Aug 31, 2014

That Heart Swelling Bike Ride.

I really need to take you on my bike ride with me. Every single time I take this bike ride I long to show it to you but since that is most likely impossible I am going to do my very best to see if I can help you to visualize it. And then you can figure out how to come and bring your bike and spend 45 blissful minutes with me.

My bike is sitting on my parents back porch. I dearly love this bike. It has a basket, it is white, and it is small. I have received several compliments on how nice this bike is but I have to tell you I do not think I understand or know what I have. You see by helping a friend in Massachusetts with her landscaping I earned this bike. Her daughter had outgrown it. But I do not know much about it other than the color and size and the few things random people have said to me about it.

As I head out the door I grab my humongous red headphones, none of that teeny tiny ear bud thing for me. Then I grab my emerald green i-pod shuffle, it would be a travesty to forget that. I can do a silent bike ride but I prefer the music in my ears as I ride. I always stand by my bike and fumble to attach the silly mini shuffle to the short sleeve of my black adidas v-neck shirt that I almost always wear when I exercise. When the shuffle is finally securely on my sleeve and my headphones on my ears I kick back the kickstand and start walking my bike.

My parents driveway is a curious thing. It comes in straight from the main road to a gate and then once you come in the gate it starts straight downhill. It is all gravel so I simply can not ride my bike straight up that gravel hill to the gate (yes, I have tried). So I grab both handlebars and push it up to the gate. Once I am at the gate I get on the bike and coast down the second half of the driveway which looks flat but when you get on a bike you realize it is not.

Once you get to the end of the driveway you are immediately on a hill. Sometimes I will go for a walk and walk up the hill from my parents house. This, my friends, is a huge steep hill and I have been known to do lunges all the way up it....because for some strange reason it is fun. Their driveway is in the middle of this massive hill. Which makes it so I have a commanding view of Cottage Grove reservoir and all the hills and trees around. But what comes up must go down so when I get to the end of the driveway and turn left I am immediately going 90 miles an hour if I am not careful. I am getting braver each time I do this. And I am starting to really fly down this hill which is probably not so good. But for now I do keep my hands firmly on both brakes most of the way down the hill. But the seconds that I let off the brakes truly are very glorious.

When I get to the bottom of the hill the road comes to a T and across the road from me is a campground for the reservoir and I have to turn right or turn left. I turn left and everything is fairly flat from here on out. I ride along the edge of the campground for maybe a half mile. I can see the lake through the trees and I can observe all the paraphernalia that people bring to go camping. It never ceases to amaze me what they set up at their campsites. Their chairs all arranged perfectly in circles around their campfire. Their tables with checkered tablecloths on them, their tents, their clotheslines, their bikes, their coolers, their lanterns sitting in the middle of their tables.  It makes me long to go camping.

As I keep pedaling along it is not long before there is nothing on either side of the road but trees or views of the lake. I take so many deep breaths because it feels so good to be riding along listening to my music. The air feels perfect. The views are really too much. Have you ever felt your heart swell because you are so content? That happens every time I go on this bike ride. How do you describe the heart swelling thing to someone? I search for the words ever single time I am on this bike ride. What are the precise words to describe that feeling?

The road goes along the edge of the reservoir and hardly any cars pass me on the road. I pedal past blackberry patches that make the air smell so amazingly sweet. I pedal past wildflowers like I have never seen before. Blue cornflowers and these low growing deep pink and light pink flowers that look a little bit like sweet peas or snapdragons and then all mixed in is Queen Anne's lace. I pedal past warm pine smell. And sometimes a waft of a campfire will mix in making my heart feel like bursting. Geesh, corny much? :) The road is perfectly smooth. That smooth road thing rarely happens in Massachusetts so I am loving it.

Soon there is a serious mountain on my left and the lake on my right and I keep wanting to stop and take pictures because every view is better than the last. But I refrain. Soon on my right is just waving deep green grass and a meandering river that is leaving the reservoir. Sometimes I see boats on this river and they remind me that I need to go try that. At one point in this part of the trip I am literally pedaling along the edge of the road and there is a steep but short hill going down to the water. I can almost see my reflection in the water it is so close. I often think about what would happen if I made one small wrong move at this part and I pedal a little faster to get past it.

