Hurry, Boys…

Hurry, Boy, she’s waiting there for you… –Toto, Africa

Click here for a hilarious quick read about how Toto’s ode to Africa became such an unlikely and enduring hit.

 

My Guy, my eldest son, and my brother-in-law are winging their way across the world on an incredible adventure: they are on their way to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

They left at zero-dark-thirty this morning after no more than a few hours’ sleep, the man-child having left his packing to late the night before departure. The packing list consulted and triple-checked, we think they each have everything they will need and, if not, they’ll have to share.

In the midst of last night’s commotion, BIL asked me how I felt about their endeavor. Honestly, I’m stoked for them. Guy has wanted to make this trek for 20 years, having met their tour leader that long ago. Of the Seven Summits (the tallest peak on each of the seven continents), Kili requires the least technical skill, making it the easiest and  only (or gateway) climb for many. This trip functions as my guys’ birthday party, celebrating in spectacular fashion 50 and 21 trips around the sun.

My travelers are avid outdoors-men and they have, each in their own way, trained for this experience: trail running, hiking, cranking the treadmill to maximum incline while wearing an oxygen-limiting/altitude-simulating mask. They’re as ready as they’ll ever be for the challenge that awaits them.

I am not in the least bit jealous, as I have no desire to push my body to the limit to climb straight up a tall mountain. Not my flavor of jam, not at all. I am, however, thrilled for them for so many reasons. For the shared memory-making. The physical effort and (hopefully) accomplishment, fulfilling a goal they’ve anticipated and worked toward. The myriad experiences of a new culture, sights and sounds, smells and tastes. The people they will meet, those native to Africa and fellow travelers. I anticipate they will come home changed, filled to overflowing with new joys and experiences.

I would love to share the time they will have on safari post-summit, but that will wait for another trip. Meanwhile, I will pray for their safety as I run an endurance race on the home front, making sure the dogs get exercised and fed, and the younger son gets to school on time with homework in hand. Tougher than it sounds, some days, but we’ve trained for this, too.

What adventures would you like to undertake? Personally, I’m hoping for a walking tour somewhere in the world in the next few years.

Feature image credit: Cindy Outlaw, group leader, taken Monday, January 6, 2020

NYC, There’s Something About Ya’

The Best Weekend! I told my family that, for my BIG birthday, I wanted to wake up with my loves in a place we’d never adventured together before. We discussed the pros and cons of various locations and landed on: New York City.

How does a nature-loving, bookish homebody—easily overwhelmed and edgy in crowded cities and cold weather—choose November in the Big Apple as a celebration destination?

Because: art, architecture, design, history, science, technology, culture, music, food.

Because: The Met. The Guggenheim. Central Park. The Empire State Building. The Statue of Liberty. The 9/11 Memorial. Broadway. Times Square. Rockefeller Center. The Brooklyn Bridge. Grand Central Terminal.

Because: a life well lived is all about trying new things and making memories.

Any travel adventure comes with its own set of misadventures. Ours included: an unheated and less than clean AirBnB; an Uber ride with a non-English speaking driver and the app insisting that, instead of the Statue of Liberty ferry terminal, we really must visit a dentist (tip: choose Lyft); and a reservations mix-up that meant finding a day-of one-night hotel room in Manhattan—on a budget—for five people (grateful for The Stewart Hotel across from Madison Square Gardens for making it work!).

Still, we laughed and played and explored, walking on average ten miles daily. The City may never sleep, but from personal experience, people must: we collapsed from exhaustion at the end of each long day.

On my actual birthday, we started with The Met (The Temple of Dendur—an actual Egyptian temple order by Caesar Augustus; Greek and Roman antiquities; Tiffany glass; Rodin sculptures; 19th and 20th century European paintings; something breathtaking in every direction), then strolled through Central Park (fall colors and crunchy leaves underfoot, a perfectly sunny/crisp fall day).

Next up was The Guggenheim (surprisingly different Kandinsky’s), after which Guy made reservations at Candle 79, an upscale vegan restaurant where I had the best cauliflower of my life, za’atar roasted and topped with pesto. From there we took the subway to The Empire State Building, and ended my just about perfect day with artisanal ice cream at Kaylee’s Creamery (another surprise: black sesame seed vegan ice cream—tastes like slightly salty-unusual nut butter).

