Random Photo: St. Louis, 1989, Our First Family Vacation

In the summer of 1989, when our daughter was four and our son seven, we took our first “real” family vacation. By that I mean, it was just my husband, me and the two kids, and we went somewhere other than to visit grandparents.

We’d taken our son on a couple of trips before daughter came along, or left her with grandparents when she was a baby. And our son had been places with his cousins and not us. But this was our daughter’s first “big girl” vacation. She was still in preschool and was required at school to “nap” in the afternoons, though she didn’t usually sleep during the rest period anymore.

For our first trip, we chose St. Louis, about a four-hour drive across Missouri from Kansas City. I think we stopped in Marshall, Missouri, first to visit my in-laws. It wasn’t a big vacation, just a long weekend, long enough to test whether our kids were ready for full-fledged adventures.

Husband and kids in front of the Gateway Arch, 1989

We did a lot over those few days in St. Louis. We went up in the Gateway Arch and visited the Museum of Western Expansion located at the Arch. We ate at the McDonald’s by the Arch, which was built on a replica of a steamboat (I understand that McDonald’s is no more, which is too bad because our kids loved it.). We went to the St. Louis Zoo, where our son made friends with a baby tamarind monkey. We went to Union Station and the Science Center. We probably did more, but those are the things I remember.

We were on the move from breakfast until dinner. We did all this over two or three days, spending our nights at some high-rise hotel, which I think was near Union Station.

After our first full day of activities, we went to an Italian restaurant for dinner. We had toured the entire zoo in the heat that afternoon. At the zoo, knowing that it was large and we would have to walk a lot, we rented a stroller for our daughter. But our son spent more time in the stroller than she did. She was a trouper, determined to prove she was not a baby anymore. She walked and walked and walked some more.

For dinner that night, she wanted spaghetti, so we ordered her a child-sized portion. The dinner came, and she started eating.

But soon her eyes drooped. Her eyelids fell shut, then opened, then fell again. Her head nodded.

My husband caught her just before she did a face-plant into her spaghetti. We moved her plate and laid her head on the table. She slept as the rest of us finished our meal. She slept as my husband carried her to the car and buckled her into her car seat. She slept as we drove to the hotel, as he carried her up to our room, and as I undressed her.

She slept for thirteen hours, from dinner straight through until breakfast time the next morning.

And then she was ready for another day.

She proved herself old enough for “big girl” vacations. And she’s never looked back.

What amusing anecdotes do you have from family vacations?

Retirement and Spontaneous Travel

I have been to all but three states in the U.S. I still need to get to the two Dakotas and to Alaska. Alaska, obviously, will need to be a specially planned trip. However, my husband and I recently considered taking a quick trip to the Dakotas. But at the pace we drive, it is a two-day journey from Kansas City to Rapid City (we’re not so rapid). We only had a week of free time, which meant if we drove we couldn’t see everything we wanted to see.

I looked into flying to Rapid City—over $1000/person for round trip tickets!

“We could go lots of places for a thousand dollars,” I said.

I typed “cheap flights” in the Google search engine, and up popped many possibilities, including several places in the Caribbean with beaches. I love beaches. We’d been to the Caribbean twice before—to St. Thomas and to Aruba—and enjoyed both trips.

Why not travel there again? I thought. We’re retired. We can go wherever we want.

We settled on the Bahamas—technically in the Atlantic, not the Caribbean, but close enough. We could fly round-trip to Nassau and get a great hotel room for six nights for not much more than flying to Rapid City. We might spend more on food and activities in the Bahamas than in Rapid City, but not that much more. And we’d experience another culture while staying in a hotel right on the beach. Did I mention I love beaches?

“All right, “ I said after I booked our reservation and clicked “submit” to charge our credit card. “Let’s go find our passports.”

My husband gave me a wild-eyed stare. “Mine might have expired.”

Now, mind you, he is an immigration attorney. He’s retired, but he still knows it is imperative to have a current passport to travel outside the U.S. Nevertheless, when he got out his passport, it had expired on May 6, just days before we booked our travel.

We turned to Google again. “Fast passport renewal,” he typed in. Google gave us several options, including “RushMyPassport.com.” Suffice it to say, the folks at RushMyPassport.com came through, for “only” $300. We had his new passport in hand by June 6 for a trip that began on June 15.

