Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas confessions

In my own personal, when-I-was-a-kid world, Christmas was glorious.  I remember our mis-shaped, gangly Christmas trees that Dad would put up a week or so before the holiday (normal timing in those days).  It's curious why trees looked different in the 50s and 60s ..... more natural and less pruned to look like giant gum drops.  Plus all the silvery foil icicles with which we'd smother every branch and twig.  Does anyone use those icicles anymore? ...... (I tried them once, years later, but the mess got them banned along with Easter grass.)

I remember music from Handel's Messiah playing on the stereo ..... a tradition that planted the love for that masterpiece deeply into my soul.  I remember my two older brothers tromping down from their upstairs bedroom announcing how torturous it had been waiting for morning.  I remember the awe when I realized the biggest present in the room, that had appeared mysteriously during the night, had my name on it.  There was a fire in the fireplace.  Dad distributed the gifts.  I don't recall if a big dinner was the norm, but there was always good food.  (Potato chips, nuts, and ribbon candy come to mind.)  Anyway, it was everything Christmas should be.

Being the youngest and last to leave the nest, my teen years were sometimes rocky and my relationship with my stepmom was strained.  I remember one Christmas morning, when I was about 17, opening presents alone.  I have no complaints ..... I mean, I had gifts!  A lot of people don't.  But to this day, I empathize with all youngest family members.  The older kids get to have all or most of their sibs there for their whole childhood.  The youngest often doesn't.

Then came the best Christmases of all.  There is nothing as good as being the Santa and the fun of watching one's own kids on those magical mornings.  I loved everything Christmas-related when our kids were growing up.  (I tried to enhance the true 'reason for the season' and extending the family tradition of playing The Messiah music .... although .... one of my favorite parts that says, "All we, like sheep ..... all we, like sheep ..... have gone astraaaaaaay .....", our kids would sing along: "Oh WE like sheep .... Oh WE like sheep!")

We always stayed home on Christmas eve and it was my labor of love to make everything as homey and memorable as a Hallmark card.  There'd always be a fire in the wood stove, music playing, classic Christmas movies to watch, home-baked cookies, re-enactments of the nativity and other traditions .... and sitting together in the living room sharing memories of favorite Christmases past.

The one that stands out was the year when, after all the presents were opened, we pointed out one more gift tucked up high in the tree branches.  It was a metal coil .... part of something the kids had to find.  They began to search, unsure of what they were looking for ..... then the screams erupted when they discovered a new trampoline in the backyard.  We worked hard to give our kids happy memories but no doubt, their dad and I had the most fun of all.

Fast forward to now.  I don't know why, but Christmas has become difficult for me.  And try as I may, I cannot seem to remedy it.  The expectations seem unattainable.  Helpful, listening friends have suggested I simplify and I've almost simplified it right off the calendar ... leaving a pile of guilt in the wake.  I've stopped sending cards.  I hardly bake because I am like an alcoholic in a liquor store when sweets are around.  Decorating is a chore that has to be all undone in a few weeks.   Choosing gifts is stressful and whereas I used to start in September with a carefully detailed list .... I now procrastinate as long as possible.   Hence I've cut it to the bare bones.   On the list of the "Five Love Languages", gift-giving is somewhere around negative fifteen for me.

I cannot explain it.  There's no reason for it.  Especially when my life is near perfect.  Our happily married kids are having their own best Christmases as they are, or are on the threshold of, experiencing it as young parents.   My cup is full.   I have absolutely nothing to complain about.  And yet ..... there it is.  I don't like being a Scrooge ..... but the relief I feel when it's over, the last box is stored away, and there are eleven whole months till I have to face it again, is very real.

So instead of a gift or a card or a plate of cookies, may I offer one of my love languages instead?  "Words of affirmation"....  Here goes .....

I love my siblings ...... who, many years ago, all did that leaving-the-nest thing before I was ready; but are not allowed to leave the nest of mortality without me.  I've informed them of this.  It's not happening.

