Perspective From Two Hours On A Flight Next To A Hungry, Tired Toddler

This was once my reality

Sitting in the small airplane, four seats wide, sharing the row with a young mother of three with a screaming toddler on her lap. Toddler is tossing everything she is handed onto the floor.

“It’s been a while since I had littles,” I tell her with as much patience and understanding and motherly wisdom as I can muster, “but I remember those days well. No worries.”

Her four year old son sitting behind me kicks my seat the entire flight, stopping only to push both feet long and slow into my lower back. Six year old daughter next to him bugging him for the iPad. The mom next to me looks exhausted and, boy, do I get it. Her toddler thrashes in her arms, grabs my hair and pulls. The mom is mortified and apologizes, and I nod with understanding. It’s been seventeen years since I last held a wailing toddler on a flight, but that experience never leaves you. The muscle memory of the anxiety and embarrassment remains fresh.

The toddler in her lap, likely desperately tired and frustrated, begins howling with increasing ferocity. The mom hands her off to her husband who is sitting next to their oldest daughter across the aisle from the young ones behind me. As her daughter thrashes like a shark in shallow water, the mom shrinks, puts her head in her hands, and shakes it slowly back and forth. I know she is counting the seconds until her tiny creation at last succumbs to the sleep she needs.

As she is doing this, I look out my window-seat rectangle with its rounded corners. I am grateful to be wearing a mask as the silent tears slip behind the fiber filter on my face. You see, I said goodbye again to my almost 21 year old this morning after I passed him the four bottles of wine we couldn’t fit into our checked luggage. And I’m heading home to my high school senior who will be moving away in four month’s time. The ache this mom is feeling as she wishes the time on this two-and-a-half hour journey would pass more quickly is a similar ache I am feeling as I wish these last few months would pass more slowly.

I would never tell her these things, as she will be in my shoes far sooner than she can fathom. She will discover in her own time the way childhood speeds up as it approaches puberty and adulthood. What starts as seconds moving as sand grains, imperceptibly draining through the narrow tube in an hourglass ends as deluge of sand dumped from a toddler’s beach pail. And this mom will learn, as I did, that those prayers for time to speed up aren’t selective. Time doesn’t speed for the rough moments without also speeding for the good moments. Time is brutal that way. Lucky parents will learn this the hard way, seeing their children mature in the blink of an eye and move on. We’re the fortunate ones, the ones who get to see their children reach adulthood. Many parents don’t have that same good fortune.

This is my reality now

For now, I say a silent prayer for this mom in opposition to her prayer to speed time up. I pray that she will embrace all the moments with some quiet, inexplicable gratitude for what they are because she will be like me sooner than she knows, with greying hair and reading glasses, hugging her adult son and handing him wine bottles. She will be both excited to get home to her high school senior and afraid to get there because she knows there are 46 days until graduation.

Parenting is the greatest purveyor of perspective I’ve found. It simultaneously breaks me and saves me over and over again.

Last Day In Walla Walla Wine Country

One of the days it sucked to have to live without gluten

Our last tasting day was pleasantly chill. We started with coffee and pastries at the Walla Walla Bread Company. Then we stopped at Graze to grab picnic food and headed to our first winery in Lowden. L’Ecole No. 41 is one of the first wineries in the area. I had purchased a few bottles from them back in the fall and was due for a few more. The winery is in an old school house. The decor and woodwork in the building are amazing. We grabbed a table out on the deck (so glad the weather was infinitely nicer and drier), started our tasting, and had our lunch. We purchased a couple bottles before leaving to head to our last winery of the trip.

Our next stop was Reininger. I knew very little about the winery, but it had recently been reviewed quite favorably so we gave it a try. We were very impressed. We sampled six wines. I enjoyed them all, could have purchased five, but ended up with two bottles of delicious un-oaked chardonnay and a yummy red blend. Steve had more driving to do, so we also got a reasonably priced charcuterie board to help us soak up the grapes. I would revisit this winery in a heartbeat. Our server was a personable young Whitman College senior who happened to be from Colorado, very near to where we currently live. The whole experience was delightful.