When I have gone about three miles I come to another T in the road and I turn around and head back. As I go through groves of pine trees I can't help but look up at the tree tops and smile as I am biking down the middle of this tunnel. Yes, I do occasionally think about Bigfoot in this part but I quickly imagine that I do not interest him :) When I come to a break in the trees I can not help but burst into a smile again as I see the very blue lake, the opposite shore in the distance, and the mountains of trees in every direction. If there happens to be puffy clouds and clear blue sky it really is almost more than I can bear and I almost stop on the side of the road and call you.

I rode my bike in Massachusetts quite a bit and I thought I had a pretty great route but I never imagined I would have a bike ride like this. I feel very spoiled. When I get back to the end of my parents road I always stand up on the pedals and pedal for all I am worth to see how far I can make it up their hill before I die. I never stop before the edge of their neighbor Nela's fence but I have yet to make it past that point. My lungs are usually protesting at this point. So I stop, get off, and push my bike the rest of the way up the hill to my parents driveway. This part involves an embarrassingly hug amount of huffing and puffing. I can feel the burn in the spot where my bum meets the top of my leg. It makes me happy to feel that one little spot working so hard. I turn onto their driveway and still walk my bike up to their gate and then down to the house.

And that my friends is my bike ride. I try to go every day but I am not perfect at it yet. I keep forgetting to take my camera. I have lots of pictures on my phone but I can not get them onto my computer. Yeah, I do not want to talk about it :)

Aug 27, 2014

Essay Contest.

So there is this magazine that has an essay contest every month. I used to get this magazine and every month when it came I would eagerly turn to the essay contest page and read what the topic was for the month and dream about writing an essay for it. I never did it. Why? I do not know. we could probably have a great conversation about what issues I had that made it so I did not ever actually act on this.

So eventually I stopped getting the magazine but the contest that went on every month without me still stayed in my mind. And I would occasionally think about it. So fast forward to two weeks ago when I arrived at my parents house and my mother plopped her latest copy of this magazine in my lap already folded to the essay page and she said you need to do this. I knew she was right. I read what the topic was and I smiled because it is all about me :) No, it is not about over thinking :) No, it is not about being under five feet tall. No, it is not about being an open book. The assignment is to write about an eureka moment you have had.

You all know that my first order of business was to go to dictionary.com and look up the word eureka. And I found out that eureka is an exclamation of triumph on discovering or solving something. It is the phrase that supposedly Archimedes called out when he solved a problem that had been set to him. Now that I knew what it was according to Webster I spent two days wondering what I would write about. I could not for the life of me focus on one perfect eureka moment. I kept thinking what "eureka" moments have I had in my life? At first there was nothing but the glaringly obvious recent divorce and move across the country and then, all of a sudden, the floodgates opened and I realized life is full of eureka moments. Isn't our goal in life to have moments where we discover something or solve something and have an awesome exclamation of triumph....like saying eureka :) Yeah, when was the last time you said that when you discovered something or solved something? :) We will save that discussion for later when we are eating salad and steak together :)

Some of our eureka moments are little. Like when I discovered that I could always change the paint color if I did not like it. So many wasted years I insisted on only white walls. Afraid of color. Afraid even more of the wrong color. When all of a sudden I had this random moment when I somehow discovered if I got the wrong color I could just change it. An inconvenience but not the end of the world. Geesh.

Another little eureka moment I had was when I realized that sharpening claws on important furniture, shedding hair, knocking cups of water off of the counter, and jumping on the kitchen table were what all cats do and if you had a cat you just had to be okay with that....or not have a cat.

I got out my book/journal that has blank paper in it and I found a fresh page and I wrote on the top "eureka moment" and then I wrote what it meant and then I wrote the word "ideas" and doodled a box around it. And then I just started writing the moments that I could remember where I discovered or solved something....I tried to write whatever came to my mind without stopping to think too much about it.

