Maybe Van Life Isn’t Such A Bad Idea

My view this evening

My youngest has to have 50 volunteer hours to graduate next June. He’s already cruising along getting these hours because he is all over deadlines like white on rice. A couple weeks ago, though, he was offered the opportunity to earn two more volunteer hours tonight by serving as a student ambassador at meet-and-greet at another school. He has been giving tours of Denver Academy as a student ambassador since 8th grade. In his sophomore year, he was promoted to lead ambassador. He takes this responsibility very seriously because he is dead serious about everything, especially responsibility. So, when he asked me if he could get these two volunteer hours by doing this event tonight, I had to reward his diligence. About a week ago, he told me that I would need to drive him to this other school for the volunteering. He had to be there from 6-8. I didn’t think another thing about it.

The other day I asked him where the event tonight was being held. He told me it was near Wings Over the Rockies, which is roughly an hour from our house in rush hour traffic. I did the driving math in my head. We would have to leave at 5 (after I just got home from school pick up at 3:50). If I wanted to go home while he was volunteering, by the time I got there I would have to turn around and drive back to pick him up. So I have spent the past two hours sitting in the parking lot in my car while he earned his two hours. Am I angry about this? No. I love this kid. I love his devotion to his school, to his graduation requirements, and to his concern about securing a successful future for himself by (hopefully) finishing as one of the top students in his graduating class. I’m not angry or annoyed about this at all.

But, I do need to pee. I am thinking now that I wish I had a van-life van. What good is a “luxury” SUV if there is no toilet? Just saying.

Fetcha Day

Today was Fetcha Day for our new furry baby. After spending the night in Vernal, Utah, we drove into Duchesne and met the breeder at 9 am. She was wonderful, and Loki (whose full AKC name shall be Happy Go Loki Seven) was perfect from the get go. He played with a kitten, ran around the grass, and then settled into our arms like he had always belonged with us.

The drive from Duchesne to our house is approximately seven hours, and with a new pup we wanted to get home as quickly as possible. Along the way, we stopped several times at parks to let Loki use the grassy facilities and stretch his three-inch long corgi legs. By the time we hit Interstate 70, a point where we should have been a little over three hours from home, traffic came to a dead stop and then proceeded at a snail’s pace. That was about 1:30 pm. We got home at 7:30 pm. You do the math. At least it was a gorgeous Colorado fall day with plenty of color on the mountains to make the sluggish day bearable.

Loki could not have been a better travel companion, all five pounds of him. He did all his dirty business on the stops we made and never in the car. He missed his dinner time, but never whined about it. He entered his new kennel on his own and took several naps in there unprompted. And he tolerated ten hours in a car like a seasoned pro. He is a puppy to be sure, all sharpy teeth and nails, but he loves people and could not have a sweeter disposition. I can tell he is going to give us a run for our money, though, because he is smart. He has already proven he learns quickly. We are going to have to be careful because he is sure to pick up bad habits as quickly as good ones if we are not.

When we got home, we had a plan to slowly and respectfully introduce Ruby to the new brother she did not request. We had Luke walk her before we came home to get her in a calmer mental space. We let Loki run around the yard as soon as we arrived and then we put him in his small kennel, carried him in, and set him where Ruby could see him. She came close to investigate, clearly was not thrilled, but walked away without a snarl or as much attitude as I had expected. Then we left the puppy with Luke and took her for another walk. We are going to work to keep them separate by keeping Loki in his pen or crate when he is around her and not allowing him to play around her until Ruby is ready to accept her new roommate. It might take a couple weeks, but I think our slow approach will work. Fingers crossed.

We are all exhausted now after a long day, so it’s time to settle in for the night. So far so good with the puppy, the doggy introduction, and an only mildly sassy Ruby. Life is better with a furry dog friend or two.

