View from the top

The assignment for Writing 101:

Today, choose a place to which you’d like to be transported if you could — and tell us the backstory. How does this specific location affect you? Is it somewhere you’ve been, luring you with the power of nostalgia, or a place you’re aching to explore for the first time?

I’ve always been drawn to lights and high places. Sometimes I find a combination of the two.

When Rob and I moved to Colorado, we first lived on the Western Slope. Grand Junction, Colorado was our first real home away from home. We moved there in 1987 with our three-year and and our three-week old. Rob started residency in Family Practice at the local hospital, St. Mary’s, we bought a little starter house, and settled in. Grand Junction was good to us. He had a great training experience and we grew some good friends there. It was a beautiful western community with a perfect high desert climate and scenery to spare. The town had a small feel to it, the local peaches were legendary, and for five years we thought we had found a home forever.

But opportunities beckoned, and eventually lead us across the country, to a new home in Michigan. Midland, Michigan was another wonderful community. As the corporate headquarters of Dow Chemical, Midland had amenities that you wouldn’t typically find in small towns. Our kids had friends all over our neighborhood. I was an event planner for the local Chamber of Commerce, Rob had his first experience with corporate work.

But the winters there were hard, and long, and gray. And while there was a lot about Michigan that charmed us…Mackinac Island, summer cherries and fall apple orchards, Polish pierogi, the beautiful lake shores and the small, colorful towns…ultimately, we missed the Colorado sun, and the mountains, and we began to talk about next…next jobs, next home, next stop.

Once you start having those conversations, it’s only a matter of time.

We looked at a couple of practice options, but it was an easy decision to accept a job in Denver, taking us back to the mountains and the sunshine.

When you drive cross-country, heading toward the Rockies, if you approach from the east on I-70, you reach a point when you can just faintly, ever so faintly, see the outline of the peaks in the distance. That was the moment I always anticipated.

We drove it many times, and in fact, those drives had started in our childhoods, both families drawn to the Colorado mountains, though in different seasons. My parents were summer visitors, heading west on summer vacations, packing the iconic station wagon with four kids, bags, food, books, games, and more books. And music. My dad always had music with him, and by the time we were making those trips, it was cassette tapes, boxes and boxes of tapes.

Rob’s family went to Colorado to find snow, and they found skiing. In the 70s, driving out over spring break to experience winter and the mountains, they created a family tradition, returning year after year to satisfy a love of exploring, and beauty, and escape from routine.

Those trips were the beginnings of our love affair with the West, summer and winter, and the Colorado mountains.

After we got married, when Rob and I talked about where we wanted to live, the mountains of Colorado became our destination of choice. In 1995, that dream came true. We moved to the foothills of the Front Range, Genesee, nestled between Evergreen and Golden. At night we had a view of the lights of Denver to the east, and we had soaring peaks to the west. Perfect!

It was perfect, and from the day we moved to the mountains, I promised myself I wouldn’t take the views for granted, wouldn’t let it get old.

Even good things in your life become insignificant if you can’t see them anymore. 

I used to drive around, running my errands, and even after we’d lived there for years, I’d catch myself just staring at the scenery. I never got tired of it, never looked past it. Living with the views made me grateful, kept me humble, fueled my joy.

Our view to the west

Our view to the west

Red Rocks, a Front Range landmark

Red Rocks, a Front Range landmark

The river bank

Snow frosted

 

I’ve never been a city girl, but there is one city that completely charmed me, makes me want to know it better and better. Paris, the City of Light, is beautiful and timeless.

It’s romantic and iconic.

It seems familiar from all the movies and photos that have made it famous; but it’s unknown too..when you’re walking around, seeing the landmarks with your own eyes,  there’s a quality of déjà vu, and surreality. You can’t understand the aura from photos, or movies. You have to see it for yourself to absorb the little shops, the cafés, the traffic and the people, the Frenchness. I guess that’s true of most places…you have to experience in person. But somehow it’s more true there. There’s magic in Paris, that’s the only way to explain it.

View seat

View seat

The Paris Icon

The Paris Icon

Paris wandering

Paris wandering

Riverside in Paris, 2009

Riverside afternoon

The funny thing about that trip was how meaningful it was to both of us. We’ve done a lot of traveling together, and sometimes a place that speaks to one of us doesn’t  impact the other. But this was different. We were in sync with each other and with the city. And to this day, it is a touchstone for us, an experience that caught us by surprise, filled us with delight.

We thought we were just doing the tourist thing. Turns out, we carved out memories for life. And you never know when life is going to hand you those moments. So it’s important to pay attention.

