We’ve Been Everywhere, Man

I’m no Johnny Cash so I won’t try to rhyme all the places we’ve been, but wow did we ever go sauntering (read “the before” post here). We can truly sing along with Cash that we’ve crossed the desert’s bare, man and breathed the mountain air, man.

Santa Barbara, CA
Grand Canyon NP, AZ
Zion & Bryce NPs, UT
Santa Fe, Roswell, & Carlsbad Caverns NP, NM
Austin & Houston, TX
New Orleans, LA
Memphis & Nashville, TN
Mammoth Cave NP, KY
Gateway Arch NP & Kansas City, MO
Mt. Rushmore NM, SD
Devil’s Tower NM, WY
Billings, Great Falls, & Sheridan, MT
Yellowstone NP, Grand Teton NP, & Jackson Hole, WY
Craters of the Moon NM & Ketchum, ID
Home!

By the numbers … Eight thousand miles. Twenty-nine days. Fourteen states, plus a couple more that we quickly passed through. Twelve nights of camping in ten campsites. Eleven national parks and monuments. No more than three nights in any place.

We drove and drove and didn’t drive each other (too) crazy.

When we spent a sabbatical summer in Costa Rica, we called it our “God treasure hunt.” We attended an expat church and spent time learning about and volunteering with various ministries and animal rescue projects. We also collected pictures of hearts we discovered in nature – in flowers and foliage, once even at the center of an onion – as small reminders of God’s love.

This trip was entirely different. We set out to see the US, to encounter her beauty and the kindness of her people. After some ridiculously difficult years in this country, it felt like a redemption in the form of a road trip.

Of course we saw God everywhere: in the staggering beauty of the national parks, in caves and valleys and rivers, in stalactites and stalagmites and hoodoos, in elk and squirrels and fireflies. In the people we had the pleasure to visit, including my mom. In the unique experiences we had along the way, in art and music and food, in culture and history (never underestimate the power of proximity in bringing history lessons to life. History was never my favorite school subject and I saw so much that popped all those names and dates into place).

Bryce Canyon National Park

An overwhelming sense of ease I can only attribute to God pervaded every day. Remarkably, even when things didn’t go to plan, they turned out better. For example, Dave accidentally double-booked us for the same night in Houston and New Orleans. The Houston hotel graciously refunded the room charge, we saw what we’d landed in Houston to see (NASA), and we enjoyed one more night in New Orleans in the nicest accommodations of the whole trip. And let’s just call it a miracle that we never had an issue with the car.

We didn’t make it to Glacier National Park, and Quinn would like more time in Santa Fe, and we’ll just have to figure out how to take more trips. We have confirmed that we are excellent road trippers.

At our last campsite outside of Ketchum, Idaho, we were directly across from a river. Dave spent a couple of hours fly fishing while I sat in our campsite and wrote in my journal. My eyes occasionally rested on a flower to my left, a single tall stock of small white flowers. The same flowers had been everywhere for days, plain on their own yet pretty in abundance.

However, when I eventually stood up, I gasped: those tiny blooms formed a perfect heart. I laughed and imagined I could hear God laughing with me, like he had been watching and wondering how long it would take me to notice. Like God had sent me a token of his love, a perfect flower finish to a mostly perfect trip.

2020 Travel: Tahoe

A week ago I began a blog and Instagram series on 2020 Armchair Traveling: My Life in Coffee Mugs. I wrote about New York City, Norway, and the San Francisco Bay Area and on IG posted about each of these destinations as well as San Diego. This is the final post in this series…for now.

Irony: planning and posting a series about Armchair Travel in the same week that generous church folks gifted us a few days’ stay in their Lake Tahoe vacation home. Of course we went.

Before we moved from SoCal to NorCal, someone who had moved the opposite direction mentioned that soon enough we’d be vacationing in Tahoe. He might as well have said we’d be hitting up Ibiza on the regular, it sounded so unlikely. He wasn’t wrong.

