My Very Last Vacation

I live for travel. I used to go to a different foreign country every two years. I miss that. I hope to get back to that financial place again at some point. I also hope to have someone to travel with again one of these days. Traveling alone isn’t nearly as fun. Who knows what the future will bring.

One thing I do know, and that’s that I will take my very last vacation someday. I fervently hope that I don’t know it’s my last one at the time that I’m taking it. That’s a little too bittersweet for my liking.

No, I’d much rather take a lovely tour of Italy and then come home and be hit by a crosstown bus as I’m crossing the street to the bookstore to buy the guidebook for my next trip. If I have to shuffle off this mortal coil, I’d like to do it while planning for an exciting future. I don’t want to slowly circle the drain while gazing fixedly down that dark and moldy hole.

Half the fun of travel, for me, is the anticipation. The planning. I like to read everything I can about my destination, because nothing pisses me off more than coming back home to discover that there was something really spectacular within walking distance that I didn’t see. That leaves me feeling like I didn’t do my homework, that I’ve shirked my responsibilities, that I’ve failed myself.

I don’t have the luxury of returning to places I’ve visited again and again. The world is too big. There’s way too much to see. So the end of each vacation is kind of like a little death. I mourn the amazing place I’ve just been, because I know that the odds are high that I’ll never see it again. If I had to couple that mourning with the concept that I’d also never get to see anyplace else again, ever, it would be entirely too much to bear.

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Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Believe me, I know how excruciating it can be to sit through other people’s vacation photos. You’re happy for them, yes, and a little envious. But beyond that… you’ll never get that hour back.

But guess what. Nanny nanny poo poo. This is my blog! I know I’ve already written about Arches National Park and the cool rock art I encountered, but oh, I’m not done yet.

Comparing Canyonlands to Arches is like comparing apples to oranges. Utah is funny that way. 30 miles down the road, the terrain completely changes. Heading into Canyonlands, it begins to look a lot more like the Grand Canyon. The rocks turn from red to tan and chocolate brown, and you see hazy blue mountains in the distance. You are treated to dramatic river valleys and insane switchback roads. You still see some arches, but you encounter more buttes. You are blown away by the distance to the horizon, and by the influence the flow of water has on the landscape over time.

Sadly, for much of this park you need a four-wheel drive, or extreme hiking chops, neither of which I possess. But what we did see was stunning. Beyond stunning.

According to the National Parks Service website, Native Americans first visited the area over 10,000 years ago. And then came a long line of European explorers, culminating in the official expedition by John Wesley Powell down the Green and Colorado Rivers. Miners and Ranchers did a great job of tearing the place up for a while there. Then Canyonlands National Park was established in 1964, just a few months before I was born. If you ever get a chance to check this area out, I highly recommend it.

What follows are some of the pictures we took during our visit. I wish cameras did it justice!

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National Compassion Fatigue

No matter who you vote for on November 8th (and please, please do!), I think there’s one thing that most Americans can agree on: we’re tired. We’re tired of this pervasive feeling that everything in this country is going to hell in a handbasket, even if we can’t seem to agree on the root causes. I think, as a nation, we need a vacation.

Here are a few things that, rightly or wrongly, I am sick of hearing about.

  • Politics
  • Violence
  • Corruption
  • Reality Shows
  • The Economy
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Disease
  • Fraud
  • Terrorism
  • The Environment
  • Rights, or lack thereof
  • War
  • Abuse
  • Police
  • Money
  • Child Rearing
  • Anything that ends in “ism”, “ist” or “phobic”
  • Health Care
  • Celebrities
  • Scandals, especially as they pertain to celebrities
  • Unemployment
  • Advocacy
  • Natural Disasters
  • Hunger
  • Mental Illness
  • The Internet
  • Debt
  • Crime

Please understand. I realize it’s important that most of these things get discussed and acted upon. They need to be part of the national conversation. (Well, except for the celebrity bs.) But in this day and age we are bombarded with these topics every waking moment. There seems to be no respite. I think I’m speaking for pretty much everybody when I say, “Can we just… not? For even 5 minutes? Pretty please?

ostrich-clip-art

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Sightseeing in the Fog

I’ve been vacationing on the Oregon coast. I’d never been to Oregon before. It’s gorgeous. I could totally see myself retiring here, if retirement weren’t some distant fantasy for me. And if I hadn’t seen so many Donald Trump yard signs.

My first two days were sunny and clear. Not a cloud in the sky. You could see for miles. I had no idea how spoiled I was.

After that, the fog rolled in. But that was okay, because I’d written a few “lazy days” into my itinerary. Days to just cave up and read books, write blogs, nap… that sort of thing.

I spent one foggy day luxuriating in my own company and cuddling with my dogs. Something about this place made me sleep that good kind of sleep that causes you to wake up feeling refreshed and renewed. It’s been a while.