The good stuff can only be planned so far. I’ve learned to leave room for the joy of the unplanned, the surprise of the unexpected.

At the end of our exploring, tired and footsore, we headed to our hotel in the heart of the city to recover and get ready to leave the next day. But late that night, I think it was a little before midnight, Rob insisted we go back out for a last look at the city, and the lights. I was so tired, I almost didn’t do it.

But how can you say no to Paris?

We walked a few blocks, and this was our reward:

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Paris night-light

It was worth putting on my shoes again.

I’m so glad I said yes. If I’d said no, I would have missed one of the perfect moments of my life, of our lives together. 

Seeing the lights of the Eiffel Tower, sharing a midnight dessert at a quaint little café within sight of that stunning monument, was the perfect end to our trip, the perfect date with my best friend.

Saying yes to life has served me better than saying no.

It has caused me to take some wrong turns, true enough. But even those wrong turns have lead to good things, and make up the mosaic of life. So when I find myself hesitating, I remember the lights, and a midnight walk through Paris. And I know that I’ll choose yes, because there might be a night-light worth seeing, and I’ll miss it if I say no.

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June promise

June 2nd and another month presents itself. Already half through this year, and I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the tasks I listed for 2014.

I really wanted to improve my blog this year, and I’ve done that in fits and starts. Like all my rhythms, writing often takes a back seat to travel and routine, or lack of one. But I’ll admit that’s often just the excuse. The root of what I’m missing is not a better grasp of technology, it’s the discipline to sit down, even when I’m time-zone challenged, and power on my lap-top, put words on the screen instead of reading them off.

I signed up for Writing 101 to put some structure around my goals, and this is my beginning. I’m sitting surrounded by the stacks of packing, getting ready to go back to Ketchikan tomorrow, back to work, away from days of sun and camping. But I stopped my sorting, sat down to gather my thoughts. Packing is just another distraction, and it will wait.

Today we ran errands out in the hot California sun, the little red pick-up we keep for getting around down here feeling oven-like until the blast of the air-conditioner cooled us down. I’m going back to Ketchikan with specialty cheeses and my favorite pasta sauce and Panzanella crackers. I stocked up on some farm stand corn, the first of the season down here. Got a burger at In-N-Out, satisfied the fast food craving with crispy fries and animal style.

I drive around and wonder if I could ever live here, back in the hustle-bustle after years of small town life. I don’t know. I toy with the idea. Some days I think I could, then the traffic gets to me, or the big box stores seem too big, and I’m happy to find myself out on the rural roads that lead back to the campground. The slow speed of a winding road suits me better than interstates and freeways.

Driving here is a lot like the life I’m living: it’s either the fast lane and overwhelming, or it slows down to a pace I enjoy, and I find myself daydreaming, mesmerized by the scenery.

It’s easy to get lost in your own life, so caught up in the details of living that you forget — you forget you had a plan, and goals, and a timeline. I call it the “where am I?” — you know, that dazed look that says you’re trying to catch up… what state am I in?  what space I’m in (house, trailer, apartment?) and the commitments I’ve got the next day…which clinic am I in? What food do I have in the fridge, and is the bed made, and what season of clothes do I need for tomorrow?

I’m making it sound worse than it is, but at that I’m often disjointed enough. I don’t know how people who travel every week manage. And while I love it, I’m also weary of it. Ready to stand still for a while, find my feet on solid ground. Ready to put the details of life on auto-pilot and give my attention to the things that matter. Still, or again, finding my focus. The funny thing is, I read over these words and it sounds like I’m self-absorbed. But I think the opposite is true. I’m not paying enough attention to the life I’m living. I’m largely floating on the current of events that carry me along. And that’s not what I want. I don’t want to be driftwood in the current of life.

What’s the secret formula? I already know. I just have to reclaim it for myself. The secret is service, and giving, and living with such purpose, such intention, that my busyness finds meaning again, and my work is a labor of love, not just a labor.

And so I promise anew. I promise to make life matter, not just mark the days off the calendar. I promise to notice the details that are worthy, and let the insignificant be just that: insignificant. I promise to love, to cherish, to fill each day with some task that is meaningful and powerful.

Thank you Writing 101! Thanks for the reset, thanks for the reminder. Maybe that’s the power of a blog…the self-reminder that each life matters, and if so, then my life, my contribution, matters too. I just have to find the way, and at the same time, promise not to take it all too seriously. Wouldn’t want to do that. :)

The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.

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California burger

 

 

Summer corn

Summer corn

California rambling

Seaside

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Pacific blues

The travel trailer

The travel trailer

 

Country roads

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Rob and I are taking a breather. After a couple of months of intense work, we’re in sunny California setting up a new second home. Well, it’s a second home for us. Really it’s a new travel trailer. We said good-bye to the Class C RV the last time we were down, and now we’re adjusting to our new space.

