You know what is really awesome? When you are just an hour into your horrific, five-hour drive through lower Wyoming and your son (the one you are heading to pick up) texts to tell you a friend whom he sat next to at dinner the previous evening just tested positive for Covid. This normally wouldn’t be a huge problem, but the next three weeks are big for us. There are two birthdays, scuba lessons, graduation, a graduation party at our home, and then a trip to Rome to board a cruise. We would really prefer to remain Covid-free. We kind of need to.
But, sadly, viruses do not give a flying fig about your plans. They’re jerks that way. So, Joe is going to be wearing a mask at home and eating and drinking and sleeping separately (even in the car on the ride home) until he gets through 10 days symptom free and with zero positive test results. Because a car is such a small, enclosed space, I might decide to wear a mask in the car even though Joe is wearing his, just in case the seal on his mask is not entirely optimal.
It’s possible Joe is fine. He was vaccinated twice and boosted last November. He had Covid in 2020. The same is true for all four of us. I know we are being a bit overcautious, but we are committed to doing everything within our circle of control to ensure Luke gets to attend his graduation in person. Keep your fingers crossed for us.
I’m on the road again, on my way to pick up Thing 1 from his college in Washington. This will be my fourth journey to/from Whitman College, which means by the time we reach home on Friday I will have logged approximately 8,800 miles making this trip. And in the roughly 144 hours I will have spent driving from Denver to Walla Walla, about 40 of those hours (or roughly 28% of my travel time) will have been spent driving across Wyoming, a state I shall henceforth call WHYoming.
I have driven through WHYoming a lot, which makes sense. If you living in Colorado, WHYoming is the large rectangle that stands between you and other, more-often-visited western states, like Montana, Oregon, and Washington. If you’ve ever driven across WHYoming via the Interstate Highway System, either north to south or east to west, you know everything there is to know about it. First, it’s empty. It’s our least populated state. There is not much to speak of, except for sage brush, rocky buttes, rolling hills, and pronghorn. There are some snowy peaks in the northwestern corner of the state and, while they are stunning, they are completely missed by the Interstate System so you will not see them unless you drive down some state highways through more sage brush and desolate, empty space. Second, it’s windy as hell. Pursuant to the fact that there is literally nothing taking up the almost 98,000 square feet of WHYoming, winds gust through here nearly every day, rattling your car as you haul 80 down the interstate trying to escape as quickly as you entered.
While trying to get my car, bedecked with such non-aerodynamic features as a roof box and a bike rack, out of the state without being over blown over in an endless cycle like another omnipresent tumbleweed, I had five hours to think. I spent a small part of that time comprising a haiku and some potential state slogans.
More pronghorn than folks
and an endless bad hair day.
This is WHYoming.
New state slogan: “Wyoming: The barren, windy rectangle between you and better western things”
Or how about: “Wyoming: Tipping cows since 1890”
Or maybe: “Wyoming: 80 mph speed limit because we know you’re just blowing through”
Of the towns and cities in WHYoming, Laramie, home to the University of Wyoming, is actually pretty cute. It is also not far from the Colorado border, so I offer this slogan for them: “Laramie: Almost, but not quite, Colorado.”
Okay. Fine. I am being a snob. It’s an easy thing to be a state snob when you are from Colorado, with her plethora of purple mountains majesty (yes, “America the Beautiful” was famously penned here). Do we have our issues? Oh, absolutely we do. Traffic is a big one. (We have transplants from all 50 states who bring their unique driving styles to our highways.) And let’s not speak of the eastern plains because let’s just not. But we are blessed with mostly lovely views and hiking and biking trails galore and tons of sunshine. And did we mention mountains? We have a lot of those. Have you heard?
I have noticed, though, that we have been getting quite a lot of wind in Colorado lately. Perhaps we need to have a conversation about our rectangular, northern neighbor about that. I appreciate your wanting to share, WHYoming, but if you’re looking for a gift for us I think we’d prefer more pronghorn to more wind. Just a thought.
(Post script: Before all 50 residents of Wyoming gang up on me at once, I am just teasing. Mostly. Seriously, though, see if you can do something about your wind. The semi-drivers and I would appreciate it.)
The pandemic. Am I right? I lived the vast majority of my life never using that word. I vaguely remember reading that word in history books once or twice before I hit 20, but that was as much as my brain ever considered a pandemic an actual thing. In the past two years, however, I don’t think I’ve gone an entire day without mentioning it. Honestly, I am sick of the word. Sick. O. It. I am almost as sick of the word as I am of not having a day alone in our house, watching my hands bleed from relentless hand washing and sanitizing, running out to buy more hand lotion, wearing masks, hearing people complain about wearing masks, getting vaccines, hearing people complain about getting vaccines, taking Covid tests, hearing people complain about taking Covid tests, and trying to explain how science works to others and remind myself about it, as well.
