Thursday, May 22

Thoughts on Packing and Traveling Home

The summer before I turned 15, I went on a mission trip to Bolivia... by way of Europe. A friend had invited me to go with her, and as she lived in the Netherlands, it made perfect sense for me to travel to the Eastern Hemisphere before traveling to the Southern Hemisphere. Well, "perfect sense" maybe not, but that is what I did.

As you might imagine, packing for a trip involving two entirely different continents can be a challenge. What made the challenge more unusual, however, is that the mission agency we were to travel with provided their own duffel bags for our use. As my departure date approached, I became more and more anxious that I had not yet seen the bag I was required to use. I understood that mailing a bag from Europe to California was somewhat cost prohibitive, but surely, it would be waiting for me at my hosts' house when I arrived.

It wasn't.

There had been some miscommunication. My friend had her bag, but mine was still on its way. Every day I eagerly watched for the delivery. "Dutch post is very quick," I was assured. "There is still time for it to get here."

There had been plenty of time for it to arrive, provided the bag had ever been put into the mail for me. But it hadn't and so the night before our flight, I packed as best I could into a suitcase and hoped I would be able to carry it suitably while everyone else hauled their duffle bags.

In all the time I spent in Holland, I never saw a traffic jam of anything larger than bicycles returning home at rush hour. But as any good Murphy's lawyer knows, that day there was horridly slow traffic all the way to the international airport.

We were so late. I worried about missing our plane, and sighed with huge relief when we walked through the doors to the terminal and saw everyone else milling around, waiting for us.

There was something else waiting for us. Or me, rather. The duffel bag.

And so in the busy international wing of Schiphol airport, as we moved through the line to check in our bags, I repacked.

To say I was stressed at this point is an understatement. Speed packing has never been my thing. Neither have large audiences. Nor having my private belongings exposed to public viewing.

And then someone asked the question, "Just think what kind of life God is preparing you for in this experience!"

I conjured up this elaborate scenario of multitudes of last minute packing jobs as I traveled from one bustling airport to another. The inevitable future lifestyle requiring such last minute flexibility and spacial reckoning only served to make the experience seem even more dramatic. Years later it occurred to me that instead of asking "What does God have in store for me that this is my practice?" I should have thought "Look at all of the practice I have had leading up to this crazy experience!" I probably would have been less stressed.

I remembered this all recently in the midst of washing dishes. A soapy cereal bowl slipped from my hands and bounced across the counter onto the floor, shattering in many tiny pieces. Once I had picked up the largest glass shards, I went to pull out the vacuum from its place, nestled between our dining table, the toy box, and the violin.

That's when it hit me. Last minute flexibility and spacial reckoning? That is my life. I don't do much packing for international travel these days, but living in a small space seems like one long stretch of packing and repacking to try and meet life's ever-changing demands. In my more frustrated moments I long for the magic solution that will finally, finally allow for a place for everything and everything in its place. But then it is for me to remember that my 473 square foot studio condo is just the duffle bag I'm using on this leg of the journey.

Tuesday, April 15

Day Five: From Trash to Treasure

You know what they say: One man's trash is a national treasure.

Or something like that.

Glass Beach is a treasure. A National Park. And since the National Park system celebrates 150 years this year, I am only stating the obvious when I say that it hasn't always been an official, nationally recognized treasure.

But most National Parks do not start out as the city dump.

In somewhat recent history, the trash was all relocated to a less picturesque location… all except for the broken glass which has been polished and wave tossed over the years. Thus its name.

To add to the irony, since this beach is now part of the National Park system, the glass is protected. Don't you even dare think about taking a piece of glass home with you.

David and I had a long debate over whether the newly abandoned beer bottle counted as part of the protected glass.

Well, no. It wasn't a long debate. It's hard to have a long debate in surroundings such as these.

Hm. That gives me an idea. Maybe more debates should take place in National Parks. Congress? What say you to that?

Monday, April 7

Day Six: Fort Bragg

Trains vs. Trees. Tell me quickly: which one is longer?

We were oh so tempted to catch the touristy Skunk Train in Fort Bragg and take it on its scenic route. We were even willing to sacrifice four hours of our precious drive-while-both-kids-sleep time to take the oldest one on a train.


But then we saw the cost and we realized we could go a lot farther on a train for that price, thankyouverymuch.

And then we saw the train.
Yep. That's it.

SOS took the kids down to the railroad crossing while I took pictures from our balcony overlooking Highway 1. CutieLittleBoy, so excited to get to see a train, was not impressed. He kept asking to go see a long train. And yes, we are glad we were not skunked by the Skunk Train. (We've been told this is one of the downsides of traveling out of peak tourist season. They use a cooler looking train at other times.)

And then we drove the Avenue of the Giants. The Coastal Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world.

If you were to zoom in on this photo, you might be able to see a small blue speck near the line of horizon. That's me standing at the base of the fallen tree. SOS took this picture while standing near (but not at) the top of the tree.

Trees beat the train by a mile. Okay, not quite a mile, but definitely a millennium.

Tuesday, March 18

Day Seven: Fern Canyon

Fern Canyon is about an hour north of Eureka.

That is, it would be an hour out of Eureka if the roads were not flooded, potholed, and occupied by the stray elk and/or tourist.

