Friday, November 20, 2009

Shades of Grey or Gray

Most of the time, to most people, situations seem awfully black and white. The thing is, if you take a step back and look at the big picture, you'll find many various shades of grey that you were overlooking.

Before I continue, I feel like I should explain my use of "grey" over "gray." When I was younger and wanted to live in a castle somewhere in Europe, I adopted the English spelling for many words. "colour" got me kicked out of my fourth grade spelling bee. I try my hardest not to add that extra 'u' in words anymore, but I still prefer "grey" over "gray". To me, "grey" represents a mixture of black and white, while "gray" evokes feelings of gloom. Maybe it's odd, but that's just my personal preference.

However you spell it, I'm constantly amazed by how many people refuse to see the shades of grey in life's circumstances. My friends seem to be dominated by a "I'm right, they're wrong" mentality. What good does that really do? What can we learn from those situations? In my mind, all it does is breed hostility and allow bitterness to fester over a situation gone awry. It's much easier on an ego to see both sides and understand that there are many ways for any situation to go. For one to expect that every conflict will end in their pure hubris. What's the harm in looking at the opposing side? Maybe, just maybe you'll start to see some flaws in your own logic that can help you build a stronger argument next time.

I used to want to be a lawyer. When I was young, I thought my communication skills and quick wit would help me get my point across to any audience and allow me to defend the downtrodden. I soon realized that as a lawyer I would be forced to defend people that were neither entirely right nor entirely wrong. I would, in effect, have to choose a side knowing full well that I didn't believe it was the only legitimate point of view. That was the end of that aspiration. To this day, I can't really defend something that I don't completely believe (so if you get in an argument with me and I'm fervently holding my ground, you may want to give your position a second thought.)

Because my extreme empathy is rare, it can make people who aren't used to it pretty cranky. When someone's pouring their heart out about how upset it made them that they were cut off by a woman on the freeway, the last thing they want to hear is that she had been trying to get to her exit, but you were driving the exact speed as the car right beside you, leaving her no opportunity to shuffle appropriately. Run on sentences aside, enlightenment like that is generally unwelcome. I try to curb my urges to paint other people's scenes in grey. Even so, that's most likely what's going through my head as I nod in support. So now you know that just because I'm not arguing with you, doesn't mean that I agree with what you're saying. I believe that life is extremely grey and that's wonderful.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lucky Me.

How many discussions have I had about luck versus skill? Though rhetorical, that question was intended to get you thinking about the relationship between the two attributes. If you could actually answer it, I'd be seriously creeped out right now. In any case, I hope you've had a little chance to form a slapdash opinion on luck and skill. Does luck exist? Is good-fortune due entirely to skill? Is it a mix of the two?

Let's take a look at luck for a moment. Could it be that the definition of luck is actually different for different people? Sure, there are events that one can influence with their actions, but what about things like the flip of a coin or roll of the dice? Please travel with me as I leave this world of logic and transcend momentarily into a cosmic fog of voodoo and mysticism.

Seriously? You were really going to follow me there? Well in that case, what I'm actually going to say should seem pretty mild. What if luck is a manifestation of karma? What if we truly do make our own luck, just with our daily choices? I had the great privileged of knowing one of the unluckiest guys from my highschool. He once had a truck fall on him while he was just sitting at a stoplight. It was really good for me to see the way the world treated him, especially because he treated the world the same way. Whenever there was a decision to be made, he didn't. Instead, he let karma determine his fate. Without having put any positive energy out into the universe, all he collected was stagnation and disorganization. That bad luck spilled over into just about everything he touched from his work life to his family life. Frustrated and discontent, he never attempted to change the direction that his life was going. He only sat in his misery and complained about his raw deal.

I saw an interview several months ago where some distinguished host was talking to an author who believed that luck was the defining factor in anyone's success. I wish I could remember where I saw it, or knew any other details, but if I come across it I'll add a comment below. In any case, the television host became irate. He was insulted by the prospect that there could be some aspect of his life that he had not *earned* through his hard work and risk. He emphasized over and over again how he had gotten where he was because of the risks that he took and that luck had nothing to do with it. You could see just how cranky this idea made him if I actually had a video link here.

I would like to propose that luck is actually a necessary portion of risk, or else a risk wouldn't be a risk at all. If you know before hand that something is going to turn out in your favor, that's not a risk, it's just an option. Risk has the inherent problem that the outcome could go either way. There are things we can do in advance to make situations less risky, but if you're going to proudly display your willingness to take risks, you cannot deny your dependence on luck.

Ah, but once I take a risk, can't I help push the outcome into my favor? Why yes, yes you can, and that's called making your own luck. Certainly if you're up for a job and you take the risk to apply for it, you can encourage the employer to consider you more seriously by properly preparing your materials and sending follow up emails. What you don't know, is what kinds of luck other people have on their side. Perhaps another applicant went to the same high school as the hiring manager. Perhaps another has the same rare maiden name as his mother.

There's no doubt that if you flip a coin 50 times it will have a fairly uniform outcome of heads vs. tails, but who knows when you're flipping a coin for something very important JUST ONCE if maybe karma has a hand in choosing how it falls.

Monday, November 2, 2009

How Rude!

"How Rude" is not just a phrase from Full House. The act of being rude has suddenly become very intriguing to me. Why is it that people can be so cosmically drawn to someone who is quite rude, but annoyed by someone who's chronically polite? How often is rude behavior genuinely incondsiderate as opposed to a benign act that is incorrectly perceived? Is it better to be rude and honest than polite and misleading? The answers to all of these questions are eluding me.

There are dozens of examples of things that are perceived as proper in one culture that are considered "rude" in others: looking someone in the eyes, greeting someone you don't know, burping during a meal, giving the thumbs-up, taking your shoes it the act or the intention behind the action that causes such an uproar? Surely something impolite is more easily forgiven if the offense was accidental. Perhaps it's the motivation behind the action that prompts such a negative response.

Sometimes it's the lack of concern for others that inspires rude behavior: someone who cuts in line because they didn't realize that others were waiting or somebody that finishes the last helping of pie without asking if anyone else was looking forward to it. Have you ever gone on and on over the phone about your horrible day, then realized after you hung up that you didn't even ask how the other person's day had gone? How many of these fauxpas can we rack up before we realize that we're just inconsiderate people?

Maybe we're meant to be rude in general. Being overly polite to someone you aren't close to can give them the impression that you feel more deeply than you do. Maybe the point is to be considerate to those who deserve your consideration and disregard what anyone else thinks. If that's the case, what about the Golden Rule? I want to be done unto a certain way, so I do unto others appropriately. That doesn't make me false. In fact, I *want* to treat people with respect and consideration. I can't understand how there are people out there who don't, but it appears that they actually outnumber the rest of us. Anybody have any words of wisdom for me on this?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's not the Destination...

They say that it's not the destination that's important so much as the journey. I'm not exactly sure who "they" are, but I'm positive that I ought to be included in the group, as it's a view that I've absorbed as part of my nature since "becoming Kiki" almost 2 years ago. Recently, a couple of related questions have been pinching me in the back of my psyche, like: What if the journey truly does suck and the destination is worth giving pause for a decade or two? Can you ever really appreciate a journey while you're in the middle of it if you're destination is worthwhile enough to keep you traveling? Is there actually a destination, or is every stop just a scenic pullout in life's grand route?

I've been fantasizing recently about winning the lottery...about a lot of other things too, but the lottery is something I'm actually willing to write about. I wonder what I'd change if money was no issue. I think about how I'd approach life if I had more time to "journey" and less concern about "destination". I was surprised to figure out that my journey is not as much about the money in my pocket as it is about the avoidance of couldashouldawoulda. I don't want to look back at my life and feel like I could have been so much more if only I would have _____ . My journey right now is about taking every path simultaneously and seeing everything I can see, so that *I know* I lived willingly and on purpose. I want my children to know that I was the pilot of my own life and that wherever I end up I got there deliberately. At the same time, I want them to grow up believing that they can steer their own lives in any direction, regardless of where they were when they took the wheel.

Journey? Destination? Who cares? Experiences are experiences no matter where you have them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Feelin' the Need for Speed!

As a teenager, during one of my first driving lessons, my instructor took me on the freeway and brought me back via a residential area. He said that the idea was to see how well I acclimated to the change in speeds. I was able to keep my car going as slow as was legally allowed, but my insides were screaming for me to go faster. To this day, by body tries to dictate my speed based on my driving situation and I have to force my brain to take over. Thank goodness for cruise control.

As often as I use it in my car, I'm horribly opposed to living my life on cruise control. It's true that I want to move much more quickly in my life than is socially tolerable (sometimes even logistically possible) but I don't believe that I need to maintain a safe speed just because traffic around me is congested. I crave change, I feed off of it and if that change can happen quickly, all the better!