We’re In The Upside Down

Sunset in the middle of unpopulated nowhere Colorado

We spent the better part of our day heading west towards the small Utah town where tomorrow we will fetch (pun intended) our newest family member, Loki puppy. The thing about Colorado is it is big, bigger than you might imagine. It’s the eighth largest state, which isn’t clearly apparent when you look at a map of the US. However, it is only 20th in terms of population. This means there is a great deal of open space here. The traffic in the cities is a nightmare, but outside the cities there are areas of the state where you really are ostensibly out in the middle of nowhere. We passed through some of those nowhere areas today.

When I was a child, Colorado was a red state. As the population has increased and the cities have grown, it has become a blue state. Let’s call it light blue. Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Pueblo, and many of the mountain towns are blue. Colorado Springs, along with the rural towns in the west and east, are red. You can travel through Denver and see LGBTQ+ and Black Lives Matter signs along with American flags, but once you hit the rural areas you will begin to see Don’t Tread on Me and Blue Lives Matter flags, along with Trump flags and even Confederate flags (don’t get me started on that). This division of our state’s population along political lines has never been as apparent to me as it is now. It’s enough to make little liberal me feel uncomfortable when we pass through Rifle, where US Representative Lauren Boebert owns a restaurant aptly called Shooter’s Grill, where servers wait on tables with loaded guns holstered at their sides. As we left the Denver metro area and headed west and then northwest, we entered some of the lower populated areas that are solidly red, including Rifle.

Outside of Rifle, heading north towards Meeker today, I saw something I have never in my 53 years as an American citizen seen. There was a small ranch off the road on my side of the car. As we drove past, I noticed they had two flags attached to the wooden entry gate, one American flag and one variant of a Blue Lives Matter flag. This did not surprise me. What caught my attention was that both flags were flying upside down, waving in the fall breeze.

I turned to Steve and remarked about it. According to the US flag code, “The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.” From what I could glean from the appearance of the ranch, there were no instances of extreme danger to life or property, which could only mean that the union down on their flag poles was meant to signify that our country is in dire distress. I told Steve that I too agree that our country is in dire distress, but I imagine I probably disagree with the person who hoisted those flags as to why that is.

The sight of these flags flown upside down, combined with the events of January 6th at the US Capitol, are deeply concerning. And after reading an opinion piece in The Washington Post yesterday written by neoconservative scholar Robert Kagan, entitled Our Constitutional Crisis Is Already Here, I’m getting increasingly worried about where we are headed. When you see conservative pundits on mainstream media saying they expect there to be violence, it’s time to expect violence. We are in an ugly, scary place. We don’t have a roadmap for where we are heading. I know it doesn’t help my mindset that I am a huge fan of the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale. I keep telling Steve as I see the battle to overturn Roe v. Wade play out that I won’t end up like June Osborne, unable to escape a country that has fallen under authoritarian rule while she kept thinking, “This can’t really be happening.” It’s not hyperbole to say that we are in dangerous territory, and I’m not talking about Rifle or Lauren Boebert’s Shooter’s Grill.

Liberals and Democrats in particular need to distinguish between their ongoing battle with Republican policies and the challenge posed by Trump and his followers. One can be fought through the processes of the constitutional system; the other is an assault on the Constitution itself.” ~ Robert Kagan

Divine Interstate Intervention

When you are stopped for an accident, you can take photos of the fool in the car in front of you

I was driving on the highway today, going about 10 miles per hour over the speed limit in the fast lane, when a shiny, brand new, bright blue Audi S4 came buzzing up behind me way too fast. I quickly moved out of his way, shaking my head at the driver, because there was traffic in front of me. I wasn’t sure exactly where he thought he was going once he got me out of the way because there were plenty of cars ahead of me, but I let him zip around. As he did, I noticed he was on his cell phone texting. I rolled my eyes. I’d like to say that drivers like this dude are a rarity in Denver traffic, but they’re not. On any normal commute, I will encounter at least two accidents slowing traffic because some people haven’t figured out that when you are going 80, weaving in and out and zooming around people like you’re in Mario Kart, you’re creating dangerous situations.