I’m not a snow sports person and I mostly like to experience snow through a picture window. But I do love to hike, and camp, and we’ve done a lot of both in Tahoe. And we have several generous friends who have handed us the keys to their vacation homes for an off-season weekend away.

My favorite picture from my first Tahoe birthday in 2007

Typically my birthday, which in early November means “mud season” and low crowds – tucked in between the crowded months of summer sun seekers floating on the Truckee River and boating on the lake and winter snow seekers.

Time stretches differently on vacation. Even though we had remote work/school on Thursday and Friday, we also had time for long hikes and soaking in the hot tub. We talked more and about different topics. We created new memories.

The sounds of the trip: the “slush” of lake-front sand or sloshy snow and the “crunch” of gravel or icy snow under our feet; the occasional “wa-wa-wa-whoops!” as we slipped on ice and flailed our arms seeking upright-balance like birds flapping hard against uneven wind currents; and the haunting-hollow clarinet howl-squeak of the wind during the day it stormed.

And laughter. Lots of conversation punctuated by joyous peals of laughter.

2020 Armchair Traveling: San Francisco

This week I’m armchair traveling on my blog and Instagram to share My Life in Coffee Mugs.

I grew up in San Diego. I went away to college and eventually returned. And then we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where we’ve lived for almost 15 years.

The Bay Area is where our kids grew up. They were 7 and 2 years old when we landed, so this is their home like San Diego will always be mine.

My husband used to comment that SoCal didn’t have trees, and I didn’t understand—could he not see the palm trees and eucalyptus trees, the citrus and avocado trees? Now I get it, though, since we have giant redwood trees in our own backyard. We drive three minutes to a redwood forest.

I love the natural open spaces, walking from home to scenic hiking trails. I love our walkable neighborhood and the hours I spend each week pounding the pavement with my pups.

I love the weather, that we have distinct yet not severe seasons; you can take the girl out of SoCal but she will still prefer mild year-round weather. I love real rain storms and bundling up and lighting a fire on chilly days—we can get to snow when we want to but we don’t have to shovel driveways—and I’m grateful to wear sandals most of the year.

I love our small town, and that we can be in San Francisco in short order (traffic depending), to visit the beach (Crissy Field is our favorite), Pier 39, the Ferry Building, particularly on Saturday mornings for the Farmers’ Market, Union Square during the holidays or Ghirardelli Square for, what else?, chocolate. Or we can be wine tasting in Napa in 45 minutes, or at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in less than two hours. This is the farthest I’ve lived from the beach and yet we get to the beach regularly.

Because this is where our family grew up, no matter where life may take us, the Bay Area will always also be Home.

2020 Armchair Traveling: Norway

This week I am sharing on my blog and on Instagram about My Life in Coffee Mugs. On Monday, I wrote on the blog about New York City. On Tuesday on Instagram I posted about my hometown of San Diego. Today I am blogging about Norway…

We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with two weeks in Norway. We spent a week on the Hurtigruten, a mail delivery/cruise boat (though not the kind of cruise you typically think of), sailing along the coastline and through the fjords from Bergen to Kirkenes. The following week we flew to Oslo, took the train to Kristiansand, and then rode the train back to Bergen—arguably the most beautiful train ride in all of Europe (I can’t compare, but it was truly spectacular).

Along the way we visited my Norwegian family: my second cousins and my mom’s cousins, and we had the enormous privilege of holding a gathering in honor of my recently departed grandmother in her hometown of Lista with nine of her cousins, happy to tell stories and leaf through pictures in yellowing photo albums.

Lista Fyr, the lighthouse my grandmother considered “hers,” since this is the view from her childhood home

This wasn’t my first trip to Norway, but it was revelatory to see with adult eyes the country that grew my grandmother and my mother. Watching the cold and rugged coast drift by the Hurtigruten windows, houses improbably stuck to cliffsides, with narrow one lane roads–or no visible roads at all—I was newly impressed with the hardiness of my people.