I'm a person who tends to believe that if you have to wait before you act (stop, fill out forms, wait for approval, check your oil) you're less likely to take any of the huge and daring risks that make for extraordinary bedtime stories. Sure, you can think before you act, but you can also continue thinking *while* you act. Maybe I should have taken that left at Albuquerque, but guess what, I can get the same place by taking a right at Cheyenne. Life's full of circles and figure eights, so if you miss an exit because you were going a little too fast, take the next one and enjoy the scenery on your way back! If you get there and find that it's not all that you hoped for, head somewhere else. Life gets a million miles per gallon. Take advantage of that. I guess what I'm trying to say is you don't always have to stop to think. You can think as you go.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


When you spend a lot of time in the car with Confucius and Socrates, you're bound to contemplate some heavy topics...especially when you're fielding questions like "Mom, how many days until you die?" and "Are dinosaurs aliens?"

Sometimes, even when you think you know the right answer, it's not entirely clear whether you should pass the knowledge on. How early should a child become aware that their mom won't be with them forever? When one child asks "Who made the bugs?" and the other responds "The bug-makers." is there any need to get involved? The only answer more specific that I could come up with was "The bugs mommies." But then I would find myself in a "Who made the bugs mommies?" circle and end up having to explain why 'turtles all the way down' pertains to insects.

I used to be a big fan of raising my kids honestly, not hiding the uncomfortable truths and letting them grow up submersed in the world. As I've gotten to know them more, I'm starting to think that's a bad idea. Their imaginations play a huge roll in the way they develop. What are the advantages of popping that magical bubble earlier, rather than later? If you tell them something can't be done are you sparing them the wasted time of trying or preventing the possibility that they could find a way to do it?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pay it Backward?

Paying for my frappuccino yesterday, I decided to get the coffee of the woman behind me as well. She was a middle-aged working-class type, and seemed extremely over-particular and irritated as I could hear her order, even above my music. For some reason, I thought that a little caffeinated surprise would make life somehow easier today. When I asked the barrista to add it to my tab, she started glowing. "I think that's so great!" she said. "The universe is going to bring this back on you, big time, you know?" "That's not why I'm doing it." I responded, smiling and driving away.

Well, not only did the universe seem unimpressed by my minor token, it seemed to want to punish me intensely. I had what I can only describe as the worst day of my life so far. Too much about my day involves other people, which prohibits weaving my tale into a moving and memorable saga fit for the big-screen. I can, however, share the little bit that sent me into the frenzy which caused me to make the call that sent me into a panic.

Those of you who follow my blogs will know that I've had an impossible time trying to find daycare for my peanut-allergic son. Last month, I was finally able to find a daycare, but they bus to a different school than we are assigned, so I had to ask for a transfer. I was told yesterday that the transfer didn't go through and we were sent back to square one. After that, a chain reaction of minor tragedies on top of horrible possibilities began to mushroom into the threat of my worst fears coming to light. After a couple of moments of terror, I took a step back, looked at the present situation and pulled myself back into action. A couple of hours later, I had an interview with a principal at a nut-free school and was back on track. Still not certain what the outcome will be, but I am on a track. That alone is comforting.

Sunken in the thickness of a misty cloud of fear, I reached for my most reliable vices to pull me through. Very first, was my peeps. My mother, my special gal, my special man and my boys. Together, they reminded me in constant flow that I was cared for and that everything would be alright. Although none of them has that magic crystal ball that shows us living happily decades from now, each was very convincing in lending their support.

Secondly, was a big glass of grape juice. Though I'll be the first to admit that it's not a typical mind-altering substance, there's just something about its purplesque sweetness that empowers me.

Lastly is my megalomaniacal need to have my life under my own control. I think this is the source of my never-ending motivation, as well as the reason that I don't reach for drugs or alcohol in my most desperate times. The worse my life has been pulled into confusion, the more intensely focused I become on setting it right again. My ninja-sharp skills in improvizing have been tested wildly over the last year, causing me to zig and zag irratically in order to keep my end-goals in sight. To others, it may seem as if I'm vascillating, but the truth is that sometimes the less-direct path is the one that makes you most certain that you are where you want to be.

In any case, it's late in the evening now and I feel as if I've pulled out of the frightening fog. I'm ready for bed and willing to wake up and start a brand new day tomorrow. I will not, however, be stopping for coffee.

Monday, August 24, 2009


It's really difficult to play traditional baseball with three people, especially when two of those people are under the age of six. Our family, however, is unsurpassed in the art of adapting. For example, we spent our afternoon in my parent's backyard playing Not-Quite-Baseball.

The casual onlooker would no doubt recognize our equipment...a traditional child's bat and ball. The player's rolls, on the other hand, may seem more foreign. In our game, there's a pitcher, a batter and a finish sayer. While you can probably guess what the first two do, I'll explain the third. The finish sayer imparts words of wisdom on the other two players after every hit and before every pitch. These can be suggestions or rules, such as: "Don't throw the ball too high or my puppy will sting you." and "Don't cut down trees, only hit the ball."

After a ball is hit, the roll of the pitcher is much more hands-on. The pitcher is responsible for retreiving the ball and chasing the batter around the bases. If a pitch doesn't result in a hit, then the *batter* picks up the ball and chases the *pitcher* with it! The running bases thing has also been modified. With only one batter, and a tremendous chance that each hit only gains one base, we have to have the batter bring the bat with them and hit from the base that they're on at any given time. This makes it extremely convenient to have the pitcher's mound in the middle.

You should try playing this for a while. You'll never look at baseball the same way again!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Snorkel Rice

When I first heard the term Snorkel Rice, I wasn't sure if it was agriculture or an insult! Seriously, who among us hasn't called someone a huge rotting pile of snorkel rice? Just me? Okay, moving on.

As it turns out, snorkel rice is a genetically modified plant that has been bred to grow almost instantly when flooded by water. The plant contains a gene that instructs it to shoot its chutes above the flood, allowing it to survive the tortures of the Asian and African rainy seasons. The submerged plants can grow nearly 10 inches a day! Experts are very excited about the ramifications of this creation, believing it can go a long way toward ending worldwide famine.

Even as I reeled in the wonder of having a plant grow so quickly that you could actually *see* it, I began to wonder about the effects of this gene on the consumers. Is it possible that eating the rice from these magic plants could have unforeseen effects on the general population? Will teenagers be sprouting inches in their morning shower? That's a hyperbolic example, but I think I got my point across. If there's a gene in our food that causes some extreme reaction, how will that affect those who eat it, especially when it's a dietary staple?

This also leads me to ask some other questions. Does self-stretching rice have any advantage over permanently taller rice? Is there a point that the rice ends up getting too tall and causing issues? Lastly, how can we extend this feature to other items? I'd really like to see a hundred-foot Sweetpea.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Writer's block

Even as I sit about to write tonight, I doubt that the words are going to see the light of a monitor other than mine. No fewer than 3 of my previous blogs sit in my index, yet unpublished. Perhaps what I'm experiencing is less of a writer's block and more of an emotional barricade. The words are written, the stories flowing, I just can't seem to share them.

This behavior reminds me of my high school days when I'd write things on paper and crumple and toss them away without ever showing them to anyone. Why has this insecurity returned? Why is it that I'm no longer able to share the literary fingerprints of my soul? My last unpublished blog gives me a clue. It's title? Overexposure. I've recently gone against my protective grain and exposed myself to the innermost core. Nothing bad came of it. Nothing was pierced, nothing shattered. Even so, I still feel wide open and raw. Maybe it's a negative thing for the fans of my writing, but to me, it's very positive. The wall that I had built over a decade of daily heartbreak has been carefully dismantled. My bitterness and lack of belief in coupledom is fading. Where I once described myself as "jaded in love," I now feel...well...I feel. And for now, that's a step in the right direction.

* Image courtesy of

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Was there life before Google?

Ah, the "Double O Oracle". I resisted it. I swear I did. Just like with Myspace, Facebook and Twitter, my obstinance turned into lust once I experienced it for myself. It started with a simple search on a computer with limited resources and suddenly I saw the beauty of their design.

Next, I became drawn to AdWords while I was trying to run my own design business. I appreciated the ability to have thousands of free impressions of my business name in search results, even if no one ever clicked further. When I came back to school, a friend introduced me to Gmail and I now check all of my 6 or 7 email addresses from one online interface, which allows me to see all of my messages - past and present - from any computer that has an internet connection. That was life-changing. As far as tools for entrepreneurs go, that one was priceless...followed closely by Google Calendar, which I use to do everything from planning my week to synchronizing weekends with the boys for my ex-husband.

