What happens when you’re not the one in control {Part 2}

Looking for part 1 of the story? Click here. Then read on for more stories about my recent travels.

I was not near the front of the plane, and I was in a window seat. But my seatmates, the cruise couple, graciously let me out with my carry-on bag, and the flight attendants asked nicely that anyone who didn’t have a connecting flight stay seated and let others off the plane who needed to make a connection. I held my phone and checked the clock numerous times. Theoretically, I should make it.

The aisle cleared and I thanked the crew, who had professionally and graciously handled a plane full of grumblers, and I quickly scanned the terminal for directions to my gate. A friend who travels frequently told me the Charlotte airport is bigger than it needs to be, and his assessment was not wrong.

Samuel Sosina | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Samuel Sosina | Creative Commons | via unsplash

I did not run or sprint because I also hadn’t eaten anything more than my pastry from the early morning and a nutty Larabar (huge shoutout to Larabar! They sustained my hunger needs!) and I didn’t think passing out in the airport would aid my travel situation.

I weaved my way through travelers moving in all directions. I fast-walked on the moving sidewalk things to make my way to the farthest reaches of the farthest terminal. (Really?) I kept checking my clock and kept casting a quick glance at the posted schedules, worried that because the flight was already late that it might take off earlier than I was anticipating.

Sweating through my clothes, my calves screaming, (because it was also in the teens in Philadelphia and I was wearing layers and it was not that cold in Charlotte; also boots), I pulled up to the agent at the gate.

Breathless, I told him, “I just got an e-mail that told me I was on this flight.”

He took my name and looked it up.

“I’ve been waiting for you to check in.”

“I literally just got off the plane.”

“Oh, where’d you fly from?”

I couldn’t even answer his question.

“Philly?” he suggested.

“Yes,” I said.

And then I had a boarding ticket in hand for a flight that was just about to board. I could hardly contain my joy. I was hungry and tired but I would get to Memphis before dark, like I’d planned. Because I still had 2 1/2 hours of driving when I landed in Memphis and I wasn’t excited about driving through Arkansas and rural Missouri in the dark.

The flight to Memphis was uneventful, save for my seat mate who fell asleep and almost landed in my lap as her head drooped lower and lower. I had to tap her on the shoulder for our final descent so she could put her laptop away.

Once I’d left the plane in Memphis, it was another long walk to the rental car area. And part of that walk was outside, which probably isn’t a problem most of the time in Memphis, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 degrees. I had frozen fingers by the time I got into the rental.

With the keyless key to a Nissan Sentra in hand, I pulled out of the Memphis airport and cruised toward Missouri via Arkansas. I thought about stopping for a bite to eat, but I had the Larabars and a little bit of water and I wanted to get there. To see my family and just stop moving for a few minutes.

It was a long, straight drive through a state I can only assume is beautiful in another season. Brown stretches of land surrounded me, though its state motto boasted “the natural state.” My radio choices for much of the trip were “country” and “more country.” But I made do.

I pulled into the motel where my parents were staying at a little after 5:30 p.m. central time, a long day not over yet but the traveling part was done. I ate my fill of grief food at my grandma’s house and headed to bed earlier than usual. I had made it, and I’d had little to do with the timing.

Two days later when the time came to travel back, the weather threatened to disrupt my plans again. And not long after I woke up, my husband texted me asking what he needed to do to call our daughter off of school because she’d woke up puking. Talk about being not in control. I was hundreds of miles away and I couldn’t get home any faster to help out. Or so I thought. But we’ll get there.

I left my family at 7:30 a.m., giving myself plenty of time to get back to Memphis, to stop to fill the rental car with gas, to get through security and print my boarding pass, and maybe get a bite to eat before my 12:50 p.m. flight back to Charlotte.

The drive was not any more interesting the second time, though I did have to make two stops this time, which broke up the monotony some. And then there was the added weekday traffic.

I sighed with relief when I pulled the rental car into its spot. There’s something about completing the first leg of a journey that makes the rest of the journey seem possible.

Then it was back to the long walk to the terminal and a visit to the kiosk, which told me that I could not print my boarding pass because my flight had a delay. I hadn’t even had time to check because I was so early. I’d hoped to make it through security and grab some lunch. (Are you sensing a theme here?) The US Airways agent waved me over and asked for my name and flight. Then she said some magic words.

