A Road Trip Through Childhood

route_66My love for travel was instilled in me at an early age. Vacations and weekends free from work inevitably meant a road trip of one kind or another.

My mom would pack and organize the car to keep us kids comfortable, entertained, and separated. Separation was key to any successful road trip. Only a year and a half apart in age, my sister and I would often end up fighting like animals. On our own, we were both quite civil and well behaved. It was only when we were together that things had a tendency to turn ugly. To preserve everyone’s sanity, separation was mandatory. Neither of us dared cross the imaginary middle line between our two sides. Crossing it always meant trouble that wouldn’t end well for either of us.

To avoid the chaos of traffic, we’d set off on our road trips in the late evening hours and drive late into the night. Happily tucked away into my side of the backseat, I would cuddle down with my pale pink pig pillow, soft lap blanket, and my backpack filled with books and activities while my sister was secure on her side of the car with her round grey hippo pillow, her own soft lap blanket, and respective backpack filled with books and activities. Traveling this way never failed to lull me and my sister to sleep. To this day, I cannot ride in the back of a car without nodding off.

pink pigOur road trips led to all kinds of adventures, both big and small. The memories come one after another.

Riding the cable cars in San Francisco, I stood outside a shop in China Town staring in horror at the ducks hanging in the window until my mom insisted I go in to see all the things the shop had to offer. If memory serves, we bought spices from that small shop.

Camping deep in the mountains, we are delighted to find a small creek close to our campsite. My sister spend those few days wading and playing in the creek.

The storm was one for the record books. Creeping through snow and ice, we were cautiously making our way through it when we were stopped short by a man flagging cars down. My dad stopped, assuming the man had been in a wreck and needed help. As it turned out, the man had narrowly missed the seventy car pile up on the road ahead of us. He was flagging down cars to warn them, so no one else would get hurt. For the next hour or so, my dad and that man flagged down other unsuspecting cars until emergency personnel arrived.

Standing in what seemed to be a mile long line to ride the Matterhorn at Disneyland, my dad and I were both visibly dragging our feet. We both hated high rides while my sister and mom loved them. For some unknown reason, riding this particular ride was deemed a family affair. As we drew closer and closer to the front of the line, my dad and I grumbled about plummeting to our death. Almost to the front of the line, my mom either felt sorry for us or had enough of our grumbling and told us we didn’t have to go on the ride if we didn’t want to. Looking at me, my dad asked me if I’d like to get out of line. Instead of jumping at the chance to free myself from this horrendous experience, I was filled with righteous indignation. We had waited nearly an hour and a half to go on this ride, and that was exactly what I was going to do. As I was hurtling through the dark caverns at a thousand miles a minute screaming for dear life, my regret was swift and unrelenting.

Traveling along highways and back roads, we’d often stop at little road side stands seeing what treasures they had to offer. Fresh fruits, vegetables, ice cream, and curios at these little places always held my fascination.

Sitting cross legged on the floor of a longhouse, we watched in awe and delight as a Native American tribe danced.

Flinstones2Piling out of the hot sticky car, I lift my face to the sky and gratefully take in the fresh air. We’ve finally arrived. We are in South Dakota. We’ve come to visit my grandparents, but this trip also means we get to see Mount Rushmore and Flintstone Land. I think I was most excited about Flintstone Land.

There is something distinctly special about road trips. Cramming everyone into the car and hitting the open road is liberating. It allows you to connect in a way that cannot be done when work, school, and the outside world are continually knocking at your door. Some of the best childhood memories I have are when we  were road tripping across the United States.

 

 

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New York City: An Experience

ny skylineHave you ever had a place you’ve always wanted to visit? For me, this place was New York City.

I imagined the sights, the sounds, and the smells long before I ever made it into the City. I dreamed about overloading my senses with the textures, the tastes, the energy, the excitement, the culture, and the wondrous people. A city unlike any other, I knew New York would be amazing. How could it not?

Sadly, I wasn’t sure if or when this dream of mine would ever be a reality. Traveling across the country to visit the city simply wasn’t within the realm of possibilities. Truthfully, it wasn’t a priority. I was too focused on climbing the corporate ladder, raising my family, and making my everyday life better. My dream would lay dormant in the back of my mind. It was one of those “some day” dreams.

Little did I know that “some day” would happen sooner than I ever imagined.

Unexpectedly, everything fell into place. My daughter’s business and marketing club was traveling to New York City, and they were looking for parents to chaperon. It was the perfect opportunity. After quickly verifying with my daughter that she wouldn’t die of embarrassment if I were to go, I took vacation and volunteered. The cost of the trip would be a quarter of what we would normally pay for air fare, hotel, and attractions if we were traveling on our own. We would also have the safety of the group for our first time in the big city. It was perfect. I couldn’t be more excited.