It was time for our friends to make their trek back to Seattle, so we said our sad farewells, grateful for the opportunity to reconnect and have a relaxed, fun weekend away from home. We are going to have to do this again more often!

When Fine Dining Goes Too Far

Requisite haute cuisine photo

Haiku for our first day in Washington wine country. I apologize in advance for my cheeky poem.

Fancy haute cuisine

Tonight your brown swirled purée

Tried a bit too hard

Seriously, people. Not entirely sure what that brownish, semi-loose purée was because I will not consume anything that looks like my phone’s poop emoji. The beef tenderloin with fig demi-glacé, however, was amazing. In fact, everything at our table, other than the decorative 💩, was delicious. Top-notch dining experience delivered by a top-tier staff. We will return.

You might just want to rethink the brown swirls, though. 😜

Oh, The Places You’ll Go When You Travel

Travel plans for next year’s trip to Monaco for the Grand Prix race are gaining steam. I’m actually starting to get excited about the race itself. My sister’s boyfriend recommended we watch Drive to Survive, and now I’m beginning to understand the appeal of the sport. I’ve also been researching accommodations and activities in Nice, France, and well, Nice looks nice. I think I can get behind spending some days in the south of France on the Mediterranean, sitting on a beach sipping wine. My sisters and I were discussing what to do after the race weekend ends, and the idea of taking a train to Italy came up. Why not hop from the French Riviera to the Italian Riviera? We could go from La Belle Vie to La Bella Vita in 5 hours. Makes perfect sense to me. Travel to the Cinque Terre has been on my list for quite a while.

I think one of the most amazing things about travel is how it opens you up to ways of being and living that are unfamiliar and fresh. It awakens your senses and your mind. Even when I can’t be traveling, learning about new places, even places I thought I had zero interest in, makes me feel positive about this life. It’s the antidote to the misery of my time-tested cynicism. It’s one of my top five raison d’être.

I have been a ridiculous level of lucky in my life to have had many opportunities to get out of the US and out of the US mindset. Every place I’ve been is now a small part of me, a small piece of colored glass in the mosaic of who I am. If the time comes when travel becomes impossible to undertake, I will simply slither through the jungle of my mental travelogue and return to the places that made me who I am.

Going To The Monaco Grand Prix – Ka-chow!

Photo by Reuben Rohard on Unsplash

Next April, my youngest sister will turn 50. And while it pains me to realize that the baby of our family is turning 50, which therefore makes me ancient, something worthwhile will come from this milestone. Julie has always wanted to go to Monte Carlo for the Formula 1 race, so that is how we plan to celebrate her 50th. I don’t see how her turning 50 and requesting this trip, or my turning 55 in Monte Carlo over the race weekend next year, can be negative. I mean, we’ll be in Monaco experiencing the most glamorous motor race in the world. That might even make 55 palatable, which means my position as the Luckiest Girl in the World continues.

The plan is for all three sisters and their significant others to travel to France and then on to Monte Carlo. The specifics have yet to be determined. Julie messaged today to request a sister meeting this weekend so we can discuss timing our travel and each couple’s wishes for the events. I’ll be honest. Going to Monaco for the Formula 1 was not on my bucket list or travel bingo card. I have no clue what to expect or what I want to see or do. I’ve reached the age in my life where I believe travel is important for the sake of experiencing life out in the greater world. I no longer get bent if, while on a trip, we don’t get to see all the sights or do all the things. I’m simply grateful for the opportunity to escape my own reality and live a few days in someone else’s. With travel, it’s easy to get caught up in all the going and doing and seeing and forget to be swallowed by the experience of existing somewhere else for a brief while. And I get it. When you’re shelling out thousands of dollars to fly thousands of miles away, you want to get your money’s worth. I just think it’s worth refocusing your expectation around what you want to get for your investment. Maybe you don’t need to see ALL the things. Maybe you can take a beat and just be for a bit too.