I love my kids.  If there was a selection process before we were all born, I was at the head of the line.  Somehow, undeserving, I won the lottery.  Their joy is my joy ..... literally.  And I love their kids.   Watching my kids become parents is akin to heaven.  I wish I was more like a story-book grandma, with sleepovers, tea parties, and full cookie jars;  nevertheless, I love them in my own awkward way.  And I love my kids' spouses.  Again .... lottery winnings.  My kids married angels.

And I love my best friend/husband/forever-partner who would move heaven and earth if possible, for me.  I could happily spend every day, Christmas or otherwise, forevermore with him.

Thank you all, dear friends and family.  You know who you are.  We love and appreciate every one of you.  The posts in this blog are my Christmas letter.  And in spite of my weirdness this time o' year ......

Have a Wonderful Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

We suck at full-timing

In RV lingo, full-timing means, as you may have guessed, living 100% in a box on wheels, as opposed to dividing one's time between that and a "sticks 'n bricks" .....  more RV lingo meaning a regular house. And we suck at it.

Why?  Because if we did this right, we'd be somewhere in sunny Arizona right now along with the hoards of other full-timers who have got it figured out.  I mean, that kind of IS the point.

Instead, we sit in a parking lot, in rain/snow with a sub-freezing forecast that extends into oblivion.  The motorcycle is packed away and the motorhome is stationary until conditions thaw out in any of the surrounding mountain passes that hem us in on practically all sides.  A four-wheel-drive, this isn't.

So HOW did we get in this situation?

Because we miss our kids when we're gone, darn it.  This was our year for Thanksgiving (their inlaws get them next year) and so how could we not be here??  And this year they're all in-lawing it for Christmas which frees us up to go somewhere ...... which we would .... if not for the ice and the snowy mountain passes. ..... Plus the added luck of this being a particularly wintery December.  To quote the weatherman on the evening news, "Haven't seen it this bad since '08."

And our friends and extended family ..... they're a problem too.  Christmas parties, get-togethers, plans for motorcycle and backpacking trips, fishing trips, and other all-too-fun activities that they're not allowed to do without us .... and the must-be-there things like funerals, baptisms, weddings, surgeries, and other stuff that knocks everything else down a few notches on the priority list and keep us grounded.  By choice, mind you, but grounded all the same.  The full-timer-pros seem to be able to sever those ties and not look back.  Just head willy-nilly off to their next Florida or New Mexico or Arizona adventure with no thought of loved ones left behind.

So here we are.  Watching the forecast.  Monitoring the pass reports.  Planning our next escape in whatever time-window we can get before being pulled back for the next thing we can't bear to miss.  And weighing the possibility of -- if we DO get away -- getting stuck somewhere on the other side of the pass and not being able to get back when we want to.

But at least indoors we're warm, dry, and cozy with ample propane.  We have all the water and power we need, with another week and a half before needing to go dump the tanks ..... more RV lingo I'll leave you to figure out.

So if you ever notice our parking spot here is suddenly empty with tire tracks in the snow heading out of town ..... that means we made a break for it.  We escaped.  Off to warmer temps and sunshine!

Or .... we're on a run to the dump station a half-mile away.  Either way and in spite of it all, we're still counting our blessings in our little rain-soaked home on wheels.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Arizona, back to Utah, then home

For years, my brother, Dick, said, "Ya gotta go to Sedona," (in Arizona) knowing that we love the red rock landscape of southern Utah.  We've been to Arizona many times, but never to that portion of it.

So on this trip, we made it a point to see Sedona which lies about 30 miles south of Flagstaff.    The road connecting the two towns cuts through a breathtaking canyon with a few switchback turns. Fortunately, Dick warned us about it before we headed down in our motorhome.

"Take the freeway south and cut over to Cottonwood", he said.  So we did.