As if that wasn't enough reason to owe my sanity to Google, they then came out with Google Docs! I can write papers and spreadsheets, or do homework online and have it all safely saved for me the next time I want to look at it, even if it's from another computer with a different operating system! Google Reader allows me to follow my favorite blogs and RSS feeds (if you need a blog to test it out with, I'm volunteering and now Google Voice. I just hooked myself up with a number for my latest venture. Whew! And the miracle here? 'Sall free. That's right. I haven't paid a red cent for any of the services with the exception of getting clicks on AdSense, which is the backbone of Google's game plan. They let the *advertisers* pay for leading the general public to their virtual doorstep.

There are those who feel that Google is evil. They feel invaded and used. If this is how you feel, by all means, avoid their many excellent and time-saving products. I, for one, don't see a problem with letting a company earn a profit when they have a business model that is both creative and useful.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Guided by a Pinlight

When I was younger, I felt like I could see forever into the future. I always knew what my next step should be. Somewhere in my twenties, that all-knowing lantern which had shed light into eternity dimmed to something less powerful than what I now have hooked to my keychain. Eventually, I began to feel like I was groping my way through a cave with a pinlight. I barely have enough insight to make my next step, let alone try to predict what I should do farther down the road.

At first, I saw the disappearance of my certainty as a sign of doom. I felt lost and confused. After a while, I began to think of it as a novelty - allowing me to make decisions spontaneously, based on where I am rather than where I thought I should be. This became an important element in letting fate shape my future. Recently, I said to my mom something like: "The thing about planning everything, is that everything goes as planned. When you leave something up to chance, you get serindipity." I've started to believe that if you want to have lucky breaks, you need to be able to see outside of your best-laid plans and allow something to go wrong...or atleast differently than expected.

Unfettered fate is a beautiful and wonderful thing, bringing you moments and opportunities that you may have passed up if you had kept it in your own hands. Left to the universe's devices, I feel like I'm being guided into my proper place, instead of feeling like a square peg in the round hole that I had previously selected for myself.

If you still have your lantern, by all means, use it! If, however, your path is no longer illuminated (or perhaps never was) don't be discouraged. Just shine your pinlight beneath your chin. You may not know where you're going, but you'll look scary as hell to anyone trying to stand in your way!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Of Moths and Men

My 4 year old is allergic to almost everything. Included in that horrible overstatement, are cats and dogs. This is a cruel truth, because he is more enamoured with furry friends than almost any other child I've ever met. He wants to nurture them. In his room, he maintains a zoo of stuffed animals, each one his favorite.

He was in the bath last night when I heard him wail about a bug. Taking one of his drinking cups, he scooped the bug from the bath and held the cup high. I proposed that he discard the water, and the bug, in the toilet. "But I want to keep it as a pet!" He said, his eyes glistening in the incandescent lights of the bathroom. "Honey," I prodded. "That's a dead moth. Moths are made to fly in the air. They don't do well in water." I said, with slight sympathy. "They do if they're dead!" He rebutted and again held the cup in the air, as if he thought his logic had persuaded me. I smiled at him, took the cup and flushed the bug down the toilet.

Is this what it's come to? My child, so starved for a pet, has been forced to seek a friend in a bloated, drowned donkey of a butterfly? I tried getting him fish, but one carelessly placed Cheerio brought an army of poisoned ants to the water. By morning, the whole lot was dead. I suppose I could try a hamster or a guinea pig, but what's to say that the fate of either of those furry animals would be more favorable? Is the death of an animal a fundamental part of the process of becoming responsible for one? Can the same lesson be learned through stories, therefore sparing the life of some poor handheld mammal? For now, I'm going to try helping them learn through empathy. If that makes me a heartless mother, I'll add their therapy bills to the list of things I'm saving for.

What I learned when I stopped standing still

It's hard to believe that less than 24 months ago, my life was over. I had two toddlers and my life was over. I drove a minivan...and my life was over. I was in a marriage where we were both miserable and my life was over. Freedom was a dream that I never knew I had, and exploration was something that only adventurous people did. I certainly wasn't one of those people. I couldn't do those things. My life was already over.

Then an epiphany. Maybe, just maybe, if I figured out what was killing me, I could fix it and learn to live. Months of soul searching and opening my eyes to the facts that had been staring me in the face led me to realize that the kids and the minivan weren't the reason that I felt pinned and alone. Misery was responsible for the death of my soul. That misery was caused by trying to nurture a marriage that was both poisoned and poisonous. So the cure was administered and all parties began to heal.

Still, I never thought I would be an explorer. Didn't ever think of traveling the country, let alone the world. Sure, there were people who did those kinds of things, but it wasn't something that I should be doing. I wasn't one of those people. I don't know what it was that made me believe that the right thing to do was set roots and keep a firm hold on the ground where I grew. Maybe it was soley the fact that I had never been told otherwise. Maybe my fears of the great-wide-open caused me to stay in my own little corner, even when the world was calling my name.

"Couldn't" turned to "shouldn't" then "wouldn't" until the opportunity to go to Beijing arose and I finally said "Why not?" Moments of guilt and doubt intervened, but friends prodded and when I listened to reason I knew that I had to go, if only to prove to myself that I could live my life on purpose. That was one week that changed my life.

I won't go into detail about the trip - not only because that story has been told - but also because it's not the content of the journey that caused my evolution, it's the fact that I took the journey at all. By the time I flew home, I knew that I *was* one of those people. I *was* someone who could and should and would explore the world around me.

Five short months later, I said "Why not?" again, and initiated a road trip that led a friend and I across more than 2,000 miles of paved and unpaved road. We saw new places, camped in all sorts of weather and geocached our way through treacherous terrain. We met a man that the world had forgot and navigated steep and winding roads that the earth had started to reclaim. The freeway brought us home without a hitch and I felt vindicated and empowered. There's a world out there to see and I don't want to see it by myself.

Who would be willing to accompany me on my quest to see the world? Who could tolerate hours in the car with me? The answer was right in front of me and illuminated by a little boy who tenderly proclaimed "Sometimes a four-year-old just needs his mommy." What better way to ensure adequate time together than forcing ourselves to buckle-up and hop from state to state? A little planning and we were off! The ease with which this road trip evolved was amazing. Everyone handled it wonderfully and with vigor. There was excitement growing with every mile and achievement every night. I was simultaneously satisfied and inspired. I've been bitten by the travel bug.

There have been moments when the image in the rearview mirror seemed far more sentimental than time spent in the first place, but it took visiting those locations to realize what I would miss when I was gone. Interests uncovered, geography discovered and friendships recovered, travel is both desirable and necessary as a catalyst to my personal growth. Hopefully, by furnishing it to my boys at such a young age, they will achieve greater heights than I.

I'm stable, I'm growing and I can honestly say that I'm alive. I'm living in a way that only I can, and embracing my unique situation. I know a whole lot more now than I did two years ago. I know who I am. I know what I want. I also know, that I don't want to live a life gathering moss. Roots are good, wings are better.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Some interesting facts about our Wild West road trip

Total Miles Traveled: 3,764
Total Days Traveling: 14
Hours in the Car: 75:30
States Explored: 7
Lowest Gas Price Paid: $2.439
Highest Gas Price Paid: $2.899
Highest Gas Price Seen: $3.359
Notable Injuries: 7
Speeding Tickets: 0
Stumbling Blocks: 4

Total Miles Traveled: 3,764

Wow. Whoda thunk that a single mom would have the patience to travel 3,764 miles with 4 & 5 year old boys? That's farther than driving from the westmost coast in Oregon to the eastmost coast of Maine. And by the day we were heading back to Eugene, James still wanted to turn around and do it all again!

Total Days Traveling: 14

Near the middle of the trip, it felt like we still had a lifetime to go. By the last day, I couldn't believe that it was over. What a trip!

Hours in the Car: 75:30

Yeah, nuff said.

States Explored: 7

Oregon: Love it just as much as ever, but appreciate it a little more now. The allergies are still too severe for me to believe that the boys will end up calling Oregon home forever, but it's a beautiful and bountiful place for sure.

Idaho: I didn't see a single place in Idaho that I didn't like. Boise was beautiful and well planned. They had all of the retail places that I was accustomed to, and the roads were easy to travel. The prices were fair and gas was cheap. Twin Falls was one of the lovliest places we saw on this trip. There was greenery and water, canyons and falls. Just a great place for fostering memories.