The next several days, it was pouring rain. I had to do some of my sightseeing anyway, because I only had so much time left. I saw glimpses of a lighthouse through the fog. (Which made me all the more glad it was there.) I listened to waves crashing up on the rocks. I stood inside a cave as the rain fell.

At first, I was irritated that I couldn’t see through the fog. I spent a great deal of time annoyed that I was missing out. Silly me.

This is the Oregon coast. This experience is the Oregon coast. I saw exactly what I was supposed to see.

And it was beautiful.

 

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Road Tripping

I just got back from a trip to Vancouver. I’ll be writing quite a bit about that, I’m sure. But right now I’m writing about road trips in general.

I absolutely love to travel. It’s my reason for being. Seeing things I’ve never seen and doing things I’ve never done just seems to feed my spirit in a way that nothing else can. Just having an adventure to look forward to brightens my mood.

I love to read up on my destination and make plans and compile packing lists. I love to pore over maps and dive headlong into guidebooks. I’d hate to go to someplace unprepared, only to find out upon returning home that there was something amazing there that I had missed. The buildup to a vacation is almost as interesting as the trip itself.

And then you have the actual trip. The driving there. The worrying that your luggage will be lost, or you’ll leave something behind, or you’ll take a wrong turn, or maybe that you won’t understand the rules of the road in another country. It’s the anxiety of reservations misplaced, tickets lost, identification overly scrutinized. It’s agonizing to worry about being late or missing a connection. I hate to think of all my plans falling to ruin. I hate the travel part of travel.

I probably miss out on a lot of the beauty that is in the in-between places due to all that anxiety. It has been forever thus with me. There’s just too much to contemplate about the destination to focus on the journey. I really need to work on that.

Ah, but when I get there? Pure bliss. Let the adventure begin!

[Image credit: pinterest.com]
[Image credit: pinterest.com]

Unplug

Recently a friend of mine posted some quotations by the author Anne Lamott on her Facebook page. One that really struck a chord with me was this one:

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Wise words indeed. I thought of them last night when my wifi went dead at a critical moment. I was really feeling frustrated as I unplugged the modem and slowly counted off a minute. And I decided that rather than stand there gritting my teeth as the seconds clicked slowly by, I’d do some stretching exercises based on a vague memory of the last yoga class I attended.

Why did I stop doing yoga? I have never felt physically better than when I did it regularly. I have no idea. Time. Money. Habit. Pure laziness. I need to get back into it. I need to give myself that gift.

I also thought about how wonderful my recent day trip to the tulip festival was. I could feel my blood pressure drop. I could feel myself relax and breathe. These things are important.

I need to be more gentle with myself. Take more baths. Take more breaks. Take more naps. Soak up the sun.

I need to be kinder to myself. I need to remember that no one can be as kind to me as I can be to myself. Deep down I know what I need. I also know that while it is necessary to do those things that will allow me to live my life (Damned job! Damned housework!) it is also vital that I not forget to do those things that make life worthwhile.

Then I did one last luxurious stretch, plugged my modem back in, and sure enough, both my laptop and I were good to go again.

frogbillboard

Hell Hath its Benefits

When I listen to my coworkers complain about this job, I have to inwardly giggle. They think this job is bad. They think they’re being mistreated.

For 13 years I was in a horrible job situation. I worked graveyard shifts and got a one dollar raise every 6 years, and they tried to find ways to deny us even that. I had no health insurance to speak of. We got $3000 dollars a year to spend on our health, including prescriptions. After that, we were on our own. I was usually on my own by about the end of February. Forget about dental or vision or retirement. It was a right to work state, so we could be fired without cause. Racism and sexism were blatant and they made neither apologies nor excuses for them.

That’s what happens when you don’t have a union. Do you honestly believe that employers will treat you decently of their own free will? Trust me when I say that doesn’t happen. I’ve lived it.

So when I got this union job, which pays 2 ½ times as much for the same work, and has health insurance, vision, dental, retirement, deferred compensation, and more paid vacation time than I know what to do with, I felt as though l had died and gone to heaven. What’s to complain about?

That’s something you never think about when times are tough. Having lived in hell, you will always be grateful for and fully aware of those moments when you are no longer there. That’s something that my coworkers don’t have: the pure and bitter glory of perspective. What a gift. Seriously. What a gift.

the-war-between-heaven-and-hell

[Image credit: imgkid.com]

Would You Travel to Cuba?

With the negotiations for the normalization of US/Cuban relations, there’s been this huge spike in Google searches for Cuban vacations. It’s controversial, of course. Just because the borders may open up to us does not mean that human rights violations won’t still be in full force. Just look at China.