Whew! Disaster and embarrassment avoided. For a price.

After a two-hour weather delay in Atlanta, we arrived in Nassau late on the evening of June 15. We stayed at the British Colonial Hilton, which offered us a beautiful lobby, a small but lovely private beach, a room that looked out over the harbor (showcasing both beach and cruise ships), wonderful food, and a friendly staff.

Lobby at the British Colonial Hilton

View from our room. Note the beach straight ahead and the cruise ships docked to the right.

British Colonial Hilton beach at sunset

Fort Montagu from the harbor

As is our typical practice on vacation, we toured local military fortifications—in this case, Fort Charlotte and Fort Fincastle, and we viewed Fort Montagu on a harbor tour. The harbor tour also took us to the Sea Gardens (a protected underwater site). We went to the Bahamian Historical Society Museum, the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, and the Pirates of Nassau Museum. At all these places, we learned about Bahamian history, from the Lucayan peoples to Christopher Columbus, to the Eleutherians (English Puritans), to the era of pirates such as Blackbeard, to the slave trade, to the abolition of slavery in 1834, through the independence movement that began after World War II.

Fort Charlotte, Nassau, Bahamas

A soldier's 1840 graffiti at Fort Charlotte. Much like the carvings on Independence Rock along the Oregon Trail in the 1840s.

Some of the guns at Fort Charlotte

Gun at Fort Fincastle. The red roof above the gun is the roof of the Hilton. See fantail of a cruise ship to the right.

And we took a day excursion with Island World Adventures. They boated us over choppy seas to an uninhabited island in the Exuma chain to snorkel, fed us a fantastic lunch, then took us on to another uninhabited island to feed iguanas before our return.

 

Island World Adventures excursion boat

Beach on uninhabited island near where we snorkeled and ate lunch

Husband feeding iguanas

As retirees, we had the flexibility to make a spontaneous trip to a beautiful locale that also taught us about a different culture. I hope we take more such trips in the future. But next time I’ll check my husband’s passport before we buy our tickets.

Have you ever taken a spontaneous trip to a distant destination?

Infrastructure, circa 1962

Troutdale - Dodson 1957 Columbia River HwyThere’s been a lot in the news in recent years about infrastructure. Which projects are “shovel ready”? Which will create more jobs? How do we bring our aging roads and bridges into the twenty-first century?

When I hear about infrastructure, I think of the development of the interstate highway system in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I was a child living in the Pacific Northwest in those years, and my family traveled regularly between our home in Eastern Washington and the larger cities of Seattle and Portland. The old highway to Seattle meandered through the Cascade Mountains, and the Portland route took us through the Columbia River Gorge. Both routes were under construction for my entire childhood, it seemed, as I-80 to Seattle and I-84 to Portland replaced the older roads.

My earliest memories of these trips are of the two-lane highways that crept through one small town after another. We only stopped in those towns if the car needed gas. My father’s philosophy was that our bladders needed to be as big as the gas tank. We left home before dawn and arrived at our destination by early afternoon—no need to pay for a meal on the road.

The routes to both Seattle and Portland were scenic, though those pre-interstate roads included some hazards. The mountain highway twisted and turned as it climbed to the passes, with huge drop-offs next to flimsy guardrails. Every so often, a guardrail would be missing, and I would wonder what had happened. Rushing mountain streams ran at the bottom of those drop-offs. We might see patchy snow any month of the year, but in the winter when the roads were covered with snow and ice, we had to stop at a turn-off near the pass so my father could put chains on the tires.

The river route couldn’t deviate far from the Columbia because of high bluffs rising near the banks, but this road offered views of dams and tunnels and waterfalls. My brother and I used to count the waterfalls—in spring there were well over thirty cataracts spewing over the high cliffs down toward the road. Some were mere trickles, but some were real gushers. We agreed not to count the spots where the cliffs were simply wet and no water flowed.

ellensburg_cleelum-postcard-1940s

Between Ellensburg and Cle Elum in Washington. Postcard from the 1940s, but not much changed by  1960.