I know. I know. We are not out of the pandemic. (There’s that word again). No one has any idea when we might be out of it. So we are in limbo. We’re going on a cruise next month. At least, we think we’re going on a cruise next month. It all depends on whether we can manage to stay Covid-free between now and then, even as cases are on the upswing again. Now, if this was 2021, I’d say that would be no problem. We’d just hole up at home and skate our way onto the cruise with a clean bill of health. But this isn’t 2021. It’s 2022, and 2022 is apparently 2019 again. No masks. No crowd size limits. No restrictions whatsoever. It’s a free-for-all. Everything is back up and running. Sold out playoff hockey games. Sold out concerts. Parties. Dining out. It’s all back, baby. And we are here for it. We are SO here for it, so ready to be here for it, that our May calendar is packed. No lie. Here is is.
As you can see from the tiny dot underneath every date (save 5/23) between now and May 31st, we have something going on every day between now and the end of the month. I plan to keep the 23rd open for the nervous breakdown I will be having. Why is our calendar so full? Well, let’s see. There’s senior prom and all our usual appointments for therapy and haircuts and doctor’s appointments and the like. Then hubby and I are flying to Pasadena to see a concert, booked a million years ago before we had anything on our calendar. We get back late on Sunday night and then Monday I load a different, pre-packed suitcase in the car and drive to Washington to pick up oldest son from his sophomore year at college and then drive the 1,085 miles back home across five states. Then it’s our youngest’s 19th birthday. Then there are graduation parties for friends’ children and more events for our own son’s graduation. We are going to another sold out concert (in our city this time) on the 24th. The 27th is my damn birthday, but that should be low-key because hubby and I are in class that entire weekend trying for get scuba certified. Then it’s basically June, and we have graduation practice and will have family in town. Then it is graduation and woohoo! We’re almost done! But we aren’t because we are hosting a graduation party for Luke and his friends. Then on the 6th we have to clean the house for the house/dog sitter, buy dog food for our security beasts, shop for what we need for the trip, find our passports, pack, get Covid tests to prove we can take the trip, upload results of said Covid tests to the Celebrity Cruises web site so they will let us board, and get on a plane to Rome on June 8th. Did I mention we still have a puppy who is, well, a puppy and a senior dog who is, well, not exactly a puppy? What the hell was I thinking? Finish strong and you can collapse on a boat? They have limoncello and ouzo where you are going? Hold on, sister. You can make it. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.
I realize this is a lot of sniveling from a white woman with an embarrassment of riches in the areas of wealth and good fortune, but it’s my full calendar and my introverted, whiny butt will complain about the lack of quiet, sit-in-bed-all-day time if it wants to.
Just please don’t remind me that in 2020 and 2021 I begged for my life to be, and I quote, “back to normal,” because of course I did. Who wasn’t wishing for that same thing after being stuck at home with spouses and children and pets for months on end? We all wanted out. Now we’re getting what we asked for. Don’t remind me I did this to myself. Of course I did. Be kind and please say a silent prayer to Jesus or Allah or Vishnu (or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster God of Pastafarianism) that my heart holds out, at least until we get to Santorini. Then I can die, exhausted, happy, and at peace at long last in an ouzo haze.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
If I had to share one thing about myself that would help you in your dealing with me, it is what is written on this mug. I am not so great at dealing with unanticipated changes the moment they are happening. But, if you give me a few minutes, I will pivot, accept the situation, and move on. I just have to be dramatic and whine about it and act like it is a much bigger deal than it actually is first.
My youngest sister gets this about me. When Julie was moving to Connecticut, I told her I would drive out with her and fly home. The day before we left, she let me know her car was very full. In addition to the last and most important of her belongings, we would be making the journey with her poodle, Jezebel. Julie kept telling me that I had to make sure my cross-country bag was small because her car was packed. So, I packed a small duffle bag for the three day trip and the flight home. When Julie pulled up, I noticed her sweet dog was not in a kennel, which is where I expected she would be for most the ride. Instead of a kennel, Julie had Jezebel’s dog bed. That was when she told me I would be riding with the dog bed on my lap with Jezebel in it. I wanted to lose my crap and get all dramatic, but what could be done about it? Nothing. We had to leave and this is how it was going to be. So, I got into the passenger seat, put Jezebel on my lap, and we were off for the 1900 mile drive. Julie told me later that she didn’t tell me earlier precisely because she knew I would get all dramatic about it. She also knew that if she just showed up and dropped the bomb on me minutes before we had to leave I would have a lot less time to be dramatic and I would just get over it. She was right. I did.
So, now you know the secret to dealing with me. When I am backed in a corner, I might grumble a bit but I will get on board more quickly. If I have time to be annoyed about it, I will still still get over it but you will have left me more time to whine about it. I still say I am flexible. I always adjust. Sometimes I just complain about things for a little bit longer.
“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.
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