“I can get you on a direct flight to Philly, landing at 2:55, getcha home about 3 hours early.”

I paused before saying “yes” because in the original plan, my husband wouldn’t be able to leave to get me until after school, so I was calculating the number of hours I would have to sit in the Philly airport.

“You’ll be waiting for a ride?” she said. I nodded. “Well, at least you’ll be there.”

“Let’s do it,” I said.

Then she printed me a pass, and I looked at the time, and once again, I had about 30 minutes until boarding time and still needed to go through security. (An aside: going through security is not really as grueling a process as I imagine it is. It takes time, but it’s not awful.) I did, then I found my gate and maybe even pinched myself to make sure this was real. I was on a completely different flight leaving and arriving earlier than I’d thought. I texted my husband and my mom and then thought I better call my husband before I got on the plane because I wouldn’t be available for a couple of hours.

He was wrangling children at the grocery store buying supplies for a stomach bug: crackers and ginger ale and the like. He promised to get there as soon as they could.

I settled in for the flight. I had no seat mate but my Kindle, and I finished the book I’d started a few days before on the trip. It was a smooth and relaxing flight.

Until we landed.

Then we sat at the gate for 20 minutes waiting for I don’t know what. Something to do with the ground crew. Then we waited in the jetway for our larger carry-on bags (this was a small plane, only 13 rows of seats) for another 20 minutes because of a short-staffed airport crew or something. My plan to get something to eat while waiting for my family to arrive was again thwarted as they made it to the cell phone lot before I could leave with my bag.

So, hungry, tired and grateful to be home, I made my way through the terminals to the pick-up point and eased into the passenger seat of our van. I was home before I was supposed to leave Charlotte. It was daylight, and though my husband and I both showed signs of exhaustion, we were together and could help each other through till bedtime.

Before this trip, it had been a long time since I’d done something like this on my own. Probably 10 years or more ago. I think I found a part of myself again, and maybe those are thoughts for another post on another day.

I think I lost a little bit of myself, too. That part that says if I don’t plan everything out to the last detail, then it will all go wrong. That I don’t have to be in control of all the details. I learned, or re-learned, I can trust other people. I can trust God. (I’m not saying God showed me any more favor than any other traveler. I don’t think I’m that special. But I do know I can trust Him to work things out, even without my help.)

I found out that when I’m not in control, it’s not the end of the world.

It might even be a beginning.

What happens when you’re not the one in control {Part 1}

When you’re a writer and you set out on an unplanned adventure and then return to your regular life full of schedules and sickness and responsibilities, where do you even start with all the stories about what you saw and experienced?

This was my dilemma in the van on the way home from the airport. I’d talked to my husband by phone each day but I hadn’t told the kids much about my trip while I was on it. They sat in the back seats, one of them battling a stomach bug, the other one buzzing on a blue slushy high, and I asked if they wanted to hear stories of my trip. Of course, they said, “Yes!” because they love stories, both the telling and the hearing.

And I couldn’t decide where to start. (Also, I’m not a great “out loud” storyteller. I’m better with words on a page, or a screen.)

I had so many things to tell them. I have so many things to tell you. And to tell them all at once would be overwhelming, so we’ll take it one step at a time.

When I decided to take this trip to the Midwest to be with my grandma and family for my step-grandpa’s funeral, I thought it was because I wanted to do it for them. As it turns out, I needed this trip for me.

I suspected when I booked this trip that I would have little control over how it all worked out.

And if I hadn’t suspected it, the snow on Saturday would have confirmed it. The day before I was to leave, our area experienced a smallish snowstorm, but it was big enough to mess with a bunch of flights. I would discover this on Sunday when I arrived at the airport.

We woke up super early on Sunday morning. My flight still said it was scheduled on time and we didn’t know what the roads would be like, so we dragged our kids out of bed at 4 a.m., loaded up the car and began the slow journey to Philadelphia. The roads weren’t impassable, but they weren’t in good condition, so our trip took a bit longer than expected. We pulled up to the departures drop-off and I kissed my family good-bye while holding back tears. Because if I had started crying then, I might not have stopped.