When the interstate construction began, the length of our trips doubled. Every few miles, we stopped in interminably long lines of cars. Our family sedan was not air-conditioned, and in the summer we baked in the heat, with dust from the jackhammers wafting into the vehicle through open windows. My brother and I sat in the back, bored and cranky. I tried not to fight with him, but what was I supposed to do when he encroached on my half of the bench seat? I couldn’t read in the car without getting nauseated, but during those tedious waits, I pulled out my book. Then we would start up again, and I’d have to put it away.

When we finally reached the head of the line and passed the construction worker with the flag, my father gave a jaunty salute, and the man in the hard hat nodded.

Only as I neared my teens was the interstate completed, and the trip became easier. The scenery was still lovely—we still counted waterfalls and held our breath through tunnels. And we still had to put on chains in the winter. But no more long lines of cars.

Now, fifty years later, so many of our roads need repairs. I live in Missouri now, and the state of I-70 is a frequent topic of conversation. I agree we need another infrastructure push, but I don’t look forward to the jackhammers and delays.

What do you remember about childhood road trips?

La Jolla, California—A Jewel of a City

Mt Soledad Veterans Memorial 20160404_133915My husband and I were fortunate to spend a recent weekend in San Diego, California. One afternoon we drove through La Jolla, a suburb to the north of the city. According to the La Jolla visitor’s website, the origin of La Jolla’s name is not clear. It either derives from the Spanish “la joya”, which means “the jewel” or from the Native American “woholle” meaning “hole in the mountains”. It is a jewel, so I prefer the Spanish interpretation.

Our first stop was the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial, a monument to veterans from all branches of the military over the last several decades. The monument is owned by the nonprofit Mt. Soledad Memorial Association. Over 4000 families have honored their veterans with black granite plaques on walls around the memorial. I was moved by the sight of these plaques, each of which is a story in miniature—a picture and an epitaph describing the sacrifice of the veteran and the love motivating each family to so honor their veteran.

As I walked around the memorial, a group of teenagers got out of their car and raced up the steps. “Where’s Grandpa?” they called out loudly. Perhaps they weren’t very reverent, but their desire to find their veteran was obvious and they soon were laughing and telling stories about their ancestor.

The views from Mt. Soledad were beautiful in all directions.

Downtown San Diego, where we were staying:

SD downtown view 20160404_133506

Mission Bay, where we watched our daughter row in the San Diego Crew Classic (a rowing regatta):

SD Mission Bay view 20160404_133511

Out to the canyons and valleys and hills behind the city:

SD Valley view 20160404_133609

And the Pacific Ocean:

SD Pacific view 20160404_133701

These veterans will be remembered in one of the loveliest settings in America.

From Mt. Soledad, we descended into La Jolla itself. We parked, then walked along the ocean front above the rocks and beaches.

I saw the ice plant that always reminds me of similar walks with my grandmother when I visited her in Pacific Grove:

20160404_150128

A ground squirrel that I captured on my camera just before he darted away:

La Jolla ground squirrel 20160404_145337

The sea lions, basking in the sun without a care:

La Jolla sea lions 20160404_150213

And people, more daring than I, who shared a beach with the sea lions:

La Jolla sea lions on beach 20160404_150151

And once again, the Pacific Ocean, more beautiful around every curve, and more powerful and long-lasting than any of the flora or fauna that line its shores:

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What memorable vacations have you been on?

The Orange Juice Incident

I know it is un-American, but I do not like orange juice. The pulp in it clings to my tongue and doesn’t go down easily. The acid churns my stomach. And it’s just so orangey.

A&T Dec 1989 (cropped)

Theresa & Al, several days AFTER the Orange Juice Incident

I also don’t like to travel during the holidays. I started being responsible for my Thanksgiving and Christmas travels when I was seventeen and went to college three-thousand miles from home. Ever since then, I’ve lived far away from at least part of my family and have had to fly frequently on holiday weekends.

Once my husband and I started working, we tended to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with his parents, who lived just ninety miles from our house. Those car trips weren’t too bad, unless the weather was dreadful.

But every third year we traveled to the Pacific Northwest for Christmas with my parents. Once we had children, we had to schlep their belongings—including all presents—halfway across the country. I usually shipped boxes in advance and hoped they arrived before we did.