So yeah, I did that Google search too, but not without a certain level of guilt. But if I had to agree with the governments of every country I travel to, I’d never go anywhere. Frankly, I couldn’t even travel locally if that’s the litmus test. My government just voted that Global Warming isn’t the fault of human beings. I couldn’t disagree more. Does that mean I have to stay on my couch? I do not look at people the same way I look at governments. God knows I don’t control what happens with my own.

And let’s face it, the embargo didn’t ever work. All it did was cause a great deal of suffering for the people of Cuba. The government itself did not budge at all, even when they stopped being propped up by Russia.

I genuinely believe that the earth becomes a much more peaceful place with increased interaction and exchanges of points of view. I believe it’s harder to hate someone you have gotten to know. I believe that even though most travelers won’t see the “real” Cuba, staying well within the tourist zone, they’ll still have an impact. Things will change. People will change. And not just the Cubans. We could all do with a broader worldview.

Even so, I think I’ll hold off a few years and wait to see how all of this plays out. I’d also like there to be a bit more tourist infrastructure in place before I go jetting off to parts unknown. I suspect that it’s not quite time to be passing out Cuban cigars. But my fingers are crossed for the near future.

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[Image credit: globalcitizendaily.com]

Pillar to Post Vacations

I have a European friend who absolutely hates the way I plan my vacations. I tend to cram as much into a holiday as I possibly can. I view them as a smorgasbord, where you only take little tastes of a wide variety of delicacies. I spend a lot of time rushing about, seeing as much as is humanly possible. Unfortunately that means that I rarely experience anything in depth. She, on the other hand, likes to go to one place and sort of settle in for a 5 course meal. She will savor a place, really know it, and come back all the more relaxed for the experience.

It’s not that I wouldn’t love to travel the way she does. Maybe if I were based in Europe, where different cultures are but a short train ride in any given direction, I would do so. But here in America, just getting to another culture takes a lot of time and money, neither of which I have in abundance. I never know if my current trip will be my last, so I have to make the most of it.

Neither travel style is superior to the other. It’s just different. I enjoy the random situations that crop up during my zipping from point A to point B. Often those are the most memorable moments of the trip. I’ve met some amazing people and have become stranded in some amazing places. I love having a million stories and even more memories. And I do have the scheduling challenges of crammed itinerary down to a science. I think I’d be an excellent candidate for the Amazing Race, because I may not have ever raced around the world, but I’ve definitely raced around several countries.

Maybe I’m commitment phobic. I don’t want to get too in-depth in a country. I don’t want to get to know people, meet families, become a regular at restaurants and learn the routines of a specific neighborhood, because if I do that, I’ll fall in love with them. There’s too much of the world to see, so I know that with every given trip I’m seeing a place to which I’ll never have a chance to return. What’s the point of falling in love if it means you’ll only pine away for something you can’t have for the rest of your life?

No. It’s better this way. I’ll be pleased to make your acquaintance, dear country, but I’d prefer that we don’t get on a first name basis. Kiss me if you will, but nothing below the waist, please. That way we can part as friends.

if-its-tuesday,-this-must-be-belgium-(1969)

Siblings, as you Age

I’m sitting in my sister and brother-in-law’s vacation home, which was graciously loaned to me due to my lack of funds for a more extravagant holiday. This suits me just fine, as I’ve always loved this place. It’s calm, relaxing, and remote. And my sister has amazing taste. She really should have been an interior designer. Everything in this house belongs here, and makes it a home. If it had internet access and reliable cell phone coverage I’d probably never leave.

I wander around, looking at photographs of people my sister loves who I barely know, birthdates of people I’ve never even heard of on calendars, and souvenirs of trips she’s taken that I know nothing about, and I realize that although we both spring from the same foundations, so to speak, the structures that we have built of our lives are so different as to be barely recognizable to each other.

And yet we still have the same body language, the same reference points, and for the most part we seem to get each other. And no matter what, we’ll be there for each other. No doubt about it. And that’s more precious than gold.

The fascinating thing about siblings is that you wade in the same gene pool, but what you do with those genes yields vastly different results. That becomes more and more evident as your paths diverge over time.

I look at this house and wonder if this type of abundance could have been mine if only I had made different choices and fewer stupid mistakes in life. I try really hard not to look at my sister as a reflection of what might have been, though, because aside from some aches and pains that I don’t envy at all, her life seems vastly superior to my own, and I don’t want to turn into a bitter old shrew.

There are things I wouldn’t trade for the world, though. My travels, my dogs, this blog, my art, and the people I love. All of those are priceless. So I’ll do my best to relax in this beautiful house, appreciate the fact that I have a sister who is generous enough to share it with me, revel in this moment, and do my best to focus on my own path.

cabin

Not the cabin in question for privacy’s sake, but a similar ambiance.