A cram packed itinerary kept us on the go from the moment we landed at Newark Airport. Being a school sponsored trip, we were extremely privileged to have the opportunity to be able to see and do many things, most tourists never get to do when visiting. It was an exciting whirlwind.

 

Standing at the top of the Empire State Building, we felt small as we took in the view of the magnificent city skyline at night. We took in the billboards, the lights, and the fantastic chaos of Times Square. Dining at Lombardi’s Pizza, we sampled original New York style pizza at one of NYC’s oldest restaurants. We received a rich history lesson when we boated out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and stood where millions of immigrants once stood, desperately hoping they would receive clearance to enter our great country. Touring several successful businesses around the city, the kids were given an inside view to help them understand first hand what it takes to succeed. We shopped at store after store, but the overall favorite was Century 21 with its the discount sales. Dressing up, we were entertained by shows both on and off Broadway. Exploring Yankee Stadium, we were given a sneak peek of what it would be like to watch a game from a luxury box. Visiting Radio City Music Hall, we received the grand tour and met a Rockette. We visited Louisa May Alcott’s house. Walking through Central Park, we paid our respects to John Lennon at Strawberry Fields. We haggled with shop keepers and street vendors in China town. We took breakfast at a local deli by our hotel. Paying homage to the victims of 09/11, we visited the memorial and St. Paul’s Chapel. We did it all and so much more.

The City was everything I imagined and more. I loved it all, every enthralling and exhausting moment of it. Best of all, I came to love the people.

Weaving our way around the city to get from Point A to Point B in the short time frame, we had between activities was no easy feat with fifteen teenagers, two volunteer parents, and one teacher. Thankfully, we had Jay navigating us all. Jay was our tour guide, a real New York treasure. An amazing man with a wealth of knowledge, Jay would heighten each activity and experience by regaling us with facts and informative New York stories. His love for the city shone through, and made our visit extraordinary.

Each morning, my daughter and I would wake early, get ready for the day, and walk to the corner deli where we would enjoy a leisurely breakfast served by the kindest man who always seemed to have a smile on his face and a kind word for anyone entering his shop. It was a simple activity, but perhaps one of the ones, I enjoyed the most. It was nice to enjoy this time with my daughter before meeting everyone else in the lobby of the hotel to get started for the day.

Wedged together on the elevator of the Empire State Building, we were treated to some crazy unplanned entertainment by a drunk mother and her two equally inebriated adult daughters. Laughing and carrying on, the daughters gave us quite the show when they randomly flashed us all. Their mom then began panicking, begging to be let off the elevator. Repeatedly, she pushed the elevator’s emergency button causing a voice to come on over the loud speaker asking if there was an emergency and informing us all that the button being pushed was sending notification to the police and to the fire department. Stepping in, we were finally able to get her to keep her hands to herself long enough to allow us to safely descend to the ground. This crazy mom and her girls gave me and my daughter an experience we’ll never forget.

Packing our bags to return home, I knew I would return. How could I not, now that I knew how amazing the City actually was.

My daughter’s eighteenth birthday would be the perfect opportunity. She loved the City as much as I had, and would be ecstatic to visit it again. Buried in work, I was only able to arrange an extended weekend getaway this time, but it was good enough for us. Flying from Alaska to New York, I arranged our trip so we would have two travel days and two full days in NYC. Making the arrangements, I booked us a room at the Westin Hotel in Times Square, booked a shuttle from the airport to our hotel, and bought us tickets to see the Lion King on Broadway. This was the extent of my planning. Wanting to keep things simple this time around, I wanted us to have time to go with the flow and indulge in all the little things we never got to do last time.

Again, it was the people of New York City who helped to make our trip what it was.

Catching our shuttle at the airport, I was caught off guard when I learn the shuttle has a specific route they follow and wouldn’t be dropping patrons off at their specific destinations. Immediately, all my inner warning bells begin ringing. I am in New York City with my beautiful daughter, we have all our bags, and we are about to be dumped out onto some random street corner. Neither of us would stand a chance against a mugger. I see my daughter’s birthday trip turning bad on the turn of a dime. Mentally preparing myself, I wonder how many bags I can juggle myself while leaving the lighter stuff for her to hang on to. At the next stop, I gather my courage and ask one of the porters which stop would be the ¬†closest to the Westin Hotel. The young man takes one look at me then looks to my daughter, smiles and asks me to give him a minute. Going up to the front of the bus, he confers with the driver who looks back at us and nods.

Coming back to where I’m standing, the young man tells me with a smile. “Don’t worry. We will take you to the Westin Hotel.”

Instantly, I’m relieved. Gratitude washes over me. I no longer have to worry about being lost in the City. This young man has erased all the fears running through my mind. I thank him profusely. I sit back down as we get on our way.