We’ve been roaming the north/central part of California the last couple of years, slowly getting to know this region a bit. Sacramento is the big city hub, but we’re only there briefly, picking up a vehicle from storage and then leaving the hustle and bustle behind. No doubt about it, California has hustle.

But once you drive out of the city, into the countryside, you’re in a completely different world. And that’s the California I love. You leave the multiple-lane freeways and find yourself driving on two-way rural roads that probably look the same as they did 50 years ago. The houses you pass may be newer construction. But often, the barns and homes are old fashioned too. They’ve stood the test of time and weather, and look a little rugged, like some chiseled movie star from an old black and white film. They may be repurposed and give the small towns the quaint flavor of historic meets tourist. Or they may be falling down, remnants of a past century and past usefulness that won’t last many more years.

This is historic gold country (as in the ’49..that’s 1849… gold rush), farming and ranching country, dotted with wide spots in the road, all boasting some hole in the wall restaurant that’s probably a gem in disguise. The winding roads take you round hills and streams and seem to be going nowhere in particular. Nothing out here runs straight.

I’ve decided any road that takes me past rounded green hills, grazing cows and standing horses, vineyards and fruit orchards growing hot in the mid-day sun, old pick-ups and farm stands selling farm to table produce…take any road that runs past these delights, and I’m charmed.

I’m completely fascinated with the scale of it all. The landscape is amazing, the rolling hills spreading far to the horizon and a faint view of snowy mountains, barely visable to my eye. But the buildings that dot the land along side the two-lane roads, they’re scaled to human size. Nothing is big-box shaped, overwhelming, giant structures that make humans seem like ants in comparison. Everything in the country, except the land itself, seems tailored to people. I guess because when a lot of this land was settled, that’s who they were building for.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the convenience of big shopping and all that goes with it. There’s a place for that, I guess. But all in all, I’m still small town at heart. Maybe it’s in my veins, the way my mom and my grandmothers, and surely their mothers before them, all grew and lived in small communities with human-sized stores and buildings.

There were farmers among my ancestors, and maybe that old influence is why I love the sight of cows and the acres of fields we pass. I remember my dad could always identify the crops, and I wondered how he knew what was growing in the fields when he wasn’t a farmer. But he grew up with that heritage, and so he knew.

I am not a farmer, and I can’t always guess the type of crop in the field we’re passing. But I love it, and I identify (a little guiltily, feeling like I’m faking it) with the rural spirit of the region. I love to support the local markets, love to think I’m contributing to a family’s way of life, and an American heritage of growing food and making it, encouraging the little guys with their small farms. It’s a nod to our shared past, a nod to my parents, the road warriors of my youth, and an acknowledgement that for a lot of people, farming and rural living is still an everyday way of life.

So I’m enjoying the new trailer, and getting settled. But to be honest, I’m almost as excited to see the cows again.

Doesn’t seem romantic, really. Until you get out on those open roads. And then I know I’m home, honoring the American spirit, loving the freedom, the space, the independence.

Aaahh…

See you out there!

What do you find that’s charming on the road?

A visual feast

There are so many amazing photography sites, blogs, resources…I almost refrained from posting a link to this collection. But I couldn’t resist the beautiful and surprising and haunting images here. Any collection of photos featured by Smithsonianmag.com, the digital home of the Smithsonian Institution, is worth a look. Or two. This is the 11th Annual Photo Contest for the site, and readers are invited to select their favorites.

 

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Photograph by Stefano Coltelli (San Miniato, Italy). FINALIST: Travel |                                                                   Neist Point Lighthouse at dusk. (Isle of Skye, United Kingdom, August 2013,

View, enjoy, vote!

~ Sheila

Chooser

I often write about the challenges of life at my stage: empty-nester, part-time worker, full-time budding entrepreneur, wife, mom to young adults, grandparent, daughter, friend. The intent is to share the struggles and epiphanies I’m having with the hope of helping someone else who’s struggling too. I haven’t got it sorted out! Life is a work in progress, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. I’m a slow learner, and a late bloomer. But here’s what I know today…

It’s good to be home! I know, it’s a common theme with me. Two weeks out of town for vacation and a family visit, and then two weeks working at the Metlakatla clinic, and I’m done. At least for the next three weeks. These are mine to enjoy at home.

Home is complicated right now. We have a house in Ketchikan, which I love, but we’re spending limited time here these days. Between time working in Metlakatla, and time out and about for personal reasons, days to putter around in my own little nest are hard to come by. It hasn’t always been that way. In fact, most of my life has fit the norm…parenting, working, raising children, and though the location changed a few times throughout the years, the basic pattern was set.

