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?

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?

On Glaciers, Goats, and Change

I’ve written before about the family hike we took in Switzerland in 1998 when my kids were teenagers.  It was a good experience, but far more strenuous than I enjoy. My husband and (now-grown) kids recently took another hike in Slovenia and came back raving about the scenery. I had declined to accompany them, because I’d learned my lesson—no more hikes labeled “strenuous” for me.

But it took more than the 1998 Swiss Alps experience to convince me I don’t do well on mountain hikes. In 2001, my husband talked me into hiking in Glacier National Park. The park is beautiful. I love the calm lakes and soaring peaks in the park. The Going-to-the-Sun Road offers tremendous vistas, with stunning surprises around every corner.

I first went to Glacier with my parents and siblings in 1966 when I was ten (my youngest sibling wasn’t even born yet). We went on day hikes, drove all over, and I saw my first glacier. I went to a foreign country—Canada!—for the first time.

T halfway up to Sperry Chalet

Me, halfway up to Sperry Chalet

My husband’s proposal for our 2001 trip was that we spend most of our time in a real hotel, but take one overnight hike—beginning at Lake MacDonald and climbing to a back-country chalet where we would spend the night, then hike on up to a glacier the next day and all the way down. It didn’t sound too bad, and for some reason he thought I owed him one. (I don’t remember why, but I thought at the time he was right.) Despite my reluctance to undertake another hike after my Swiss experience, I agreed.

Then I saw what the hike really involved—a 3400 elevation gain straight up the mountain over a 6.2 mile trail, followed by an additional altitude gain of 1600 feet in 2.5 miles the second day, and then all the way down. I tried to back out, but I couldn’t do so gracefully.

So off we went. We flew from Kansas City to Kalispell, then rented a car and drove to Glacier. One day we took the Going-to-the-Sun Road from Lake McDonald to Many Glacier and St. Mary’s. We did a little day hiking to acclimate ourselves, but mostly we drove.

There was a bear problem in the park that summer. There are always bears in the park, but several grizzlies had been sighted in the higher elevations near the human areas, and we were advised to make a lot of noise and carry bear repellant. Thankfully, we did not see bears, though deer approached quite close to the visitors’ centers.

There was also a big forest fire in the vicinity. Some areas of the park were closed, though not on the side of Lake McDonald where we were staying. The sky was hazy, but the sunsets were beautiful.

Izaak Walton Inn, where we stayed near the park, was quaint but pleasant. After a night there, we started the hike from Lake McDonald up Sprague Creek to Sperry Chalet, our bed for the night.

Up, up, up we went. And up some more. Every time I thought we were almost there, we had another climb ahead. Finally, we reached Sperry Chalet at the top of the mountain and checked in. Our room was set up for comfortable sleeping, but there was no electricity, heat, or running water in the hotel building. The restrooms were in a separate building—with cold water, but no showers or hot water.

I was tired and ravenous when we reached Sperry Chalet. Dinner wasn’t being served yet, but I bought a snack. After two bites of the candy bar, I felt sick. I don’t know if it was fatigue or altitude, but I crashed. I didn’t eat dinner. I slept dreadfully in our spartan chalet room with the bathroom down the path.

Have I mentioned the bear sightings? How much noise was appropriate to ward off bears but not inconvenience other hikers when I staggered outside with a flashlight at 2:00am?

A at glacier

Husband at the glacier

In the morning, I decided I did not want to hike up to the glacier. My husband cajoled, but I refused. Off he went up to see Sperry Glacier on Gunsight Mountain. The chalet had packed us a picnic lunch. My husband took his half, and I kept mine. I sat outside Sperry Chalet and read a book. When noon approached, I ate my lunch.

Sometime after lunch, my husband returned, waxing poetic about the glacier and the mountain goats he’d seen.

Not to be outdone, I told him, “I saw goats, too. In fact, I had lunch with a baby goat.” While I sat on a rock in the sun eating my sandwich, a mother goat and kid had wandered into the clearing around the chalet. The mother calmly grazed, and the baby goat pranced around. At one point, he saw his reflection in a basement-level window in the chalet and tried to butt it. The reflection goat ran right at him, which stirred him up even more.

The attempted battle continued for about fifteen minutes, until mama goat decided she’d had enough foolishness and took her boy off to the woods, where perhaps they had a conversation about what’s important to focus on in life—such as food and safety—and what is not—such as imaginary foes.