Don’t get me wrong. I will do my research. I will figure out if there is something I absolutely do not want to miss in Nice or Monte Carlo. Mostly, though, the thing I don’t want to miss is time with my sisters and their companions. I look forward to traveling with them and learning what I can from their perceptions of this foreign landscape. Traveling with others is fun because you often get as much insight from your travel companions’ observations as you do from your research and sightseeing.

So next May around Memorial Day weekend, expect a post or two from Monte Carlo, where I will be keeping my eyes peeled for Lightning McQueen because that is the extent of my knowledge about the Monaco Grand Prix.

Our Nation’s Adults May Need Some Graham Crackers And A Good Nap

At an Avs game in 2011 with my little guys

We went to a Colorado Avalanche hockey game last night. My husband and I have been going to hockey games since we started dating in the mid 90s. At the time, he was working for the Denver Grizzlies IHL organization, a team which moved to Utah in 1995 when Colorado acquired the Quebec Nordiques and became the Colorado Avalanche. We have a long history with the Avs organization. I went into early labor with our oldest the morning after the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2001, presumably from all the screaming and jumping up and down while quite pregnant. Our oldest is named after the then team captain, Joe Sakic. Like I said, we’re tied to this team.

As we were leaving the game last night, parking lot traffic was its usual nightmare. When we got to our car, we were penned in by cars already lined up to exit the lot. These are the times when you see both the best and the worst of our species. Sometimes you are lucky and a calm, rational person will let you into the line ahead of them. Other times, people are complete assholes. Once there was a clearing and we were able to back up, we joined the line and began our wait. My family and I are unfazed by these situations. We’re travelers, and the first rule of traveling anywhere is “hurry up and wait.” So, we are well practiced and wait patiently. I mean, what are you going to do? Everyone has the same goal of getting out of the lot. Sooner or later, you will get there.

Sadly, other drivers in that situation often aren’t as big-picture about it as we are. It’s something else to watch a lot filled with impatient people trying to jockey for a prime spot in the queue. The car in front of us was a Lexus sedan. To the right of us just ahead, in the row of parking spots from which we had just emerged, several other cars sat with their lights on, waiting for one driver to show some kindness and let them into the growing line. But the cars in line were unrelenting. Steve and I were remarking about how people can be so petty in parking lots, when a woman in a Lexus SUV on the right began to inch her way forward, hoping to hop in front of the sedan directly in front of us. The men in the sedan would have none of that. They pulled forward as she did, hoping to bully her out of the spot. Undeterred, she inched forward again. Both cars came to a stop as traffic stalled again. I watched the passenger in the sedan become more agitated. I saw him gesturing at her. He unrolled his window, shouted some obscenities, and flipped her off. He then did something I’ve not seen before. He exited the car, walked over to her window and yelled at her some more before walking around the front of her car and parking his grumpy butt right against her front bumper in an act of defiance. Steve and I looked at each other. Here’s a man in his mid 40s getting into a pissing contest over being one car length ahead of someone else, like he owned that spot in line and it was criminal that someone thought they could leave the lot one second ahead of him. The woman looked flabbergasted. Then the man started to direct the car he had been in around him (and her bumper) so the sedan had now inched far enough forward that it blocked her in completely. At that point, the big baby left the front bumper and reclaimed his seat in the sedan, triumphant. For the record, we let her out of her space, so she ended up directly behind him. Hope that one-second gain in travel time helped him out. Geesh!

What is with people? I know that assholes have existed for as long as humans have roamed this planet, but it sure seems like we are witnessing, in person, a lot more episodes like this one lately. The collective emotional IQ of our nation seems to hover right about toddler level these days. Maybe we all just need some graham crackers and a really good nap?