I do not feel so hardy, rather cushy-spoiled by my SoCal upbringing, but I have renewed respect for my mom and grandma, for the stock boiled into and diluted in my blood. I differently understand their desire to be outside in all weather, their need for nature, growing things, water, green and blue–in potted plants and paintings and photographs, if that’s how they can get it.

To have a pot of coffee roasting hot from early-dark to late-night. To have tins stocked with fresh-baked cookies, and oven-fresh pastries, ready to serve to guests. To savor the aroma and relish the taste of fresh caught and cooked fish. Or to over-boil the fish and the potatoes, as well as the peas and green beans until they’re slightly gray, because high culinary status hadn’t hit Norway before they departed for the U.S.

I wouldn’t be me without my Norwegian heritage. I wonder if my siblings feel the same, or if my name, Siv, tightens my family ties. Every single time I meet someone, I have to explain my Norwegian name: “like Steve without the T,” Siv—wife of thunder god Thor—goddess of the harvest whose blonde hair waved in the wheat like the wind.

Simple and complicated. Like me.

P.S. My Norwegian cousins confirmed that, although coffee is a big deal in Norway, Starbucks is not. We bought this mug in the airport at the only Starbucks we saw.

2020 Armchair Traveling: My Life in Coffee Mugs

Along with so much else in 2020, travel has been cancelled. Good thing my coffee mugs remind me where I’ve been–exactly what Starbucks intended, right? This week, I’ll let my warm cuppa whisk me away to share a few highlights from my life.

Today is my birthday.

It’s also an ordinary Monday in an exceptionally strange year.

A year ago my family celebrated my milestone birthday in NYC. I’m not big on Big Cities, but NYC was where I wanted to wake up 50. No big party, rather a long weekend creating new memories with my loves. (Irony: we booked an AirBnB in New Jersey so I did not, in fact, wake up in NYC).

Setting aside the expected-and-unusual bumps that typically arise during travel, my last birthday was a nearly perfect day in an as-close-as-they-come perfect weekend.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kicking up crunchy fall leaves as we strolled through Central Park. The Guggenheim. A fabulous sit-down dinner (at an all-veg restaurant, so the teens would describe it differently). The Empire State Building. Gourmet ice cream to end the day.

the view from Belvedere Castle in Central Park

During our stay, we hit many of the big touristy sites–the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, the Stock Exchange and Federal Hall (and by happy accident, Hamilton’s grave), the American Museum of Natural History, Rockefeller Center, Broadway, Times Square, even Carlo’s Bakery–since we had never explored NYC as a family.

The Met was our unanimously favorite spot

But one of the highlights for me was tripping across memories of my family ties to this place:

The Fashion Institute of Technology, where my mom studied children’s clothing design at the same time Calvin Klein studied fashion.

We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, starting on the Brooklyn side where my grandma lived with my young mom and aunt during the years she worked as a cook at the General Motors Building across from Central Park. My parents met at a mutual friend’s apartment, I can’t be sure now but maybe in Brooklyn?

My grandma lived in Queens when I was very young, when my parents and I lived on Long Island. My dad flew out of LaGuardia as a pilot for Pan American Airlines; before they married, he got my mom a job as a stewardess, a job she loved–”when airlines still offered hospitality that meant something”–until she got pregnant with me.

When I chose NYC as my birthday weekend destination, I chose it to visit fun and culturally significant places as a family. I didn’t realize that it would also connect me to family members no longer able to share their own memories.

One of the many benefits of travel.

Follow me on Instagram for more coffee mug highlights!

What Thumper’s Father Said

In the classic Disney movie, Bambi, Thumper comments on Bambi’s clumsy first steps, “He doesn’t walk very good, does he?”

Thumper’s mother jumps in: “Thumper, what did your father tell you?”

A chastened Thumper—and a chastened me, when my mom reminded me of this scene throughout my childhood—quotes:

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

Good advice, wisdom I passed down to my own kids.

