Monday, August 15, 2016

The Parks have Personalities -- Part Three

Do yourself a favor and don't start looking through boxes of old photos today.  It's a rabbit hole, one you'll be sucked into for hours and will emerge from clutching fistfuls of old Polaroids and feeling slightly unhinged. That old saying about the passage of time will never be more profound -- "nothing's changed but everything's different."

Our lives look nothing like they did back when we were first married but the changes happened so slowly, or at least so logically, that over time I didn't realize the seismic shifts taking place. How did those people, those friends we adored so much, fall out of our lives over the years?  When was Oscar ever that young and vital looking?  Why didn't anyone ever tell me my haircut was not flattering my face at all, in fact appeared to be openly mocking it?

Along those lines, it did cheer me to realize Alex and I look better today than we did fifteen years ago.  It's taken us this long to figure out our bodies and to develop personal styles that flatter instead of confuse.  Alex used to wear a lot of sweat pants back in the day, while I pieced together cringeworthy ensembles like turtlenecks with dowdy length skirts (dog print of course) and clogs.

Our faces look better now, too -- a few more lines and wrinkles, sure, but a lot more personality and wisdom than back when we looked unseasoned with vaguely vacant eyes and goofy grins.

Anyway, there's a point to all that rambling up there but I'm feeling stressed about finishing the Road Trip posts. Thankfully I wrote everything below before I went down the rabbit hole, a.k.a the boxes of pictures in my closet.  If I tried to write the post now it would sound more like, "I must cling to these memories of the Rocky Mountains with cramping fingers because very soon everything will be different and I'm going to miss these times with a desperate ache and a mournful longing."

But instead I'll continue with my parks-as-people metaphor, which, while certainly more cheerful, may also be ten times more annoying.  

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is mature and dignified.  It's stoic in its rockiness and wise in its cragginess.  It doesn't pay much attention to the riffraff, can be aloof, is a bit of a loner. Rocky Mountain National Park is like your favorite college professor.  He's super smart, respected by his peers and revered by his students.  He doesn't speak much outside of lectures, has salt and pepper hair and is known for always wearing cowboy boots to class.

We had a "first" on our drive to Rocky Mountain National Park.  For the very first time, the gas pump did not stop pumping once our tank was full, resulting in a gas waterfall (gasfall?) down the side of the Winnie B that ended in a shimmery gas lake underneath her body.  It was also a "first" in that Alex has never wandered away from the pump to go buy a coffee before.  That one will also be a "last."

The gas station attendant took a look under the RV and said, "ohhhhh, man, that's a really big one" which sounded pretty bad so I was confused when he next said,"OK, you guys can start the engine and drive away no problem." I was not excited about a teenager advising me on important explosion-related matters so I balked, I hesitated, I hemmed and hawwed and asked things like, "Are you super duper sure, young man?"

He said the gas was not pooling under the engine so there was no risk   He seemed confident but those were still some heart palpitating moments as I started the engine and rolled the Winnie B over the giant gas lake.

Estes Park, a cute little touristy town, is the entryway to Rocky Mountain National Park.  We were headed there because my extended family was gathering in Estes Park for our first family reunion in over 15 years. My family is a bunch of jokesters and card players.  They're good conversationalists if you like sarcasm and puns.

Our first evening all together again, we sat outside on the resort lawn having a good catch-up chat when suddenly the sprinklers turned on.  We all ran in different directions yelling. My uncle stood on the front porch of his cabin and pointed and laughed at us with a beer in his hand. That sums up our get togethers pretty well.

Rocky Mountain National Park is crowded.  If the park is indeed a smart salt-n-pepper haired semi-cowboy professor, his class always has a waitlist and a bunch of coeds are hoping to seduce him during office hours. The way this popularity manifests in the park is all the parking lots are full so you have to park your car far away and ride a shuttle bus to the trailheads.

that's my cuz and I
feeling excited on a shuttle bus

Aww yeah, we really hikin' now

We did a few family hikes and they were everything you'd expect from the Rockies -- craggy peaks,  jaw-dropping vistas, mountain lakes, lots of marmots. We got to know one marmot pretty well when he tried to steal parts of our lunches.  He was a very bold little marmot.  We named him Sausage.

my uncle photographing Sausage

mysterious smart cowboy professor park

My uncle took to calling Coco "Li'l Goat" for the way she climbed and scrambled over rocks. She's a good climber and she apparently loves it which begs the question, "Why, L'il Goat, do you lie on the ground and whine about being bored whenever I take you to our nearby climbing wall in Seattle?"

One of our family's age old traditions is ye olde water balloon toss.  You pair up, stand face-to-face, and toss that balloon to your partner.  If you make the catch, you each take a big step backwards.  And so on and so forth until there is one team left standing without soaking wet shirts.

Alex and I won the first round but then, just to show off, we kept throwing and taking steps backwards long after all other teams were eliminated.  We did this until I nearly stepped backwards into the creek; we launched our balloon straight up into the sky and it always made its way down with a light plop, unbroken, in our partner's hands.  We were unstoppable. I was also, for the record, wearing tall wedge heels. I'm definitely just bragging now but it may be my most impressive life accomplishment thus far so please, indulge me.

This is me chucking a neon green water balloon to my dad.
I'm sorry, but my tossing form is dynamite.