A couple of years ago, Rob backed out of full-time practice with the promise to himself that he was done with that lifestyle. Too stressed, burned out, and exhausted to do full-time medicine any more. So now he works part-time, and for the moment, that’s in three different clinics in SE Alaska.

We tried the arrangement of me working in a full-time position and staying with the house, and him out and about, working, coming home, leaving again to work, coming home, leaving again…it was wearing, and lonely, and not what either of us signed up for. But for Rob, the variety is good. He enjoys moving about a bit. The change-up of the routine is good. And I’ll be honest, he’s not wedded to home and stuff as I am.

I like my stuff. I’ve spent a lot of time and a fair amount of money accumulating what I have. I love to putter about in the kitchen, using the gadgets and tools I have to try new dishes. I love pretty linens on the bed, comfy furnishing that have a look of warmth and tradition. I love the books on my shelves and the art on the walls. It all speaks to me, of people I love or a mood I want to evoke.

But that isn’t what comforts Rob. He’s a wanderer, and a nomad. Through much of our marriage he lived life in the traditional way, because that was the model we knew, and we were raising kids. But that’s changed, and with the empty nest has come new freedom. Freedom for both of us, in different ways. It has freed us financially, to some extent, and it has removed the need to keep a stable home base for growing children.

So now what? I’ve written about making the choice to leave my full-time work. It was two years ago in January. I’ve already lived a semi-nomadic life two years. Some of it has been amazing. Some of it has been fun. And there have been moments of weariness, times when I said, over and over in my mind, like a litany, “I just want my life back. I just want to go home.” Those moments have been few. But they have been part of the tapestry.

This week I said, as we sat over a late breakfast, looking out on the Tongass Narrows from our front windows, that it was good to be home. That I miss my things, that right now, I live a crazy life that keeps me on the run, and often somewhat adrift. Rob looked at me and asked, “Why is that?” I was in the process of answering when I got interrupted, and we never really finished the conversation. But I can finish it. I can give the answer.

I’m living a crazy life right now because I made a choice. I made a choice to match my lifestyle to what was working for my husband. He didn’t demand that I do it. He didn’t make it a requirement of the relationship in any way. I made the choice, and I’m committed to the choice because I realized, after trying to do it differently, it was all or nothing. I couldn’t keep a foot in both camps…happily married and living alone for weeks at a time. It wasn’t good for the relationship, and to be honest, I got almost no pleasure out of my things when I had them all to myself. Things do not replace people. And though I knew it in my head, it wasn’t until I found myself living that reality, that I knew it by heart.

If I learned anything about myself during the time that we lived mostly apart, it was that a lot of my pleasure in homekeeping and cooking comes from the relationships around me. If I’m cooking dinner for the two of us, or for a crowd, I enjoy every piece of it: planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, eating. Even the cleanup is a validation of time well spent, and spent with loved ones. If I’m by myself, I have little-to-no interest in any of it. My enthusiasm dries up. I lost weight when we were living apart. I hated to go to the grocery store, because it wasn’t for anything fun…it was just for food. And what’s the fun in that? And pretty rooms? They just don’t mean much when you wander through them by yourself, trying to enjoy the never-disturbed perfection because there’s no one around to move anything out of its place.

Why am I saying all of this? Because it’s important for me to acknowledge…this crazy life I lead is by choice. I could be home every night, in my bed, eating at my own table. But that’s not the priority of my life. In a few weeks I’ll be in a different setting, camping in the RV again. I’ll have time to write; work on my baby business that’s slowly coming to life; I’ll do some work for the Met clinic via phone and email; and all of that will fit between the plans of the day that Rob and I make together. Because that is my priority. And how can I be ungrateful for that freedom in my life? If this time looks chaotic…if it seems like we’re always on the move…well, we are. It won’t last forever, I’m sure of that. There will be a time when we make different plans…when we move nearer family, and we settle again.

But for now, this is my choice, and claiming it, owning it, helps me avoid the victim mentality when I have one of those moments of just wanting to be home. I am not a victim or a martyr to Rob’s choices. I have made my own. It feels good to recognize: if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, I wouldn’t have some of the opportunities that are on the horizon. I wouldn’t be in the process of developing a design for a logo and business card and a new web site. I wouldn’t be a budding entrepreneur at the ripe age of 53. I wouldn’t have the freedom to work from home, or from the RV. I wouldn’t have the flexibility to make my own commitments. And the reality is, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity and the financial stability to step out on this ledge.

