Anniversary in Aruba

For our 25th wedding anniversary in 2002, my husband and I went to Aruba. First, we celebrated Thanksgiving at home with our two children—I think that was the only year we have ever had just the four of us for a holiday. We cooked turkey and all the trimmings, and at the end of that weekend, we sent our son back to college and made arrangements for the neighbors to watch out for our high-school-age daughter while we went to Aruba.

Our daughter was a good student, a good driver, and I trusted her. Still, I wanted someone to know she’d be by herself at home for a week.

“If we hear music, we’ll call the cops,” our neighbor across the street said with a deadpan face.

I must have looked appalled at this possibility, because he laughed. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We have teenage girls. We know what to watch for.”

Then, in the first week of December, we set out on our adventure.

What I remember most about Aruba is the wind. My husband and I stayed at a lovely resort on the northwest coast of the Caribbean Island, one of a series of resorts along that shore. As soon as we arrived, we walked to the beach, and the wind whipped my hair about my face.

View from our hotel room

Our tiny rental car

After a day or so near the resort, we wanted to explore more of the island and rented a car. Over the rest of our stay, we toured much of Aruba. We drove all along the southern shore, did touristy things in the capital of Oranjestad, snorkeled on a reef in shallow water near the Citgo Oil Refinery, viewed the lighthouse on the northern tip of the island and the natural bridge on its north-central coast, toured an aloe plantation and factory, and hiked a corner of Arikok National Park.

Rocky beach on Aruba

Reef where we snorkeled, with refinery in the background

Natural bridge on Aruba

Through all of it, the wind blew, hot and drying. It wasn’t really unpleasant—I was used to wind from my childhood in Richland, Washington, where the wind came through the Columbia River Gorge and east toward Richland.

But Aruba was a far different Caribbean experience than our trip to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands for our tenth anniversary. St. Thomas was a more typically humid Caribbean climate. The vegetation in St. Thomas was lusher, the beaches whiter, and the water a deeper blue.

Still, our trip to Aruba was a memorable week in our lives and a delightful change from early winter in Kansas City and the madness of Christmas preparations.

On our last day in Aruba, we headed to the airport and learned our flight was delayed by snow in Charlotte, North Carolina—our transfer point. We made it to Charlotte late that night, but not back to Kansas City. We got one of the last hotel rooms near the airport and made the final leg of the trip home the next day.

Our daughter had managed fine without us. And we’d had a wonderful trip, until the journey home.

What memorable vacations have you taken?

Random Photos: Thanksgiving 1988

Every so often I thumb through one of my boxes of old photographs. This time I kept thumbing until I found something suitable for a November blog post, so I suppose my choice isn’t really random at all.

For this post, I selected an envelope of pictures my father took during a visit my parents made to Kansas City for Thanksgiving 1988. And the photographs did bring back some random memories.

I’d forgotten this particular visit and holiday, though once I looked at the pictures it began to come back to me. I’m not sure I would have remembered the exact year, except that my father thoughtfully labeled the envelope “’88 Thanksgiving Trip to KC.” Moreover, attached to the envelope is a receipt from the photo print shop dated 11-27-88.

When I opened the envelope, I was delighted to see these snapshots and to relive that Thanksgiving Day twenty-nine years ago.

My kids and me, Thanksgiving 1988

Daughter in the plaid coat

In the picture of me with my kids, the one with my daughter sitting on my lap, my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter is wearing her favorite black knit skirt and white sweatshirt top—or at least this was her favorite outfit until her preschool teacher told her she couldn’t hang upside down on the monkey bars while wearing a skirt. Then she never wanted to wear it again. I tried to force the issue, but she would have none of it. Thankfully, her teacher’s caution didn’t come for a few more months.

In another picture from that Thanksgiving Day, taken as we were getting ready to leave for my in-laws’ house, my daughter has donned a hand-me-down coat from her older cousin.  I loved this plaid coat, though not quite as much as the little blue coat that was a hand-me-down from my childhood. But daughter had outgrown the little blue coat.