I Need Six Months Of Vacation Twice A Year

“I want to live in a world where searching for plane tickets burns calories.” ~Unknown

I have spent most of my day researching travel. We have a week picked out when we can skip town (or the country, as luck might have it) to celebrate Luke’s graduation from high school. We have a decent-sized budget for this trip and had originally considered going to Italy. We had two trips we were trying to decide between, one to the Amalfi Coast and one to the Cinque Terre and Tuscany. I spent a lot of time vacillating between those two before I found one in the French and Italian Alps that piqued our interest momentarily. We had a couple family FaceTime sessions, trying to get everyone’s input and buy in. For some reason, I still wasn’t able to pull the trigger. So I took a break for a few days. Then I tossed it all out the window and started looking at trips to Costa Rica or Belize. Then I thought maybe we could take the boys to Machu Picchu. After that, I landed on Iceland and was busy researching that before I came to my senses and decided I didn’t want to go anywhere I might need cold weather gear. And all the back and forth and hemming and hawing landed me squarely in analysis paralysis.

Then tonight, for giggles and also apparently because I was trying to avoid writing this post, I started searching Mediterranean cruises because I am certifiable. And there, on the Celebrity Cruises page, on the exact date on which we hoped to start our vacation, was a cruise leaving Rome and visiting Santorini, Rhodes, Mykonos, and Naples before landing back in Rome. Hold up. Hold up. Hold up. This was hitting all the boxes we’d previously discussed. Italy? Check. Pompeii. Check. Boat. Check. Swimming opportunities? Check. All-inclusive. Check. Within the budget? It appears to be. I floated the idea by Luke. He was thrilled. I asked Joe, and he said he was down. Steve too said it sounded like a good balance of relaxing and eventful. Is it possible that all four of us agreed on something? Might my relentless search finally be relenting? I crossed my fingers and took a deep breath.

There were all sorts of things I should have done today rather than sitting at the kitchen island obsessing over air fare and trip insurance. But not one of them would have been more interesting or a better escape from the news. And, in the end, if it gets us out of the country for the first time since 2019 and we get to go on an adventure, it won’t have been a wasted day at all.

Prisoners of Geography

We are all prisoners of geography — literally

I don’t normally offer book reviews or suggestions. I stopped being in book clubs years ago when I tired of other people ruining books I enjoyed. So I don’t feel like a free reading expert, and I don’t share often about literature. But today, given what is happening now in eastern Europe, I want to recommend Prisoners of Geography, written by Tim Marshall. I bought it years ago for our oldest son who is a geography whiz. When he was younger, he would zoom into a location on Google Earth and then ask me to guess where it was. He would then slowly zoom out, bit by bit, pausing after each change until he thought I should be able to get the answer about its location. He had to zoom out a lot. I rarely guessed correctly. He was often exasperated by my lack of knowledge about the globe. It was a game on his end, but it made me feel like a dolt. Ultimately, Joe took the book to college, and I forgot about it.

Then, a couple weeks ago we were with some neighbors when they mentioned they were reading that book together. I got intrigued. So I downloaded the book on Audible and started listening. It wasn’t long into the book that I realized I needed the maps the hard copy provided to help me visualize what was being discussed. So I picked it up and got back to work. It ended up being a timely reading choice because the day after I bought the hard copy and started learning about why we are prisoners of geography, Putin invaded Ukraine. For the first time, I began to understand Russia’s position in the world. I may not understand Putin (who does?), but at least I can somewhat comprehend now why Ukraine’s land is important to him and why he is so eager to reclaim it. Russia, both because of and despite its size, has geography issues.