We discovered Dead Horse Ranch State Park which sits on the north edge of Cottonwood, on a slope over looking the town.  This, of all the campgrounds we visited, was our favorite.  One must remember that this is not western Oregon.  This is desert.  The terrain may not appeal to everyone.  But the sites were spacious, the view was vast, and the price was good.

Cottonwood is one of several small towns in the area, and of no particular interest in and of itself.  But it had the essentials and was a convenient base.  The first night there we were treated to a lively thunder storm.  Hello Arizona.

We rode our motorcycle back up the next day to see Sedona.

Wow.  We continued north through Oak Creek Canyon which we had avoided in our motorhome.

More Wow.

Then back to Sedona which has a hearty array of shops and restaurants.  The town itself isn't all that unusual.  It's the countryside wrapped around it that puts on the show.

Note:  If you are easily swayed into impulse purchases of touristy stuff you don't need, just use a motorcycle for transportation.  Then you are physically unable to buy that gorgeous but ridiculously expensive rug that YOU KNOW would eliminate all sadness if you could gaze upon it in your living room forevermore.

We rode through the streets and neighborhoods.  Sorry these pictures are not the products of high-end camera equipment, skill, and careful composure ...... just me with my phone, holding onto the back of a bike, with shadows in all the wrong places.

(Thanks, Dick, for pushing us to go there.)

The next day, on the advice of a fellow camper, we decided to visit the nearby town of Jerome.

"It's right over there", he said, as he pointed to a small clump of lights on the side of a mountain in the distance.  (Notice the small community in the center of the picture, half-way up the mountain.  Cottonwoods sits below.)

Jerome came to be in the late 1800s, built next to a copper mine, and accessed by a narrow, winding mountain road.  It was once known as the "wickedest town in the west", likely due to its unfortunate, yet colorful history of brothels and saloons.  Now its streets zig-zag up the hill through a quirky hodgepodge of shops and cafes.  This semi-ghost town is a must-see if you ever get this way.

In it's 100+ years history, all the buildings in Jerome have burned or slid down the hill once or twice.  At one time there was a 200 room hotel, considered to be the largest in the state.  It too had the sad fate of burning to the ground, but was never rebuilt.

We spent the next two nights on the shores of Lake Powell which gave Husband ideas of a future house-boat vacation.   It's sad to see the low water level of this very unusual lake.

While there, we did motorcycle loop down through the town of Kanab where we had lunch.

A bit of personal history:

It was the summer of my ninth year, 1964.  My mother died several months earlier and my dad, my two brothers, and I were on a road trip down to Los Angeles and back up to Glenwood, UT.  My sister was spending the summer between college semesters in LA with our aunt who was house-sitting for Rose Marie Reid, a successful swimsuit designer. I said house-sitting, but it was more like mansion-sitting.  Our few days there made an impression on me, hence I never forgot the name of its owner.  I never met Ms. Reid, and it wasn't until just very recently, I learned of her fame.  We visited Disneyland, Marine Land, and Knotts Berry Farm, before heading north.  (My only memory of that leg of the trip was going through Bakersfield in 112 degrees with no AC.)

My point in telling this story is that we (plus a pet guinnea pig I somehow acquired along the way) spent a night at Perry's Lodge, a motel in Kanab, UT.  Kanab is a small town and in the 40s, 50s, and 60s was often the hub of movie makers because the landscape, with the canyons and mountains, made the perfect backdrop for westerns.  And for years when in Kanab, Perry's Lodge was the place to stay.  

After that hot car ride, we were glad to hit the swimming pool at the motel.  My dad was an avid swimmer.  He taught all his kids to swim, except me, the youngest.  Not that he didn't try to teach me.  I just never got it.  But he figured he'd give it another go.  T'was at the edge of this pool I remember standing, with my toes curled over the rim, arms stretched up over my head, knees bent, and hands clamped, thinking that any minute, I would somehow transform into an actual swimmer and dive in head first.

