Why You Don’t Mess With English Majors

About to board for our Norway trip.

So, we’re leaving on this big expedition to the Galapagos tomorrow, right? I’ve spent my day packing and cleaning and writing out luggage tags and running errands. I have to get up at 4 a.m. to start this journey, but I have so much to do to finish getting ready that I am already acknowledging that tomorrow is going to be a triple shot latte followed by two Cokes kind of day. Still, I am excited. I love travel. Love it. Once we get to the airport, I will be in my happy place.

Anyway, yesterday I was at a party for a friend and someone asked me if I was excited about our upcoming vacation. Clearly this particular friend hasn’t known me for very long.

“It’s a trip,” I corrected him.

He stared at me blankly.

“Oh. Steve said you guys were going on a family vacation,” he said, puzzled by my distinction.

“Oh. It’s a family vacation for Steve. For me, it’s a family trip.”

He furrowed his eyebrows.

“You see, my kids are coming with me. Since my career is as a full-time, stay-at-home parent, any traveling I do with my children is not technically a vacation for me. According to the dictionary definition, a vacation is a freedom or release from work. If my work is there, it’s a trip. You know, just like if you traveled for your job it would be a trip and not a vacation,” I explained.

“But, you’re going to the Galapagos Islands,” he said. “I think most people would call that a vacation.”

“I’m sure most people would. I would not. If you went to London for work, would you call it a vacation?” I asked.

“No.”

“If you went to London to see the Olympics, would you have to file for vacation time from work?”

“Of course,” he replied.

“See….that’s just it. I don’t file for vacation time because it’s not a vacation,” I continued. “It’s a trip. I’m bringing my work along.”

“But it’s the same thing,” he said.

“It’s not the same thing. For me, a vacation is when I’m away from my children. For you, a vacation is when you’re away from work,” I tried again.

“But, when you’re away from home doesn’t it feel like vacation?” he pressed.

“Not really because it’s actually easier to parent my kids at home than it is when we travel. When we travel there are all sorts of distractions and new issues. There’s no routine. Things are more chaotic, which sometimes makes work more difficult.”

At this point, I sensed his eyes starting to roll to the back of his head, so I dropped the subject and moved on. Clearly, he was not going to understand where I was coming from. I’m not entirely sure, in fact, that anyone but a fellow stay-at-home parent could understand my distinction between the two words at this point in my life. It’s an issue of semantics. I get that. Someday, when my boys are grown and I am without them more than with them, I’m sure my terminology will go back to the more standard and readily acceptable. Someday, when I vacation with my sons (and maybe even their families), the journeys will truly be vacations because I will have more freedom to enjoy myself and fewer responsibilities. For now, though, I’m sticking with calling this a “trip.” Don’t misunderstand me. It’s going to be an amazing, incredible, once-in-a-lifetime trip, but it’s still a trip…even if my work doesn’t fit into my laptop case.

 

Relaxing Is A Lot Of Hard Work

The place where I can breathe

Why is relaxing such hard work? We’re meeting some wonderful, lifelong friends arriving from Minnesota at the airport tomorrow morning before heading up to our home-away-from-home in Steamboat Springs. To get ready for five days in the mountains, I spent the majority of my day preparing for our trip. I was trapped in the hot, upper floor of our home, peering into closets, ironing clothes, folding laundry, and laying out outfits.

While packing, I spent a lot of time watching HGTV. This is one of my husband’s favorite channels. It is not mine. I hate the House Hunters who think they’re going to get granite counter tops and hardwood floors in 2800 square feet in an old but totally updated house in the big city for under $200k. The Million Dollar Rooms show makes me physically ill. Today I saw one house where the gentleman spent $7 million dollars on his swimming pool area, including a champagne-filled hot tub. Seriously? A hot tub of champagne? I don’t care how much money you’ve earned and saved. That kind of extravagance is unconscionable. My favorite (and I mean that in a tone dripping with sarcasm) is the overseas House Hunter editions where you get to see some spoiled Americans searching for their dream space in a foreign country and then being put out because most people in the world don’t have homes like we do in the United States. You know, they wanted a home in Colombia but why do all the homes in Colombia have to be so, well, Colombian? About the only good thing I can say about HGTV is that it’s nice to have on when you’re doing something else. What really sucks about HGTV, though, is when an episode I’ve already seen today re-airs after 5 hours. That means I’ve spent way too much time watching HGTV today.