I hated to leave these funny people
but the road trip beckoned
(and also they had all gotten on planes and gone home)

As the extended family disbanded, the four of us, very weary now from all the travel and hiking and water balloon fighting, drove to Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.

Tiny Winnie

Devils Tower is giving the world the middle finger.  It's rebellious and defiant with a touch of alien. Devils Tower is Iggy Pop.  Devils Tower is Kurt Vonnegut writing about Billy Pilgrim. Devils Tower isn't afraid to stand out which is good because it literally stands out from a very long distance.

We immediately went on a hike around the tower in the hot sun without any water.  We made it through the hike OK but all emphatically agreed afterwards it was a stupid move to forget the water -- but then immediately after that we went on another hike through the prairie dog area in the hot sun and forgot the water again.

It's possible that by this time in the road trip, we were quite tired and no longer thinking clearly, kind of how I'm currently feeling about writing this post.

Our final stop was ambitious, especially given our rapidly deteriorating mental states.  As we drove the many many hours towards Glacier National Park in Montana, I could feel Alex glaring at me with his little eyeballs.  It may have been too much, tacking one more park onto the end of the trip, especially one as remote as Glacier.  I cheerfully chatted away, mostly to myself, hoping to distract Alex from how long the drive was taking and how much he hated me in that moment.

Sucked to get there but Glacier was worth it.  Glacier is wild and a little weird, like a beautiful feral child who was raised by wolves but is learning to reintegrate into society.  It's like a Sigur Ros song: foreign and eerie and Icelandic.

The best part of enormous pretty Glacier National Park is driving Going-to-the-Sun Road.  RVs aren't allowed on Going-to-the-Sun Road because the people in the RV would die.  Instead we signed up for a tour on one of the original Glacier National Park open-topped buses, called jammers.

Riding in the Jammer was much more enjoyable than driving the Winnie B because 1) we made it up and back alive and 2) we got a history lesson and 3) the being alive part again.

Dang, Glacier

It got a little odd, maybe, but I do believe we've made it through yet another road trip multi-post series.

And just in time...
because those pictures in those boxes aren't going to cry over themselves,

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Parks have personalities -- Part Two

In the National Parks-are-a-family metaphor I'm cheerfully beating to death, Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is the happy, lovable, affable youngest child. (I am in no way influenced by the fact I'm a youngest child when deciding which traits youngest children embody.)

Actually, maybe Capitol Reef is more like your favorite cheerful stoner uncle, the one who dropped out of college to travel the world, surf, play in a band, and now lives in a self-built tiny home in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.  Everyone in the family chuckles with deep affection when Capitol Reef arrives wearing flip flops in winter, guitar slung over his back, and announces he's late because he was handing out free hugs in front of the 7-Eleven down the street.

Capitol Reef (as a park, I'm now ditching the uncle bit) is laid back, casual, not crowded at all.  It's not just about gorgeous scenery and interesting geology, it's all about the people, man.  Native Americans hammered petroglyphs high into the red cliffs and then, much much later, the first permanent settlers wandered into the area and decided to set up camp.

They were certain they'd found a slice of heaven. I agree with them on that, so much so I've developed a new life aspiration -- I want to be a settler.

I manhandled the Winnie B all over the Western United States
so I could certainly drive that

There were only about ten families who lived in the area at any given time, though granted they were Mormon so those were probably really big families. I wonder if living in such a small community made dating easier?  Since there were only about a dozen or so young people from whom to choose a partner, it seems it would take a lot of bellyaching out of the thing.  It would be less, "I don't feel he truly understands my inner being" and more, "Well, I guess I'll take Ephraim over there, he doesn't look too bad and he plays a nice fiddle."

Some of the pioneer homes still exist, the one-room school house still stands and a charming old barn still houses horses -- the two there now are named Mud and Egg and they help the rangers with backcountry rescue, which we thankfully did not need.  The many orchards the settlers planted are still bearing fruit over one hundred years later. You can pick all you want for a buck per pound.

the schoolhouse

The orchard next to the campsite was heavy with apricots.  Fallen apricots littered the ground so your feet made a squish squish sound as you walked through.  Red-orange juice squirted all over your ankles and up your legs.  By the time you finished, it looked like you had trampled many small animals to death.  Small, round, delicious, fruity animals.

Just beyond the orchard was Gifford House, one of the settler homes that has been turned into a shop that sells bread, pies, and cinnamon rolls the way the pioneers used to make them.  I may have sent the kids over there with a fistful of dollars a few times so hello, extra body weight, welcome to me.

It's OK, I'll need the extra weight to weather the harsh winters as a future settler, and will no doubt work it off come harvest time.  Until then, I await Ephraim's return from the North.  Dude's been gone for two months, he better return with chocolate.

Hearts were heavy as we left Capitol Reef.  It was a slice of heaven indeed.  Hey, we were wondering, can you live in a national park?  We may try.  We'll be the ones rustling in the bushes next to the cinnamon roll place.

Coco now smells like apricots all the time. It was an unexpected souvenir. She is a living breathing Strawberry Shortcake doll thanks to the apricot guts permanently encrusted between the textured ridges of her sandal soles.

The next park was Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado.  Black Canyon needs to chill the hell out.  Black Canyon is that person at the party in the corner wearing all black, talking about meaningless life and occasionally whispering Marilyn Manson lyrics to themselves while staring at a spot somewhere just over your head.