I walked into the airport with purpose and some semblance of confidence though I think I was still shaking a little on the inside. There was no turning back, and I didn’t want to, so I spurred myself forward, first to the bathroom because you know, two-hour drive, and then up the stairs to the security line, the one place that makes me most anxious in an airport.

It was a breeze, really. And before I knew it, I was rolling through the terminal, looking for my gate, then off to find coffee and breakfast. I was plenty early for my flight.

As boarding time drew near, there was little activity at the gate. I wasn’t in an extreme hurry, but I did have only an hour layover in Charlotte to catch a connecting flight to Memphis. And that was if everything ran on time. It soon became clear that we weren’t going to board on time. Eventually, we filled the plane and waited for the ground crew to remove some fuel from our airplane, which had been ready to fly to Denver the night before. While they were doing that, the flight attendants discovered that the bathrooms on the plane weren’t working, so we waited for someone to fix that. I settled in with my book because frankly, even if I didn’t make it to my destination, I was enjoying multiple hours in a row away from my house without responsibility to little people. I was already on vacation.

Chris Brignola | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Chris Brignola | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Unlike the couple next to me who were desperately trying to get to Florida to catch their cruise ship before it left port. They had already had a flight canceled the night before and they, too, had a tight connection in Charlotte.

The waiting dragged on. And then we were told that we were going to have to re-board on a different airplane because this one wasn’t ready to fly. Everyone off this plane, back out to the gate, line up at the gate next door and board a different plane. It was now almost two hours after our scheduled departure and we still hadn’t left the ground. I was going to miss my connecting flight. But there wasn’t much I could do about it, and I didn’t see the point of trying to call the airline. Everyone else on the plane was trying to do that and couldn’t get through.

I decided to wait. And trust. (Believe me when I say this is so unlike me.)

While we sat on the second plane waiting to be cleared for takeoff, I got an e-mail that said I’d been “re-accommodated” on a flight that would leave the next morning. No way was that accommodating for me, but I decided to wait till I got to Charlotte to talk to someone about finding another flight to the Midwest that would leave the same day.

Finally, we pushed away from the gate and headed to the de-icing pad.

Have you ever seen this before? I took a picture just to show my son. He would totally love this job. Someday. As a grownup.

deicer

And then we were airborne, on our way to Charlotte and beyond. Few of us on the plane knew what would be waiting for us in Charlotte. Another flight. Another delay. Another snag in the planning.

The couple next to me was upset. They’d paid for a week-long cruise. They were going to miss some of it, if not all of it. They wanted to get off the plane. They wanted to stay on. They had so many options and none of them were good. The male half of the couple described the last two days as “the worst two days of my life.” I thought maybe he’d had a pretty good life, then, if this was as bad as it ever got. I kept my mouth shut, though, because no one likes a smart aleck when they’re already stressed.

I almost felt guilty that I wasn’t as crazy stressed or complaining like the rest of the passengers. But, seriously, what could I do? I couldn’t control the weather or the ground crew’s efficiency or the safety of the plane. I couldn’t make it fly any faster, though our pilot assured us he had the airplane equivalent of the “pedal to the metal” to get us to Charlotte.

We landed, and immediately we all turned our phones back on. To my surprise, I had a new message from the airline telling me my flight out of Charlotte was delayed. A flight I had no idea I was even on. We had landed at just a few minutes before 1 p.m., about 2 1/2 hours after our scheduled arrival. The next flight out of Charlotte was scheduled for a 1:08 departure, now delayed until 1:38. I had roughly 40 minutes to get off this plane and make it to a gate two terminals away to catch an afternoon flight out of Charlotte.

Unaware that my flight plans had changed while I was in the air, I could have spent the time worrying or trying to figure out a solution. Instead, I let the airline do their job.

At a few minutes after 1 p.m., it was time for me to do my part. I had another plane to catch.

To be continued tomorrow.

When maybe my life is too safe

I didn’t plan it. I never do. Planning to do something spontaneous and out of my comfort zone is some kind of oxymoron, right? Is it even possible to plan to be spontaneous? Probably not.