And if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, and into my crazy life, I wouldn’t have the joy of seeing and doing the things that I seen and done in the past years, with the man I chose.

Life is complicated. But it helps if you know that you’re where you are by choice. So I’m a chooser. I’ve learned to choose love over things, experience over money, and freedom over security. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be traditional to be normal; that you can walk a different path and still get where you need to go. And I’ve learned that although head knowledge is good, there’s no replacement for understanding something from the heart. Because the heart gets final say; and if my choice has passed the heart test, I’m on the right path.

Dinner for two…

Clean up and clean out

We’re in California for a few days. Came down to take a short break from winter, and just missed a big storm in Ketchikan. Perfect timing!

Winter, at least here in north-central California, is minimal. Nights are cool, with temps in the 40s, but so far we haven’t needed more than a light jacket. That makes spending a few days in the RV very doable, even though we’ve been inside more than out.

But our main task is not relaxing, it’s cleaning. We’re trading the RV for a travel trailer, and we’ll turn the RV in to the dealer when we leave at the end of the week. We don’t pick up the replacement until spring. So we have a gap. We have to store everything coming out of the RV until we get back: bicycles, beach towels, coffee mugs, and all the little extras we’ve picked up along the way. All extremely valuable (!) and now has to be sorted and evaluated. Sort of like, in a real move, when you come down to cleaning out the kitchen junk drawer. Lots of little odds and ends of stuff, about most of which I wonder: a) what is this? b) where did it come from? (closely followed by, “who’s been filling up my RV?!”) and c) should I keep it or throw it out?

Yes, it is a slow process.

We bought the RV in the fall of 2008, so we’ve had a few years to squirrel away. We’ve cleaned out a bit, now and then, but we’ve never had to empty it. So now we know. We know just how much we’ve packed in, and how much we’ve used all those little things we thought might come in handy. You know…the things you keep…just in case.

So guess what our new resolution is?! That’s right, we’re not going to fill up our new space. We’re going to be picky. Very, very picky. Only the useful, the really essential things are allowed in. :)

Guess how long that will last?

Well, it’s a nice fantasy to entertain. We’ll start out strong. But it’s only a matter of time.

I’ve known for a long time that the best way to stay on top of accumulation is a move. That’s it. It forces you to sort and thin and see what you’ve stashed. And now I know that’s true, even in vacay mode.

So, we’re off to rent a storage unit…a very small one. We’ll be down to essentials, and that’s the way it’s going to stay. Right?!

Road trips

Road trips

Back among the living

Last week was a hard one. First there was my travel saga…not to make too much of that…it ended well. But the long trip home set me up for a rough couple of days. I was exhausted from the cross-country flying, and probably picked up a bug in the friendly skies…all the close quarters and shared air. By the time I got back to Ketchikan, all I really wanted to do was crawl in bed and sleep for a week. By the time I’d been there a couple of hours, I was feeling chilled and sick. Not a good homecoming at all.

On Wednesday I tried to get up three times. Finally I forced myself  to be upright long enough to see off our friends who had stayed in the house while we were gone for the holidays. If they hadn’t been retiring and moving out of state, I’m not sure I would have made the effort to rouse myself. But in the circumstances, it seemed right that I crawl out of the covers for a formal goodbye. I kept a safe distance…didn’t want to share a parting gift of germs with them…and as soon as they left, I dragged myself back to bed. I knew I had a few hours yet I could be horizontal. For the moment, it was my life goal: To. Be. Horizontal.

Rob was scheduled to get home that evening, so I set an alarm to make sure I’d wake up in time to pick him up. I revived enough to do that, but didn’t last long after we got home from the airport.

On Thursday I was supposed to go to Metlakatla. My alarm went off at 5:00 AM and I started playing the game. I reset it for 5:30, then 6:00. Then I finally turned it off. I couldn’t have gotten myself out the door if the house was on fire. I’ve rarely felt like every cell in my body was drained, but that was how I felt that morning.

I never sleep in, but after a couple of mid-morning attempts to get up, I gave up. I finally surfaced between noon and 1:00, and we ran a few errands. We had to make it over to Metlakatla Friday morning since Rob was covering call for the clinic over the weekend, and I needed to connect with some staff on Friday. So Thursday afternoon was my chance to pull myself together and get ready to be there for a few days. I managed it, but barely.

By Friday morning I was almost back to normal. And good thing too. I could not have walked out the door a day earlier. Maybe I just needed some time for my body to catch up with all the bouncing around I’d done in the past few weeks.

I mention all of this to say…wow!…what a hard thing it is to be sick. I’m so rarely under the weather that I’m sometimes guilty of forgetting that not everyone is so fortunate. It’s easy to take good health and energy for granted when that’s mostly all you’ve known.