This thing exists only to scare people.  Black Canyon is a slit in the earth, a hole so deep with sheer charcoal gray cliff walls, you cannot see the bottom at many of the viewpoints. The silence is eerie though every once in awhile you catch the sound of the river rushing through the bottom of it, the river that continues to shape it today.  We do not need a deeper scarier Black Canyon so knock it off, river.

I went to Black Canyon as a younger person with my family and don't remember feeling afraid.  I thought it was cool.  But this time, my heart stopped a half dozen times, usually when I saw Coco climb on the first rung of the bolted steel railing around the viewpoint to "get a better look."  I may have yelled at her a bit too harshly because Alex claims my eyes bugged out of my head.

Alex wasn't much help, either.  The darkness and sheerness of the canyon rattled him as much as it mesmerized him.  He's not a phobia kind of guy but as we perched on one seemingly fragile overlook, Alex began half-yelling, "OH my God, is this thing shaking?  Is it shaking?  I think I feel it shaking" so we grabbed the kids by the backs of their shirts and hauled them back to safety as they said, "Guys? What are you doing?"

What are we doing?  We're saving your lives, suckers!

We used to be fearless.  Now we're parents.  

I guess we were all a little on edge at Black Canyon.  When we first entered the park, the ranger gave us a flyer warning of aggressive deer near our campsite.  Many baby deer had recently been born so the mamas were, much like us, startling easy and not keeping their cool.  We hear you, deer mamas, Black Canyon is a tough place to have kids.

Lucien took the deer warning to heart.  Probably too much.  We explained to him it just meant not to approach deer, to give them a ton of space because they were feeling a little defensive.  But each time Lucien glimpsed one (and there were many in the area) he yelled, "You guys, run, RUN, get inside, it's a deer, it's a deer!" in such a panic you'd think he'd spotted a hungry grizzly bear barreling towards the Winnie B.  

We did see some bighorn sheep on the side of the canyon walls, which was pretty cool, but overall Black Canyon is not a park I care to revisit anytime soon.  Black Canyon is intense. That park has got to chill.  Someone spark that park a doobie or slip it a Valium.  It's too dark, brooding, silent and it has killer deer.

The drive from Black Canyon to our next destination -- my mom and dad's house, I'm comin' home, mama -- was through many hills.  Hills are hard on an RV.  Hills are also hard on any cars stuck behind an RV.

I grit my teeth as cars pile up behind me. This is why RV owners wave at each other on the road.  We are each others people, must stick together and support each other as we piss off cars by going 30mph on a 55mph road.  We'd go faster if we could, I swear.

Alex and I have taken to quacking at RVs coming the opposite direction because RVs often resemble a mama duck with a string of impatient ducklings trailing along behind her.

I've got a third and final installation of the neverending road trip tale. I hope I write it someday because it involves my extended family throwing water balloons at each other.  But for now, we're off on another vacation, this one to a country where I don't speak the language and will be often alone with our kids because Alex is going for work and we're tagging along.  I'm sure everything will be fine and if it's not "fine," I hope it's at least funny.

We're going to end this with Coco being awesome
in a place I'm hellbent on settling even though it's already settled.
Don't ever give up on your dreams.

Quack quack,

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The parks have personalities -- Part One

We're back from Road Trip 2016 and much to Alex's relief, I did not bring home another dog this year.

This is where I go when I've done something bad
 They can't see me here ha ha ha.

Life post-road trip is a bit dull.  I've returned to sweeping up dog hair twice a day, to paying bills, to getting the kids where they need to be, to fearing the garbage disposal. That last one has been my truth for years. I wince every time I hit the switch for the disposal, brace myself for the sound of crusher blades on silver heirloom spoon or whatever else has had the misfortune of falling down there.

Sometimes I stick my hand down in before turning it on to make sure nothing lies in its bowels. Those are tense moments. I cringe, convinced the blades are about to spring to life by themselves and pulverize my hand.  Alex has observed my disposal song and dance many times and often comments on my contorted facial expressions; he has rightfully observed the appliance appears to cause me great anguish.

Here's Lucien as Donald Trump.
Can't unsee that.

We left on our road trip the morning after Lucien's guitar camp performance. Lucien brought down the house with a Justin Bieber parody he wrote about Justin Bieber being in love with a potato.

There was a five-year-old boy named Ziggy also enrolled in summer guitar camp.  Ziggy enjoyed doing his own thing; he liked to wander off stage suddenly or stop playing his guitar in the middle of a song to have a good look at the ceiling for a few minutes.

Ziggy did a solo.  He stood center stage, stared at the floor and played the same chord softly and repeatedly for twenty seconds or so.  He stopped mid strum and walked off to do whatever. The camp director jumped onstage and said, "And that was Ziggy performing a tribute to the great state of Ohio!"

My sister, Auntie Raba, attended the recital, too.  Upon the conclusion of Ziggy's tribute to the great state of Ohio, Raba and I were hopelessly overcome by the giggles. We laughed as silently as we could, tried so hard to stop but could not get our shit together.  The giggles got worse every time Ziggy moseyed up the aisle past our seats, hands in his pockets, as camp counselors fruitlessly called for him up on stage. I couldn't look at Raba for the rest of the recital for fear of snorting aloud.

We kissed our menagerie of animals goodbye early the next morning and hopped into the Winnebago. The road trip plan was ambitious this year: nine states, eight national parks and over 4000 miles to travel in 16 days.  It didn't start out so jam packed.  The problem with planning these trips is there is too much to do in the areas we're visiting.  I think, "Well, if we're already there, we should go see THAT and then if we're near there we should see THAT and do THAT and then of course THAT THAT THAT THAT."