Utah: Before this trip, I thought Utah was all about Mormons and missions. If I had never left Salt Lake City, I would still probably feel that way (drove right past a missionary mall.) Fortunately, I drove along the south shore of the Great Salt Lake and got to play on the beautiful beach. I also drove out to the Salt Flats and took a picture of some of the natural whiteness that graces the ground all year long. We went rock climbing in Provo and toured the arches in Moab. I could probably have stayed in Utah for months and never been long as I didn't have a door for the missionaries to knock on.

Colorado: I only got a small peek at Colorado, but what I saw was beautiful. It was like peering through a keyhole at a large slice of destiny. You know there's so much more that you can't even fathom, but you feel really lucky to have had the chance to get even a small glimpse. Before Durango, the Denver airport was all I knew of this Cowboy laiden state. I would be lying if I said that the scenery was all that attracted me to Durango, but it was certainly enough to cause me to recommend it to others. Be sure to check out Mesa Verde if you visit.

New Mexico: I had been to Santa Fe before, and recommended it as a city to explore with friends and loved ones. Albuquerque, on the other hand, is a great place to go even if you're exploring alone. They have a cute little zoo, some great Route 66 culture and an adobe-clad university. One word of caution. The allergies are attrocious! Not exactly on the top of my list of places to move for my son's health.

Arizona: Didn't like Arizona. I thought it was barren and dry and even the reservations catered to tourists. The shops that sold quality artifacts were way over-priced and the vendors who sold affordable goods offered very low quality. The cities were few and far between. The Grand Canyon was beautiful though. Gas was cheap (when you could find it) and there were a lot of days that were perfect for ice cream! My favorite stop in this state was Lake Havasu City, where we saw the London Bridge. It was a cute little town and I'd like to visit it again someday.

California: What's to say about Cali? Disneyland was great, LA traffic sucked, the mountains were gorgeous. I loved driving by all of the orchards and seeing the truckloads of oranges, lemons, onions and garlic drive by us.

Lowest Gas Price Paid: $2.439

Lake Havasu City, AZ

Highest Gas Price Paid: $2.899

All fillups in Calfornia

Highest Gas Price Seen: $3.359

LA, Ca

Notable Injuries: 7

Personally, I had two injuries that had me wondering if I'd need medical attention. The first was my foot, when I slipped in Dinseyland and tweaked it all around. I did end up seeing a doctor for that one and everything was fine after some advil, an ace bandage and a bag of ice. The second was my wrist. I pinned it between two very heavy containers when I was loading the car. It was sore and bruised for a couple of days, but it's fine now.

The other five injuries belonged to Jack. The poor kid has so much trouble staying on his feet - a problem that seemed to be made worse by elevation. He fell so many times in Moab that we had to replace bandaids that were already covering his broken skin.

Speeding Tickets: 0

Which is not to say that I didn't get pulled over...'cause I did. After safely travelling 85 for weeks, it was really hard for me to slow down in California, that is, until I was pulled over for doing 83 in a 70. When I saw the officer parked as I passed, I repeated "Oh crap, please don't pull me over. Please don't pull me over." But apparently officers in the California PD don't listen to telepathic pleading. Even worse, the officer was female.

I have never been more grateful to have my boys in the car with me. The officer got to the window and asked for my license, registration and proof of insurance. Being that it was my mother's car, I couldn't find anything but the driver's license. From the back, my youngest calls "Why did you pull us over?" The officer responded "Because your mommy was driving too fast." Jack quickly asks "Are you going to put her in jail?" The officer smiled and reassured him that she didn't intend to arrest me. Meanwhile, she accepted the expired insurance card that I *was* able to find in the glove compartment and went back to her vehicle to call me in. (I didn't realize at the time that my mom's van has a whole seperate compartment with all of the necessary documents inside.)

When the officer came back, she asked me if I knew how fast I was going. I said I did. She asked if I knew the speed limit and I said that I had seen the sign just a few feet after I noticed her sitting beneath the bridge. Then, James interrupted from the back. "Mommy, we've never been pulled over by a police officer before!" Bless his heart! His intuitive little brain prompted him to say one of the best things that he possibly could have at that point. Nevermind the fact that he was in the car with me both other times that I had been pulled over...but those officers were both men and I was able to get away with a verbal warning after they verified that I wasn't a raving lunatic.

Fortunately, this officer was merciful and let me off with a verbal. She then asked me to watch my speed because I most likely wouldn't get away with a warning the next time. I'll tell ya, it made for a damn long drive doing the speed limit the rest of the way home!

Stumbling Blocks: 4

I will actually skip sharing the first thing. It's a little private and incredibly female. Suffice it to say that I had a little hurdle that took a lot of phone calls, a little time and a little money to overcome. But I did.

The next thing was dropping my phone in a puddle. It shorted out the board and Verizon wouldn't help me because I didn't pay the $8/month for insurance. Bastards. Fortunately, after everything dried out, the phone seems to be working again as normal.

Thirdly, was that I forgot the charger for my camera battery. I was able to locate a Batteries Plus in Boise that had a charger for my particular model. It even had an adapter to plug it into a lighter, so I was good to go for the rest of the trip!

The last one was a doozy! We had a little ant infestation in the car, caused by bringing an old cooler that apparently had an ant's nest in the lid. Everything was fine while we had ice in the cooler, but after leaving it in the car while we were in Disneyland, the ants woke up and took over the car! It took 4 hours, 6 ant traps and a bottle of soy bug spray that smelled like throw-up to remedy that issue.

Well, that was my trip. I hope you all had fun following along! Hopfeully there'll be more in the near future!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why my four-year-old will be in the master's program next year.

By now, everyone has heard me say that my boys are smart. It's true, they are. While Jackson is doing a great job reading small words and doing arithmetic with Corn Pops, James is reading even complex words with tricky letter combinations and doing math mentally. So, why is it that James is headed off to kindergarten and Jackson's entering higher education? Allergies.

After weeks of struggling with daycares over Jackson's peanut allergy, I've decided to just bring him to school with me next year. Since last January, I've had the boys at a great daycare center in the Valley River area. Playdates works with Jackson's allergy and has become a nut-free facility in an effort to provide him with the best care possible. With the new school year, however, James is starting kindergarten at Malibon in the Bethel district and needs to attend a daycare close by. Finding a center that's willing to take the liability of a small boy with life threatening allergies has been a struggle. All of the places that I've called so far have declined and few have given me any idea where to turn to find what I need. A few things are certain. I need someone to watch my boys and keep them safe while I'm at school/work. I need to have Jackson in a place that's nut-free and sensitive to his conditions. I need them both to be at a place near to James' kindergarten so that he can get from school to daycare and back while I'm working. Also, it would be nice if I could find this somewhere that doesn't cost more than what I make in a month. *Sigh*

That said, I haven't found anything close to an option yet. I'm ready to throw my hands in the air and just bring Jack to school with me. I hope my professors don't notice!

*** Update***

The boys ex-teacher, Ms. Brittany, has opened her own school and has told me that she made it nut-free with Jack in mind.  She said she'd love to have him, and she'd even take the boys home with her on nights that I had to work late.  The catch?  It's out at 50th and Fox Hollow!  That's a 25 minute drive each way, according to Google.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Saturday, May 30, 2009

National Lampoon's...I mean...Davis Family Road Trip (Summer 2009)

Well, it took a long time to nail down all the pieces, but our road trip has finally got bones!

OR -> ID -> UT -> CO -> NM -> AZ -> CA -> OR

The plan is...

Day one: Leave graduation and head to Portland to pick up the boys and make it as far as Pendleton before calling it a night.

Day two: Get ourselves to Baker City before the Motorcycle Rally ends at noon. We'll stick around for as much of that as is entertaining and then make the trek to Boise.

Day three: Hopefully we'll be up at a decent hour so that we can go to Wahooz for the day. After lunch, we'll travel down to Salt lake City.

Day four: We might go out to the Bonneville Salt flats, but more likely, we'll take our time driving through the UT landscape, possibly caching as far as Green lake if the weather is tolerable.

Day five: Through Moab and Monticello, down to see the arrows in Cortez before winding up in Durango, CO.

Day six: Make a stop in Aztec to visit the ruins, a short trip to Cuba, then end in Albuquerque for a couple of nights!

Day eight: Through Gallup, Holbrook and Flagstaff to end in Williams.

Day nine: Up to the GRAND CANYON then back down and onto Route 66 until we get to Kingman. From there, we're gonna take a little detour south to see the London Bridge.

Day ten: Back up to Hwy 40 until Barstow. We'll come down through Victorville and down into Anaheim...Shhhhh...don't tell the boys!

Day eleven: Disneyland - California Adventure!!

Day twelve: I'm sure it's gonna be almost impossible to tear the boys away after just one day at the park, but we'll make it better by spending the good portion of the day in the car, breaking somewhere around Patterson, Ca.