I remember when my dad was going through chemo and radiation treatments. Even when he was not visibly ill, he was fatigued. He rarely had much energy, and he couldn’t eat normally. And of course so many things work as part of a vicious cycle for cancer patients. I would visit and try to encourage him to eat a little more. Or to be interested in something going on, or going for a ride, or anything. There were days that he could participate in life, and days he couldn’t.

It was frustrating, for someone filled with energy, to try to infuse someone else with life, with interest, with desire to do something, to do anything. Last week, lying in bed feeling like the world could disappear and I wouldn’t care, feeling like talking and even listening required more energy than I could muster, I thought about my dad. I remembered some of the times I tried to share my energy through encouragement, through optimism, through my hope for him.

It’s humbling to realize…I didn’t have cancer, or some other debilitating disease. I’m sure I just had a virus, and ibuprofen and some extra sleep were sufficient to get me back on my feet. But for people who have serious illness, or depression, or some life-crippling condition….a little sleep and a few over-the-counter pills are not going to cut it.

Last week was a reminder that I need to appreciate my own good health. But I also need to be understanding and patient with people who are struggling. I would never criticize anyone battling illness. But I’ll confess that it is sometimes frustrating to feel like you’re trying so hard for them. And they just don’t pick up the cues and perk up. It’s disheartening, when you have energy to burn, and you can’t ignite a spark.

Thinking about my dad, I know he understood that I was just trying to help, and that I was so longing for him to feel better, if only I could have done it for him. But I couldn’t grasp how much he was doing, just by sitting in his chair, by being dressed, by eating a little bit, by talking a little bit. I couldn’t grasp how that little effort was taking all the energy he could find, and all he could spare.

Well, I’ve been sick a few times in my life. Not for long, and never very seriously. But in recent years, when I’ve had days that knocked me flat, I’m reminded, again, that I need to be respectful of the boundaries. That I need to understand…when you don’t feel well, no one can feel well for you. No one can hope you into energy and strength and wellness.

I suppose this is on my mind because I was just flattened, and reminded. And because Rob was on call and saw a lot of sick elderly folks. Most of them probably had flu, and will likely recover. I hope so. But my 53-year-old self has bounced back, and recovery will likely be slower for the older ones.

I am pausing to reflect on this now, and to store it away for “some-day,” when I’m on the elderly side of life, or ill…I’ll be the one needing patience then, and kindness, and understanding that just wanting isn’t always enough.

It’s perspective, isn’t it?

There and back again

We left Alaska for the holidays on Dec 20. After seeing almost everyone on both sides of the family…(not quite everyone, and the ones we missed were sorely missed!)…and spending some additional time with parents, we’re back. Home for two nights before the work cycle takes hold. But at least the upcoming travel is only a 15 mile trip.

Rob and I came home separately. I spent the last week with my mom, and he spent the week giving his sister some help. Flying cross-country by myself is not my favorite thing to do. I can do it, obviously, but there’s really no fun in it. But I needed to be back to see off the couple who was staying in the house while we were away. They’re retiring, moving out-of-state, and I wanted to say goodbye and do a handoff with the house.

This was my return saga.

Aahh, right there, you know it didn’t go as planned. The very word, “saga” is defined as a long and complicated story with many details, often about past heroes from Norway and Iceland. Well,  there were no Norse heroes in my story. But it was long and complicated.

First, you should know that you can hardly get here from there, or there from here. To reach my mom’s home in Mississippi requires at least three flights, and that’s on a good day. You can add more if you’re creative, or unlucky with timing. It is hard to do in one day, going west to east. You have a better shot at one day travel going east to west. The time zones work against you either direction. There’s a three-hour difference between Alaska time and Central time, and after a long day of travel, you feel every minute.

I’ve long believed that the reason travel is so tiring, even air travel, where you’re largely waiting and sitting, sitting and waiting, is that somehow, you body logs every mile. Never mind that you’re flying hundreds of miles per hour. Your body knows, and registers the appropriate fatigue. So that’s always a factor.

My plan was to leave on Monday. I chose an early afternoon flight to accommodate the drive time to Jackson from my home town, about 90 minutes away. Of course we were up late my last night, and I was up early, so the afternoon flight didn’t translate to a leisurely morning of sleeping in. But it was smooth with no delays.

The funny thing about flight routes: they’re not always logical. I try to fly with Alaska Airlines and partners as much as possible to build air miles. Delta is the partner airline flying out of Jackson, so to pick up an Alaska Airlines flight, I had to go east to Atlanta, setting myself back one more time zone and several hundred miles. I had a three-hour layover at the Atlanta airport. Unbelievably, Atlanta doesn’t offer free wi-fi for airport guests…I’m really paying attention to that these days. It makes a difference when you’re stuck and traveling alone.