Our itinerary grows more and more dense and soon allows only a handful of minutes at each place. Then Alex is over my shoulder giving me the stinkeye and telling me my plans are "not very relaxing."  

I never know where to stop, likely because I long to never stop at all.

We did not tire of national parks even after eight of them back-to-back.  It was the opposite. They were fascinating and only grew more so.  Each one had its own flavor, its own personality.  The vibes were different, the visitors different, the landscapes and light and colors different.  Most of them were so wild and surreal, it didn't feel like visiting eight different national parks; it was more like visiting eight different planets.

We take national parks very seriously

Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California was our first stop.  Lassen is beautiful but not in a jaw-dropping kind of way.  It has interesting geology (four different types of volcanoes in one place, sweet) but doesn't blow your mind. It's a lesser Yellowstone with some active geothermal features on a much smaller scale. It has an edge but stops short of being scary.

Me and Ms. Cokes hanging in front of a bubbling mudpot.

If all the national parks were a family, Lassen is the stereotypical eldest child.  It's responsible, solid, dependable, does what it's supposed to do without being flashy. It's a straight-A student, a class president, is likable but doesn't push boundaries. You'll walk away wishing Lassen would let loose just a tad, show you some crazy, dance on a table sometime.

We were at Lassen over the Fourth of July holiday weekend so were far from alone.  It was crowded with people darting everywhere and parking spots parked several cars deep. We couldn't pull over at most of the popular viewpoints so had to settle for the B-and-C list viewpoints.  Instead of an impressive cascading waterfall, we pondered a large rock.

Driving a motorhome is a bit like being a turtle.  Your house is on your back.  It's convenient to have your dental floss at the ready when you need it (and you never forget your sunscreen or bug spray) but it's also cumbersome to carry everything you have around with you.  You're big, bulky, not very agile.  If there's no room for you at the park viewpoints, well, there's no room.  You're a house and can't exactly squeeze in.

We did nudge a few people aside to visit this slushy lake

Lucien bullshitted his way to junior ranger status at Lassen.  The junior ranger programs at the national parks are on point; kids collect a booklet at the visitor center and complete the park-related activities inside.  They learn about conservation and recycling and how to act responsibly around wildlife. They then turn the booklet back in, answer a few questions posed by a ranger and raise their right hands to pledge to take care of the national parks and remain curious about the natural world. They receive a plastic badge and a handshake for their efforts.

Lucien, however, found a way around the system, as I fear Lucien will always do.  He half-assed his Lassen badge.  When the ranger asked, "What are two things you learned at our roadside exhibits?" Lucien responded, "I saw two deer."  Alex and I glanced at each other -- not only was seeing two deer not in any way related to Lassen's roadside exhibits, but as far as we knew he hadn't even seen two deer at all.

I'm watching you, kid.
Don't lie to the national parks.
We take the national parks very seriously.

After Lassen, we drove straight into the middle of Nevada.  Our route took us across the state on Highway 50, which is known as "the loneliest road in America."  It's an appropriate label.  We didn't see anyone in either direction for well over 200 miles.

For me, it was heaven, a road to myself and scenery on all sides. For Al, it was nerve wracking and he got antsy.  That's the difference between an introvert and an extrovert on a roadtrip; when it gets remote, the introvert goes warm and cozy but the extrovert worries there's no one to talk to.

She shares my intense love of being in the middle of Nevada while wearing hilarious glasses.

I mentioned in my last post my apprehension about having Alex along this year. The kids and I have a well established routine on these trips and I was concerned Al was going to unknowingly cramp my style.  My worrying was for naught.  My Al was a perfect traveling companion, a co-pilot to my pilot, a cheerful lunch-maker and podcast-finder as I stepped on the gas and covered major ground.

The only annoying part was he kept saying somberly, "MJ, I feel we're at a crossroads...." every single time our rural highway intersected another rural highway.  It was funny the first time but got old fast.

The second park was Great Basin National Park in middle-of-nowhere Nevada.  If we're still sticking with the family metaphor, Great Basin is the middle child with a hefty case of middle child syndrome. Every ranger with whom we chatted mentioned (with a sniff) that Great Basin is the least visited park in the U.S. national park system.  Great Basin is trying to get noticed but its placement in the world is making it hard.

Our park campsite was dotted with prickly plants and strange bugs.  Lucien shoved Coco ahead of him as they set about exploring the tall brush around the campground.  I hollered, "Lucien, stop making your little sister go ahead of you all the time!" and he responded, "Well, in my defense, if someone's gonna fall on a cactus, it's gonna be her."

Al wanted to eat dinner in the tiny town at the park's entrance that night.  He was insanely curious about it. Who lived in a town three blocks long, with no other towns around for a hundred miles?

We first stopped at the "grocery store" to stock up.  There were only three aisles in the grocery store so it was a quick trip, made even quicker by Alex continually whispering in my ear, "She scares me" about the woman standing behind the checkout counter. The woman never said a word to us but watched us the entire time with charcoal-rimmed eyes.

The restaurant across the street was called The Electrolux and featured several vintage Electrolux vacuum cleaners hanging from the ceiling.  It was a cute place, quirky but warm and brightly colored. A gruff older man welcomed us, seated us, handed us menus.  He took our drink order.  I wanted a beer so he handed me a bottle opener and directed me to a fridge in the back to choose and open my own.  I really liked that, made me feel at home.