But my grandma lost her husband, my stepgrandfather, this week, and I felt a restless stirring in my soul to try to go to her for the funeral. I searched travel websites for flights to all the major cities within a couple of hundred miles of her home in rural southern Missouri. It didn’t look like it would work. And then it did. A delay in funeral plans because of weather meant that our schedule would be a little freer and I could leave my family in Pennsylvania for a few days and go to my family in the Midwest.

The trip starts tomorrow, and I am part excited, part fearful. Adventure is not my middle name. Comfortable. Predictable. Safe. Those are more my style.

And yet something about the planning of this trip has reminded me that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Life comes with no guarantees, and a safe life is not immune to trouble or hardship. Nor is it a pathway to life.

“A ship in harbor is safe but that is not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd

Nick Diamantidis | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Nick Diamantidis | Creative Commons | via unsplash

“I am tired of living a safe and predictable life.”

I said those words. Out loud. To my husband. As if I needed to defend my decision to make this trip, which includes three airports, four airplanes, varying weather patterns, and 300 miles (round trip) of driving solo. He hardly blinked when I suggested the trip.

My mother, on the other hand, is understandably worried. Before I’d even hit “purchase” on the airplane tickets, she was asking me all the questions I’d asked myself. She’s my mother, and she worries about me. I worry about me, too.

But I’m learning to ask myself some different questions.

Like, “What is the goal of my life?” Is it to get out of here alive? Because I will fail at that. And if it’s to live as safe and comfortably as possible, I will die a premature death from trying to protect all the things and people I care about from harm. There are only so many burdens my shoulders can carry, only so many things I can control. (I do not live this out perfectly. I’m already preparing for the possibility of flight delays and missed connections.)

Leaving my household for a few days not only means disrupting my level of comfort but also puts me in an extreme position of trust. I cannot control the weather, the airplanes, the timing of flights. I cannot oversee my husband’s care of the children while I’m gone. I cannot ensure that everything runs smoothly while I’m gone. I can’t even guarantee I’ll make it to the funeral on Monday. But I’m sure going to try.

Does this leave me anxious?

Yes.

But sometimes so does going to the grocery store.

Living a safe life doesn’t give me life. Often the opposite is true. <Click to tweet>

The times I’ve felt most alive, most in tune with purpose and fulfillment, are the times I wouldn’t have chosen for myself, the times that forced me to learn and grow and fight.

Drifting wherever the current of my day leads may give me a false sense of security, the idea that everything is fine and always will be, that this is life. But the moment I have to paddle to keep from plunging over the waterfall, or kick with everything I have to swim for shore when my boat capsizes, that’s the moment I realize that I want to live.

Monika Majkowska | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Monika Majkowska | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Yes, the harbor is safe. It’s predictable (mostly). It’s protected.

The open sea is wild. Full of unknowns. And great beauty.

It’s okay to put out to sea once in a while. And it’s okay to come back to the harbor. I don’t think our lives can be lived all one way or the other. We need safe places of rest and recuperation. But we also need an adventure now and then. If for no other reason than to remind us of how much life we have in us.

So, my solo adventure awaits. It is small in comparison to others, but for me, it is big. And I’m of the mind that one small adventure leads to increasingly greater ones. (Have I mentioned that we’re going to Kenya later this year?)

One of my favorite quotes, of late, is this one from a book I recently read: “Fear does not start to fade until you take the step that you think you can’t.” So, until I step out of the car at Airport #1, I will have fear. And it won’t totally leave, I am sure, until I step back into my car a few days later.

Can you relate? What was the last adventurous thing you did? Is there a step you need to take for fear to fade? 

The two ways people react to our upcoming holiday plans

It all started with a death in the family. And a secret prayer to be able to spend more time with my extended relatives.

Sometime around Thanksgiving every year, my husband and I sit down and think about our travel plans for Christmas. He works in a restaurant with limited time off and the rest of our family lives 800 miles away, so going home for Christmas is never a simple matter. As it was shaping up this year, we were going to get about five days in Illinois with our families. Enough time to drive for a whole day, celebrate some Christmases and drive for another whole day.

I’ve been missing my family, thus the secret prayer to find a way to spend more time with them. The kids have a long school break and my husband was the only one who needed to be back at a certain time. (It was a secret prayer because I don’t like sounding disappointed by our circumstances. After all, I married him with full knowledge that one day we would live in Pennsylvania. I just didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to be so far away from everyone else.)