I had a better tale to tell than my husband, though he got a picture of his goat and I didn’t.

Al's goat cropped

My husband’s goat photo

And then we hiked down. Down, down, down. All the way back down to the car. Going down is harder on the legs than going up, though not as hard on the heart and lungs.

That was the last strenuous hike I took. God willing, it’s the last I’ll ever take.

We flew home uneventfully and returned to our routine.

Less than a week later, on September 11, 2001, planes flew into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Flying has never been the same.

We’ve been back to Glacier National Park again. In 2007 a niece got married there.

But for me, our trip to Glacier in 2001 was a dividing point in time. Before, I was an occasional hiker and preferred to breeze into the airport terminal with my carry-on as the plane was boarding. After, I no longer would do any hike labeled “strenuous,” and airports were necessarily time-consuming and stressful places, where it was easier to check luggage to avoid slow security lines.

Before, while I wasn’t as youthful and innocent as the baby goat I saw, the world was a simpler place. After, it seemed clear that the greater danger we face comes from humans than from bears and forest fires, that our foes are not imaginary but real.

Do any trips you’ve taken strike you as turning points in your life?

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:


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:


What memorable vacations have you been on?

Cannon Beach, Oregon: Then and Now

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, OR, from our hotel room in the morning

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, OR, from our hotel room in the morning

My 12th birthday

My 12th birthday

I was fortunate to spend several days at Cannon Beach, Oregon, in late July. We stayed at a resort just north of Haystack Rock, right on the beach, and the weather was perfect—mid-70s, and lots of sunshine. I can’t say I got my fill of walks on the beach (see here and here), but I did enjoy what time I had.

I’ve been to Cannon Beach several times, starting with my twelfth birthday in 1968—more than forty years ago. I also spent my fifteenth birthday there. But those occasions were in April, and it wasn’t very warm. As you can see, my family was all bundled up for this picture taken on the beach in 1968. My grandmother was the only one brave enough to swim in the Pacific Ocean—and even she didn’t swim in April.

My family at Cannon Beach, 1968

My family at Cannon Beach, 1968 — I’m peeking out in the middle, between the two little kids

This year, it was warm enough for s’mores on the beach one evening, with a full moon rising behind the shoreline. During the week, both kids and adults waded, and several of our party not me) surfed and paddleboarded.

My son (with beer, not s'mores) on the beach, with the full moon rising

My son (with beer, not s’mores . . . though he partook of those, too) on the beach, with the full moon rising

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, OR, from our hotel room in the evening

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, OR, from our hotel room in the evening

The last time I was in Cannon Beach was in 1997. On that trip, we stayed in Seaside, Oregon, the town north of Cannon Beach. It was a family reunion with my parents and my sister and her family. That trip, we had people from two to sixty-four, and my kids were fifteen and twelve (my daughter was the same age I had been on my first trip to Cannon Beach).

This trip was a family reunion on my husband’s side of the family. We had people from two to eighty-seven. My husband and I and our children were the only repeats from the 1997 trip. Our kids are now in their thirties. My husband is now older than my parents were on the 1997 trip.

Funny, how time flies.

In 1968, there were no restrictions on exploring the tide pools at the base of Haystack Rock. My siblings and I waded and climbed as much as we wanted to (until one of us fell in and got too cold to stay any longer). We oohed and aahed at the starfish and sea anenomes, and captured hermit crabs in buckets to take back to our beach house.

Now, Haystack Rock is off limits beyond a certain point, protected for the sea birds by the federal Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife also prohibits the taking of any plants or animals (including hermit crabs) from the site.

You might have noticed we had my grandmother’s poodle Mimi with us in 1968. Mimi was a purebred miniature poodle, always impeccably groomed.

Poor Langley on the beach

Poor Langley on the beach

This year, we had my daughter’s dog Langley. Langley is a mutt, and was recuperating from a lacerated ear suffered during an overly exuberant meeting with another dog. All Langley wanted was to hide in the shade. She was quite ashamed of her head wraps, plus the sedatives required to keep her from rubbing it off kept her groggy. She did not like the hot sand, though perked up some when we walked her on the damp beach.

I am pleased to report that shortly after her return home, Langley’s ear improved, and she is now back to her handsome self.

IMG_0731 (1)

When have you returned to a site after many years, only to find it changed—for better or for worse?

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?