Day thirteen: Another long drive with very little planned until we finally wind the evening down in Medford, Or.

Day fourteen: Medford back up to Eugene or Portland...hopefully making a short trip to Wildlife Safari on the way.

That's it! That's the trip that's been widdled down from a month two almost exactly two weeks. If anyone has any additional suggestions of things that we shouldn't miss, I have about two days before I need to solidify my accommodations.

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eugene's Finest

I was caching away, by Autzen Stadium, when I came across a black rag hanging from a tree. I've seen lots of discarded junk in my last few months as a geocacher, so I did little except to take note. As I headed deeper into the underbrush, I came across a notebook, full of poems and lists and plans. That sat a little more uneasily with me. A few moments later, when moving a stick to inspect the location that my GPS had settled on, I spotted a pair of women's underwear snagged on a limb. With all of the other nearby things that had raised flags in my head, I felt that I had better at least call and let the Eugene Police know about the combination.

I called the non-emergency line and the gentleman who answered was actually pretty concerned. He said he'd send out a squad car and asked me to call 911 so that he could track my location. I obliged. My phone threw itself into Emergency Mode and started buzzing away. The operator tracked me to within 20 feet ("Are you about 50 feet from the river? 20 feet east of the bike path?") An hour later, the trooper showed up. The 40-something cop sauntered over and looked at the peice of fabric that was waving in the wind. "Mmm hmm, that's a do-rag." He said. Then he had me point out the notebook. He barely took a second look before asking me to point out the woman's underwear. I led him deep into the shrubbery, covered with trees and blackberries. Arriving at the location, he pulled some gloves from his pocket and put them on. He picked up the underwear and inspected them. "I don't see any blood, " He said. "but there's definitely some wear and tear." He then placed the underwear back on the tree in almost (not really even close to) the place they had been if he thought it should be perfectly reasonable that their owner would come back and say "Ah, here they are! Just where I left them."

As we headed out of the bushes, the officer stopped at the notebook, this time picking it up and turning through the pages. A few pages in, he began to read aloud. The poems were crude at best. There were lists of what this person intended to do in a given day, and poems about what he wanted to do - all piled on top of a paper instructing a mandatory drug course at LCC. The policman must have stood there for 10 minutes, reading these bits of R to X rated lyrics and poems aloud to me. After a few minutes, I took a slice* and realized that I was standing in the bushes with a policeman who was reading me poems about wanting to give it to me all night long. It had to be one of the strangest moments in the last week or two!

After he was done reading, he offered me the notebook. "Want to take this home?" "No thanks," I said. "You can keep it and share it with the missus." He responded, "Would if I had one." The officer shrugged and got back in his squad car. "Thanks for calling that in." He said, and drove off.

As I walked away, I reflected back on what had just happened. I wasn't sure that there was any reason for alarm in the first place, but something just sat uneasily with me. Apparently, he didn't have the same feeling. Ah well, it was an interesting way to spend the afternoon, anyway.

* Taking a slice is something I like to do occasionally. I will sometimes just take myself out of context and realize how cool it is that I am in a specific place at a specific time, ignoring all of the logical things that brought me there. It makes special moments infinitely more spectacular.

Example: "Wow, I'm on top of the Great Wall of China!"
"I'm in a restroom in Kirkland at 5 in the morning."
"I just climbed under barbed wire and now I'm alone in the middle of a forest."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Planetary Passion

The sky is lit by a hasty comet and all my dreams are riding on it, but how do you follow a shooting star...when you sit in silence, dissecting oddities as friends punctuate with celestial bodies? Could mine cause the world to pause, or even take a breath?  

I'm not a sentence, I am a book and I deserve a second look.  Why are casual glances so commonly exchanged?  My rumbling cloud longs to throw wild lightning, fears relax while my fists are tightening, yet I know that I would still be nothing more than weather.  

I don't need to control the tides, ebb the waters far and wide, but would like to see a wave and know that it was just for me.  All the heavens crisp and white fade to grey most every night, though the morning promises to bring a new radiance.

I see myself and all I've done in the earth, the moon and in my sons.  Their brilliance far exceeds my own.  I will try to avoid regret, knowing my path has not been set - if only for the prosperity of those who depend on me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stuff that matters - Thinking in print

I've been on a hunt for nearly a year now, trying to figure out what really matters in life. It's tempting to make the mistake of believing that the things that matter the most are the things that make you the happiest. That's a pretty egocentric way of thinking, so I'm trying to bar that idea and seek a more wholesome definition which still stays local to the heart of a person and avoids becoming about ethereal matters, as I believe there are enough people out there seeking OM at this time.

My sister suggested at one point that I write a mission statement for myself. I absolutely intended to, but the problem became that I couldn't define myself well enough to craft a statement that I thought would work for my entire life. It's safe to say that I don't define myself by my professional title, I also don't define myself by my financial well-being. I have learned, however, that what other people think of me factors into my definition much more than it should. Currently, I'm trying to figure out how to define who I am so that it is unaffected by temporary fluctuations in my surroundings.

Here's a question..."Is who I am important in figuring out what matters?" Certainly if I were going to tell you what *should* matter, it would have less to do with my specific life than trying to come up with the things that actually *do* matter. So now, I'm going to try to reverse this puzzle by figuring out what matters to me and then defining myself based on that.

First and foremost, it's my boys. They're a constant in my life and they make me happier than any one or thing ever has or ever can. I'll admit that I tend to forget this, especially when I'm heavy in to the quest to provide for them. I've been so consumed by figuring how to pay for our life that I've reduced their waking hours to daycare time. To make up for that, I'm going to bring them out of daycare over the summer and make sure that they get as much quality time with mommy as we can all handle.

Next, it's my family. The boys are included again (hey, they deserve it) but I mostly mean my Mom, Dad and Sisters. I've always been much more attached to them than I should be, but without them, I could no longer be myself.

After that (and at one point in my life I believed *before that*) is supposed to be romantic love. I guess this is a spot that I hold open, waiting for a man who deserves to be so high on my priority list that he actually defines who I am. I periodically test people for this section, but there is a major caveat to living here...the guy has to admit that he wants to.

You're probably seeing a trend with the things that mean the most in my life. It's practically all about people. I feel like the right thing to say here would be that my friends are the next most important thing - and they are - but really it's humanity in general. People mean something to me. Often, I feel truly and deeply for the people that I meet (good or bad) to the point where I actually take on some of their emotions myself. I had to leave peer counseling in middle school because I would absorb other people's problems and let them affect my heart. I've learned to control that quite a bit, but still find myself having to rationalize with my own mind when it comes to pulling back from someone who's taking advantage of my open heart.

What's next? Here's where I start running in to trouble. Does money matter to me? Only in-so-much as it allows me to provide the necessities of life and afford entertainment and adventure. Ah, now we're on to something! What kind of entertainment and / or adventure do I hold most dear?

EDUCATION. Yes, educational experiences and adventures of all kinds. Education of myself and my ability to help educate people around me. Education is definitely right there below the well-being of people in general.

Humor. This is probably the last of the elements that I consider to be at the foundation of what matters. It's very important to me that I bring humor in to the lives of others and that I have humor in my own life as well. This is why my life feels more complete with Jcomm.

There it is, the stuff that matters most in my life. All things that I believe will live there permanently. Now it's time to form that into a way of defining who I am.

I suppose I could stop now and encourage you to follow the same steps for putting together your own self-definition, but if you've been with me this far, you may have some interest in the outcome, so here it goes.

I am : A mother, a daughter and sister. I'm a woman. I care deeply for people and want to help in every way I can. I'm a student, a teacher and self-proclaimed comedian.

If I keep in mind what I am, then the opinions of others shouldn't ever cloud my opinion of myself.

To create a mission statement, I need to put into words my intention to tend to the things that matter in my life. After a couple of versions, here's what I've come up with.

My mission in life is to nurture my children in a way that reminds them every day that they are loved and able. I will take care of my family unfailingly, doing my part to make sure that they are never without life's necessities. My spouse will know what he means to me and will never have to doubt my love or fidelity. I will do my best to bolster others, without undermining myself or my virtues. Difficult decisions will be guided by my desire to make the world a better place through humor and education, combining the two whenever possible. Additionally, I will do my best to live my life surrounded by kindness, fairness and honesty.

So there.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Wisdom of the Panda - Warm Fuzzies in a Cookie 4/13/09

Topic of discussion: I was with my boys and we were talking about cookies.

Restaurant: Panda Express

Fortune: People enjoy having you around.

Thoughts: Really? That's so sweet.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Woops, your intolerance is showing!

Recently, a video by an anti-gay group calling themselves a "True Rainbow Coalition" has been circulating. I won't link it here, because I don't want anyone to mistake their views for mine.