Then my uncle, who lives in Colorado, died, and we started asking different questions.

Are we going to Colorado?

Who is going to Colorado?

When are we going to Colorado?

How are we getting there?

My uncle was the sort of person who didn’t want people to make a fuss, so he wanted no funeral service, only to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in the mountains (an impossibility in the winter months).

But the rest of us need closure and to be together, so the planning began. During the holiday break, when several family members have time off because they work for school districts, a trip to Colorado would happen.

The catch? Several of those family members do not like to fly, so this would be a road trip.

Unwilling to subject ourselves to a possible 16-hour drive with a day off followed by another possible 16-hour drive (did you know Denver is 1,500 miles from where we live in Pennsylvania?!?), my husband suggested something crazy. (At least it sounded crazy to me.)

“Why don’t we fly home?”

We have lived in Pennsylvania for more than six years and have never flown back to Illinois. Mainly because it’s expensive and not perfectly convenient. Since there are four of us, we still need a vehicle in Illinois, so loading up the van and driving for a day or overnight has always been the preferred option.

Until now.

After my initial shock and near-refusal, the idea grew on me. We would arrive in Illinois considerably fresher and certainly earlier than if we drove, and because we would only be in our hometown area for a few days, not having our own vehicle isn’t too much of an issue.

So plans came together. We booked tickets. We arranged flights and school and work schedules.

And that is only part of the adventure.

Forrest Cavale | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Forrest Cavale | Creative Commons | via unsplash

The second leg of our Christmas vacation involves four generations of family in an RV driving across the Midwest Plains to Denver for a long weekend of grieving, celebrating and being together. It also involves one of our particular foursome flying back to Pennsylvania from Denver so he can return to work and the rest of us spending a few extra days in Illinois with a yet-to-be-determined rendezvous somewhere between Illinois and Pennsylvania.

If you’re still with me, you’re probably thinking one of two things. I know this, not because I’m a mind reader, but because every person I’ve told this plan to has had one of these two reactions and nothing in-between.

One reaction is: “That’s awesome! You guys are going to have so much fun! What an adventure! I’ve always wanted to do that!”

The other is: “Wow. That sounds … interesting. I’ll pray for you.”

Honestly, I waver between both of those feelings–excitement and terror. Because, let’s face it, this could be the most awesome thing to ever happen to our family or it could be a total disaster. (In reality, it will probably have moments of both). Either way, this will be one of our most memorable holidays ever.

And that’s worth something.

So, I can’t promise you a bunch of blog posts from the road because I’m not exactly sure what all we’re taking with us. But, if you’re interested in following along the adventure on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram, I’m going to use the hashtag #XCountryXmas for all travel related posts. (You can find me on Goodreads to see all the books I read while we travel, too.) I will be writing down memorable quotes, journaling my thoughts and taking pictures along the way, hoping to bring you a share of our memories in the new year.

And just to give you a teaser, here’s the first memorable quote for the trip to come.

Me: Izzy, I e-mailed you teacher today and she said to have a good trip and that you were excited.

Izzy (the first-grader): Yeah, and I might even see the Platte River.

Me: How do you know about the Platte River?

Izzy: My teacher told me. It’s in Nebraska. I can’t wait to go through Nebraska.

Me: I think you’re going to be disappointed. (No offense to Nebraska.)

To epic road trips and beyond! (And Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and all that jazz!)

Set a story in Chicago and I’m glad to read it: Review of Secrets of Sloane House by Shelley Gray

I first knew of Shelley Shepard Gray as an author of Amish fiction. Now I know her writing credits stretch beyond those boundaries. In Secrets of Sloane House, writing as Shelley Gray, she pens a novel of suspense, mystery and romance set against the Chicago World’s Fair. (Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book through the Booklook Bloggers Program in exchange for my review.)

sloane houseI love a story set in historical Chicago, and even though I don’t know much about the era, it’s still fun to read about the city I most love to visit. My husband recently read The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, a true story of events that happened during the Chicago World’s Fair. As I read Secrets of Sloane House, I got the impression that it was like The Devil in the White City meets Downton Abbey.