I wrote:

Library job made for me
not a cat owner
did not matter if someone liked me or not
people pleaser
could not control anyone but me
everybody's view is different
just read my favorite book in the world
I do have a favorite movie
can do self check out in the grocery store by myself
can always change the paint color
courage is what it is all about
I like helping people
I have faults and it is okay
my primary relationship was not healthy
people who do not merge when the sign says to merge and wait to the last minute have feelings too :)

So these were just a few times when I felt like I had discovered or solved something. I am sure there are many many more. Now I just have to figure out what I am going to write about for this contest. I thought the list I made would help me figure that out but it just made me want to write about all of them. Did I mention that the essay is due by the 18th of September? Did I mention there is a $3,000 dollar prize for first place? Did I mention it can not be more than 1,500 words? I eat 1,500 words for breakfast :)

Aug 25, 2014

Commercial Drivers License Much?

So a few weeks before I moved to Oregon my dad called me one day and told me that he happened to be friends with the guy who was the head of the school district transportation in his home town and that there were some jobs available for substitute driving school buses. I tried to act interested. Of course all my hopes and dreams were riding in another basket...the "get a library job" basket. I had never even considered in a million years driving a school bus. The pay did catch my attention because it was $5.00 more an hour than I was making at the library but I still did not really consider it. But I have learned through this process I have been through to not discount any leads that come my way and pursue them just to be sure. So I called the phone number of the guy and chatted with him for a minute. He said when I got to Oregon to give him a call. So I filed that information away in my head and then focused on my move and all the trauma that came with that.

Once I got to Oregon I followed through and got a hold of him and the first Tuesday morning after I arrived since I did not have a car yet my mom drove me over to the transportation office to meet with him. As I sat there and listened to him and his secretary tell me ALL about being a school bus driver and heard them tell me how they needed me to really be committed since they would have to pay $3,000 dollars to get me trained I realized that my hope that I could just casually be a substitute bus driver for awhile until I found something I liked better was not very realistic. This was serious. Not just an "I will do this until something better comes along" kind of job. I knew I needed to be honest with him. So I asked some questions about what kind of person drives a school bus and I was not so sure any of the characteristics that they listed were me. And then I asked him if it was unconventional if I went home and thought about it. I did not want to waste his time and money. He said that was fine. So I went home and thought and thought and called him the next day and told him I could not make that kind of commitment. Story over? Um no.

About a week later I was riding in the car with my dad and he said something about the bus driving and I started thinking about it again and I strangely saw it in a different light this time. Good pay. Hours that made it so I would only work when my girls were gone. All of a sudden the realization hit me that I should do it. It was the right thing for me for now.

So I got a hold of the guy at transportation and asked him if I repented for not seeing the value of it the first time if he would take me on as a substitute. He laughed and said yes and told me to go pick up the Oregon Commercial Drivers Manual from the Department of Motor Vehicles and start studying and he would meet with me the next week.

So today I met with him and now I have a fabulously huge list of things I have never done before that I need to do. The list is a little daunting. I took care of the easiest things first which were filling out papers at the school district office and getting fingerprinted at the police station. Let me tell you that fingerprinting thing was not the way I expected it to be... at all. Let me rock your world a little bit and tell you...they do not even use a stamp pad.... they use a computer.....how boring was that? It was a little awkward to have the policeman holding my hand in this tiny corridor and having to make small talk while he had to roll each of my ten fingers individually on this little computer screen. He was pleased that my fingers were more cooperative than most and so was I :)

The hard part is going to be taking the five tests at the Department of Motor Vehicles....air brakes and I have never met. I have not taken a test in many many years. But I am going to take one a day and study my guts out and hopefully a miracle will happen. They are multiple choice tests so I should be okay...right?

Aug 20, 2014

Buying A Car.

I think most of you know I arrived in Oregon car-less. It is a long and somewhat pathetic story about why I have never, in my 45 years, bought or owned my own car.  I have always wanted to but it has just never worked out. I feel like it is a rite of passage that I missed out on. Saving your own money and spending it carefully on your own car....good times.