Still…once I get beyond the mind-numbing television and the dreams I’ll be having tonight during my five hours of sleep about not forgetting Joe’s retainer in the packing process tomorrow morning (oh…and did I remember to feed the frogs?), I realize that none of what happened today or tonight or even in the morning on our way out of town will matter. By the time we’re on our deck tomorrow afternoon with Jeff and Jessie, having drinks and enjoying the view of Steamboat Springs while our four boys play together, it will all have been worth it. Even the time spent watching HGTV.

I’ll Be Counting Sheep Tonight

“Dear nasty, wretched crow…SHUT UP!”

Thus began my day. Curled up in my sleeping bag, one eye open to the encroaching daylight, I wished for the first time in my life that I was in possession of a loaded pellet gun. I started to wonder what I was thinking when I suggested and arranged this last-minute camping trip.

Despite its unpleasant and abrupt beginning, the rest of the day unfolded into one well worth waking up for. After packing lunch and loading the FJ, we headed out of Marble up Colorado 133 toward Paonia, searching for adventure. We had done a little research and discovered we were just 30 miles from a dirt road that would take us over Kebler Pass and down into Crested Butte. Couldn’t pass it up. And, at the very least, it would get me away from the thieving crow that had robbed me of my peaceful mountain slumber.

We knew from our research that we would get a view of the world’s largest aspen forest. What we didn’t know was that our simple trek to Crested Butte would be delayed by free-range livestock. Our first meeting was with a rancher and his cattle. With the bovines marching down the center of the dirt road in front of our SUV, I could imagine the tourist postcard opportunity: “Colorado Rush Hour.” (Of course, as any Denver resident knows, our rush hours involve a lot fewer cows and a lot more stubborn mules and other assorted asses.)

Once we had safely bypassed the miniature cattle drive, Steve pulled off onto a small shoulder where we decided to picnic before the rain set in. While eating my sandwich I noticed a few sheep nestled into a meadow at the edge of a grove of aspen. I walked closer to investigate. There were easily 60 sheep resting there in among the trees. When they noticed me, they began bleating to one another. From across the road, more sheep called out to the larger flock. We had stopped for lunch unaware that we were in the midst of a sizable herd of free-range sheep. We finished our food, took some photos and video, and started down the other side of Kebler Pass on our way to Crested Butte, all the while rambling on about seeing those dang sheep.

On the way back up the pass heading back toward camp, the mountains offered us a different and even prettier view than before. We marveled at the immensity of the aspen forest which, in the intermittent rain showers, oddly resembled a rain forest. We began to look for the sheep again. Near where we had seen them before we saw a rancher in a bright yellow rain slicker walking with two large, white dogs. Simultaneously, using our vast and largely worthless knowledge of dog breeds, Steve and I both blurted out “Anatolian shepherds!” Anatolian shepherds are Turkish sheep dogs that live out with the flock full-time and serve as protectors. They are known to be incredibly independent and fearless. We used to joke that we needed an Anatolian shepherd to protect our wimpy Labrador retriever.

We drove beyond the dogs and rancher looking for the sheep. That’s when we realized that the large herd we had seen earlier was roughly one-quarter of the size of the entire herd now gathered at the top of the pass. I’ve never seen so many sheep in my life. We might as well have been in New Zealand. We stopped to stare at massive flock because we were suddenly feeling small and outnumbered. Steve grabbed his fancy camera, got out of the car, and headed back up the hill on foot for some sheep photos. Suddenly, his car door reopened and he jumped in.

“There’s an Anatolian shepherd running toward the car,” he huffed once safely inside.

Sure enough. Standing right there next to Steve’s car door was one of the large shepherds we had seen. He eyed Steve cautiously and then walked around to insinuate himself between the car and the sheep. I unrolled my car window to get a photo of him. He looked at me cautiously but without ill intent. He was doing his job, protecting his flock. As the hundreds of sheep moved through the ferns and underbrush beneath the towering aspens bleating calls to each other, I was in awe. It was odd and pastoral and yet perfectly Colorado.