Rosalind Perry is a servant in Sloane House, but she’s there under false pretenses–investigating what might have happened to her sister who was a servant there and has disappeared. As she asks questions and tries to uncover the mystery, she begins to fear for her own safety when it becomes clear that everyone around her is keeping secrets and her questions are drawing the wrong kind of attention. Only Reid Armstrong, the heir to a silver fortune, agrees to help her. Remembering his middle class roots, Reid forgoes propriety to help Rosalind, a servant in another house, much to the dismay of some of society’s members.

Though it’s not a fast-paced action kind of story, it is intriguing and held my attention. I wanted to know what happened to Rosalind’s sister, and I was interested in the World’s Fair come to life in the lives of ordinary Chicagoans of the day. The relationship between Reid and Rosalind is full of potential problems and it was fun to see how their story played out.

Secrets of Sloane House is the first in a series that I would continue reading. If you’ve read any of Gray’s Amish fiction, you’ll find this a departure from those stories, but if you’re not interested in Amish fiction, this one is worth a try.

And it makes me wish for a Downton Abbey style show set in Chicago!

The surprising word that sums up our vacation

I remember the year everything about vacation changed.

It was sometime in those middle school years, I think, and my parents took us on a trip to Florida they or someone in our family had won through some kind of promotion. And of course, there was a catch. The kind where you go on the trip in exchange for sitting through an hour-long promotion from an agency that sells condos. (We did this on our honeymoon to score some gas cards and a restaurant gift card. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever done, but it also wasn’t pleasant.) My parents sat and listened to the man and his sales pitch while my brother and I did whatever we could to entertain ourselves. I remember they told my parents afterward how well-behaved we were. Maybe that was part of the pitch.

Our family walked away from the meeting that day the proud new owners of a time-share condo in Daytona Beach. I secretly thought my parents might be crazy, but I was a kid, so what did I know?

From then on, our vacation destination was set: Daytona Beach, Florida. Or, if it wasn’t too much trouble, somewhere else we could exchange our week. One year, it was Arizona. (The aforementioned honeymoon was in Williamsburg, Virginia, and is thanks to that time share week, so I guess I better not complain!)

The beach. Most summers we drove for two days to spend time at the beach.

And what I remember most about those summers is ridiculously painful sunburn (the fate of the fair-skinned) and overwhelming feelings of inadequacy about my body (the fate of the non-bikini-clad, at least that’s what I thought then). I was never a partier, so a week at the beach was not the raucous good time I’m sure some of my peers might have envisioned. In truth, I was happy to sit on the balcony of the condo (in the shade) and read book after book after book. But that was how I would have spent my summer no matter where I was. The view was just a little better in Florida.

Two years ago, our little family of four got to go to Daytona together with my parents, and that trip redeemed most of my so-so memories of Florida vacations.

But I still had my reservations about the beach. We are reluctant acquaintances.

Months ago, our friends posed the question: What would we think about taking a vacation to the beach with their family?

We’ve lived in Pennsylvania for six years and the “shore” has been on our list of things we wanted to do, just to experience what so many of our friends and acquaintances know and love. But we didn’t know where to begin or if we could go for the day, and frankly, we’ve never had the money or time to do it. Our friends go to Cape May, New Jersey, and they stay in the same house each time, and we’ve heard wonderful things about that area. So, this seemed the perfect opportunity.

Still, I was hesitant.

I’m not really a beach person, I told my friend, who is the complete opposite. She could live on the beach and be happy the rest of her days (and I love her for that). But we kept talking about it and because we love this family so much and their kids and our kids are friends, we agreed to look into and consider the costs and availability.

Long story, shorter, we booked a week in a house in Cape May, New Jersey, and last week embarked on our first-ever vacation with another family to the beach.

In the week leading up to vacation, I was super stressed out. Our kids had been back from Illinois only a few days before our beach week was to begin, and I hate packing. Plus, our travel was going to be split up. The moms and kids were going on Saturday and the dads would follow on Sunday. So, I had to segregate the packed belongings into Saturday and Sunday piles. It was overwhelming. 20140719_103529

By the time I got in my friend’s van on Saturday, I was ready for some R&R. Except that we had five kids between the two of us and more than three hours of driving ahead of us. R&R was maybe a far-fetched dream.