To summarize, the video claims that a storm is coming. They say that they feel afraid because schools are teaching their children that same-sex marriage is okay. They say that they're being threatened by other groups who want to change the institution of marriage. This unlocked a whirl-wind of craziness in my mind, causing me to wonder what marriage was really intended to be.

Let's tackle the most controversial view first, shall we? If what you believe is that marriage is a ceremony linking two people together in the eyes of 'The Lord', then you most-likely believe that the reason same-sex marriages shouldn't be allowed is because 'The Lord' doesn't sanction same-sex lovers. If this is the concern, then shouldn't marriage only be limited to people who believe in God? Shouldn't marriage require that some deity has officially sanctioned the union with a public miracle or at very least a testimony from a prophet?

To be honest, I would be willing to vote for having a separate ecclesiastical ceremony for anyone who could prove that 'The Lord' believed in their union and truly wanted them to be together. The caveat would be that those marriages are interminable without also acknowledging that you are going against God's desires, much the same way that you would be by marrying someone he disapproved of in the first place.

Now, let's look at marriage in another way, a way of formally declaring your intention to love and be faithful to one another. This is the function that I truly believe most Americans consider marriage to have. This is my most abstract definition, but it's also the one that gets to the modern view of marriage and the reason that marriages are no longer viewed as permanent.

When you marry someone, you invariably promise them forever. In my opinion, that's a mistake. DON'T STOP READING! Listen, I'm not saying that love *shouldn't* last forever, I'm just saying that if you think declaring that your love will last forever gets you out of having to actually nurture it forever, then you have pain and hurt in your future. This is the same reason that I'm against giving your betrothed a diamond ring (oh yeah, and all that blood-diamond murder and cartel stuff.) I think that marriage shouldn't be symbolized by something that you give to them once and don't have to think about again. I think that your intentions in marriage should be symbolized by something that you know you're going to have to renew...and the more frequently the better! I'm talking like a band made out of wood, paper or even a Sharpie marker that you draw on each other in the morning. If you need a symbol, make sure the symbol is sending the right message.

With that said, if people love each other and are willing to forsake all others, then it doesn't matter what the race, sex or religion of the people in the union are. What matters is that they're willing to abide by their vows as long as they are bound by them. In a marriage like this, the vows should be chosen carefully by a couple, because those are the promises that you're making to one another. You're relying on those to define your marriage, not God's intentions.

Lastly, I want to consider marriage as a legal treaty. This seems like a perfectly valid, um...feature of marriage to me. Considering that marriage used to be used as a merger of land and/or families, marrying for legal benefit cannot be ignored. Again, if you accept the premise of using a legal union for personal gain, then it shouldn't matter what the race, sex or religion is of either person participating in that union. Amirite?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wisdom of the Panda - Talent - 04/02/09

Topic of discussion: Why am I the only one who got a fortune cookie?

Restaurant: Panda Express

Fortune: Your genuine talents will lead to success.

Thoughts: Super! Now I just need to figure out what those are.

It's a confusing life

Today has been stressful and confusing.  Each little item feels like it's building on the last and I was hanging on to all of that as I walked in the rain from the bookstore (where I just re-purchased a $100 book) to the computer lab.  My brain was tired and heavy, until I overheard a conversation between two guys behind me.

It was obvious from the way they were talking that they were good friends.  One had a girlfriend with him.  They were talking about differences and biases and perception, then one of them asked the other: "So, would you hold my hand all the way through campus?"

I giggled, appreciating the concept of that experiment.  Then I smiled as the other guy said "Yeah, absolutely."  Then, they held hands, at least until our paths diverged.

Reflecting on what I had just seen, I got a warm and fuzzy feeling about the world.  Then, I got all introspective.  I'm an enthusiastically heterosexual woman (sorry Kat) and yet, I realized that if one of my female friends asked me the same question, I would gladly hold their hand through campus.  What surprised me is that if one of my guy friends asked me the same question, I would certainly hesitate.  If it were a guy that I was actually interested in, my answer would most likely be, "No way."  So how effective could that experiment have been and who's perception was it testing - theirs or the rest of ours?

When checking my own initial reaction, I found that my response was mostly initiated by the impression that I wanted to leave with the person doing the requesting.  When the request is made by a straight, female friend, I can be certain that they have no expectation that our holding hands will insinuate any vulnerability on my part.  If the request comes from someone eligible and available, suddenly the act of holding hands becomes a public display of affection.  My current reaction, when faced with admitting to myself that I like someone (and through PDAs, everyone else) is to run!  My willingness to oblige has less to do with what everyone else thinks of me and more to do with how safely I can navigate the situation and emerge emotionally unscathed.

I wonder, does the origin of the motivation for accepting or declining the invitation change depending on the intensity of the request?  What if the request is changed to sitting next to each other?  Hugging? Kissing?  

What would you do?  What motivates your answer?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The world through my eyes - Tibet, water and the weather

If you aren't one of these people who finds humor in everything, you might have a little trouble understanding me. I can see many points of view at one time, inevitably one of them is hysterical. If you know me even a little, you have probably seen me giddy and giggly and cracking myself up until I can't breathe. If you know me well and *haven't* seen me this way, then it's probably *you* that's bringing me down!

I was walking down the street one day and saw a sign hanging in a merchant's window that said "Free Tibet." All I could think was how slow business must be for the shop down the road offering Tibet 25% off.

Shopping online, I saw an ad for a solar powered flashlight. There are people out there who buy these things, so I started thinking, what other unlikely product could become a big hit? Eventually, I came up with Instant Water. It's so simple! Just... you know... add water.

Then, the other day, I was in my car, driving through the rain and listening to the radio. The weather lady came on and forecasted a 90% chance of precipitation. I looked at the sky, then back at the radio and realized that there was a 10% that my imagination was PRETTY FRICKIN' AMAZING!!

This is just a brief example of the things that crack me up from moment to moment. If you don't think it's amusing, don't worry, I think I'm funny enough for the both of us!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Epic Road Trip - Eureka, CA to Eugene, OR - Final Day, BABY!!

It was only our 6th day on the road, but we were already getting nostalgic for day one. It was hard to believe that we would be home by midnight. We planned a couple of caches for the day and one heck of a drive through the Redwoods.

One of the caches we stopped at was on location for where they filmed the movie Jurassic Park. The scenery was beautiful and the find was easy. Dalby got a picture of a fallen tree who's branches had turned into trees themselves. We drove along looking at some very impressive scenery, though it wasn't too different from what I had grown up seeing on the way to the coast and such.

The whole drive, we were looking for the turn-off to the drive-thru tree. It was supposed to be the highlight of this leg. We got to Gasquet before starting to think that we had missed it. Turns out, we had. There was a turn we should have taken back in Klamath to the Trees of Mystery which we had decided to skip. Woops. For a minute, we considered another epic U-turn, but decided that it wasn't worth the detour. Perhaps we would plan a CS trip to the Redwoods during the Summer.

Not very long after, we realized that my car was just a little bit shy of turning 50,000 miles. Dalby got his camera ready and I drove slowly, hoping to pull over when it happened so that I could capture a few pics of my own. It seemed like a good idea to pull in to the parking lot of a local inn and drive around until the odometer turned. Almost instantly we determined that the parking lot was way too small to try to drive 4 miles in circles, so we got back on the main road. With a mile to go, a side street presented itself. I took a right, hoping to avoid having traffic behind me at the big moment.

The road that we ended up on was not only steep, it was windy and narrow. Chunks of the road were missing, crumbling off into the cavernous area below. I've never driven a more intense mile in my life. Add to that the fact that we were trying to watch the odometer and take pictures at the same time and you'll understand why there was such a build-up of anticipation. The miles turned to 50,000 and I stopped the car so that we could get the necessary documentation. By the time we got the pictures taken, we were both relieved that it was over and that we could finally finish the drive home.

We drove through Cave Junction (where my parent's lived when I was born) and Grant's Pass (where the hospital was that I was born in.) We stopped at Wild River Brewing and had some dinner, then made the rest of the journey back to Eugene. When we turned back on to HWY 126, we made note of the 2031.7 mile circle that we had just completed. Day 1 felt so far away and we had been through so much together. The impressions of Maxwell hadn't even begun to get tiring and yet, the trip was over.

I dropped Mike off at his place - along with all of the remaining peanut products - and bid him farewell until we see eachother again with the new term. It was a hell of a Spring Break and I was so grateful to have had his company. Thanks Tom Tom.

