Like babies. we almost took her up on it we were so exhausted.)
The rest of the day went so-so. We finally got on our flight, but Delta wasn’t able to check us into our layover flight on the computer because it was so much later in the day. And when we landed in Detroit, our flight had been boarding for about ten minutes. And we had to get to the opposite side of the airport. And when I asked a Delta rep if they would give away our seats if we weren’t there right away, she snootily rolled her eyes and told me they don’t do that until the door is about to close. (BECAUSE YOU KNOW I NEEDED A LITTLE MORE ATTITUDE THROWN MY WAY FROM AN AIRLINE EMPLOYEE.) And as we were hustling toward our gate, the airport reminded us via loudspeaker announcement about the importance of checking in at least 20 minutes prior to departure. (We were about ten minutes from departure at that point.)
I screamed again. (Internally, again.)
The good news is, we made it. We got on the flight. We got back to New York.
As I said, the most frustrating part of the whole experience was United’s refusal to help us. Even the women at the Delta desk asked us if they were at least giving us meal vouchers or something. I told her they said we had to file a complaint online, and she laughed and said, “Really? We just hit a button and print it out on the computer here.”
I would have laughed along with her, but I think I was closer to tears at that point.
In the end, we got home. But the most frustrating part of the experience was United’s refusal to help us. Their refusal to do anything on their part to make up to us the fact that they had reneged on our contract. Their refusal to even apologize for the inconvenience.
Not a single person told me they were sorry. Not once. And excluding only the woman at the United desk, every employee I spoke with treated me with attitude. Which, I’m sorry, but I’m the one whose day has been ruined. I’m the one who has been lied to repeatedly. I’m the one with the right to be upset. Not them.
Ugh. I hate whining. We made it home (thanks to Delta). I just don’t understand how a company can exist if they don’t show the slightest bit of regard for their customers.
Suffice to say, United no longer has to worry about me as a customer anymore.
Phew. That was a lot, right? Blah. Okay, on the bright side, the rest of the trip was great. I have a ton of pictures. And I promise to post something cheerier about it next. Just had to get all this out. AND WARN YOU TO NOT FLY UNITED AIRLINES. (They don’t even give you a snack! Just a tiny cup of soda, water, juice, or coffee! NO SNACK!)
Anyone want to share their own flight nightmare story so I feel better? Please do so in the comments.