Except sometimes life isn’t all that nice, and on those occasions you may have an obligation to call it as you see it: messy, ugly, unjust. Which might mean saying some not nice things. Important things, on important issues, things that need to be said.

Still, for the most part, I try to be mindful of the words bouncing around in my brain before they fall tripping off my tongue. When I practice speaking compassionate words to myself, I feel better. When I give others the benefit of the doubt, when I hold them in my mind with compassion rather than smacking them down with all the words I might feel like saying, I’m happier still.

I recently read about a study where two groups of college students were sent out individually to wander around campus. One group received instructions to notice physical traits of people they passed; the other group was told to silently offer people a blessing, something like, “May you be happy and well.” At the end of 20 minutes, the group that offered blessings felt noticeably happier than they had at the beginning and happier than their counterparts who focused on appearances.

As Jesus reminds us, our words originate in the heart. The words I speak reflect whatever I’m mulling over, the thoughts and feelings I allow, or better yet cultivate, internally. So choosing to meditate on nice words, kindness and compassion for myself and others, should result in nice words.

Our Thanksgiving week will be a quiet one. We’re staying put since we just returned from NYC and the guys have another big trip coming up in January. I am conscious, however, of those who will be traveling and interacting with others—from harried staff and travelers in airports, railway stations, and interstates, to extended family and neighbors, some of whom you’re overjoyed to see and others you’d prefer to have seated out of reach. And I hope it may help to think of Thumper’s father’s advice: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

May you be happy and well this Thanksgiving, and all through the holidays!

 

Cover image: Simona Robová from Pixabay

More NYC

We crammed so much fun into just a few days that my heart and head are full of NYC…

Since we returned, I’ve been posting pictures and reflections (art, architecture, history, public spaces, etc) over on Instagram. Follow me there for more: @sivricketts.

And meanwhile, settle into fall with a delicious, healthy, and oh-so-easy Cauliflower Soup.

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.

Last Day//Best Day

[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…]

When you’ve vacationed in the same place for so many years, you count time in days and traditions and experiences. It’s not just “Monday,” but what did we do on Monday, new and/or traditional? For example, the Monterey Farmers’ Market takes place on Tuesday evenings, and we know we will sample all the fresh fruit and we will buy the biggest bag of kettle corn, and root beer, and Indian food from the vendors all the way at the end, and that will be dinner.

We have to do some of the same things, though they’re always different because we are different; and we have to vary things up just enough to keep things interesting. For example, during Mom’s coffee with a local friend, the guys rented electric fat-tire bikes, something they’ve never done before and now want to do All The Time! Aquarium in the morning: tradition. Bikes in the afternoon: variety, new joy and new memories.

Over the years, we’ve let go of some traditions. We used to spend lots of time at the park (Monterey has a fantastic park), but the boys have mostly outgrown park-play. And once upon a time, they needed naps. Now, the teenagers just sleep in.

As we anticipated our last full day, the guys made plans to hit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the evening, guys-only. Which left a whole day (and then some for Mom and me) to fill. The weather has been chillier than usual this trip, so we’ve had far less beach time. We had hoped for at least a few hours of blue sky and warm sun and sand between our toes…

I went to bed feeling blue—uncooperative weather, the last day, the passing of time… Because the last day could be the last day. Who knows what a year holds?—and determined to enjoy what time we had, even as I tried not to think too hard about time passing…

…and I woke up to seagulls squawking in a brilliant blue sky! It’s trivial to say, “God must have heard my melancholy prayers…” but that’s how it felt. I charged my batteries with an invigorating jaunt along the coast, and we did indeed get in some beach time. The guys put on wet suits and snorkeled along the rocks. We saw more sea lions porpoising. We climbed the rocky cliffs, explored tide pools, and searched for sea glass.

Only God knows what a year holds, but our last full day provided a picture-perfect day filled with memories.

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.