I won’t bore you with site-by-site blows, but a few highlights:

Looking for a show to appeal to all of us, we saw Wicked. Making her Broadway debut, Hannah Corneau kills it as Elphaba. And we have a list of shows we’ll see when they come to the West Coast.

Carlo’s Bakery, made increasingly famous by Buddy the Cake Boss from TLC, is an easy walk from Times Square and has truly delicious (though not cheap) pastries. We had a cannoli in Little Italy that couldn’t compare.

The American Museum of Natural History does not look like the set from A Night at the Museum. And if you’ve visited some world class zoos, the stuffed animals will disappoint (I cringed as one mom, taking a picture of the White Rhinoceroses, said to her daughters: “Look, girls, White Rhinosaurs!”). But they do have a one-page movie-based guide to seeing the exhibits you expect, including the Easter Island statue. I expected this museum to be our kids’ favorite; it wasn’t.

The Met won hands down for all of us. So much so that we went back for a second visit; so glad, because we’d missed a whole section of 19th century European masters (my favorites), including Monet and Van Gogh.

For tourist sites, City Pass is the way to go. Save your money and skip the lines.

I wanted all good memories of my 50th birthday trip: mission accomplished! I’m still not a converted big city gal and, admittedly, we experienced perfect fall weather, not NYC’s  muggy-heat or frigid-cold extremes. But now that I’ve been, I get it: the Big Apple tastes sweet. NYC cast its enchantments over all of us, and I expect we’ll be back sooner than later.

Note: I unplug when I travel, so the next few days my IG feed will be filled with trip highlights. Follow me to see more: @sivricketts.

Mexico, Here We Come

‘Twas the week before the Mexico trip, and all through our house
Every creature was stirring, including a mouse!

Seriously, it’s been a week… Guy has been leading house building trips to Mexico for at least 18 years and participating in them regularly since he was a high school student. But this will be the first time our entire family will participate together. Now that Q14 is in high school, he is finally eligible. And since the college C20 attends has the same spring break, he and his girlfriend can go. Which means Mama has to go (gets to go), too!

Getting us all ready has been a chore. Never have I done so much laundry, and we all had to deal with complete chaos while duffel bags, cots, tents, sun showers, etc, covered every inch. Wednesday evening, as we shoved all the things into bags, Guy might have been tempted to pull his remaining hairs out as one or the other of us had a question/complaint/meltdown.

Anticipation and anxiety go hand-in-hand, right? I’m a good camper, but this trip will push my boundaries for sure. Porta potties shared by 300+ people? Yikes! And then, did I mention, 300 people? The introvert shudders…

The theme this year is ILLUMINATION, and we’re praying God will light our way and shine His light through us. Stretching boundaries is a good thing, and I expect God will show me new things about myself and Himself, my family, new friends, and this great, big, beautiful world He’s given us.

During the week, I will be on the Media Team, taking pictures and posting on the trip blog. I will not be posting here, but I’d love for you to follow along. And if you’re a praying type, please pray for us!

Riding a Bike

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

They say, “…it’s like learning to ride a bike!”

They’re wrong.

I don’t remember learning to ride a bike. I do remember lobbying for my first ten-speed. I accompanied my friend when her dad bought her a Nishiki; she got burgundy, and I got blue.

We rode those bikes for what seems like forever, at least until puberty and junior high took us down different trails.

I don’t remember the last time I rode my bike. I do remember riding a rental with a high school boyfriend and a crew of others at one of San Diego’s many coastal trails. I felt way too wobbly. How could I be so insecure on a bike after such a short time? Isn’t the one skill in life you never forget?

Was that it, the last time I rode a bike? Q14 has been chiding me for some time, the only one in our family without a bike, that I have to ‘learn’ to ride. Biking may be his favorite form of physical activity and I miss out on sharing it with him.

The guys rented electric fat-tire bikes. We met along a quiet, flat street. Guy lowered the seat to my height. He showed me how to engage the motor and the brakes.

That’s all there is to it, right?

It was both too easy and too difficult. The motor propelled me forward and distracted me from pedaling. I had to break before I could put my feet down and manually turn around to go the other direction.

Q14 shrieked as he whizzed past: “Look at my MOM learning to ride a bike!” My nephew aimed straight at me in a game of chicken as I begged him to stay out of my way. Q14 laughed and told me to watch him, to follow him, as he showed me how to turn. I stopped, and laughed and watched and said, “Ah, no thanks. I’d fall…”

I’m not a big risk taker. You laugh, too, because riding a bike isn’t a big risk (although the scars on my legs that haven’t faded since childhood might be evidence to the contrary).