From Atlanta, I flew five hours west to Seattle. By the time we arrived it was 9:00, and I was beginning the internal debate about my sleepover arrangements. If I had gotten there earlier, it would have been tempting to go out to Stephanie. She lives about 45 minutes north. But at that time of night it seemed a waste to drive that far when my connecting flight the next morning left at 7:00. Too early to have to be up and back at the airport to make it worth while.

I called her anyway to say hello. She knew I was passing through. We talked a few minutes and then she asked about my bags. I had them checked through to Ketchikan, so I didn’t have anything but my carry-ons. She had driven in to surprise me and was waiting at baggage claim. We went to a nearby diner and had a late night snack, and a little mother/daughter time. It was fun, and sweet, and all the more special because I had resigned myself to missing out this time. I missed the little guys, and Matt, who was home with them, but I’ll admit, it was nice to have a little visit, just we two.

She dropped me off about 11:30, and I went back to find a place to hang out for the next few hours. I’d already decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to get a hotel for four hours, and judging by the number of people spending the night in the airport, I was in good company. It’s not my preferred way to do it, but I just couldn’t justify a hotel room for such a short stay.

As luck would have it, Tuesday morning, I got an upgrade to first class, one of the benefits of frequent travel. Although it’s a short hour and a half flight up to Ketchikan, it’s a good nap opportunity when your seat is a little more spacious and you can settle in without feeling squished.

The flight was uneventful until we approached Ketchikan. Sometimes when the weather is iffy, the friendly gate agents will alert you as you board that you might not be landing. I assume this is to give you the option…do you really want to risk finding yourself in Anchorage instead of Ketchikan, or some other destination along the “milk run” of South East Alaska communities?

This time there was no warning, but we didn’t land. Just as we should have been making a final descent, we suddenly pointed up, and the pilot came on to announce that the weather had worsened and we were now going on to Wrangell, the next stop on the standard route. Well, that’s SE Alaska for you. It’s never happened to me, but I know it’s a somewhat normal occurrence this time of year.

Same story with Wrangell. Instead of going down, we nosed up again. This time the pilot announced we were going on to Juneau. He didn’t even attempt the small community of Petersburg. I guess he had the view and the weather info to know that wasn’t happening either.

We landed in Juneau a little later and were told that there was a flight passing through on the way back to Ketchikan that we could rebook on. I was one of the lucky few who actually made it on the flight. There was a long line behind me that had to wait for the later afternoon flight, which was eventually canceled.

So the few of us that were fortunate to be early in line to rebook got on the southbound plane and settled in, hoping for a better outcome. We had to go first to Sitka, then on to Ketchikan. The Sitka landing was rough, but not too bad. For these short stops you’re encouraged to stay on the plane unless it’s your stop. That allows the oncoming passengers to board more quickly and to do the whole stop within a half hour, which we did.

The second leg was more interesting. A lot more interesting. The wind had picked up, as well as the rain. The waves were rough and choppy. All the airports in the Southeast are right on the water, so you can see what type of weather you’re facing. Not good at all. I was watching the waves when we were on the ground in Sitka, feeling thankful I wasn’t on a boat. Rough seas, so much so that I heard the big ferry wasn’t running.

The flying time between Sitka and Ketchikan was a short 33 minutes, and we were asked to stay seated and buckled up for the trip, and pre-warned the ride would be bumpy.

I used to get sweaty palms when I flew, but I’ve done so much of it, now I rarely feel anxious. But this time, I had some of my old anxiety back as we lurched through the air. I often wonder what level of turbulence would signal real danger. I don’t really want to know the answer, but in the moment, it could be comforting if I could say confidently, “Meh…this is nothing!” The best I’ve come up with is to assure myself that the pilots don’t want to go down anymore than I do, and if they don’t think it’s safe, they won’t attempt to fly. That’s the way it always works, right?

Anyway, we were getting closer to Ketchikan, coming down through cotton ball clouds. I had a window seat and kept wondering if we would see the runway or just feel the thump of the wheels touching down. We finally broke through the clouds and could see water and land below, but we were swaying and jostling so much it wasn’t really comforting to have a better visual.

Everyone got quiet, and in my head I was saying, “Just pull up, pull up. Really, I’m ok to go back to Seattle.” I wasn’t quite to the point of saying the words out loud, and of course the pilots couldn’t hear me anyway. But I was silently urging them on, hoping they were receiving my suggestions via telepathy.