The book also covers China, the United States, Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India and Pakistan, Korea and Japan, Latin America, and the Arctic. The author, a journalist and leader on foreign affairs, has reported from forty countries and covered conflicts in the former Yugoslav republics, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. His vast geographical and political knowledge, combined with his journalism skills, make the book not only highly informative but also accessible and interesting. I now have a better understanding of China’s treatment of the Muslim Uighur population in Xinjiang province. I understand why the concept of manifest destiny was important to the creation of the United States as we know it today. I also have a far better handle on how and why wars have been fought in Europe and why some countries have fared better than others. (I’m looking at you, Poland.) I’ll have to finish the book to learn more about Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.

If you are looking for a greater understanding of the politics of countries, their prosperity or lack thereof, or the ways they are constrained, I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s a little outdated because it was published in 2015, but it is still useful. If you’re a big-time history or geography geek, this might be too basic for you; but for the rest of the hoi polloi, it is an education in geography, history, and our current political dilemmas in 277 pages. It isn’t going to make you feel any better about the humanitarian nightmare developing as Putin’s army rolls into and bombs the free and innocent people of Ukraine, but it will help you make a little more sense about why Russia is the way it is. Because of the Internet, we are more a global people now than we have ever been before. If you want a way into understanding that world, this is it.

Dream Big — If You Can’t Dream It, You Can’t Do It

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I bought a journal and new pens. I bought one for my youngest sister too. Then I told her we would use our journals to get our poop in a group. Because she and I are on similar journeys of self-discovery, I told her we would come up with writing assignments for our journals and share what we were writing so we could lift each other up and support each other to reach our goals. To that end, a week ago I created our first assignment. I called it our Dream Big Assessment. We were to come up with a list of things we would like to see, experience, do, or have in our lives in the next twenty years. The caveat is that we have to dream big. No worrying about money or practicality or health or reality. It didn’t matter if what we listed was pie-in-the-sky. It was meant to be. You can’t manifest something if you can’t first envision it. And if you’re going to envision a future you would love to live, why would you let reality tether you? I started my list with this statement to make sure I kept my intentions clear.

“If I could dream anything for the next twenty years of my life, these things would happen. I would…”

It was a good idea to start with active statements, but my statements started out rather prosaic. I suppose this is because I am a practical person, but I suspect it is also because I’m accustomed to living smaller than I am. When you have spent your life in a box someone else designed for you, it’s a challenge to stretch and imagine yourself or your life as something so much bigger than you ever dared to dream before. So my list began mostly realistic and, therefore, understated. I would….

  • Publish something I have written
  • Speak about said published work to interested readers in a public forum, like a book club
  • See my sons in happy, healthy relationships where they feel loved and supported
  • Hold and love on a grandchild or two or three
  • Own more dogs

Most of these items are intentionally vague. I mean, “publish something” could mean an article in an online newsletter with a readership of 25 people. By not elucidating an action more clearly, I am giving myself a safe space to continue being small. After realizing I was being too calculated and cautious with my dreams, choosing things that had a decent probability of happening, I started to get a bit more specific with my choices:

  • Cycle through Provence when the lavender is in bloom
  • Spend a year traveling the US and living in an Airstream trailer
  • Learn how to scuba dive, knit, and tap dance

Again, all these items are fairly attainable and not huge stretches of the imagination, but at least they were more specific. I was making some progress with my wording and specificity, but I felt the list was sounding rather shallow. All the endeavors I listed were about doing, not about being. So I commenced traipsing down more of a life-philosophy path:

  • Feel more comfortable being myself regardless of the situation
  • Be less defensive and more contemplative, curious, and forgiving
  • Be mindful and grateful as often as possible
  • Lead with compassion and empathy

While all these items are good goals and, when compared to my normal modus operandi, are definitely dream big enterprises in terms of personal growth, they don’t really fit the assignment either. Try again, sister. So I let my mind get a little crazier and stretch a bit farther and dig into dreams I had when I was much younger and had more life ahead of me than in the rearview:

  • Own a Jaguar E-Type convertible in British racing green with camel interior
  • Travel the Greek islands in a private, chartered yacht
  • See the Northern Lights in Lapland
  • Visit the Maldives or the Seychelles or both
  • Live in either Italy or France as an expat
  • Try a psychedelic drug*
  • Swim with the jellyfish in Palau

I feel I am beginning to get to what I originally intended with the creation of this list. I plan to keep working on it. Items that resonate with me more than others will be added to the vision board I started creating a few weekends ago. If I can dream it, I need to see it to manifest it in my brain as part of a future to strive for.