Son on Thanksgiving 1988

My son was a few months short of seven in November 1988 and losing his front teeth. It would only be another year before he went into braces to fix a gap between his new incisors. He then had metal in his mouth for six years until he was fourteen—poor kid.

Missouri River in November

My dad took these pictures of my children and me on Thanksgiving morning shortly before we all drove to my in-laws for a big family dinner. I had forgotten that my parents and my family had this holiday meal at my in-laws in Marshall, Missouri, until I saw these photos. But to jog my memory, there’s a picture of the Missouri River taken on our drive to Marshall (I remember the drive on that cold, gray day), and another picture of my kids in their holiday finery in my in-laws’ dining room.

Kids in my in-laws’ dining room, before the feast

Thanksgiving Day 1988 wasn’t one of my more memorable holiday celebrations, but it was nice to revisit it as I thumbed through these snapshots. Many of the pictures were blurry, as happened often in the days before digital photography. But then, a blurry picture is better than nothing at refreshing a blurry memory.

When has a photograph reminded you of something you’d forgotten?

Random Photos: Going Home Again . . . A Vacation Remembered

My husband and I didn’t take too many summer vacations at my parents’ home when our kids were growing up. We saved our visits for every third Christmas. In addition, my parents visited us once or twice a year in Kansas City, and we sent our kids out to Washington State without us as soon as the airlines would let them fly by themselves.

But I recently pulled out a random envelope of snapshots my father had taken of one summer vacation we did take in Washington State at my parents’ house.

Kids swimming, one with water wings, and the other with attitude

I can’t recall exactly which summer it was. The pictures were taken at the large house my parents had in the Meadow Springs development of Richland, Washington. They owned this home between the summer of 1986 and about 1991. I know this wasn’t our first visit there—we’d visited them at this house over Christmas 1986. My daughter looks to be about three or four in the pictures, with my son about six or seven, so I’m guessing it was the summer of 1988 or 1989, but it could have been 1990.

Nanny Winnie supervising my daughter

The house had a swimming pool, which our kids loved. My daughter couldn’t swim yet, so had to wear water wings. My son could swim, and most likely lorded his wing-less state over his little sister. My mother’s mother, Nanny Winnie, visited that week also, and she loved to swim. She was always happy to supervise afternoons at the pool.

Mitzi doesn’t know whether to bark at my son or the pool skimmer

My parents had a Schnauzer named Mitzi. Mitzi wanted to be a part of the pool parties, particularly when the pool skimmer was operating. The dog could swim, but she couldn’t get herself out of the pool. Later, my younger brother taught Mitzi to paddle to the stairs so she could climb out, but at the time of our visit, she had not yet learned this escape route. One time during our visit that week, I had to dive in after her and pull her to safety. She didn’t seem too grateful, and scrabbled and scratched to get out of my helpful arms.

Husband and son canoeing on the Wenatchee River

On the weekend we were there, when my father wasn’t working, my husband, son, father and I went canoeing on the Wenatchee River. We drove through the lovely mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington, rented canoes from an outfitter, and put in on the river somewhere near Lake Wenatchee. Then we floated downstream through the alpine Wenatchee National Forest for a couple of hours. We stopped for lunch on a gravel bar, then took out where the outfitter had designated and awaited our pick up.

Lunch on the gravel bar

We had two canoes—my husband and son paddled one, and my father and I had the other. This was the first canoe trip I’d been on where I wasn’t in the same boat as my husband. I was used to relying on his skills to get us through any whitewater, but we decided our son needed a strong paddler more than I did. Our son was young enough that his paddling was more for show than power. (As was mine, though I at least had an intellectual understanding of what I should be doing.)

Me with wet shoes, and son

My father was definitely not as competent at paddling as my husband. Still, he and I didn’t have much difficulty until we reached the take-out point. There, even with both Dad and me paddling as hard as we could, we almost didn’t reach shore. I finally had to step out of the boat to pull us out of the current just as we passed the gravel river access road where we were supposed to meet our ride. Dad may have gotten wet also—there is photographic evidence of my wet shoes, but he was taking the pictures, so there’s nothing to verify his actions.