Christmas 1989 was one of our years to travel west. My parents lived in Richland, Washington, at the time, which required two airplanes from Kansas City. My children that year were four and seven.

I had shipped our presents—wrapped and unwrapped—to my parents ahead of time. I only needed to pack clothes for myself and the kids. My husband was responsible for packing for himself. (He usually was, and we often had to go to Wal-Mart the day after we arrived to buy socks or underwear.)

Packing our clothes was a complicated endeavor. I had to decide on the appropriate garments for church, dinners at fancy restaurants, and everyday activities in the middle of winter. I had to limit myself to the number of suitcases that two adults could carry, because our children were not big enough to provide much assistance. One result of my logistical calculations was that I decided I would make do with one raincoat with a zip-out lining.

December 1989 was the coldest month on record in Kansas City. On the morning we left, the temperature was minus 22 degrees. We had to leave our house at 6:00am to get to the airport in time for our first flight.

The taxi arrived to pick us up at the appointed hour. The kids and I were ready. My husband and I carried the bags to the taxi, and the kids and I got in the back seat.

“I’m going to turn off the water,” my husband said.

I understood why he was turning it off. I didn’t want the pipes to burst while we were away any more than he did. But couldn’t he have done it BEFORE we were in the frigid taxi? I shivered in my coat, even with its zip-out lining.

Finally, hubby climbed in the cab, and off we went.

Check-in at the airport went smoothly. My husband announced he wanted breakfast before boarding. Our seven-year-old son chimed in, “I’m starved!” He was always starved, from birth until age 25. Maybe longer.

We entered the airport cafeteria restaurant, put food on our trays, paid, and found a table. I took coats off the kids and then myself, piled them on a nearby chair, and we sat down to eat. I was exhausted. Not particularly hungry, but exhausted with the effort of preparing for the trip, rising early in the morning, and getting myself and two children ready for a week-long cross-country trip.

“Be careful with that,” I said to my husband when he picked up his bottle of orange juice. He had a habit of shaking drink bottles before he opened them.

“It’s okay,” he said in that placating tone he uses when he thinks I’m being silly.

“You’ll spill it,” I said, as he starting shaking the orange juice bottle.

“Nah,” he said.

The cap flew off the bottle, and half the juice landed on my coat. Mostly on the outside, but some on the zipped-in zip-out lining.

I didn’t swear, because of the children, but I was damn angry. “That’s the only coat I brought!” I yelled. I grabbed some napkins and tried to blot the juice off my coat.

“Let me do that.” My husband tried to take the napkins from me.

“You’ve done enough,” I said through my teeth.

The kids’ eyes were wide, their mouths gaping. Dad had clearly screwed up, even worse than THEY usually did. What would Mom do now? They’d seen her go ballistic over smaller things.

I did my best to salvage the coat. We ate our food in silence, except for my caustic comments toward my husband, such as “Did you think I wanted to smell like orange juice all week?” and “I told you not to shake the bottle” and “You’ve done this before, you know. Why didn’t you listen to me?”

Then we went to use the restrooms before the flight. I took my four-year-old daughter into the women’s room with me. As we washed our hands, I dabbed at my coat again with water and paper towels, still fuming about “stupid man” and “thinks he knows everything” and “it’ll be sticky the whole vacation.”

My four-year-old sidled toward the exit.

“Where do you think you’re going?” I yelled.

She started to cry, huge tears welling out of her eyes. Many years later, she told me all she wanted was to get away from me.

But, of course, I couldn’t let a four-year-old loose in the airport. “Get back here!” She took one step closer to me, but still sobbed.

That’s how we boarded the plane—me reeking of orange juice, my daughter crying, and my husband and son silent.

The only good news is that I got the single seat, and my husband had the children in the row of three across from me. And the dry cleaners was open on Christmas Eve, so my coat got cleaned.

For the quarter-century since that Christmas, this has been known in our family as the Orange Juice Incident.

Xmas 1989 dinner cropped

Christmas dinner, 1989, with the exception of Grandpa Tom, who took the picture

What problems have you incurred during holiday travels?

Seeking the Familiar in the New: The Columbia and the Rhine

I think it is human nature that we try to make sense of our world, to organize what we encounter in life so it makes sense with what we already know. I had this experience on our recent cruise along the Rhine River. Each place I saw, I thought, “This is like . . . ,” and tried to compare it with a place I had already been.