Sometimes, the adventure you set out on is quite different than the one that opens before you. We had planned nothing more than a pleasant afternoon drive to Crested Butte. Instead, we ended up in the middle of one of the coolest things we’d ever seen in the Colorado high country. Colorado is consistently breathtaking, but it’s the unexpected treasures that make living here a privilege.

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Everything Including The Kitchen Sink…Just Not The Stove

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As I was writing my blog yesterday, I forgot one important component of the planning, packing, and loading aspect of camping. I am not the only adult in our house participating in these activities the day we leave. This morning as we were preparing to head out, I quickly remembered how having a second set of hands is both a blessing and a curse.

As the clock ticked ever closer to our prospective departure time, it seemed we (and by “we” I mean Steve) kept finding more stuff we needed to bring with us. Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore my husband. He is probably the most honest and genuine person I have ever known. But, he is cautious and protective. He loves gear and gadgets meant to make life easier and more enjoyable, but when it comes time to leave he can’t necessarily recall what he has or where it is. Consequently we have approximately 5,000 bottles of sunscreen and insect repellant…all of which I’m sure are in either the car or the camper right now.

In the chaos of trying to get out of the house, with two people trying to collect necessities, we’ve in the past forgotten important items. I’m currently wondering if this will be the case today because as we’re in the car and driving now, we just had this conversation.

“Do we have enough propane canisters?” Hubby inquires.

“I believe we have about six canisters in various stages of emptiness. That should be plenty,” I reply. Then a thought occurs to me. “Did you pack the camp stove?”

His vacant stare is my answer.

“Isn’t it in the camper?” he asks, his tone dripping with desperation.

“I don’t know. Since we didn’t open it, I am not sure. It wasn’t in the garage?”

“I didn’t look for it,” came the answer.

In trying to keep with my “what’s the worst that can happen” mindset, I made the conscious decision not to fret about it. We may or may not have the camp stove, which we will need to heat the foods I prepared in advance because of the fire ban and the fact that the propane canister on our camper has been empty for years. (Do not get me started on that topic.) Either way, I am sure that our weekend will be fine. We will merely be eating a lot of cold sandwiches rather than hot food. We’re not going to starve. It’s just a small hiccup in what will otherwise be a great weekend. At least, that’s what I am telling myself as I recall the large bottle of sweet tea vodka I do remember packing before we left.

Boobies and Sea Lions and Giant Tortoises, Oh My!

Working on research for our trip

Two months from today, we will be embarking on a long, international journey. My very generous and well-traveled in-laws are treating the entire family to a 10-day excursion to Ecuador to visit the Galapagos Islands. When they first suggested this trip, I was intrigued. Honestly, I hadn’t had the Galapagos Islands on my list of places I must see on this planet, but how could I not want to go and experience what so few others have? How could I turn my nose up at an opportunity to see blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, and marine iguanas (iguanas that actually swim)? How many people get to walk where Darwin walked and see what Darwin saw? People talk about “the trip of a lifetime,” but this one truly is.

We’re not just taking any old tour, either. We’re taking the National Geographic Expeditions’ Galapagos Family Odyssey trip. We’re traveling with naturalists and photographers from National Geographic. It’s a family friendly voyage where we’ll have opportunities to swim with sea lions, snorkel with sea turtles, and stand feet away from the islands’ giant tortoises and where the boys will be provided special activities to enhance their experience. We’ll take six airline flights and spend 7-days aboard a small cruise ship. I’ve had to buy new luggage, expedition clothing, and shoes that can get wet. We’re doing research and reading about both Darwin and the islands, their flora and fauna, and their history. This is no lightweight island vacation where you lounge on a beach. This is an expedition of the highest order.