Anyway, I got out of his way because I didn’t want to be in an accident, much less in an accident with a dope like that. A few minutes later, though, continuing along at my same, steady speed, I passed him because he had pulled into the slow lane and was going 65. I looked over and saw he was still texting, though. I assume he thought 65 was a safer speed for that illegal behavior. I shook my head again, merged onto the northbound highway, and was in the process of expunging him from my mind, when I saw him flying up behind me again. Holy hell. I was in the right lane now, and he sped around me on the left going at least 20 miles an hour faster than I was, and then pulled back into the lane in front of me so I could enjoy the tail view of his shiny car once more. Sigh.

Then it happened. Traffic came to a standstill. The blue Audi was suddenly stopped directly in front of me. All five lanes were loaded with cars at full stop. I slowed down, pulled up directly behind him, and smiled. I love it when shit like this happens. It makes me happy. I call it “divine intervention.” Some outside force leveled the playing field. Despite all his speeding, zipping, zooming, and buzzing in his quick little Audi, we were in the same spot. He hadn’t gotten any further than I had. Tee hee.

He noticed me pull up behind him. He adjusted his designed sunglasses in his side view mirror. At least now he could continue texting without potentially killing someone, I thought. I have to admit I was a little tempted to pull an Evelyn Couch from Fried Green Tomatoes, ram into his rear bumper (okay, okay, maybe just tap his bumper enough to scratch it) and tell the young fool, “Face it, dude. I’m older and I have more insurance.” Instead, I sat in my car feeling a little smug because all the speed of his fancy new car was rendered useless. He might have enjoyed passing the old lady in her 2015 Lexus SUV and feeling powerful, but now he was impotent like the rest of us. It almost made sitting for the extra twenty minutes behind him, waiting to get around another highway fender bender, worth it.

Divine intervention for the win.

The Church Of The Blue FJ Cruiser

I like road trips. I enjoy driving, but I also like being a passenger. I like waking up in one state and going to sleep in another. This is why I volunteer for these cross-country road trips. Today, after saying goodbye to Thing One, I drove almost 600 miles from southern Washington to Salt Lake City. And I discovered something I hadn’t realized before. I mean, other than the fact that Idaho is too damn big when you just want to be home. I like to road trip alone at least in part because it is an opportunity to listen to all my favorite music, sing along, and have zero responsibilities other than arriving at my destination safely.

During the course of my day, I checked my messages at various rest stops. What I discovered is that extroverts think road trips are an excuse to have phone conversations with you. I had three phone messages from different extroverted, social friends and family members telling me that they were calling to keep me company while I drive. The first time I heard the recorded message offering to chat with me to keep me company, I laughed out loud. Do these people not know me at all? I don’t like to talk on the phone to begin with. I find talking on the phone while driving a distraction. And I especially think it’s a distraction when what you are distracting me from is the mental peace and quiet that comes with listening to my car stereo loudly enough that the speakers audibly vibrate. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get me out of my head for a few minutes? A solo road trip day is my introvert church. It’s disrespectful to call someone when you know they are at church.

The gold of western hay fields
If you weren’t sure about the drought conditions, this is what eastern Oregon looks like right now
Snake River
Nothing but wildfire haze as far as the eye can see, which isn’t that far

Car Talk

Joe and I making car memories with Snapchat on the way to college

During our car travels, we spend a lot of time talking. We’ve so often used car time to cover deep and wide-ranging topics and have intellectual conversations that there have been times when we have driven three or four hours without realizing the radio has been off the entire drive. In truth, our sons often asked us to turn the radio down so they could join the adult conversation happening in the front seat. A conversation can arise from something we see out the window, but it often morphs into another as a kernel of information from the first topic germinates. Sometimes there will be a few moments of silence as we reflect on what has been said, but then someone will reintroduce a previous topic with a new vision that arose from that silence. We can get into some rather passionate discussions and have to fight for an opportunity to put our two-cents in, but it’s definitely one of the ways we learn the most about each other. Usually at the end of a long trip, one of us will remark about how fast the drive went because we talked the entire way.