Much of the Rhine reminded me of the Columbia River. Not necessarily the section of the Columbia where I grew up, but the Columbia River Gorge downstream toward Portland, Oregon.

Here’s a picture of the Columbia River Gorge:

Columbia River Gorge, from Wikipedia

Columbia River Gorge, from Wikipedia

And here’s a picture of the Rhine I took on our trip:

LoreleiBut, of course, there are differences. I didn’t see any waterfalls along the Rhine, as I have seen so many times along the Columbia. I don’t recall vineyards right along the Columbia, as there are along the Rhine, though there are many vineyards in both Washington and Oregon in the hills beyond the Columbia.

And there are no castles overlooking the Columbia.

Castle along the Rhine

Castle along the Rhine

But the hills above both rivers offer lovely overlooks of the valleys below. Here is a picture I took near Vantage, Washington, of the Columbia River this summer:

Columbia from above Vantage

Columbia River, from overlook near Vantage, WA

And here is a picture from Marksburg Castle looking out over the Rhine:

Rhine from Marksburg Castle

Rhine River, from Marksburg Castle

The vegetation is different, but the majesty and power of the rivers are the same.

And now, after our Rhine River trip, I have a whole new set of familiar images to match against my future experiences.

What have you seen in your travels that reminded you of home?

Travels to Europe As Book Ends of a Career

In August 1979, shortly after the bar exam, my husband and I traveled to London for two weeks. It was our delayed honeymoon, almost two years after we were married, and celebrated the end of law school and the beginning of our working careers. We knew that it would be a while before we would be able to take another extended vacation.

The London trip was a wonderful respite, a time to relax before we launched into new jobs. We had no worries, other than living within the travel budget we had set. (Money was tight until we began earning salaries.)

We got to know London and its museums reasonably well, finding our way on our own via subway and bus. We spent a day at the British Museum and didn’t see everything. The Tate Gallery offered a lovely diversion one afternoon. We ventured out of the city to St. Albans and a couple of other nearby sites. One day we happened upon a cricket match that neither of us could understand.

Earlier this month, thirty-five years after our trip to London, we took our next vacation to Europe as a couple. We’d taken family treks to Switzerland, Denmark, and Italy, and my husband and I had each traveled in Europe for professional reasons, but this was our first return to Europe with just the two of us. And we chose a Viking River Cruise on the Rhine River.

We hadn’t really planned the timing, but this year’s excursion marked the end of my husband’s career at the law firm where he began working in 1979, just after our London vacation. I retired from full-time work a few years ago, but he has continued to practice law. His retirement party at the law firm was the Friday before we left. So we will remember our two trips to Europe as book ends to his career.

Wandering in the Black Forest

Wandering in the Black Forest

As one would hope, our circumstances this time were very different from thirty-five years ago.

First, we weren’t on a budget, which was a nice improvement over 1979. But we still had to watch our spending.

Unfortunately, while we were traveling, our credit card was the victim of fraud back in the United States. The card was canceled two days after we began our trip, which was a huge inconvenience. The debit card worked in ATMs, but not at all vendors, and the transaction fees were higher than on the credit card.

The second change from 1979 was that this year we let Viking River Cruises plan our days. They handled airline reservations, transfers from airport to hotel to boat, and transport back to the airport when we left. And they provided tours and tour guides in every city along the way. We traveled by boat from Basel, Switzerland, on the Rhine to Amsterdam.

castle cropped 20140916_040732

Marksburg Castle

Castles.

Cathedrals.

Windmills.

Narrow medieval streets and modern autobahns.

Full breakfasts and three course dinners.

And even a battlefield for my husband.

We could have handled our own arrangements, but I admit it was a relief to let someone else do it. I always have to do the planning on our vacations. I enjoyed being pampered, starting the moment I got up and had bacon and eggs and pastries waiting for me. The pampering continued through dinner and dessert and the fresh evening breeze off the water.

I’m hoping I’ll get more pampering, now that my husband is retired. But maybe he wants pampering as well.

Who will pamper whom? I’ll have to let you know how we negotiate having both of us at home.

How have you celebrated transitions in your life?