I remember my friend Jenny getting her own car when we were in high school and she named it and took care of it and got to choose what kind of car she wanted, she even added her own accessories to make the car hers. She was so lucky. I still remember what she named the car.

So luckily this car saga has a happy ending. You see as of Monday the 18th of August in the year 2014 I bought my first car. I had hoped I could wait to buy a car for a few months but I quickly realized I could not keep expecting my parents to drive my 45 year old self everywhere and as much as I adore driving their Toyota Highlander (which was made for me :) I have been feeling some serious guilt about using it. So finally after about 9 days of being in Oregon I decided it was time to buckle down and figure this car thing out. I had a few thoughts about how this car shopping thing would go down.....

My first thought went something like this...someone rich would offer to buy me one of the new 2015 Mercedes S550's. They are starting at only $94,400. Yeah, I know, avoid reality much? :)

My second thoughts were more realistic. I knew I did not want a car payment in any way, shape, or form. So I needed the car to be under $5,000. I was hoping to spend $3,000 which some people giggled at.....it was inside of themselves giggling of course.....but they did not know I can spot inside giggling a mile away :)

I also adore manual transmissions. It is important to me that my kids learn how to drive them although ironically it turns out that only one of them up until now has. (Long, but very true story, about that :) Lets just say I have a most adorable child holding the number two spot in our family who is very persuasive when it comes to her likes and dislikes and managed to convince three siblings that driving a clutch is of the devil.

And of course my other thought was that I hoped that the car would be in good condition for its age and not be a pink MaryKay Cadillac.

I hate how most of us really do not know if a car is a good car or a bad car. I feel like maybe it is just luck that you always have a good car and I somehow always don't ...even though I know that can not be true. Can it?

Anyway I decided to start with Craigslist. After chatting with some of my peeps I figured I should look for a car that had a clean title. A car that had an owner that could produce service records would be nice. A car that had been owned by that person for awhile. A car that had not had a ton of owners. Please do not laugh at my methods :)

I started the Craigslist searching on Saturday evening. It took me a minute to focus and stop looking at the cars that people said were a dollar :) And the cars that were cool old vintage cars that needed work but were only $1,200 dollars :) But I finally found a Toyota Camry that looked really good and was only $4,400 dollars. I made an appointment to see it and then looked the car up on Edmunds.com with my dad to make sure they were asking a fair price and then anxiously waited for our scheduled time to see it. But by mid day on Sunday I got a text and they sold my car  to the person who looked at it before me. Oh no they didn't! Yeah, so this is how the Craigslist thing appears to work....if a car is in good condition and priced right you have to be fast. Like Superman fast.

So I started searching again. It was very entertaining to scroll through the gazillion pictures of cars and read what people decide is important to tell you about their car. Also very entertaining to see where they decide to take a picture of their car. Also entertaining to see what people think they can sell.....and probably do :)

I found a few more options but every time I found the car I was sure was mine I was not the first one to look at it and the first person to look at it ended up thinking it was theirs and bought it. This was serious. I needed to be glued to Craigslist. I even called on one car that had been only posted 26 minutes and still got the second appointment and lost.

Finally I got the first available appointment on a 1999 Toyota Camry that was an hour away. Thankfully it was far enough off the beaten path no one wanted to go to the work to look at it. The car had been posted for five days but the owner had just re-posted it and brought it up to the top of the list. My dad and I looked it up on edmunds and gathered our information and on Monday afternoon we drove out to Monroe, Oregon. It was a beautiful drive past field after field of farm land. On the drive I asked my dad how this would all go down since I have never bought anything from Craigslist before. I asked him what we should look for and what we should ask the owner about.

We arrived in Monroe a half hour early. Monroe is a teeny, tiny, very pretty town of 680 people there was not really anywhere to waste time while waiting so we sat in the car a block or so from where we were going to be looking at the car and waited. Finally we saw the car turn the corner and I know it sounds cheesy but I  knew that was the car for me. It is a four door white Toyota Camry and it looked so nice.