Alex ordered a cocktail so the man walked behind the bar and made him a drink.  I jokingly said to Al, "Is this guy gonna make our food, too?" just before he took our order, walked into the kitchen and began cracking open cans.  Yes, he made our food, too.  And it was awful.

Bad food aside, we liked him so much.  His no nonsense, no apologies, no frills self was refreshing in its honesty.  The guy is just doing his thing all alone in the middle of nowhere in his vacuum cleaner restaurant.

Great Basin National Park is certified by the Dark Sky Association.  There's no light from civilization to interfere so the stars are brilliant come nighttime. It's mind blowing how many there are up there, who knew?

We attended the Great Basin astronomy program after dinner where we viewed powerful things through telescopes the size of Lucien's body.  The astronomers showed us Jupiter and its four moons, Saturn and its rings, the M13 star cluster, and the something-something nebula (it was very very late by then so the details got fuzzy) imploding on itself or whatever.

When we returned to camp after astronomy, we laid on the picnic table at our campsite and stared up into the sky.  We saw a handful of shooting stars. which made Coco squeeze me and say, "I saw my first shooting star here, Mom!  I'm never, ever gonna forget that!!"

I smiled and thought, "Girl, you're six years old.  It's very likely you're going to forget it, and soon, but I love your optimism."

The Lehman Cave tour is the star attraction of Great Basin and worth every minute and every dollar, even if you're a semi-basketcase claustrophobe like me.  Trust it, you'll be so entranced by the caves you'll forget you're stuck under the ground in a suffocating hellhole with no obvious escape route.

You're a weirdo, Great Basin, but we like you.

Our third park was Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.  If Lassen is the oldest child being solid and dependable and Great Basin is the middle child with an inferiority complex, Bryce Canyon is their snobby popular neighbor -- male or female, it doesn't matter, it just knows it's better than you.

Bryce Canyon is more stunning than you can imagine but it knows it's more stunning than you can imagine.  Its admirers are numerous; there are people hanging all over it despite its $30 entrance fee, one of the highest in the national park system.  Posted warnings about full parking and overflow lots and crowded trails are in your face before you've even passed the entrance.

Bryce Canyon doesn't have to work hard for its visitors. Its importance is unquestioned, its beauty unparalleled.  It's impeccably maintained.  Everyone wants to be enveloped by its particular brand of special and hugged by its hoodoos.

Bryce Canyon, you preening snobby gorgeous bitch.

The hike we did was nearly four miles.  It's the longest hike Coco and The Loosh have ever done yet there was no complaining.  That's the magic of Bryce.  When even a six-year-old says, "Daaaamn, this place is amazeballs," you know you've found a natural winner.

Even if you are far from the only one who knows it.

I've got three parks down out of eight.  Well shit.  I thought this would be one post but I can't do that to anyone tenacious enough to still be reading.  I had no idea I had this much to say.  But I guess I can be quite wordy.

Oldest sibling and middle sibling and snobby neighbor down.
Other characters to follow.

Friday, July 1, 2016

It's the most wonderful time of the year

We're off.  We are leaving our menagerie to our good friends and trusty pet/housesitters (good luck with Natani, guys, and sorry) and hitting the road.

she is up to no good
and has recently decided carpet is the same thing as grass
so an appropriate place to pee.
We have agreed to disagree on that one.

Alex is coming along on the Mother/Children Road Trip this year. I think he feels the need to keep an eye on me, make sure I don't bring home another dog.  I wonder if he's going to cramp my style.  He better not demand I find a Starbucks in the middle of the Tetons like he did a few years ago.  If he pulls that crap, I am making that man walk home. I SAID GOOD DAY, SIR.

The trip is long and winding through the Western U.S. as always, only this time I will have a co-pilot who is going to make progress challenging with his requests to stop every twenty minutes to "just have a look around." He is the king of turning a 12-hour drive into a 24-hour drive.

Forgive my Alex anxiety.  Alex is my life partner, my companion on the journey, and I love him.  But since I've usually done this trip with just the kids, and we have a well established system and agreed upon ways of doing things (such as taking puppies out of deserts) I'm a bit wary.  I keep saying things like, "You understand we wake up every morning before sunrise because our favorite rides happen at sunrise, yeah?" and he responds, "OK, just as long as we can sleep in!" I don't think he's hearing me.

The road trip is my baby and, sadly, Alex is not its daddy.

In other news, the school year finally ended.  Welcome to the End of School Year Paper Explosion --

I don't like the day the teachers tell the kids to clean out their desks and take it all home to mom. Trust it, mom doesn't want it.  That recycle bin is looking awfully lonely in that classroom corner, though.

There's a giant Dora doll in the picture.  Lucien's class had pajama day during the last week of school and were told they could bring in their favorite stuffie to complete the look.  Lucien doesn't have a favorite stuffie anymore so instead dug through Coco's toys to find "something funny."  He chose giant Dora and carried her under his arm all day at school.  He got the laughs he was looking for.

In scary news, Dora had an accident later that day when she apparently fell down the stairs while home alone.  I found her like this.  She's going to be OK, thankfully I got there in the nick of time.