I was happy to find these pictures and to remember that summer vacation back in my birthplace—Washington State, and Richland in particular. In recent years, I’ve only been to Richland for my parents’ funerals in 2014 and 2015. There’s no one left to bury in Richland, and I sometimes wonder if I will ever go home again.

What do you remember of visits to your hometown?

Amelia Earhart Day: Memories of Atchison, Kansas

July 24 is Amelia Earhart Day. The news recently has been full of speculation about her disappearance, because of a History Channel show suggesting that a photo might have shown her and her navigator Frank Noonan with the Japanese in the Marshall Islands after her disappearance on July 2, 1937. However, Japanese archivists found the photo in a book published in 1935, long before Earhart and Noonan left on their ill-fated flight. It seems her last days are still a mystery.

Amelia Earhart is a big deal in her hometown of Atchison, Kansas, about an hour’s drive from Kansas City. The town sponsors an Amelia Earhart Festival in July each year. For the past two years, my husband’s Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla has provided security on the Missouri River for the air show that is part of the festival. This year, tragedy struck the day after the air show, when one of the stunt pilots who had performed was killed (along with his passenger) in a post-festival flight.

My father was always fascinated by Amelia Earhart’s story. I think he thought of her as a neighbor because he had been born in Pratt, Kansas—a mere 300 miles from Atchison. He remembered her disappearance from his childhood. In addition, he was always interested in flying and took flying lessons when he was in his fifties.

Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum

On one visit to Kansas City, he and my mother decided to drive to Atchison to see the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in her former home. My daughter was three or four at the time. She skipped preschool that day to go with her grandparents to Atchison.

My parents had planned to have lunch at a tea room in Atchison after seeing the museum. But my daughter had her own plans. She’d been bored in the museum, even though she enjoyed being with her grandparents. When they got back in the car and drove toward the tea room, she started pointing at something and began talking excitedly about “meat libbers.”

Now, my parents had no idea what meat libbers were. But after several attempts to communicate, they finally realized their granddaughter was pointing at the nearby Pizza Hut.

My daughter made it clear that nothing would do but that they eat at Pizza Hut.

Of course, grandchildren generally win these arguments, so my parents took her to Pizza Hut. They sat and received their menus. Finally, my parents realized that my daughter wanted a Meat Lovers pizza. That was our standard order at Pizza Hut and both our children’s favorite restaurant meal.

My parents were disappointed to miss the tea room, but they recognized that their priority as grandparents had to be to keep their grandkids happy. They accomplished that goal on that day so many years ago.

Did your family have any favorite restaurant meals?

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?

Thoughts on Random Photos of the Absaroka Range

In the summer of 2015, when my sister and I went through family memorabilia from our parents’ house, we did a rough sort of our dad’s photographs. We threw the envelopes of negatives and prints into three piles—one for me, one for her, and one for our brother—based on whose family was most featured on that roll of film at first glance. I ended up with two large boxes of stuff, including my share of the photos, which wended their way to my house.

Sometime last year, I sorted those photos into two shoeboxes—one containing pictures of my childhood years and the other of when my kids were young. But I didn’t organize them any further. I should have, I know, but I didn’t. I knew it would make me emotional.

This past weekend I decided it was time to go through all the stuff I have from my parents’ estates. I didn’t get very far.

As I was trying to separate photos from files, then start to discard the paperwork I collected while managing their estates, I opened the shoebox loosely categorized as photos of my children. These were mostly taken when my parents came to visit us in Kansas City or when my kids went to visit them in Washington State.

At random, I pulled an envelope of snapshots out of the box. “Absorka Ranch Trip ’89” my father had labeled it. (He was never a good speller. Moreover, the trip was really in 1990. But I knew what the envelope contained.)

I’ve written before about our vacations at the Absaroka Ranch in Wyoming. (See here and here.) Of horseback riding and campfires and such. This random envelope I grabbed contained pictures of the family trip my husband, children, and I took in 1990 with my parents, my in-laws, my husband’s sister and her family. We had a total of twelve in our party, ranging from my five-year-old daughter to my 72-year-old father-in-law. We took up about half the cabins in the ranch, and two other families filled up the rest.