My dad urged, coaxed, and patiently waited ..... I stood for what seemed like an hour in that crouched position.  But it never happened.  I never did the dive.  I probably pulled off a few impressive belly-flops in the process, but to this day, I do not dive into water.  I hardly even swim, in spite of several attempts at lessons.  And THAT (with a lot of unnecessary details tossed in) is what I remember every time I drive through Kanab.
Notice the irony?  (The rules must have changed since then.)

We drove to St. George, UT.  T'was there we did four awesome things:
1.  Reconnected with some dear cousins whom we think need to move back to Oregon.
2.  Spent a few hours in this beautiful, historic building.

3.  Rode the bike up through Zion National Park.
4.  Went to Costco to do some serious shopping.  (This was the first real city in which we had spent time in weeks and I had been in withdrawal.)

Zion is my favorite national park.  The pictures I took are (again) ... from my phone, from the back of the bike, and with the same bothersome shadows.  This canyon is beyond words and the pictures don't even come near the experience.  We've driven through it in a (different) motorhome with our kids, in our convertible BMW, in a van with friends, in a bus with family, and now on a motorcycle.  We've hiked in it and waded through its river into slot canyons.  I think all that's left is to see it on a bicycle, or from a helicopter ... or perhaps in a hot air balloon?

Needing to expedite our return home, we began the trek north.  We had an appointment in Bend, OR, in a couple of days and other family matters looming.   On the last day of our trip we got in a quick visit to a particular piece of newly purchased property in a community called Crooked River Ranch where we were welcomed home by a stunning sunset.

Check out our future view when someday we again put down roots.

It's not Zion, but it's ours.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Red rocks, arches, and Utah's finest

We spent a few nights in Capital Reef, in a campground in Fruita, named for its many fruit orchards, sandwiched among the gorgeous hills and rock formations.

After three attempts, we hiked to the top of nearby Cassidy Arch, named after a guy called Butch.  First attempt, we missed the trailhead and did a lovely unintended hike in a slot canyon in Capital Wash.

The next day we found the trailhead, but misread a sign and bypassed the arch, nearly heading up and over a mountain we didn't intend to climb.  Then we back-tracked, re-read the sign, and found the arch.  (See the tiny people-specks above the arch?)

There were a couple of groups rappelling off the end of the arch.  (See the girl hanging in the shadows?)  150 feet to the first ledge with several more rappels after that to reach the canyon floor.  One of the groups said they had an extra harness and offered me a quick trip down.  As if.  

Is this cool, or what?!

Next was our beloved Moab.  I won't go into much detail because I already did that in this and this post, from previous trips.  (We come here a lot.)  We hiked out to the famous Delicate Arch, (a hike we haven't done in several years) to capture it at sunset.  Husband's photos are always much better, but since he's off on his motorcycle right now and I'm too impatient to wait, you get to see mine.

This is a popular photo-op, so we weren't alone .....

Caught some great light with the setting sun.

The slope drops off into a deep chasm, and a few of the photographers almost gave me a heart attack as they crawled around on the steep rock to position their tripods.  No doubt there have been casualties over the years.

It's a three mile round trip hike to and from the Delicate Arch and I started back ahead of Husband so as to not be caught in the dark before reaching the car.  Half the population of Japan likes to frequent our National Parks, so I shadowed one of their little groups to make my way back because the trail isn't clearly marked.  (Can't say much for the conversation, since I couldn't understand a word they said.)  Husband was armed with a high-powered flashlight, so I figured he'd be okay, knowing how he tends to linger till the last minute.  And linger he did.

I reached the parking lot just as the last of the daylight disappeared, and waited in the car.  Nearly an hour later it was completely dark.  A few specks of light (flashlights) were still coming off the hill in the distance where the trail was and I watched each one till it produced a hiker who wasn't him.  Yeah, I was worried --- What would I do if he didn't return?  We were miles from civilization.  There was no cell service.  The rangers were gone for the night.  I don't know how to drive a motorhome.  Etc.