So we'll be gone for awhile.  Maybe I'll update this blog along the way.  I hope so.  Road Trips are always such interesting things -- and now I'll have the added excitement of fighting with Alex over the radio knobs.

Apologies for this brief post.  I wish I had more time to spend on it but that RV isn't going to clean and pack itself.  I would have paid a bazillion more dollars for one that did.

Good luck with all our crazy animals, friends.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Constant Chaperone

I don't chaperone every school field trip but when I do, you better believe I'm on high alert like a meerkat keeping watch over his hole in the ground.  I am reared up on my hind legs looking around anxiously with wide, dark, impossibly cute eyes.

this was me on a recent field trip to the Asian Art Museum

There are parents out there who have never chaperoned a school field trip.  They are the lucky ones, as they can continue to live in safe cheerful bubbles.  For those of us who've chaperoned even one time, we feel compelled to chaperone forevermore from that point on because we now know the truth; the whole thing is a chaotic near disaster every single time and it's a miracle anyone returns to school in one piece.

After knowing what chaperones know,  it's hard to go about your normal routine on a Field Trip Day with the knowledge your kid is on a school bus hurtling towards a very uncertain future.

I've chaperoned field trips to the zoo, to museums, to farms, to theatres, to goddamn corn mazes in the middle of the state, to puppet shows and beyond.  I have written some chaperone tales before, here and here and here and here and here and here.....

(...Lord... so I just now realized it may be a bit old to hear me talking about this topic. I didn't even link to all of my previous chaperoning mentions.  There were too many.  I apologize, I hadn't realized how redundant I'd gotten and how being a chaperone is now apparently closely linked to my identity as a person.)

me at the Gold Rush National Historical Park

My favorite part of any field trip comes when the teacher says, "Make sure you keep your group with you at all times," then hands you half a dozen six-year-olds who immediately take off in different directions.  Yippee-ki-yay, let the games begin -- and by "games" I mean a lot of rushing around yelling for kids to come back to you until your voice is hoarse.

I am proud to say I have always returned with all of my charges. I've never had a vomit (others have not been so lucky) and I've only had one peeing-of-the-pants.  When I show up at the end of the school day on a field trip day, it's common for a small child to point at me and tell his mother, "That's Coco's mom, I runned away from her!" and I have to smile at the mother like, "Isn't your child just delightful" but what I'm really thinking is, "You  have no idea how big you owe me, that kid nearly wound up in Idaho."

I volunteered Alex to chaperone the biggest field trip of all -- the Mount Saint Helens (it's a volcano!) trip with the 4th Grade -- because he's got a can-do attitude. They left at 7:00 a.m. and returned at 9:00 p.m.  We non-chaperone spouses awaited their return on our back porch with bottles of scotch at the ready. The brave souls were glassy-eyed and numb when they finally stumbled into the house.  Alex rocked a bit as he continually counted to five, over and over, occasionally jumping out of his seat to yell, "Holy shit, I can't find Henry, has he fallen into the caldera?"  Sshhhh, I know baby, it's ok, it's over now...

My most recent chaperone excursion was to the recycling plant.  It went pretty smoothly all in all.  The place was very educational and we learned a lot about recycling, reusing, composting.  The kids were quizzed about what items go in which bin and I felt very good about the whole thing indeed. We're raising good little environmentally aware citizens.

But I'll be damned if, after lunch, Coco didn't try to walk over and put her banana peel in the garbage can instead of the compost bin.  I saw her hand hovering over the garbage, her fingers beginning to relax their hold, and could not believe what I was seeing.  Had she learned nothing just moments before? Was it all in vain? Well, not on this chaperone's watch. I sprang through the air like a cat and batted the banana peel out her hand just in time while yelling, "Do not bring shame upon this family!"
All that to say I actually kind of like chaperoning.  It's a crapshoot but it's nice to spend time with all these kids while they're still young enough to look up at you with innocent faces and prattle on and on nonsensically about their pet turtle, Drip.

Until next time, all.  We remain your constant, serious chaperones on high alert.

(except for Merle there in the middle, he's always f*cking around.)

I am sorry for beating a topic to death.
But chaperoning is serious business.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

I Hate People Days

Nearly every time I'm at the grocery store, usually right after dropping the kids at school, I run into lots of other parents at the grocery store who have also just dropped their kids off at the very same school.  I would prefer a quick head nod, wave, be on my way since we all just laid eyes on each other not 10 minutes earlier.  But to my chagrin, most are eager for social hour in frozen foods. I don't want to socialize in the grocery store. I don't want to chat about summer travel plans. I want to find the peas and purchase ingredients for sloppy joes and be on my way.

I wonder if they are feeling the same way.  Are we all just standing around having conversations we don't want to have out of the same sense of social obligation?  Imagine the freedom if we could all just agree to ignore each other!

Anyway.  It may be the limping-towards-the-finish-line end of the school year fatigue, but it's truth -- I'm experiencing a string of what my best friend in college and I used to call, "I Hate People Days."  I Hate People Days happen when one annoyance comes right after another.  They're usually small stupid petty problems that wouldn't register much on any other day.  But when they start to accumulate, begin to pile on top of each other like freaky people in a Bosch painting, the end result can leave you fuming and looking around like, "Did I seriously just like this world yesterday?"

I will get over it.  I will not remain annoyed with all people forever because I don't want to end up a hermit living in a hollowed out tree trunk.  Until then, being pushed to the brink is kind of useful.  It's near euphoric to unfriend someone on FB without caring if they get mad at you.  The knowledge their oversharing nonsense will never again scorch your eyeballs makes it worth being abrupt.