The guy who owned the car was the third owner and the second owner of the car had been his uncle who had owned it all except two years of its 14 years of life. He had records to show what had been done to the car. He had recently put new tires and a new clutch and new timing belts on it. The trunk was enormous. It was so clean. It was a five speed. It was clear that they guy had loved this car. He had taken very good care of it. I want to trust everyone and believe they are honest and it was so hard to keep reminding myself that I did not know this person and that he could be tricking me at any minute. My mind does not really think that way. I kept trying to be suspicious but I couldn't :)

To make a long story short I bought it. He had wanted to sell it for $4,000 but when you looked at edmunds it said a private party selling this car should ask $2,700. We told him that and he countered with the argument he had done a lot of work on the car. So we offered him $3,200... he asked if we could do better....  we said $3,300 and he said with a sigh...ok. I felt a little bad for him. I know how it feels to want to get a certain price for something and I wished I was richer so I could give him what he wanted but if I was richer I would be buying a new car off a lot not a car from a guy from Fiji who lived in a turquoise blue house in a town in the middle of nowhere  :)

I got to drive the car the hour home all by myself. I did not turn on the radio I just listened to the car. The clutch was so much smoother than my Subaru had ever been. I was so happy.

I want to post a picture to show you but I left my camera battery in Massachusetts charging and I can not get the pictures off of my phone onto my blog so just close your eyes and imagine a sleek, white, four door Toyota Camry LE with 164,000 miles on it. Nothing is wrong with the body of the car. The inside is so 1999 grey :) But that is okay. It is clean and that is what matters :) I have a cassette player...just in case :) And a cd player. I need to buy an adapter so I can use my ipod shuffle.I can fit several bodies in my trunk if necessary and that is a good feeling :)

All I ask of this car is 90,000 more miles and I really think he can do it. I am determined to take perfect care of it to make sure my luck with cars is changing :)


Aug 18, 2014

The Beach.

When was the first time you saw the ocean? Do you remember? I am sitting here staring out the window searching for my very first memory of the beach. I spent all of my growing up years in either California or Washington. I feel like the beach has always been a part of my life....whether it was a rocky Washington beach or a golden, warm, Southern California beach. My parents have a picture of me on the beach sitting in a baby pram they had so that must be why no matter how hard I try I can not find a memory of the first time I saw the ocean i was to little to properly remember the first time.

 I love the beach. Notice I did not say I love the ocean. I respect the ocean. Love it, um no. It tossed me around once when I was about thirteen and I still have the scars from the encounter with that old wave I met in San Clemente, California. And sea creatures fascinate me when I am at an aquarium but I have no desire to swim alongside them or touch them with my feet on accident. So I guess what I am saying is I am very good at sitting on the sand, wading in the water all the way up to my waist, and appreciating the abundant beauty but ever since that encounter with the wave I have not been a get all the way in and surf the waves kind of girl.

 I have been on rocky beaches where I delightedly gathered perfectly shaped M&M  rocks.....  which I still  have and guard with my life.
 I have been on beaches and attempted to chase clams down their little mud holes.
 I have been on beaches and built fires and watched fourth of July fireworks.....best fourth ever!!
 I have been on beaches with my high school friends and thrown cans of soda into fires and ran as they  exploded.
 I have taken silly pictures with friends with seaweed on beaches.
 I have hung out on the beach in the pouring rain.
 I have climbed on big rocks on beaches.
 I have walked on my heels in the sand.
 I have taken countless pictures on the beach.
 I have marveled at waves in Hawaii, American Samoa, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New  Hampshire, California, Oregon, New Jersey and Maine.
 I have found perfect whole sand dollars on the beach....highlight of my life :)
 I have chased seagulls away from my food on beaches.
 I have taken car loads of kids to the beach for birthday parties.
 I have climbed sand dunes on the beach.
 I have sat on the shore and figured out life on the beach.
 I have been in my dads old cadillac driving on the beach when I was a kid.
 When I was kid we lost our car keys on a rocky beach when we were camping.