Finally, the wheels connected with a hard thump, and we were down. Still swaying and lurching, and feeling like we were going waaayy too fast. I don’t know how some landings can seem so controlled, and others make you think you’re going to slam into something to bring the plane to a stop. There was a spontaneous outbreak of applause, so I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling just a wee bit nervous. Good to know I wasn’t alone.

As I exited the plane, my thank you to the crew was a little more heart-felt than usual. I didn’t quite kneel down and kiss the ground, but I was just short of that.

Needless to say, my bags didn’t keep up with my plane switch. But oh well, what’s a couple of bags when you’ve landed safe in a small hurricane? And they’ll be along. At least they’re only a couple of stops up the “milk run.”

I’ve heard from more than a few people that the Alaska Airlines pilots are the best in the business. Whether that’s true or not, they have my vote of confidence for routinely flying in the weather here. I’m sure it just keeps it interesting for them. Challenges their skills. But for those along for the ride, it’s a bit of an adrenaline rush. I might need to re-color my hair this week. And at least I made it home on the day I was planning to be back. Often, people get stuck for a day or two or more, just waiting to get a seat on a flight. And of course, if the delay is weather related, hotel and food costs are up to the passengers. The airlines don’t cover “act of God” delays.

I think I’ve decided: after living on an island for the past five years, I want to live somewhere that you can drive in and out of. I don’t mind to fly, most of the time. But I want options again.

Good to be home, in one piece, and finding my routine again. Good to survive the miracle of modern travel, and the sound and fury of Mother Nature!

Traveling joys

So, Christmas, 7:00 pm, and we’re sitting in the Seattle airport waiting to fly south for part two of family holiday visits. We’re not alone…it’s actually busier than I thought it would be. Some shops and restaurants are closed, but there are several options open for those who (still!) need to shop or eat.

In the spirit of Christmas travel, I’m sharing this little gift from YouTube. Saw this a couple of weeks ago and thought it was a completely charming idea. Even if it’s just a publicity ploy, WestJet did a great job of sharing some Christmas joy and pulled off an amazing surprise. I don’t think I’ll have this to look forward to when I pick up my luggage…but maybe if was flying WestJet?!

Enjoy!

Digging deep

The Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia

The Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia

We’re spending the week with our son.

We don’t get to do that often enough these days. Right after high school he joined the army and we moved to Alaska. And for the next five years we saw him in bits and pieces, he a cog in the great wheel of the army’s posting and leave schedule, and us connecting when we could match our opportunity to his availability. It was tricky, during those years, but we managed.

We’ve kept up, and kept in contact. I saw him in March, we spent a few days with him back in May, and will see him again at Thanksgiving. We’re making up, a little bit, for lost time. Getting to know him again, and learning about this kid who turned 26 in June. Twenty-six! How did that happen?

It’s often funny, hearing his take on life, catching his humor, his jokes, learning about his likes and dislikes…weaving the fabric with first hand knowledge and time spent face to face.

It’s sometimes hard. He’s not always easy, often stubborn and opinionated. He’s a mix of the two of us, and at the same time, so different from either of us. Life and loss have left a mark. The army experience, both good and bad, and a young marriage that added to the statistics of military marriages, shaped him. He’s finding his way, and so are we.

We laugh and enjoy. It’s easy to be with him.

We tread warily. Rekindled relationships can be fragile. This one needs to strengthen a bit, solidify again.

I find my heart is fragile too, anxious that the week be good, something we’ll all remember with smiles, and a desire to repeat.

Re-connection requires effort. Life gives us people and relationships, but it’s up to us to nurture and make them thrive. So I dig deep, tell my mother’s heart that all will be well.

We’re in Victoria, British Columbia. It’s beautiful and warm, the September sunshine pretending to be a gift of summer. We’ve picked an Irish and a Scottish pub for dinner the nights they have live music, and we’re walking the town and driving the coast. Laid back, charming, and just touristy enough to keep the focus on fun.

How does it happen that you feel you have to get acquainted with the boy you birthed? I know his top layers, but the deeper stuff…well, that’s been forming in the past few years, and I’ve not been with him enough to know his depths.

So I dig deep, mostly within myself…he will have to do his own digging, his own opening, when he’s ready. It is not for me to make demands. He’s his own person now, and I respect that separateness. I just keep it light, make sure he knows he has a home in my heart, so when he wants to land there for a while, he can.

It’s delicate, being a parent to young adults. You play the game of giving them space and respect, but your heart really wants to just make everything right for them. Can’t do it, they have to. I dig deep to get it just right, to hold back, to open up. Exhausting. Fulfilling. It’s hard work. It’s heart work.