As uncomfortable as they can be, I Hate People Days serve a purpose.  They limit your patience in such a way you're forced to clean house, get rid of the riff raff on the periphery.  After a few days of seething and making rage-filled adjustments, I can once again watch animal videos online and chuckle without thinking, "I am so sick of everyone telling me to LOL at these animal videos."

Maybe I need a good night's sleep.  In the morning I'll avoid the newspaper article that tells me Trump could easily be our next President.  That would start things off on the wrong foot.  Actually -- I should probably just avoid newspapers and news websites in general for the near future because there's little in there that makes me think, "Way to rock it, World!"  I should also spend the 45 minutes walking the kids to school instead of driving because driving in Seattle during its growth spurt can turn people into serial killers.  That is not a published fact but I'm convinced.

I'll ignore the phone call from the renter who doesn't like the overhead fixture in the dining room of our rental house so wants me to replace it.  I'll also hide around the corner of the house to avoid that neighbor who never, ever gets to the point he's trying to make but still keeps saying, "Like, you know?"  No, I don't know. I have no goddamn idea what you're talking about.

I'll pull out of this seething stretch of days as I've pulled out of all the others.  In the meantime, I'll be the one wearing a ski mask in the grocery store.  It may not end well with grocery store security but still -- incognito.  no talkie talk.

*cape swish*


Monday, April 25, 2016

Danger Vacation and Peppernuts

Do I start with the assembly of  36 boxes of walk-in closet or do I start with our recent Spring Break travels? The former sounds like torture compared to the latter but trust it, they each had their moments.

I'll start with Spring Break.  Our original plan for Spring Break was to drive the Winnie B to Yosemite National Park.  It was an ambitious plan that turned into a foolish plan after our RV nearly drove itself off a mountain pass on a recent ski outing outside Seattle.

We decided to take a "safe" trip, stick closer to home until we were confident the Winnie was no longer an imminent threat to our wellbeing.  Instead of hauling 17+ hours down to Yosemite, we would drive a mere 8 hours to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

Seven hours of the drive passed with no problems; the engine kept running the entire time AND I was able to steer!  I had relaxed considerably by the time our GPS told us it was time to turn off the interstate and onto a sweet little country road called Tiller Trail Highway.

It was nice to be off the freeway and back into nature.  Tiller Trail was all trees, a winding little thing but nothing I couldn't handle.

It's funny how bodies work, how keen they are to sense danger before you consciously realize you're in danger.  At first it was a slight prickle on the back of my neck -- "is this road narrowing a bit?" I wondered to myself.  I also had a sense of being really high. I felt it in my gut before I saw it with my eyes.

The curves in the road were getting so severe, I was unable to look at anything but them. I called Alex up to the front.  "Alex?  This road is getting a little weird, can you come help me for a minute?"  Alex moseyed up to the front and I soon heard a sharp intake of breath.  Then he said, in a voice I could tell he was keeping measured for my comfort, "Yeah.... can feel free to slow down here if you'd like."

Alex doesn't worry about danger much.  There have been many situations where I thought we were going to die and he was like, "What's the big deal, freakazoid, everything's fine."  But in that moment he was tense, and I could tell he was tense, which told me our situation was a precarious one indeed.

I said, "Tell me how bad it is" and Alex replied, "Well, we're up on a cliff kind of thing and there's no shoulder and no guard rail."  I gripped the wheel a little more tightly, "OK, how far down?"  and Alex said, "I'll give it to you in meters so it's not so scary.  It's about 50."  Oh God, I know what meters are. We are going to die.

I didn't lose my cool.  At least not outwardly.  My internal dialogue was a little negative, though, and may have involved the fact Winnie had just suffered a catastrophic electrical problem a couple weeks prior and oh my god, they probably didn't fix her correctly because the entire world is full of idiots and they are very likely some of them.

There was no choice but to keep plodding along and ignore the people piling up behind me on the road.  I drove much of Tiller Trail in the middle of the two lanes because our lane alongside the cliff was too narrow to accommodate our girth.  All I could do was pray no car would come around the hairpin turns from the opposite direction.  We got so lucky none ever did.

It took almost an hour to clear all fifteen miles of Tiller Trail Highway.  We eventually rolled into our campground slightly unhinged but unharmed.  I was contemplating a shot of whiskey when we checked in with the campground host.  I told the gentleman working there, who was sporting a perfect handlebar mustache by the way, "We just took the worst road to get here." His eyes grew wide and he said, "Oh no, did you take Tiller?" When I said "yes" he reached out to touch my arm in a comforting way and put his other hand to his mouth in horror.

We camped next to a guy named Glen, a marijuana growing libertarian from Northern California.  He and his wife recently moved into their RV full time because "property taxes are bullshit."  Glen was chatty, leapt out of his RV immediately upon our arrival to ask if we needed help.  I soon began to suspect living in an RV full time has been lonely for Glen.  If he saw us leave our rig, he was soon out of his rig, too, talking our ears off about whatever was on his mind.  And trust it, Glen has lots of things on his mind.

We began sneaking quietly out of the RV and hiding around the sides of it to avoid those inescapable chats -- that is, unless we needed a question answered.  Since there was no cell phone service nor wifi, he became our Google.