There was one time when we talked about religion and faith the entire way to Steamboat Springs because our third grade son got into the car worried that we would not end up in heaven together. There was a summer trip home from the mountains when I had to tell our sons, then 11 and 9, that there had been a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, and we spent the remainder of the ride unpacking that information. Our oldest has led us through prehistory, talking animatedly about geology, dinosaurs, evolution, and birds. Our youngest recently read Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, a book written 50 years ago, and has been discussing it at length by tying it into our current human condition with the speed of change. During the latest trip, we spent a great deal of time talking about vaccine hesitancy and the Delta variant of Covid-19, about racism and sexism, and about the political climate in our nation too. Occasionally we use car time to discuss our future travel plans, but usually we talk about big picture topics in the world at large because those can carry us the longest distance.

We aren’t always serious. Some of my favorite conversations are ones where someone pops off with a memorable comment. Yesterday, I heard a sarcastic “Nothing shows respect for the American flag more than using it to cradle your ball sack” comment. Once, seven-year-old Joe used a car trip to remark, “You know, Mom, to a car, life IS a highway.” And I remember one ride where my youngest, pulling from something he had seen before somewhere, simply commented out of the blue, “Unfortunately for Joe, he’s made of meat.” Another time I was giving Joe grief about something and from the back seat Luke replied, “You’re not gonna throw him out like day old chowdah.” Yes. New England accent and everything. You never know what weirdness you might hear if you’re paying attention. You just have to be paying attention.

Car time is when your kids are a captive audience. We sought to use this to our advantage. We asked them questions to foster conversations, like What are your top three Pixar films or Who are your favorite Marvel heroes (Captain America and Thor for me, if you were wondering). Because our sons never went to a local school, they never had a bus ride. They just had me dropping them off and picking them up every school day, and the commute to school was never less than 20 minutes one way. Listening during car rides became the most efficient way to learn about my kids and talking during car rides became the most effective way to sneak in some valuable information I was hoping to impart. Along the way, our habit of coming up with family discussions took on a life of its own. It helps to be a family filled with idea people who are never short on opinions, but sometimes I wonder if we were always that way or if we evolved into those people because of our car talk.

I like to think our car conversations are one of the reasons our family is as close as it is. We’re heading up to the mountains again soon, then in a few weeks Joe and I will be driving the 1,084 miles back to his college for fall semester, and after that Luke and I will be sharing the driving task to and from his high school as he gets in more hours before taking his driving test. Eventually these chatty car rides will become more and more infrequent, but good lord I am glad we’ve taken this car time together and used it for discussion because it’s made us the family we are.

Home Sweet Home, Indeed

You got that right!

After racking up about a thousand miles driving around Colorado this weekend, we arrived home late this afternoon. We’re filthy, the camper still needs to be cleaned out and put back together, and we had to order in pizza because the fridge was empty, but we’re home. Funny how walking into your home after time away feels heavenly. Nothing has changed. It’s the same place you left not that long ago. But somehow it’s renewed. Maybe it’s just because I spent the past four days living in a tin can on wheels, but our home felt like a palace when I walked in. It seems huge. I’m feeling pretty spoiled.

The walls might start to close in on me a little tomorrow when I have to catch up on laundry, go grocery shopping, and fall back into my normal housekeeping job, but for tonight this house is the Four Seasons with a luxurious king bed and top-of-the-line bath products. Now all I need is a decent night’s rest and a long, hot shower that turns me into a Disney princess.

They say home is where you hang your hat. Tonight I am grateful that my hat rack is no longer on wheels.

Training Day

“Happiness hit her like a train on a track.” ~ Florence Welch

My ride

I spent today on the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway. If you haven’t been, add it to your bucket list. The trip takes you a little over 45 miles one way through the heart of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado from Durango to Silverton. This was my second trip on the train, the first time with our sons. The only way to see this stretch of Colorado is via this train. I spent my entire day feeling grateful that this is where I have spent most of my life. Colorado is stunning. It’s a privilege to live here.