And now as of Thursday, August 14th, 2014 I can say I have seen sea lions on the beach. We decided last Wednesday that Thursday was going to be, "go to the beach day." I was sure I  needed to show my girls some tide pools so I googled top ten tide pool beaches in Oregon but you all know how that surfing the internet thing goes and for some reason before I knew it I was very distracted and was looking at a beach near Cape Arago that declared it was a good place to see sea lions. I was convinced.

I have to tell you that the minute we got out of the car in the parking lot at this overlook on the Oregon coast I could hear the sea lions.....barking....so many of them. There were several rocks out in the ocean and they were full of hundreds of sea lions... all barking. Did I mention the barking? :) It was pretty cool. Sea Lion conference. We stood there for awhile and watched and exclaimed and a nice man loaned us his super nice binoculars so we could see them up close.

When we were done we drove a little ways down he road from this overlook, found a trail, and decided to follow it. First it lead to an overlook and down below the overlook there were big rocks that were up against the shore the more we looked we eventually noticed that there were two sea lions on these rocks and then we could see there were a few others swimming around....off in the distance we could still hear and see the hundreds of other sea lions barking.

We watched the sea lions on the rocks for awhile and mused about what they were doing and why they were away from the others and talked about what they must be feeling...even though we know they can not feel. Then we decided to go back and try a trail that looked like it actually went down to a beach. It did go to the beach. It was a rough beach with rocks and tons of driftwood and no people. Once we got down there we walked across the rocks around a corner and there were those sea lions right at eye level. So close. We took pictures and stared at them for awhile and then decided to go look for driftwood.

And I have to tell you I won in the driftwood hunting department I found a piece shaped exactly like a gun....with a little handle and everything. I may or may not of had way too much fun with that piece of driftwood and then I left it on the beach for others to find and have the same amount of fun with it.

After the sea lion beach we drove up the coast to the Oregon sand dunes. The beach there has perfect sand in every direction and flowing green grass. It is so pretty. The waves were bigger than any Natalie had ever seen. I forgot how soothing it is to walk and walk on the beach just looking at shells.

I have to tell you that I still have some beach dreams that need to come true:

I have yet to find a piece of sea glass and I long for that moment in a most unhealthy and obsessive way :)
I need to attend a sand building contest on a beach.
And I definitely need to spend the night on a beach.

Aug 15, 2014

Now What?

So I have been "home" for six days now. I had imagined that this being home thing would involve lots of resting, reading, and eating steak. This imagination is what kept me powering through my last few weeks in Massachusetts. But that old imagination loves to let me down....all the time.  I forgot how much work moving is. Especially with kids. Lots of networking needs to be done. We had schools to visit. We had physicals for sports to get. We had to unpack. We had to unload our pods. We had to go to the store to buy things we forgot or got rid of. Bank accounts. Drivers licence. Natalie's birthday is Sunday so I have had to get ready for that. Lots of phone calling. I even threw a job interview into the mix. I confess that it has been so much I knew I had lost focus and was wandering aimlessly off towards shiny things :) And shiny things are so....well shiny :)

Luckily in the middle of all of this messiness I had a road trip. I have always loved road trips but never really thought about why. But this time I realized I love them because they give me perspective. I do my best thinking in the car. This road trip happened on Tuesday. My girls have some dear friends from Massachusetts who happen to have grandparents who live in Redmond, Washington. Even though we have just barely left Massachusetts the girls really wanted to see each other, because they could. So I sat down and map-quested the distance between Cottage Grove, Oregon and Redmond, Washington and was pleasantly surprised...only five hours and some left over minutes. Totally do-able. For so many years visiting Washington has required a plane ticket. It is such a surreal feeling to realize now it just requires a car. I have always wanted to show my kids where I grew up and all the places that meant something to me. And to be close to the places that are dear to me.

The girls and I woke up at 4 in the morning and were out the door by 4:35 am. We just simply got on I-5 and drove north.... past the gorgeous Willamette Valley. Past Portland. Past Olympia. Past lots of towns in between. Past Mt Hood. Past Mt. St Helens. Past the Columbia River. Some places we went by faster then others, depending on traffic. There were bursts of rain. Some lightning in the distance. And bursts of sun.