Me: How long do you think the hike is from the campground to the lake?
Al:  I bet Glen knows.

*Alex goes outside, just stands outside our door doing nothing for five seconds*
*Glen leaps out of his RV*

Al:  Oh hey there, Glen, how long is the hike from the campground to the lake?
Glen: That's about 3.5 miles round-trip.  Hey, did I tell you taxes are stupid?
Al:  You sure did, Glen.

Glen didn't want us to go.  He stayed with us throughout the entire breaking camp process, including dumping the sewer line.  Dumping your sewer line is a bit....personal.... so it's possible Glen and I have a difference in opinion about boundaries and personal space.

When we left, I swear Glen cried.  He and his wife waved enthusiastically as we drove off.  Just before, Glen had dug through his RV and returned with peacock feathers and quartz crystals for both our kids. He's a good dude, that Glen.  I hope he finds lots of people to chat with for the rest of his property tax-free and weed-full life.

In more recent events, Lucien just ran into the room to tell me he wants a pet rabbit.
He's already chosen a name -- Peppernuts.
Peppernuts the rabbit.
Then he ran back out again.

Whatever the hell that was.

Keep being yourself, kid.
And hell no on the rabbit thing.

Our Spring Break travels not only nearly killed us on Tiller Trail and brought us to Glen, they also took us to the uniquely wild Crater Lake National Park.  Crater Lake was formed thousands of years ago when a volcano erupted and then caved in on itself, forming a large deep crater.  The heavy snowfall and rain of the area eventually filled the crater with pristine, clear, and extremely blue water. No water flows into Crater Lake, no water flows out.  It is all perfectly purely contained and it takes your breath away.

Did you notice Coco isn't in those pictures?  And related, do you see the tense clench of our jaws? Coco was melting down ten feet away because her socks were wet on account of walking through snow so she'd decided to give up on life. 

She sat over there on that wall and cried and repeatedly asked when we were leaving in a high-pitched squealing voice.

Ahh, making family memories.

The second half of our vacation found us back in Bend, Oregon, one of my favorite towns in this region of the country.  Our campground was fancy, even had a place for the kids to rent movies, which is how we came to enjoy Mulan in the woods.  We didn't realize at first but we had accidentally turned on the outside speakers along with the inside speakers (we're still learning all the buttons on that thing), which meant our immediate neighbors were forced to enjoy Mulan, too. 

I like to imagine the expressions on their faces when the song "Be a Man" exploded from the Winnie B and suddenly split the silence of forest.  

The grand finale of Spring Break was a bluebird ski day up at Mount Bachelor.  The area had received fourteen inches of snow the night before, which is a ton for Spring, and the morning had dawned with a blue sky.  We could not wait to get up there.

The drive up Mount Bachelor was a little hairy.  That's an understatement; the drive was a yeti.  It began nicely enough, roads were clear, dry, and bare down near our campground but with each mile our situation grew a little more dire.  It soon became apparent they had not plowed the road up to Mount Bachelor.  Why the hell didn't they do that. 

For the last nine miles up to the resort, I was driving Winnie B through deep snow.  The only thing that kept me anchored to the earth were the tracks of the handful of people who'd made it up before me. I kept the Winnie as firmly in those tracks as I could and swore a lot under my breath.  Why is it scary every time I get in this damn thing.

The drive was a tricky balance between going fast enough to keep a giant heavy vehicle moving uphill in snow and going slow enough to keep control of the thing in slippery conditions.  I can't believe we made it.  By the time we did (and I emerged once again shaken and looking for whiskey shots in the parking lot) we had another trail of people stuck behind us.  I felt terrible knowing I held many people back from their perfect bluebird ski morning.

One of the people stuck behind me screeched up next to us in the parking lot.  The woman in the passenger seat jumped out and ran at me with arms wide, yelling, "Great job, honey, that was some hella impressive driving you just pulled out!"  She shook my hand, said she and her husband were behind us cheering the entire way, "Come on, girl, you can do it!  You can do it!  Keep going, baby!" They agreed it was total bullshit the road hadn't been plowed given the volume of people headed up the mountain for a glorious end to the ski season. 

Alex and I shook off the terror and soon got overexcited about the new snowfall.  We immediately took the chairlift up to the very top of the mountain, an exposed area that cannot be reached by slope grooming equipment so was still covered in over a foot of very fresh powder.  Alex and I are not powder skiers.  I hate powder, have no idea why we went up there.  I guess we had visions of looking like this --

But proper ski form goes out the window when you're stuck in powder and don't have the skills to be there.  You barely move through the heaviness of the stuff (a toddler learning to walk could have passed me on that slope), you catch weird edges, you look like a graceless idiot.  I didn't look like that guy above.  At one point my feet were about six feet apart from each other and my arms were clutching poles at strange angles from my body.  

Like lookin' in a mirror.  Uncanny.

The best part was when Alex got frustrated, said, "to hell with it" and tried to ski faster. He hit a jump he hadn't seen until he was on top of it and landed face first in many inches of fresh powder.  At least all that fluffy stuff broke his fall.

It's official. We are not powder people.

We're home safe now.  We saw some beautiful places and had some laughs on our most recent RV trip but I think Lucien's face sums up how we felt about much of it -- 

Next time I'd like to write about the closet.  A closet post!  A closet post!  I think everyone agrees that sounds very exciting.

"Tiller Trail of Tears"
MJ, 2016