Traffic snarled and crawled as we drew closer to the beach. The miles ticked down on the GPS and time seemed to stand still. Then finally–FINALLY–we were at the house and out of the car and unpacking our meager belongings (the second wave of provisions would arrive Sunday night with the men). And we could hardly wait another minute to see the ocean. So, we piled back into the van and drove out to the park where the lighthouse stands. We raced over the dunes, spread our arms wide and exhaled.

IMG_20140719_175613With a breezy welcome, the ocean crashed its greeting onto the shore. We cast off our shoes and let the sand fill the gaps between our toes. The ocean teased us with its gentle lapping, and we let the cool waters wash our feet. It was a foretaste of the week to come, just enough to remind us that we had made it. We walked the shore, the kids running off their dormant energy, collecting shells, until our feet couldn’t take any more. We bid the ocean “good night” then searched for a pizza place to satisfy our hunger.

We woke the next day with plans to hit the beach for real and after a Herculean effort to wrangle five kids into swimwear and pack a lunch, we made it to the beach and the children frolicked while we soaked up sun and let the rhythmic ocean waves soothe our weary souls. (But lest I forget, the wind was fierce that day and the sand was stinging us. We may look relaxed in our pictures but we were fighting for our happy place.)

It is not easy getting to the beach, but once you’re there, it’s worth it. Each day we were at the beach, I felt like time stood still.

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After dinner, we walked the promenade and stumbled upon a wedding taking place on the beach. As my friend, Beth, so eloquently observed:

We (2 exhausted mammas and 5 full of energy children) walk the mile or so to the end of the promenade-where ocean meets rocky shore-where a wedding party forms. Bridesmaids clothed in teal, hairspryed hair withstanding wind. Groom wringing his hands. A bridal white horse drawn carriage rolls to a halt. The girl children-busily imagining their weddings 20 years the making-“Ohhhh and Ahhh” as they see her, the Princess bride. As we all are taken by the magic of the moment-of the majestic ocean and mystery of love-the horse, adorned with braided hair and roses, urninates while all five of our kiddos loudly observe, “Ewww He’s peeing.”

Our men arrived later that night to find their wives barely hanging onto sanity. They’d never been more heroic in our eyes.

We had literally already been to the nut house.

We had literally already been to the nut house.

The week was full of surprises. Perhaps the most surprising was this: I actually had a good time. And by that I mean I would do it all again tomorrow. All the packing, all the driving, all the washing sand out of everything, all the protecting our lunches from seagulls, all the sunscreen, all the lotion, all the walking and sweating and cooking and cleaning.

It’s not that I expected to have a horrible time. I knew it would be fun because our friends are fun and seeing new places is fun and being together as a family is fun. I just didn’t expect to have so much fun I’m actually missing it today. Me? Missing the beach? Who’d have thought?

I had hoped to write a post listing all my favorite things about our trip or recounting all the best moments, but the truth is, I can’t choose favorite moments because there are too many. Each day was special for lots of reasons and to single out a best moment is too hard. (Plus, I don’t want you to hate me for having a fabulous beach vacation. Trust me, it’s a rarity for our family. We do not live glamorous lives all the time. Case in point, this blog post.)

So, how would I sum up our vacation? You’ve read this far, so I owe you a word, and that word is the word that I’ve been meditating on all year long.

Enjoy.

From the splashing in the water to the digging our toes in the sand to the climbing the lighthouse steps to the date night with tasty seafood to the shared meals around the kitchen table to the late-night talks to the overall ambiance of this historical seaside resort, I enjoyed our vacation. (And if you need to know why it’s so hard for me to enjoy life, read this post.)

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So, here’s my question for you: When’s the last time you were surprised by how much you enjoyed something? Care to share your story? Leave a comment so we can enjoy together.

When it’s Father’s Day and I remember

When Throwback Thursday comes around each week, I find myself thumbing through a bin of photos looking for just the right one to capture that week’s sentiment. More often than not, I spend a whole morning looking and remembering.

A few weeks ago I found a bunch from a family vacation we took out West to Utah and Arizona in 1993. The one where we drove through the desert and saw awe-inspiring rock formations and stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon breathless and speechless.