What with unruly tourists blocking the road with their car to idly wade in the middle of the creek (which coincidentally is also the middle of the road), you'd better plan for at least an hour and a half of drive time.

But once you get there, it is like stepping onto the abandoned set for Jurassic Park. Oh, that's because it is the abandoned set for Jurassic Park. Funny thing about that.

We'd been warned that we were coming too early in the year to see the canyon at it's peak, but oh. my. goodness. So beautiful.

Also, very wet.

Like dew lingering on plants in the mid afternoon wet.

Like tromping through the creek wet.

Like waterfalls oozing from the canyon walls wet.

Like CutieLittleBoy falling in the creek wet.

This was another one of those adventures where I wondered if we were foolish. So many spots on the trail seemed impassible… even after we decided we weren't going to even try to pretend to keep our shoes anything less than squishy-soggy wet.
But I was wrong. We made it through the long canyon, up the side, and back along the rim.

A great accomplishment, I tell you, especially since we passed several others who gave up long before seeing the worst of it (and also singlehandedly convincing at least two groups of people it wasn't possible by them merely observing our passing).

So let me try to compensate by convincing you to go and hike it. Go. See it. Get wet. (But not eaten by dinosaurs.)

Thursday, March 13

Day One: From Mexico, North

Besides taking our requisite photo along the California/Mexico border, our planned San Diego activity is staying at the iconic Hotel del Coronado. Or, as people in the know say, “Hotel Del”. Between my knowledge of Spanish and my involuntary editing twitch, I’ve been twitching a lot.

Hotel Del is a luxury hotel dating from 1880s. More than a century later, accommodations are still highly sought after, with prices to match. Which is why, our budget being what it is, our stay lasts all of 45 minutes… just long enough for our drinks to be served. 

(We intended to order something more substantial at their restaurant, but with 45 minute wait times for simple drinks, we give up after the sunset and find an emptier spot down the street. We also intended to treat the kids’ Aunt Angie for her birthday, but she ends up treating us at a place so fancy they line their trashcans waste receptacles with linen rather than plastic bags. Thanks, Auntie Angie!)
That’s why we reach the Mexican border crossing at 8pm. Not necessarily something we recommend, especially when you are unfamiliar with the roads and don’t want to accidentally find yourself in another country. Day one: Ambitious, but a success!

Tuesday, March 4

Day One: Getting Started

We cheated. On a day not overburdened with practical actions, we did do one small act of practicality. Our vacation plan is to follow Pacific Coast Highway from the Mexico border to the Oregon border. Calculating drive times, we realized that heading south before turning north could add quite a bit of drive time… too much to make our one week of vacation as restful as we might hope. The solution? Do a round trip to the border as a Sunday afternoon drive.

Like I said, low in practicality. But if we are going to spend too much time on the road, we should at least spend daylight hours on the route that inspired our trip. South on PCH, return via inland freeways.

So yes, we cheated in not traveling a very literal border to border along PCH, but we traveled every stop-and-go inch of PCH through LA County. We deserve the credit.

We begin on a still-raining Sunday afternoon. We grab some lunch, strap the kids in the car and wind our way through the mountain range to the sunshiny coast.

If we had a sunroof, we would put it down and blast Beach Boys or something similar. But we’re in our trusty commuter car, and we’re trying to get the kids to sleep, so it’s air conditioning and classical.

Like a long swallow of strawberry lemonade, we slide down the familiar Malibu coast and up to the Santa Monica Pier. There’s a circus in progress… or are they tenting for termites? We pass too quickly to discern which.

And then we’re inland. We’ve exchanged the rolling waves for something far less familiar and friendly. Don’t look to the right. Oh, and yeah. Don’t look left now. Did we make a wrong turn? Is this still PCH? Where’s a street sign?

Oh. Venice Beach.

It all makes sense now.

A little further and we’re in Marina del Rey. Enormous condominiums and posh street corners. And while we are still matching landmarks to stories we’ve heard, LAX.

Wait. LAX?

Since when did they put LAX here? I’m genuinely surprised. I’ve been to LAX dozens of times, yet it’s placement here, straddling PCH unnerves me. PCH isn’t for going to the airport. It’s for convertibles and Beach Boys.

And that’s when I begin to suspect that I’m in for many surprises following the Pacific Coast. And I’m only an hour into the journey.

California Border to Border

I am not terribly impulsive. Really. Vacation planning aside, I’m a slow mover. But that is not how we ended up starting our vacation on a Sunday afternoon.

SOS and I have been trying to decide whether we can afford a vacation this summer. According to our pattern (firmly established over the first four years of our marriage), we have a vacation abroad, then the next year we stay in the States, and then repeat. Away. Here.

Obviously, we’re due for something international. Our 1.5 salary disagrees with us, though. To vacation, or not to vacation? That is the question.

Then Boss-man tells SOS, I really don’t need you in the office Spring Break. Why don’t you take some vacation?

It’s too late to get SmilesBabyGirl’s passport, so we do the best we can under the circumstances: start our vacation at the border.

California border to border, here we go!
We had CutieLittleBoy be our Vanna and not SmilesBabyGirl in case there was an accidental border crossing and we couldn't get her back on account of no passport.