Departing Durango
Someone’s private lake…jealous
Precipitous drop off into the Animas River
Steam trains need water
Arrived in Silverton

At The Corner of East 38th And Chicago Ave

Last week my son and I went to Minnesota for 36 hours to tour colleges, one in St. Paul and two in Northfield. We added on a quick stop at the Mall of America to hit up the biggest Lego store in the United States. And I forced Luke to eat gluten free with me, trying out a bakery for cinnamon donuts, as well as a popular restaurant that served gourmet arepas. Early Thursday evening as we were driving back from our last college tour in Northfield, we discussed what we should do with the remaining couple hours we had in Minneapolis. I suggested we visit the George Floyd Memorial. Luke agreed it was imperative.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the experience. George Floyd’s murder woke me. While I had been sleepily aware of innumerable murders of black men and boys by white police officers, I had never considered my inaction a form of passive racism. Watching the footage of Officer Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, knowing that Floyd was pleading for his life and yet the officers refused to relent to save him, made me sick. This was not a knee-jerk murder committed out of an impulsive act of self-defense, to which I could give the law officer some benefit of the doubt in my white naïveté. This was intentional. It was obvious to me. It was obvious to many white people whose eyes hadn’t been opened before. It was impossible to unsee what we had seen. There was no going back. My complicity in racism existed through my sheer inability to comprehend I could have been doing something proactive to speak out against these injustices, yet I remained silent because it wasn’t my father, brother, or son being targeted. I hadn’t been paying enough attention. I had to face what I didn’t want to face. As an upper-middle-class white woman, I had always been in a position to speak out, to get involved, to do more. I just hadn’t. I was racist for believing these problems didn’t belong to me when they did.

Luke and I parked a couple blocks away from the intersection where the memorial had been erected and walked through the neighborhood. The houses were small and well kept. Many yards had Black Lives Matter signs or pictures of George Floyd. The closer we got to the memorial, the more evidence we saw of the strife the neighborhood has witnessed since May of 2020. A block off the memorial, sprayed on the street, are a list of asks, boxes that need to be checked in order for all black Americans to begin to feel heard and seen. We read them slowly, considering each name listed and feeling the weight of the problems facing minorities in this country today.

When we reached the Cup Foods store outside which Floyd had been forced to the ground and knelt on for far too long as he gasped for breath and called for his mother, I was overcome by emotion and stood in awe. So many people had contributed to the memorial. There were banners and poems, candles, artwork, and a plethora of stuffed animals now dirty and threadbare from sitting out in the elements for a year. This small neighborhood store, still operating, people wandering in and out around the cordoned off area directly in front of the store, is something bigger now. After taking in the thoughtful tokens left by mourners, I moved to the spray-painted mural of Floyd. I stood in front of him and studied his face and I cried. I thought about how ridiculous it is to be murdered over a disputed $20 bill. I thought about how that would never happen to a white man. I cried for George. I cried for young Darnella Frazier who had taken the video that changed my heart. I thought about how her life changed that day. I thought about how helpless she must have felt. I thought about how she will never see the world the same way again. I wept for innocence lost and eyes now opened. I wept for George’s eyes forever closed.

In the spot where Floyd took his last breath under Chauvin’s knee, an artist painted a blue image of a man, face down, hands bound behind his back. Wings arise not from his back, but from his neck. Underneath him are the final words he had air for in his collapsing lungs.

Standing in George Floyd Square will forever be same to me as standing at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. Heartbreaking and nauseating. Surreal and yet completely real. There aren’t words enough to explain the emotions. And I don’t know the way right way forward to begin to change the vestiges of systemic racism, but I know change must happen. I know I have to be part of that change in whatever way I am able to contribute for the rest of my fortunate life.

I’m glad I took Luke to that intersection last Thursday. I’m grateful we shared tears and hugs and silent reverence. I’m grateful my son is alive and I acknowledge how gifted I have been not to have to worry about him when he goes out in the same way a mother of a black boy worries. Every white person in this country should visit the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis. Go see if you can stand there and not feel your heart change. Go see if you can stand there and not understand what a privilege it is to be white and to know that no police officer will ever snuff your life out for allegedly passing a counterfeit bill with white Andrew Jackson on it, or maybe even someday soon black Harriet Tubman. Go take a minute to stand and feel the lightness of your whiteness. Go stand for minute with the heaviness of being black in America.