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.