Natalie slept a lot of the trip and Tatiana and I fought over what we were going to listen to on the radio a lot of the trip. My dad was very generous and loaned me his fabulous car. Yeah, mooch off my parents much? The ride was so smooth and effortless.

We got into Redmond a little after ten in the morning. I dropped the girls off and then had just a few hours of me time. I had hoped to meet friends during this time but it had ended up being such a short amount of time that visiting was really not going to work out. I was disappointed but what could I do? I had a few plan B's and in the end I ended up choosing to head up to my hometown of Snohomish. Last time I was there was in March and when I left back then I did so with a heavy heart feeling like I would never be coming back. And here it was August and I was back in Snohomish shopping. I love the shopping in downtown Snohomish. So many cute little shops. There is one shop that has been my favorite since I was a kid. I did not buy anything I just wandered. I really needed alone time. This alone part is a part of me I just recently discovered. I always thought I needed to be with someone. I rarely went shopping....or really anywhere alone but now I really need and love alone time.

I picked my girls up a little after one and we headed back to Oregon. Tatiana really wanted to see downtown Seattle proper so we made sure to drive by the Space Needle. I really wanted to stop and show them everything but we had that five hour drive and commitments for the next morning back in Oregon.

When I was not negotiating with Tatiana over which music we were going to listen to I spent most of the trip just thinking and was able to pull myself away from the shiny things on different paths that were tempting me and remind myself of why I chose to be on the west coast and what my priorities are right now in my life. So break down averted I am back on track....at least for today. Hopefully this is normal :)

Aug 10, 2014

The Empire Builder.

So it has been 27 hours since I got off the train I think enough time has elapsed that it is now time to tell you about the second half of my trip, the Empire Builder part of the trip. Do you remember where we left off?

Yeah...me in that very sweet hotel in Chicago. But by 11:30 on Wednesday morning that hotel was all in the past and my future involved train tracks. Lots of train tracks. Oh so many train tracks. Tracks with absolutely no relation to that ice cream called Moose tracks :)

We finally left Chicago by 3:30 pm on Wednesday. Yes, starting late...never a good sign :) But for the record I need you to know it really and truly is not Amtrack's fault. You see, after all, they are government subsidized and that just does not work so well. Amtrack rents use of the train tracks from Burlington Northern. Burlington Northern's freight trains use that track too and these freight trains actually make money....Amtrack does not. So the freight trains get the right of way. I think that is so nice of the government but sometimes giving help is not the best thing for things in trouble :) But do not worry or feel bad for them it is all going to be okay because I am going to figure out how to be in charge of Amtrack and help them because I think anyone who still loves Amtrack after spending a week with them should definitely be in charge of them :) Don't you worry I am well qualified to run Amtrack. I raised seven kids. I adore logistics :) And I get an enormous stomach ache when I am late anywhere :)

After we left Chicago we were not in Illinois for much more than an hour and before I knew it we were in Wisconsin. I have never been in Wisconsin before...and I thought it was incredibly beautiful. Maybe because I saw it during my favorite time of day which is dusk? I don't know. But the towns we went through were clean and charming and the landscape was beautiful. The only sad part about my ride through Wisconsin was that I had to give up having my own seat at one of the stops. Oh and the other sad part was I did not get any cheese.

So on Amtrack, as in life, having your own seat is what IT is all about and since there were three of us traveling together I was always the odd girl out and thus had the highest possibility that I would have to sit with a stranger. This possibility is not for the faint of heart. But there is nothing anyone in a group of three sitting in a row of four seats can do about it. And this is how it happened that I met Dylan. Dylan tried to buy me wine. No matter how many times I tried to explain to him that I was 45 years old and not really his type he did not seem to get it. Finally, after a most awkward night, I awoke in the morning and quickly noticed there were now some empty seats around and in the nicest way possible I told him in my joking voice that he and I should probably get a divorce but I told him he could have the dog in the divorce......he laughed and thankfully saw the wisdom in this and within half an hour Dylan had a girlfriend much more suited to him. The rest of the trip we watched them drink wine together. Take cigarette breaks together. Heard them giggle and giggle and giggle. And endured mucho PDA. But in the end I think everyone in our car was happy for Dylan. Although my girls did not understand how you could meet someone one day on the train and be kissing them by the next day. Especially Natalie who saw Dylan hugging a girl goodbye when he got on the train in Wisconsin. It was clear what Dylan's goal for his train ride was and I was so happy that he accomplished it :) I wonder if they will invite me to the wedding? :)