The driver calls out that the next stop will be the shuttle’s last stop, warning everyone they would need to disembark. Looking out the windows, I don’t see our hotel. Nervously, I wonder if they’ve changed their minds. Quickly, I tell my daughter we are going to have to find our own way to the hotel. Warning her to stick close to my side, I tell her I will take the heavy bags, and she will take our lightest one. When the shuttle stops, I nudge her to stand.

Looking in the rear view mirror, the driver calls out to her. “Little, Miss. Not yet. Please, sit down. This isn’t your stop. We are going to take you to your hotel. It’ll be the next stop.”

My daughter looks to me and sits down.

“Thank you so much.” I tell him with a grateful smile.

He returns my smile and helps the remaining patrons with their bags.

As the shuttle empties, I feel another nudge of nervousness. It is now just us and the two men working the shuttle. I can’t help but worry that I may have just gotten us into a worse predicament. However, my fears are unfounded. The shuttle lumbers up to the front door of our hotel. We’ve arrived safely to our destination thanks to the kindness and the generosity of these wonderful young men. Thanking them profusely, I show my appreciation the only way I could, giving them each a generous tip.

We spent the next two nights happily exploring, shopping, and experiencing all the wonders of the City that we could. Neither of us can wait to go back.

 

 

Sharing a Meal

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It’s the perfect time of year. The leaves on the trees have turned from green to bright hues of yellows, oranges, and red. The tree line in the park is ablaze with the magnificent colors.

Pulling on my sweatshirt, I settle down beside the campfire. The smell of our dinner cooking among the embers wafts up, floating along the air, mixing with the damp smell of earth.

“Sorry to interrupt, but we were wondering if you’d all be willing to sell us a few pieces of wood.” A soft voice breaks across the camp.

Turning towards the voice, I see a couple of teenage kids standing at the edge of the road. They look to be about my daughter’s age, maybe a couple years older. Standing, I smile in welcome. Moving towards the wood pile to get them what they need, I can’t help but laugh to myself as I see Nana heading towards them. Nana is a people person. She loves meeting new people, and collects friends where ever we go. She’ll have those kids sitting around the fire eating dinner with us, before they even know what’s happened.

Beaming, Nana welcomes them.”It’s a nice night, isn’t it? Come, gather around the fire. Nothing would please me more than to have you and yours, join me and mine. Dinner is about ready. There is more than enough. We’re having campfire packets. Have you ever had them? They are simple and delicious.”

“No, Ma’am. We didn’t mean to intrude. We were just hoping to get some wood to start a fire for our own dinner.” The young girl explained with a small smile of her own.

“Nonsense. You’re not intruding. Fellow travelers are always welcome. We have plenty. While we wait for dinner to finish cooking among the coals, we can share a story or two to while away the night.”

“Thank you, Ma’am. If you’re sure?” The young woman responded, casting an eye over our camp before looking to the young man quietly standing beside her.

“Of course, I’m sure. I can’t think of a nicer way to spend an evening than with good food and good company.” Beaming, she ushered them towards the fire to meet the rest of the family.

Scooting closer together, everyone shifted, making room for our guests. There is something relaxing and easy about a campfire and the smell of food cooking on an open fire. Before too long, we’ve gotten to know our new friends a little better.

Traveling from Maine to Texas, Craig and Jenny are driving down to surprise Jenny’s grandma who’ll be turning ninety-seven in a few weeks. They are good kids – not kids, really. In their early twenties, they are older than they look. Still kids to me. Craig is quiet and reserved while Jenny seems more open and outgoing. Both are a little hesitant and cautious. It’s understandable. I imagine they don’t quite know what to make of my crazy traveling family. We can be a lot to take.

Opening the campfire packets, we release the steam and the aromas into the air. The smell has everyone sniffing appreciatively.

“Wash up, everyone. Dinner is ready.” Nana calls as I begin dishing up the plates.

Food brings us together. It nourishes us. Food connects people in a way nothing else can. Sharing a meal is the same the world over. It is a time to talk, to laugh, and to appreciate the people around you.

Campfire Packet Recipe

Ingredients:

  1. Heavy Duty Tin Foil
  2. Chicken breast
  3. Cubed Potatoes
  4. 1 Green Bell Pepper, Seeded and Sliced into Strips
  5. 1 Orange Bell Pepper, Seeded and Sliced into Strips
  6. 1 Red Onion, Sliced into Strips
  7. 1 Garlic Cube, Sliced
  8. Olive Oil/Pam

Preparing:

  1. Lay out 2 sheets of your heavy duty tin foil.
  2. Spray both sheet liberally with Pam
  3. Place chicken breast in center of of first sheet of tin foil
  4. Add your potatoes, peppers, onion, and garlic around it.
  5. Top with the other sheet of heavy duty tin foil.
  6. Roll the edges tightly.
  7. Wrap each packet in another sheet of foil to secure.
  8. Cook in the hot coals of a campfire until the chicken is cooked and vegetables are tender.