I learned a few things over the week that I thought I would share:
* Those pesky bull are everywhere! BULL!
* Not everywhere in the world has a Starbucks.
* Self-doubt can keep you from getting where you really want to be.
* If a stranger offers you unsolicited information, question it before you alter your course.
* Circus Circus uses milk in their Strawberry Smoothies
* Vietnam was far more messed up than any younger generation could possibly know.
* There are two kinds of redheads.
* Guys in Nevada are not shy about asking you to dance for them.
* Some things require 1,000 words *and* a picture.
* If you miss someone before you leave on a 6 day road trip, you're still going to miss them when you get back.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Epic Road Trip - San Francisco, CA to Eureka, CA

This shouldn't have been tough. All estimates pointed at a four hour drive from San Francisco to Eureka. Unfortunately, our self-doubt took us on a detour.

In order to understand how funny this really was, you may need to know that we made somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 U-turns on this trip. Between Dalby and I, we were continuously doubting our route. We'd give ourselves a point that if we passed, we would assume we had gone too far and turn around to look for where we were supposed to go. Invariably, we hadn't gone far enough the first time before turning around. By Sacramento, we had reduced our U-turn frequency, which still didn't save us from a great big U-turn late in day 5. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start with the morning.

By the time we woke up Tuesday morning, Jake's family had left for their individual daily activities. We three were left in the house. I was really looking forward to what was supposed to be the day that I first tried surfing. It was on my life's list of things I wanted to do - along with going to Europe, publishing a book and counting the licks that it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. Jake had called the surf shop, who said that the waves were awful and the weather was cold, but if you were desperate then you could get away with going out. We decided that we qualified as desperate.

The one hiccup in our plan was that Jake had a dentist appointment at 1:30, so we'd have to wait until later to go out. We made plans to do lunch and walk around Japan Town until Jake was back. Japan Town was lovely. It helped that the weather was warm and the sun was bright. We started with Sushi and finished with some ice cream. Dalby had this nasty-looking concoction made with green tea ice cream, green slushie, red bean paste, whipped cream and a cherry. I was slightly less adventurous with a mint-chip cone.

We walked through Japan Town and took in the sights. There were a couple of Hawaiian stores and one really bizarre hardware place. I bought some great caching containers there. I almost got a kimono, but it just felt wrong to buy a kimono at a hardware store in San Francisco, no matter what the circumstances.

By 2:30, we were ready to head to the beach, but a quick check of the surf line told us that the waves were iffy at best. We talked amongst ourselves in an effort to decide whether we wanted to risk it or not. We had intended to leave San Fran by 5 pm, so by the time we got everything together and got ourselves to the beach, there would only be an hour to play in the waves. Hardly worth spending $20 on a wet suit rental for 60 minutes in the surf. We chose to go with plan B, a tour of Golden Gate Park.

Golden Gate Park was beautiful. We took a picnic snack and ate in front of the pond, watching the ducks and seagulls (actually, San Francisco's on the bay...wouldn't that make them Bay-Gulls?) fight for attention. We took our shirts off in an effort to dull the shine of our Oregon-Day-Glo (tm) skin. Still donning my undershirt, I rolled up my pants and took off my shoes and socks. The sun felt wonderful on my legs, even though the breeze would bring a mild chill every few seconds. After about 15 minutes of sun bathing and chips, the sun escaped behind a thick cloud-cover and the guys started to cover up. We decided to pack up our food and mosey-on so that we had time to see some of the landscape.

The flowers were in bloom, as were the trees and algae! We saw so much color and beauty that I barely had time to put my camera away. We walked through the bamboo garden where the stalks grew so high that they blocked out most of the daylight.

As we emerged on the other side, there was a squirrel standing on a branch, waiting for us. The squirrel was definitely looking at Jake, who was carrying a bag of Tostitos. Jake offered a chip to the little dude, who gladly snatched it and ran back to his perch. Dalby decided that he wanted to try, but Mr. Squirrel was hesitant to approach Mike. Though both eventually succeeded in feeding Mr. Squirrel, he definitely had a preference for Jake's technique.

Soon, the squirrel's friends joined him and we figured it was time to go or else we were going to end up being kidnapped and carried off to their tiny squirrel lair until we could produce some salsa. As we walked away, the squirrels followed making a little rodent train. At several points in the park, we found ourselves being watched by little eyes, but they were all scared away as we passed an old fat man sitting on a bench, resting his arms on his tummy. No one needed to see that.

In an effort to make our trip a worthy adventure, Jake (who was driving my car) decided to take us on some of the notable hills in the area. I have to admit, they gave me a little rush. I was sure glad that *I* didn't have to maneuver them. After that, we dropped Jake off at his place and it was time to head out to the Redwoods where we were going to camp for the night. Ooh, okay, here's where you need to recall that stuff that I said in the beginning. It's okay, go back and read it, I'll wait.

Done? Alright, so just as we were about to leave we were introduced to one of Jake's surfer buddies. After telling him that we were headed to the Redwoods, he commented on what a horrible drive 101 is. It would be about 6 hours, he claimed. He suggested that we should take I-5 and stay in Weed (there's about a dozen stupid jokes that I could make here, but I think I'll skip them in an effort to save myself some typing). Apparently, if we ended up in Weed we could experience the Eastern portion of the Redwoods. Thankful for the tip, we decided to take the well-lit, straight road (about a dozen more jokes I'm skipping here) and end up in Weed.

Tom Tom said that the best route to I-5 from where we were was to head back toward Sacramento and go up. Fifty miles later, we decided to have some dinner, find a Starbucks and head to the Five. It was nearly 9:00 pm before we actually looked at the map and realized that there were NO REDWOOD FORESTS IN WEED.

We stared at each other in disbelief for a second. At that moment, we had to assess how important it was to camp in the redwoods that night. Turns out, it was very important to both of us. That's when we made the MOST EPIC 50 MILE U-TURN. We drove back down to San Francisco and headed up 101 nearly 275 miles and 5 hours in the middle of the night. Along the way, we saw several tsunami warnings and signs advertising a tsunami test that was going to take place at 10:45 the next morning. How exciting.

We finally had a place to set up our tent at about 3:30 am. By then I was tired and ready for bed, but it was our last chance to do S'mores and hot dogs, and we weren't going to miss it! We had one log (which we had snagged from a gravel road in Fields, OR) but it was really wet. We went through a few paper plates and all of our old geocaching papers (including the one with the coordinates for the cache that we had placed at the hot springs) trying to get that sucker burning. Eventually we settled for a small, contained flame for roasting the marshmallows. At 5 am we finished our S'mores and beer and turned in for the night.

The next morning came and went without any sign of a tsunami test. No sirens sounded, no emergency personnel showed up, no one came up to our tent and threw buckets of water on us. It was sort of anti-climactic.

Epic Road Trip - Reno, NV to San Francisco, CA

We took off from Reno late in the morning. We had slept in and still wanted to get some coffee and check the internet before we got on the road. Finally, a Starbucks! We had great coffee and terrible bagels, then headed over Donner Pass. For all of the hooplah of the terrible weather and signs posted about how bad the pass was, the drive was actually quite nice.

We stopped in Sacramento for dinner and a short walk through State Capitol Park. The sun was setting and the flowers were beautiful. It was a very nice walk back to our car and we marveled about the beauty of the sun and about California in general. Mike got his Android going again and got me directions back to the freeway. Mike was ever so useful on this trip. I started calling him Tom Tom, because it was very much like having an in car GPS system that not only helped me get where I was going, but also made rude comments and questionable jokes when the mood grew stale.

That night, we ended up in San Francisco. The weather felt great to us, even though it was chilly for the area. We found a place to park along the famously steep streets and hiked a couple of blocks to Jake's place.

Looking up at the row of houses, I was reminded of the opening credits of the tv show Full House and I wondered if I would find Danny Tanner inside. Mr Tanner wasn't there. Instead, we met a family full of incredibly nice people and one rabbit. The rule of the house? “You can keep all the beer in our fridge that you want, just don't eat the bunny.” Fair enough.

The goal of the evening was to head down to the local bar, called the Rip Tide, and watch Jake & Mike make fool's of themselves at Open Mic Night. We had escaped into the bedroom for a while to try to come up with an original ditty for the event, but our playing was distracting Jake's sister who was studying for law school, so we decided just to head out immediately and spend the evening spectating instead of participating.

Getting to the bar entailed a 20 minute bus ride followed by a 10 block walk. On our way, we could hear the ocean and we made a mental note to say hello to it on our way back.

Walking into the Rip Tide, Mike made a comment that it reminded him of Max's Tavern. It did have that same sort of “Sweet Caroline” charm, but I've never seen a dog sauntering non-nonchalantly around Max's. The boys ordered some beers, but I declined a drink. I could hear a gentleman singing at the piano and I really wanted to watch him play. I made my way through the crowd and stood at a clearing where I watched him finish his song. He was a very handsome man, probably in his mid thirties. He looked like the quiet type, but had a very kind face. After his set, I congratulated him on a good job, then walked back over to Mike and Jake.