What would make it onto your Dream Big list? Maybe something I wrote here will inspire you? Maybe something on your list would spark an idea for me?

*This idea came from a book I read by Michael Pollan called How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

Escape From Reality: The Me-Time Tour

One of my happy places

To get their needs met, most people require a little “me” time. This looks different for everyone. For some, it might include time with friends. For some, it might require solitude. Others might find their peace through travel. For me, it often requires a little of both of the last two items. I am midway through my Escape From Reality: The Me-Time Tour. I have taken this particular tour once before. I’m staying in Boulder, where I attended the University of Colorado approximately four hundred years ago. At the foot of the Flatirons lies Chautauqua, a park, auditorium, dining hall, and collection of quaint cottages where people are welcome to relax, experience culture and nature, and simply enjoy a quieter pace. How is it going, you ask? Writing time on the sofa with a cozy blanket is how it is going. In other words, I am relaxed for the first time in over a month.

Very meta this photo of me writing this blog

The cottages at Chautauqua offer everything a writer needs…solitude, beautiful surroundings, quiet, comfort, and no television. There is WiFi because it is helpful, especially if you are a writer, but other than that the distractions are minimal unless you count the squirrels running across the roof. Time here allows me to unwind, silence the noise in my brain, and determine where I need to place more attention when I return home and what I need to jettison to usher in a calmer, steadier existence. The last time I visited here was September 2020 after full-time lockdown with my family had me frazzled.

I suppose I could get the same calming results if I stayed at a hotel, but this place holds special memories for me. I love hiking in the Flatirons. I love the park here. And, seriously, how cute are these little cottages? In a place like this, approximately 420 square feet, I am reminded of how little I need to be comfortable and relaxed. Our home is massive compared to this space, but I could totally live in one of these cottages and be content. Not sure where my husband would live. He might need to be in the cottage next door because I am well beyond the days of happily sharing a full-size bed with another human being.

Cozy place for resting, requisite stuffed dog already in place

I had three main objectives when I came here. First, I wanted to have enough time to write some extra blog posts. Writing every day can prove challenging. It isn’t that I can’t find something to say each day. Heaven knows there is enough insanity in my head to spill onto pages for days and days. It’s just that sometimes the days get away from me, and I don’t like having to resort to a photo-and-haiku post (although those can be fun too) because I have run out of time to function as a rational person. So having a few extra posts stashed for days when I simply cannot has become crucial. Second, I wanted to work on a vision board. I’ve been trying to figure out where other people’s wishes for my life end and where mine begin. To live intentionally in a direction that makes sense for me, that is my goal. I figured creating a visual reminder for myself, a map of sorts, might help keep me on my own best track. Finally, I wanted to do some journaling and planning. I wanted to check in with myself and determine what my priorities are right now. I know I need to set up some boundaries in my life so I can keep my tank from running on empty. I also need to diffuse some mental land mines others have left for me. But getting to the bottom of problems like these requires ample time without distractions, and I am not getting that right now at home.

Old school journaling

I have been feeling for months as if I was coming to a tipping point, a point from which I would either springboard forward into a period of exponential personal growth or slump back into my lockdown hole of mindlessness and go back to full-time life on the Animal Crossing island. I want to go forward so badly, but first I need to dig deep and find the courage to do it. And that is what this weekend is about, self-reflection and goal setting. It is about making a plan for growth and pointing myself in the right direction. I’m thinking I need two weekends like this a year. Maybe three. Possibly four, but no more than five. I think. That’s reasonable, right?