My brother is that white speck at the bottom.

My brother is that white speck at the bottom.

Later that week, I was thinking about all the places I want my kids to see in their life. How I want to take them to Niagara Falls because it’s closer than it ever was from where I grew up. How I want them to experience people and places all over the world. How I want them to remember road trips as fun and exciting, not torturous boredom. (Our daughter just agreed that traveling U.S. Route 30 from here to our hometown sounded like fun. Parenting win!)

I want them to see beyond the small slice of the world we live in. And I have my dad to thank for that.

Last year, I wrote a little bit about my dad, but recently I’ve discovered another way he has quietly shaped my life: He planted in us–my brother and me–a sense of adventure.

My dad showing us how tall this tall cactus really was!

My dad showing us how tall this tall cactus really was!

I was not what you would call a risky child. Constantly worried about doing the wrong thing or getting in trouble, I was a stick-to-the-rules-and-nobody-gets-hurt kind of girl. And trying new things was not high on my list any day of the week.

But I remember loving the idea of seeing new places.

I couldn’t tell you from memory what our first family vacation was, but I can tell you that I remember taking them.

The one that probably stands out the most is the one I mentioned earlier. It was our longest trip by car, spanning two weeks, and we packed a lot of sightseeing into those weeks. (And remember this was before the days of Google and GPS, so we planned our trip with maps and travel brochures. Old school!) Arches National Park. Zion National Park. The Grand Canyon. Utah. Arizona. And lots of places between there and our home state, Illinois.

What I always remember from those trips, imperfect as they were, is my dad. He made sure we experienced things in our childhood that were missing from his. When he saw the Grand Canyon, it was his first time also. Sharing that awe gave me a greater appreciation for whatever we were experiencing. No matter what we were doing, Dad made it an adventure.

We had this sort of unofficial rule that we couldn’t eat at places we could eat at if we weren’t on vacation. We avoided McDonald’s and Wendy’s whenever possible so we had to try new things.

Confession: This terrified me. I was so insecure in my growing up years that I didn’t know what I liked, including what I liked to eat. Ordering at a familiar restaurant was easy because I would usually just get the same thing every time. New places, though. I could hardly make up my mind and would usually just panic at the last minute and order the first thing I saw. I also had an overactive imagination (serves me well as a writer though!) so I’d imagine all the trouble we’d find by visiting a new place.

For my dad, though, it was part of the adventure. And a necessary part of the adventure. I don’t remember every off-the-beaten-path place we’ve been to, but I know my husband once found his new favorite barbecue sauce at a joint attached to a gas station. If we’d been traveling alone, we might have missed it, but my dad pulled in ready to try something new. We’ve eaten at family restaurants and new-to-us fast food places.

And I survived every single one of them.

With two young kids who I’d only call picky about when they eat not what they eat, we don’t do this enough on our travels, but my husband has a similar sense of adventure to my dad, and he builds on my childhood experiences by taking me places I’d never venture into alone. (And trust me, I’m not sorry he does it. I’d have missed out on a bacon milkshake if not for my husband.)

I’m still less of an adventurer than some people I know. I won’t be the first to volunteer for something new and even when trying something new, I’m still hesitant sometimes. I still crave the familiar and comfortable but my life is so often enriched by the unfamiliar that I’m learning to embrace those times.

I don’t know if my dad knew that’s what he was doing all those years we went on vacation or if he just brought us along on trips he thought would be fun. But I can definitely say that my increasing love of travel, of seeing new places, of visiting local eateries, started with him.

So, even though it’s hard beyond words sometimes that our family lives 800 miles from our families and hometown, our living in Pennsylvania is part of a lifelong adventure we’re passing on to our kids.

My dad took us across the country on vacation. That led me to take a trip across the ocean for a semester of college. Then it was a trip across the eastern states to make a life with my husband. Where it will lead next, I don’t know, but I’m so very thankful for a father who challenged us to see a world outside our hometown.

I’ve heard said that the best things parents can give their children is roots and wings. Because of mine, I have both. And so, I hope, will my kids.

Happy Father’s Day to my dad and all the dads out there!

What is one thing you’ve learned from your father?