Finally, after the once crowded parking lot was nearly empty, he trodded in.  Of course he stayed too long before starting back and had to zigzag and backtrack his way in the dark across the rock, trying to follow the trail.  He wasn't the last one off that trail that night, but almost. 

This, I have learned, is the problem with being married to a landscape photographer.  Their goal in life is capturing "good light" ... but it seems to always put us in darkness.  Either we're chasing the sunrise which means getting up ridiculously early (in the dark) and driving miles to some remote location and waiting for the sun to arrive.  Or timing our day around the sunset in another remote spot and then hiking back, yet again, in the dark.  And most of the time, the sun is completely uncooperative by not waiting for us when we're running late, or hiding behind clouds with total disregard for the trouble we've gone through to be there.

   Nevertheless, sometimes things work out .....
(Above) Dead Horse Point.  Breathtaking.  This masterpiece, taken by Husband, must end up on a wall in my house.  

We headed south and spent a few nights exploring around Blanding, UT, (a semi-drab town) visiting ancient ruins.  It was a little late in the day and the sun was setting when we did this hike, but look carefully.  See the structures built on those ledges?  Under each of those rounded formations in the center of the picture, are the Anasazi ruins.  

While I stayed "home" to do some laundry, Husband did a long nighttime drive out to the well-known attraction called "Hovenweep".   This is a group of large ruins, overhanging a canyon.  He went in search of dark skies.   He found it.  Take a look.

We went back the next day so I could see it.

Elsewhere, near Monticello, UT.  So many ruins, if you know where to look.
I learned later, we're not supposed to go inside the ruins.  Oops.

Another hike produced this.
Appropriately named, "House on Fire".  A new favorite.

Next we spent a couple of nights in the almost-non-town of Bluff (which, in comparison, made Blanding seem chic and interesting) where we happened upon our adorable niece and her husband.   (Via Facebook posts ..... "Are you guys here too??"...)   He knew the area well so we were treated to a guided tour of spectacular scenery, with some delightful company.  (What?  No pictures of us together? ....)  

Next post:  Arizona (Move over, Utah.  You've got competition.)

Monday, October 24, 2016

If I could hug a town .....

I was only eight years old the final summer of my mother's battle with cancer.  School was out for the season and both sets of my grandparents, who all lived in Salt Lake City, stepped in to help.  My mother stayed with her parents and I stayed with my other grandma while my dad remained in Oregon to work.  Grandma took me to visit my aunt and uncle and their family in their summer home in Glenwood, Utah, several hours south.  These relatives were strangers to me because they lived most of the year in Phoenix, very far from Portland where I grew up.

I remember us arriving in their kitchen that night, finding this strange new group crowded around a small table ..... Uncle Glen (my dad's brother), Aunt Millie, and my cousins Liz, Glen, Gayle, Bo .... and my older brother Dick who had been there a few weeks before me.  I remember the laughter and banter that filled the room.  Being so very shy, I stayed close by my grandma.   Little did I know, my life was about to change.

Grandma and I were given the front bedroom to sleep in, which had one regular-size single bed and a small cot-like bed.  Gayle and Liz, whose beds (I assume) we were given, were on the sofas in the living room, my aunt and uncle were in the back bedroom.  The boys slept in the barn which was more of a bunkhouse.

I remember waking to my grandma moaning and my aunt and uncle coming in to help.  I remember Aunt Millie moving me and Gayle to the big bed in the back bedroom.  They took Grandma to the hospital where she was treated for a heart attack.   And before daylight arrived the next morning, I was again awakened by the frightening sound of a cannon in the distance.  Boom ...... Boom ....... Boom.  What WAS this strange place?!  

That cannon, as it turned out, was a local tradition, hailing in our annual Independence Day.  Hello, Fourth of July.