This vacation has been planned for over a year now, so I’ve delayed my enthusiasm and excitement to live with the wait involved. But today, as I looked at the date, it hit me that it’s finally almost here. I’ve got to brush up on my Spanish, review the trip packing list and determine what we’re missing, and try to figure out how I am going to blog daily from a ship off the coast of the Galapagos. I know I often write about living in the moment, but this is one of those cases when you have plan ahead to be appropriately prepared and to get the most from the experience. Two months from today I will wake up early, fly to Miami before boarding a plane for Guayaquil, Ecuador, and then step foot in South America for the first time. August 3rd will be here in a flash. Time to start taking this trip of a lifetime seriously.

I Get It Already

Oh, how I love my office.

I truly believe that when you need to learn something, the Universe will provide lesson after lesson to get you to where you need to be. The trick is being aware enough to read the signs. Lately, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with the idea of living in the present moment, mostly because I suck at it. I’m always in my brain, planning something, imagining something, dissecting something. I feel I’ve been challenged to get beyond these mental gymnastics. If I’m ever to grow in spirit, I need to get the heck out of my head. This, as my mother would say, is my “growing edge,” which is why it’s so challenging.

This weekend I was slated to travel to a conference to learn more about my options in the writing and publishing industry. I’ve long toyed with the idea of writing a book (likely non-fiction, but I keep an open mind about fiction too), but I’ve got no idea where to start. Before I devote a huge chunk of my time to writing a serious work, I thought I would learn more about the industry and make sure I know what my options are and what I am getting myself into. Well, guess what? Three days before the conference, the publishing company had to cancel the event due to unforeseen circumstances. It’s been rescheduled for this summer, which is fantastic, but I had a hotel room booked, a non-refundable, no changes, there’s-no-way-you’re-getting-your-money-back hotel room. Crap.

I immediately did what I always do when I get news like this. I had a little mental hissy fit. I mean, seriously? I was really looking forward to this. Travel by myself for the weekend. Have dinner with some friends I haven’t seen in a long time. Get out of my daily routine. Relax and recharge before summer starts and the kids are here 24/7. Crap. Disappointed here! Then, something miraculous happened. I stopped to breathe. I actually listened to my own advice and I stopped to breathe. After a couple minutes, I allowed myself to return to my head to weigh my options. There were only two. I could skip the trip. Sure I’d lose the money invested in the hotel room, but I could spend the weekend at home with my family and save up for the trip I’ll have to make later. Or, I could take the trip anyway, see my friends, and spend some quality time alone with my thoughts, my laptop, and my luxury SUV. Either way, I didn’t need to invest hours in the fabricated drama created by an unexpected decision. Instead of wasting time being disappointed and pouting about it, I could make a decision and move on with the present moment. So, I did. As an early Mother’s Day gift to myself, I’m going on my trip this weekend.

With that drama dispatched, I am able to sit here in the shade on our back patio, enjoy the chattering finches and the melodious meadowlarks, feel the warm, spring breeze on my skin, and just be here and now. I’m making progress. Little by little, I am getting better at refocusing myself when I get distracted from the current moment. Granted, I still have a long way to go, but my response time when I get sidetracked by minutiae is getting quicker. So, Universe, I get it already. I see what you’re trying to do here. Believe me…I appreciate it.

 

Dorothy Was Right

 

On the ride home from Moab today, we made the boys turn off their DVD player for a few minutes so we could recap our weekend’s adventures, the good and bad parts, the things that will stick with us in our memories.

My birthday is May 27 and this is what I would like please.

 

I loved how when got to the Comfort Suites in Moab and checked into our room, Joe’s exact comment was “Whoa! This is the nicest hotel room we’ve ever stayed in!” Keep in mind that our son has stayed at both The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and The Hotel Jerome in Aspen, not to mention a 4-star resort on Captiva Island in Florida and several top-tier hotels in Norway. Apparently, those places have nothing on the Moab Comfort Suites. Good to know he’s not been spoiled by his travels. Joe’s favorite part was the hike to Delicate Arch (even though we scared him by taking a slightly off-track route along a seemingly perilous edge). He complained, however, that the traffic in Moab was “the worst,” a fairly amusing comment from a kid from Denver who sits in traffic all the time. Even with the April Action Car Show there this weekend, Moab could not possibly rival Denver’s traffic. Besides, we got to see all those cool, classic cars.