This bike felt scary to me. Even on this short, flat street—not so scary and also scary. The frame seemed too big. The motor and pedals, too many things to manage.

Yet, the motor made the bike worth the rental. Worth the risk. We probably wouldn’t have rented regular bikes. And if the guys had, a regular bike wouldn’t have intrigued me into trying it.

I took a very small risk, and it was fun. Exhilarating, and just enough. They had an absolute blast and I can’t recall when I have seen that gush of unmeasured joy on Q14’s face.

I may need to rediscover how to ride a bike.

Bigger Than a Bumper Sticker

Last weekend I was One Proud Mama, overflowing with joy, as Teen had what may well have been the best weekend of his seventeen years.

It began with a rugby end-of-season barbecue where he won a coaches award for Most Improved player in his position. The coach spoke of Teen’s hard work, determination, and playing all in both before—and more significantly—after his six-week injury. He laid it all out for his sport and his team, and it showed.tournament 1

Racing home, Teen had 20 minutes to shower and change into his brand new Calvin Klein tuxedo complete with a tie-it-yourself bow tie for Junior Prom. It took Dad and Kid (consulting YouTube) a few tries, but he looked sharp—and he knew it, with that sweet arrogance of youth. This may have been one of the few times he did not complain about Mama taking too many pictures. He patiently smiled and posed, on his own, with his stunningly beautiful date, in this spot and that, and with friends. We even got a couple of family shots. I kept thinking: who is this good looking young man, and what happened to my rascally kid?prom

But Sunday was the best, a culmination of years of diligence and small achievements along the way. Sunday Teen’s Boy Scout Troop celebrated its 53rd Eagle Court of Honor to present eight new Eagle Scouts with Scouting’s highest honor.

Teen and I sat in the front pew of our church during Scout Sunday when he was just eight years old, not yet a Cub Scout. He watched older boys—shoulders back, heads held high—lead the service and share stories of adventures, brotherhood, and faith. He turned to me and declared, “I am going to be an Eagle Scout in this troop.” And he is.

Like most worthwhile pursuits, it hasn’t been an easy road. The troop prides itself on being boy-led, which means each Scout must play his role and take the leadership failures and successes at each level. Which means that, if you’re a Scout—or a parent of a Scout—in a patrol where the leader fails (it happens often), you feel the bumps. The learning curve is huge and yet, from this vantage point, I can truthfully say it has been the best long-term leadership training we could ever have hoped our son would experience.

During the private pinning ceremony, we presented our son with a blessing of words before we pinned the Eagle Scout pin on his uniform, right over his heart. We expressed gratitude for this Troop which has developed his leadership while allowing him to indulge his passions for the outdoors and for animals.

We told stories of his perseverance (he designed the District award-winning patch with the theme of Perseverance)—climbing out of his crib and over two stacked childproof-gates all the while whispering, “I can do it. I can do it.” At times, Scouting itself has felt like a sky-high mountain of switchback trails, and yet he has persevered.

We told stories of his gift with animals—just two examples, book-ending his Scouting experience:
his first Troop hike, accompanied by the Scoutmaster Emeritus, during which Teen safely caught and displayed (and released) countless reptiles and opened the Scoutmaster’s eyes to how many species of reptiles inhabited a trail he’d hiked for 34 years…
his kayaking trip last summer, when he was the only person deft enough to catch one of the many turtles populating the river.

During the Court, his Scoutmaster shared Teen’s outstanding qualities: kindness, thoughtfulness, his desire and gift for mentoring younger Scouts. A family friend told about Teen as a preK who, much like the Croc Hunter, insisted he come along while Teen narrated a critter-filled walk around the block. Teen’s spectacular gift is to insist that we notice critters we might never see otherwise and help us appreciate them for their God-created place in the ecosystem.

Passionate, exuberant, spontaneous to the point of recklessness… For most of Teen’s life I have been his advocate, helping others see the strengths in what, at times, seemed like weaknesses. On this afternoon, I listened as others spoke to the beauty of these strengths and how they will be gifts Teen will use to change the world.