Later that morning, Uncle Glen took me with him to check on a neighbor's cows or something .... and I was introduced to a smell that, to this day, takes me back to Glenwood.  The smell of hay, manure, old farm buildings, and barnyards.  I fell in love that day, with my dear Uncle Glen.  A kinder man, I'll never know.  I also quickly grew to love Aunt Millie and my cousins Gayle and Bo, who were both close to my age.  They became my second family.

Thankfully, Grandma recovered and was able to return to Salt Lake but I remained in Glenwood for the rest of the summer.  It was kid-heaven.  We climbed trees, floated toy boats in the irrigation ditch, made play-houses in the mud, sewed clothes for dolls, and spent hours sprawled in the patio reading comic books.  Glenwood was small enough that we could walk from one end to the other.  It had some old pioneer houses and buildings that were unquestionably haunted.  Uncle Glen, a master of nick-names, knew all the local legends and told us that a mysterious old man named, "Jimmy-on-the-Binder", once lived in the scariest crumbly old house which is now gone.  Just to walk up and touch the front door took all the courage an eight-year-old could muster.  Uncle Glen nicknamed me, "Buckwheat".

Their funny old farmhouse had a coal/wood burning cookstove in the kitchen and a wobbly toilet next to a claw-foot tub in the one bathroom.  Hot water, needed for bathing and dish-washing, was created solely by the cookstove from which my aunt could produce anything delicious.  Her fried chicken was legendary and she introduced me to Mexican food ..... something unheard of at home.

I remember the ladle hanging by the kitchen sink that we all use to get a drink of water.  I remember the creaky screen door that squeaked and slammed each time we ran through.  I remember the covered patio outside that served as a central gathering place.  There was the ice cream maker, the party-line phone, eggnog made from raw eggs, and the garter snake named Roscoe that lived in the woodpile. Their Phoenix home was modern and comfortable, but this odd little Glenwood house was magical.

We rode their horse and went on Jeep rides in the mountains.  Aunt Millie took us into nearby Richfield to shop or for other errands, and we'd often stop at A&W for rootbeer freezes.  There was no TV, no videos ..... just playing cards, a radio, and a record player upon which we played Beach Boys and Beatles music endlessly.  It was wonderful.

The following winter I lost my mother.  I believe, however, with absolute confidence, that God filled that void with an army of heroes.  My best friend's mom, my 4-H teacher, my grandparents, etc., and especially my dear aunt and uncle who took me in .... not just that summer, but each summer thereafter for the next five years.  Glenwood became my second home.   It was half my childhood.  Fifty years later, I still feel the magic when I visit that dear town.  I continue to bemoan each old building that is torn down.

Aunt Millie and Uncle Glen are gone now, and the odd little house has been replaced by a lovely new home where my cousin Gayle now lives with her husband.  But the barn is still stands along with the old horse corral and chicken coop .... and that wonderful barnyard smell ...... and many more of my delightful relatives who, over the years, have also made Glenwood their home.

This includes three of my cousins and their spouses and my brother and sis-in-law.  My other brother owns a farm a few miles away.  Another cousin and her husband lives in a nearby town.  It's a reunion whenever we go there and we go there as often as we can.

Which brings me to my latest trip update.  We spent four days parked next to my brother's home.  I hung out with Gayle and made the rounds to see everyone.  I will never own property there .... it's too far from our kids and business ..... but for a few days my little house-on-wheels can be my own Glenwood home, where I can reminisce along the quiet, dusty streets, smell the smells, and reconnect with family.

(I don't have any pictures, so I found these online.)

The old mercantile.  It has looked just like this for the past half century.
The post office.  It too, hasn't changed.  No one has a mail box.  They all come here to collect their mail.
We used to pass this house as we walked to church.  Sadly, it too must be torn down.
Another of the original homes.
As it looks today.  I don't know the actual name of the mountain behind the town.  We call it Hercules because that's what Uncle Glen named it.  As far as I'm concerned, that's as good as official.