Luke buried at Sand Dune Arch.

Both boys agreed that the most fun arch in the park was Sand Dune arch. (Gee. I wonder why.) They also thought the hike to Broken Arch was the best, and that Double Arch wins the award for being the coolest arch. Luke’s only major disappointment was that the Moab Brewery did not have any plain vanilla ice cream and so he had to go without dessert last night.

Steve and I both thought the hike we did with the boys last night in the Park Avenue section of Arches was the best part. We were there on the desert floor, surrounded by these massive rock “fins.” It was sunset, and it felt like we were the only people in the world. (Although as Joe, Master of The Obvious, pointed out, we really weren’t the only people in the world because someone else had made that trail.) Still, it’s rare to have a trail to yourself and it’s even rarer when that trail is in a national park. If Steve and I had a complaint, it was only that our hotel room appeared to be located underneath that of a family of four large elephants with very heavy feet who, oddly enough, decided to walk the stairs next to our room repeatedly rather than taking the elevator. Aside from the somewhat noisy hotel room, we thought the entire trip was a success.

Park Avenue at sunset

We all agreed, though, as we pulled off C-470 and began heading south on Wadsworth toward our home with the sunset illuminating the sky, no matter how much fun we have on any trip we are always happy to pull into our neighborhood. Traveling is something we all love to do, but Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home.

 

What About My Baggage?

“Do you know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are? Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.”            ~George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life

Our rainbow bags will make us easy to spot...from space.

We’re gearing up for another summer of travel. Literally. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I love planning for travel nearly as much as I love traveling itself. So, for the past few weeks, that’s what I’ve been doing. We’re taking a big trip with Steve’s family this summer. I was informed by my father-in-law that our bags for the main leg of the trip are not allowed to exceed 40 pounds each. Knowing that we will be abroad for 10 days with two boys who can’t keep one outfit clean all day, I began to panic about how we would get everything we need for air travel and boat cruising into a few, 40-pound bags that the four of us will be able to haul successfully through international airports. So, I used this restriction as an excuse to do what any normal woman would do when faced with this dilemma: I started shopping.

In 1997, hubby and I purchased two very large Samsonite travel suitcases to accommodate our plans to have no children and to travel instead. Four years after that purchase, we still had not traveled and we had one child. Since then, our luggage has always been a menagerie of hand-me-down, mismatched, awkward, and barely functioning individual pieces. When we’ve had money to spend, we just haven’t been interested in purchasing matching luggage sets for the travels we were not taking. In the past ten years, we’ve traveled with valises riddled with holes and afflicted by missing wheels and broken zippers. I vowed this time we would not be traveling like the Clampetts.

Our new luggage would have to be durable, lightweight, moderately priced, medium-sized, easily identifiable, and have wheels. I did some research and settled upon a bag I thought fit all my specifications. I ordered one, an Exo Hardside Spinner from eBags, so we could test it out at home before ordering three more. It arrived and was perfect. Big enough for multiple days of travel with lightweight clothing but small enough that the boys will be able to handle their own bags. We collectively decided to order the remaining bags, each deciding on our own color to eliminate future arguments.

When they arrived, I immediately unpacked them and felt confident about our purchase. How can you not feel good about a lifetime guarantee? At least I could be certain that I would no longer have to lean a bag against my leg at a check in counter because of a missing wheel. As the bags sat in our living room over the course of the next several days, however, I began to experience second thoughts. These bags are really bright and noticeable. There is nothing subtle about them. In fact, I’m fairly certain that we’ll be easy to spot…from outer space. Are these suitcases less tacky than our current hodgepodge of misfits?

Reflecting on it for a bit longer, though, I realized that I don’t care if they appear gauche to some. They fit our motley crew perfectly. They are related yet unique, fun but practical, spunky but not obnoxious. They’re also two colors shy of an LGBT flag, and we’re good with that association. They tell people we’re bold and ready for adventure. If people with pricey, matching luggage sets want to look down their noses at us for our silly bags, let them. We may not be full of decorum, but at least we’re interesting.