These eight new Eagles form an impressive group. Two high school seniors and six juniors, they have a combined total of 387+ camp outs. They include the ASB President and Vice President and the Quarterback of the championship football team. They have demonstrated their duty to God through 24 trips to work among the poor in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica. They are scholars, athletes, musicians, and leaders in several arenas. While several have shared significant friendship beyond the Troop, together they share in a unique fraternity.2016Eagles2

Teen has participated in over 48 camp outs, including 5 week-long Wilderness Camps, a 3-day Mini Backpacking Trek, 2 Orange Torpedo Kayak Treks in Oregon, 2 Bike Treks, and a 50-mile Mt. Lassen Sierra Trek. For his Eagle project, Teen refurbished and built exercise stations for the Raptor and Reptile Rehabilitation Grove at Lindsay Wildlife Experience, an animal rescue/rehabilitation organization. In the words of the gentlemen who reviewed his project and approved his Eagle Scout application, “he didn’t build just another bench.”

A hawk working out on Teen's refurbished exercise equipment

A hawk working out on Teen’s refurbished exercise equipment

After the post-Court reception, after the post-reception dinner, after the cards and gifts had been opened, Teen explained to his grandparents the meaning and experiences behind each patch he had received on the road to Eagle. Tremendous experiences, so many memories, some hard and many glorious. At the end, I watched as my son turned his head aside. I sat on the floor at his feet and I wonder if anyone else heard as he almost whispered, almost to himself: “I set a goal, and I achieved it.”

There are very few goals of this caliber one can set in childhood and achieve during adolescence. Fewer still are goals of this caliber that will last into adulthood. Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout. He has accomplished something that will hold him in good stead throughout his life. He should feel proud of himself, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

One Year Later

alien flowerA year ago today, in our last few hours in Costa Rica, I wrote this post:

How was your summer?

Oh, how to answer that question…? In many ways this summer has been like others:

  • We’ve shopped, cooked, and cleaned
  • We’ve done laundry
  • We’ve paid bills
  • We’ve played with the dog
  • We’ve read, relaxed, and rested
  • We’ve taken day trips and road trips
  • We’ve been to the beach and the mountains
  • We’ve had good days and bad days, boring days and exciting days
  • We’ve laughed together and gotten on each other’s last nerve
  • We have lived out our particular personalities – needs and wants, insecurities and strengths – as well as our particular pattern of family dynamics.

The difference? We’ve done all these things while living in a foreign country, facing the challenges of an unfamiliar language and culture.

toucanTsh Oxenreider writes: “[Travel] strengthens our family bond. Together, we smell smells and see sights collectively that no one else will at that exact moment… When we travel, no matter how near or far, we share moments that shape our family culture. Each exploration, to the next town over or the next flight out of the country, is one more chisel notch in our family’s sculpture.”

Almost three years ago our family participated in an MVPC mission trip to the Dominican Republic. That trip changed us, and we believe it set the precedent for this trip. We saw God at work in the world, in our family, in our lives.

We came to Costa Rica for two months of Dave’s pastoral sabbatical. It has been amazing, long and short, hot and wet, frustrating, lonely, beautiful, intense, interesting, educational, challenging, restful… And we almost can’t believe this adventure is coming to an end. We fly home this evening.CR beach

Culture shock hit us harder than we expected, but we’ve been here long enough to adjust, to learn, to grow, to become comfortable. Embarking on this “God Treasure Hunt” we knew we’d find God in the beauty of His creation, and we have. We knew we would go places and meet people and see God at work – in people caring for creation, in ministries caring for God’s children. We expected to see God at work “in the world” but forgot to expect that God would also desire to work in us. Travel has given us an opportunity as a family to limit distractions and share experiences and conversations about important matters: how we live and how we want to live as people faithful to God and making a difference in the world in His name.

Pura Vida (“pure life”) is CR’s unofficial motto. It’s similar to Aloha – “welcome,” and “until we meet again,” and “all is well and all will be well.” Last night we read in Jesus Calling:

I came to give life – life in all its fullness. John 10:10

“Life is my gift to you – enjoy it! I want every day to be a delight as you live in My Presence and discover My blessings. Choose to enjoy life, and let the world see Me through your Joy!”

slothWe expect to face more culture shock as we return home and see our lives with fresh eyes. It would be all too easy to simply worm ourselves back into the familiar, but we also know that this trip has changed us even though we don’t fully recognize how. We look forward to unwrapping the gifts God has tucked away in our minds and hearts along the journey.