Mike tried to convince me that I should go talk to the guy, but I told him that it wasn't my style. Besides, there was a tall blonde girl chatting him up and they looked like they knew each other pretty well. After the next musician played, that blonde girl hit the stage and introduced the next act. It turns out that she was Annie, the organizer of Monday Open Mic night. It was, in fact, her one year anniversary of planning them. They even had cupcakes.

With the new knowledge that the mystery woman was actually just the event planner, the guys started in on trying to get me to talk to the handsome singer. At first, I just smiled and told them that I wasn't comfortable, but they persisted and eventually Mike told me that I was no longer allowed to sit with them. Defeated, I went over to HS's side of the bar. There was an open stool next to him, so I sat down and ordered a Diet Coke. After a few minutes of watching the guitar player on stage, I turned to HS and asked him if he was going to sing again tonight. He told me that he'd like to, but that he didn't think that they'd get through another rotation of the list. That's all it took. One comment and we entered a conversation full of get-to-know-you's and laughs and flirtatious smiles. Somewhere during that time, Mike texted me, but I chose to ignore it.

The bartender offered a free round of Jameson's to everyone to celebrate Annie's anniversary. HS and I raised a toast and drank. We kept talking about everything from school to work to the weather. He had mentioned that he did this every week and lived far away, so I asked him if he planned to drive home that night. HS looked at the stage, then back at me and told me that he'd be staying with Annie. She *was* his girlfriend.

After a few minutes, I took my phone out and read Mike's message, pretending it was a call to come back over. As it turns out, admitting that he had a girlfriend did not mean that he wasn't interested – a fact that he illustrated by giving me his phone number before I took off. Charming.

Eager to head to the beach, we left before last call. It was a very short walk through very cold air. The shore was dark, we couldn't see much. The wind whipped at our faces and we realized that the beach was meant to wait until the morning.

We were all hungry, so we decided to stop at the 7-11 before we caught the bus. A homeless man was standing at the entrance, eager to chat. He engaged Jake in conversation, looking up as I passed by and wheezing “Hi Lady.” The man had quite a story to tell, so Jake bought him a beer, I bought him a hot dog and we all sat down outside and let him vent.

Turns out the man was a Vietnam Vet, named Maxwell Stevenson. He was harboring a lot of terrible memories, which he didn't hesitate to share with us. He presented us with a 30 minute monologue about watching his “bestest buddy” get his head blown off. He talked about Jesus and the Devil and surviving torture. He went into some sort of war trance, emerging only momentarily to comment on my hair. “You know what they say about red heads? Red heads are one of two things, they're either horribly ugly or terribly cute. You ain't ugly.”

I smiled at the man then, happy for a reprieve from the horrible stories he had been telling. He instantly went back into his tales of torture, saying “Now listen, Sister Bear, our plumbing is different from yours.” He then illustrated his point with a story about fish hooks and a 4-wheel drive truck. Another one about a fire hose enema. I'm not sure I'll ever be the same.

Dalby looked at his watch. It was almost time for the bus, so we excused ourself and told the old vet good bye. We walked, stunned, toward the bus stop. We began to talk a little about torture amongst ourselves, when a car alarm started blaring. A tall man stood up and dashed away, fleeing around the corner. At first, it looked like it could have been accidental, but then we noticed the man down another block, testing doorhandles. Dalby puffed up and started acting all protective, heading toward the alleged perpetrator. Jake and I called him back, warning him that approaching a big man in downtown San Francisco at 2 in the morning was probably not the best idea.

After that, the conversation turned to disgust about lawbreakers and the flaws in our legal system. All communication fizzled as we boarded the bus and headed back to Jake's place to sleep.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Epic Road Trip - Carlin, NV to Reno, NV

In the morning, we were bustling with excitement. This was it! The day that the whole trip was centered around had arrived. After breakfast, we carefully planned our route, knowing that the potential for danger around our "The Flip of Beijing" coordinates was huge. We snagged a map of Nevada from the room and a couple of pens from the front desk. After that, we were off!

Finding the road to TFOB was easy. Getting up it, however, was not. A sign at the entrance posted a speed of 45 miles an hour, but I started sliding doing less than 30. The roads were muddy and unstable from supporting the melting snow. As we approached the top of the hill we had to stop and assess the viability of the situation. The earth was squishy and the trail wasn't solid, but we felt that if we tread slowly then we could make it. We got back in the car and drove a little more carefully. Eventually, we came to a place where we had to get off of the gravel road and head east on a dirt trail. The trail was obviously intended for 4-wheel drive vehicles, but because we were more than 5 miles away from TFOB we decided to give it a shot.

Under normal conditions, across normal terrain, a five mile hike would have been completely acceptable. The problem was, the terrain was rocky and covered in sagebrush with barely an inch between each plant. Plus, the elevation was high and the weather was freezing. We were able to drive within 2 miles of the point, but then the ruts in the road became so deep that the bushes growing between them were hitting the underside of my car. A few feet later, the bushes made the trail impassible.

Like responsible little hikers, we made sure our day bags had all of the appropriate accouterments, 2-way radios, locator beacon, handwarmers, and a deck of playing cards. I even wrote a note to leave in our car with our intended destination, just in case. We marked the location of the car on the GPS and started walking along the road as far as we could get before we needed to forge through the scratchy plants. Less than 20 feet from the car, we saw our first set of big cat tracks in the snow. Our guess was mountain lion. After that, deer or elk, and some kind of crawly thingy. We did our best to be both noisy and alert, simultaneously watching out for animals and preventing attacks. With about a quarter of a mile to go, it was time to start heading north, which meant leaving the trail. Fortunately, we hit a dry river bed that was headed the way we needed to go. Grateful for our luck, we walked along until we came to a barbed wire fence.

After coming all that way, we weren't going to let a little thing like breaking the law stop us from getting to where we wanted to be. Like a true gentleman, Dalby let me go first. The fence wasn't very high, so I hopped right over and waited for Mike to come join me. Our GPS counted down the fractions of a mile. We had just hit .15 mi (792 feet) when Dalby noticed something in the distance. Nudging me, he pointed in the direction we were headed. There, less than 800 feet away was a herd of bull. It was hard to tell whether or not they had noticed us, but some were definitely looking in our direction.

For a few minutes we talked about what we should do. How far could we get before the bulls decided they didn't want us to get any closer? It would have been alright if we had the ranch owner's permission and maybe new the temperament of the herd, but since we didn't have any idea what to expect, we didn't feel comfortable approaching them (especially because there was an obstacle preventing us from getting to the car quickly). We decided to inch parallel to the cattle in an attempt to get closer to the exact coordinates and see how near we could be before they noticed us. We got about 740 feet away before we saw one of the bulls stand up. That was it. We decided to settle for pictures of the location of TFOB and get back to the car. Plus, it was starting to snow.

Now, when I say snow, what I really mean is hail. Actually, I think it would be more accurate to say afflictive little ice balls. These miniature bullets were hurled at us from the clouds - at first, one by one, then by the thousands. As we headed back to our location, we were assaulted with wind and miniature meteors made of ice. That had to be the longest 2 miles I've ever walked. We were so thankful for our little hand warmers. It would have been nice if I could enjoy mine longer, but the wind kept blowing the hood off of my head and I was holding onto it for the safety of my own porcelain skin ;)

By the time we got back to the car, ice was covering everything, including my chest. My pants were wet and covered in mud and snow. My face and hands were frozen, but dammit, we got a picture of the western coordinates from the cache that we found in Beijing University. Yay, us.

The topic of conversation on the drive back to the freeway was whether we considered the mission a success or failure. I think we decided on success, because the location that we got to was still the western version of coordinates at Beijing University...AND we did get a picture of where the actual location should have been, even if there *was* a herd of cattle in the way. Dude, to me that screams mission accomplished. Besides, we had the last laugh. We stopped in the very next town and had ourselves some hamburgers!

With full bellies we hit the road for the remaining 4 hours to Reno. That part of the trip sucked a little. The mountains were steep and covered in snow, plus, the sun was down so I couldn't see much of the view except that at several moments I knew that we were driving along very steep cliffs. We rolled into Reno, Nevada at 11:00 pm and got us a room at the Circus Circus. We were both a little tired, but we were in RENO, baby! How could we not do a little gambling? Together we hit the slots and for every dollar Dalby won, I lost two. His success cost me a lot! About 3 in the morning I couldn't take it anymore and decided it was time to turn in for the night.