My daughter, the youngest wrangler

I found a nice snapshot of my daughter. And many panoramic views of the mountains and fields where we rode. Many mornings, my parents and I walked out from the ranch house before breakfast while waiting for the meal to be ready, and my dad took several of the pictures in the envelope on those walks. As I went through the deck of pictures, I remembered our trip.

My mother and me on a morning walk in Wyoming

But the snapshots also resonated with me in the summer of 2017—twenty-seven years after they were taken—because I am currently writing about the emigrant travel through Wyoming. The settings I describe in my work-in-progress look much like the views my father captured, though at the point I am in the story, the wagon train is not yet to the Absarokas. In fact, my novel will end before the wagon company reaches the Absarokas—it ends at Independence Rock. But I write about things I experienced in the Absaroka Range. About the sagebrush and the sand, the mountains and the meadowlarks, the hawks wafting on the wind, and the cool morning air before the heat of the day.

My memories of those trips to the Wyoming ranch have colored not only my life but also my fiction, in ways I never imagined in 1990. My memories give depth to the research I’ve done.

Writers, how have your personal experiences influenced what you write?

Working Across Time and Across Generations

My husband and I recently were fortunate to have visits from our two adult children. Our son came for a few days at the end of April, and our daughter was here over Mother’s Day.

My parents and me on one of my solo visits

I remember my mother telling me one time how nice it was to have her children visit by themselves, without their siblings and without their spouses and children. She said she enjoyed being able to talk with each child by himself or herself. And now that my children are grown, I have the same feeling. It is nice to have a crowd around sometimes—over the holidays, in particular—but the one-on-one time is also special.

On these recent visits, it occurred to me how different my life is now than my children’s. And how different their lives are than my life was when I was their age (in my thirties). Each of them spent most of the weekdays they were here on their laptops working. My daughter has billable hour requirements she has to meet, and my son wanted to minimize the vacation days he had to take. Even when they are in their home cities, my children spend some days working from their homes (my son regularly, and my daughter occasionally), so their time in my house probably didn’t seem unusual to them.

In my thirties, I, too, was focused on my career, even though I had kids at that age and they do not. But it was easier in the 1980s and ’90s to separate work and family time. When I was at work, I worked. I didn’t have social media accounts to check, and I had almost no personal email in those days. When I was at home, I dealt with family and household issues. My thoughts might have sometimes been on what I needed to do at the office, but I didn’t have Internet connections and 24/7 smartphone access tethering me to the job. On vacations, I only checked voice mail occasionally.

I could get away from work, at least for a few days. My children do not have that luxury. They have separate work and home laptops, but they have access to everything everywhere.

And my time now? I no longer work solidly from 8:00am to 6:00pm on weekdays, plus several hours on the weekends. My time is flexible, and that flexibility is the primary reason I retired. But I still consider myself to be working. I work as a writer and blogger. I serve on committees for charitable organizations. I take on occasional paid mediation cases. But for the most part, my time is my own to schedule. When I am too busy, I have only myself to blame.

Moreover, I set annual objectives for myself—how much I will write, what marketing I will do, and what volunteer commitments I will make. I also set objectives for family activities. I mark my progress toward all my objectives twice a month, with a formal review about quarterly.

For example, I try to work on writing about 30 hours a week. But that time seems to dissipate in meetings and webinars and blog posts, instead of getting applied toward my novel. In the past two months, I added about 35,000 words to the novel. Not bad, but I wanted to be finished with this first draft by now, and I still have about 10,000 words to go. I will not meet my objective on my novel this quarter.

The result of all this monitoring is that I’m getting far more performance management than I ever got while employed. Even if now I’m managing myself.

I wrote in a recent journal entry, “Retirement life is harder than I thought.” I have to work to retain the flexibility I want while still feeling that I am productive and growing. “How do I find a sense of balance?” I wrote to myself. “Is it elusive in every life and at every stage of life?”

I suppose the answer to each part of this question is yes.

Still, I am glad I do not have a full-time job anymore. Flexibility in work—as in all things—is a benefit. Whether balance comes with it or not.

How has your life changed over the years?