By the way, here’s a short list of what we didn’t do this summer: we didn’t ride horses on the beach or to waterfalls; we didn’t go sport fishing; we didn’t learn to surf; we did not get fabulously tan; we didn’t spend hours (or days or weeks) swinging in beach-side hammocks. And though our Spanish skills have improved, we’ve acquired a nice vocabulary of animal names not likely to come up in everyday conversation (unless you’re anxious to discuss monkeys, snakes, or birds!). We had to leave a few things for the next adventure, right?

*****

So how was this summer? In so many ways, just the same. In one essential way, completely different: we didn’t travel, and my heart aches for missing it. However, the garage is really coming along…

passion flower

Jumbled

My kids don’t do transitions well. I know this, and sometimes it still surprises me.

During a still-early fall hallway conversation with Tween’s then-2nd grade teacher, she commented that Tween didn’t seem to be taking school seriously. Without missing a beat I responded, “Give him until Thanksgiving and he’ll be great!” She looked at me cross-eyed, as if I had given the most ridiculous answer. Maybe I had, but time proved me right.

What should surprise me is how little I recognize that I don’t do transitions well. Summer is more than half flown, we’re only weeks from the start of a new school year, and I haven’t yet settled into the rhythm of this season. And it’s about to change, another transition.

I can’t help comparing this summer to last. Apples to oranges but, as I want to continue to learn the lessons packed into our two-month Costa Rica sabbatical, I keep checking our blog to see what we were experiencing and learning last year.

The Costa Rica sun rises around 6am and sets around 6pm and I have never felt so physically in tune with the Earth’s rotation. Not an easy morning person, the sun beckoned me to new adventures each day, at least after a cup of coffee enjoyed facing this view:view

Leisurely mornings, adventure-filled days, and extended togetherness… Costa Rica sunset meant Family Time to eat, talk, play games or watch movies or read aloud. Of course Teen prefers friend-time to family-time, I get it. But a year ago we were making the beach safe for sea turtles and swimming in secluded waterfalls and mugging for the camera with toucans on our shoulders, making memories.

Guy and I took two weeks off for a camping vacation. And then every itinerary we discussed had some strike against it. We researched, Google-mapped, discussed, contacted friends, prayed, and persisted for hours over weeks before coming up for air with the same befuddling conclusion: we need to stay home this summer.

First world problems, I know. But I’m still disappointed.

So instead of adventuring out, we have ventured in to the crazy jumble of our garage to create a hang-out space for our kids and their friends.

We have vision, and still I’m overwhelmed. Cleaning the garage means face-planting in All The Projects I never got around to. I shafted some straight into the trash, donated others, and shuffled some back into the house. Projects covered every surface, and a few miraculously got done. And the panic-stricken late-night realization that the cleaners were coming in the morning meant that a whole bunch of projects went, yup, back into the garage. Oy!

Thank God Guy is an Energizer Bunny! Day 1 we began sorting and donating. Day 2 he pulled Too Much Stuff into the driveway and added storage areas to the rafters, then moved our extensive collection of camping gear up and out of sight. (Inside I’m screaming: “Don’t put it away, I want to use it!” Ugh.)garage

Day 3 we went to work, because that’s what happens when you work at a church and don’t leave town. To be honest, I’ve worked every day of what was supposed to be our vacation, because we are not on vacation, and I mostly work from home anyway. Sigh.

The garage is jumbled but better. I am jumbled, and a discipline of gratitude will make me better.

I’ve just finished reading The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. The surprise ending? A laser-beam focus on gratitude in two steps:

Step 1. For one week try to be aware of your tendency to criticize, to see what is missing, to focus on what is not there and comment on it. Try instead to focus on what is right. Notice what you have and others contribute. Search for things to praise. Begin with simple things. Praise the world. Appreciate your own breathing, the sunrise, the beauty of a rainstorm, the wonder in your child’s eyes. Utter some silent words of thanksgiving for these small wonders in your day. This will begin to change your focus on the negative.

Step 2. Give at least one genuine, heartfelt praise to your spouse [or child, neighbor, whoever] each day for an entire week… extend the exercise one more day. Then add another day…. When you meet someone new, look for what is special about this person. Appreciate these qualities. Remember, this all has to be genuine and heartfelt. Don’t be phony… Tell people what you notice and genuinely appreciate about them.

So I will refuse to criticize this summer, to see what is missing. I will be grateful for the progress we’ve made, the project we’ve undertaken. I will search for bright moments (Teen offered to help me do his laundry – progress!) and offer generous praise.

And eventually the garage will be clean, and I will be grateful.