After Wisconsin we crossed the Mississippi River and there was Minnesota. The sun was just barely setting at this point but I did get to see about an hour of Minnesota as we rode along the glorious, wide Mississippi for awhile. But sadly most of our time in Minnesota was in the dark. When we woke up in the morning we were in North Dakota. North Dakota was also pretty. Do you see a trend here? I seem to love everything I see. I was actually starting to worry about how easy it was for me to love everything I saw but thankfully as soon as that thought came into my mind we hit Eastern Washington. Which I am sorry to say....is not overly beautiful...to me. But I will get to that soon. I must finish telling you about North Dakota.

North Dakota is a very happening place. Lots of people getting on and off the train in North Dakota. All of them either leaving their work in the oil fields for a few weeks or coming back to their work in the oil fields for a few weeks. North Dakota is where we ran into most of our freight train waiting. There were so many freight trains pulling oil out of the state. One time we had to pull over and wait for four freight trains to pass us. By the time we finally got across North Dakota the train was filled with a fascinating mix of;

 people who believed in fracking
 and
 people who were heading to peace, love, and never, ever use plastic or paper Oregon.

 I sat behind a man who painstakingly drew pictures and explained the fracking process to a lady that believed in zero population. Good times. That is the thing about the train you are trapped in a coach car for days with all these people who are chatting with each other and talking on their cell phones not realizing that we can all hear everything they are saying. So you know I am going to tell you that North Dakota was beautiful....but honestly it was. Fields of sunflowers.....I have always loved these. Lots of green. Lots of flowing grass. Lots of those wind machines that mesmerize me.

I will not bore you with all I learned about Lois, Pete, and Sandra. And many others I never got names of. I observed them all for three days. I know who needs a cigarette at every smoking break. I know who snores. I know who likes to hang out in the lounge car. I know who would go on a midnight run with me to the snack car. I know who would dash to sit in my fourth seat to save me from that other guy who got on the train in North Dakota and wanted to sit with me. I know who is working to get their pilot licence. I know who keeps a gun locked under the front seat of their truck. I know who worked at a bar on the border of Wisconsin and Canada. Yeah, I know a substantial amount of stuff  :)

After North Dakota was Montana and sadly we spent so much time in North Dakota I did not get to see enough of Montana in the day light. What I did see made me know I need to go back...soon. And I refuse to be bitter about the fact that I missed seeing Glacier National Park in the light.

After Montana was the Idaho pan handle. I had no idea that Sandpoint, Idaho was so amazing. I am trying really hard to spare you guys and not say beautiful again. But guys it was so beautiful.

Next was Washington state and this is home for me. I have driven through Eastern Washington many a time and I know all about it. It has never ever been beautiful to me. Tatiana spent a few very determined hours trying to get me to see the beauty in the endless sagebrush, the starkness, and the yellows and browns but soon even she grew weary of trying to find something positive to say about eastern Washington. I was actually relieved that I was not broken and just thought everything was beautiful.

 The Columbia River Gorge runs between Oregon and Washington. I know all about this gorge but it still never ceases to instill awe in me when I see it. Even Dylan and his train girlfriend's constant "we are in lust" giggling in the background did not ruin the Columbia River Gorge for me. The dams, the wind surfers, the birds, the boats, the natural beauty. Definitely one of the highlights for me was the Columbia River Gorge. They were fighting fires on both sides of the gorge so lots of times we saw helicopters scooping up water to take to the fires....Coolest. Thing. Ever.

By the time we rolled into Portland...ahem...five hours late I felt a little weird about knowing all I knew about the people in my passenger car and realizing I would never see them again. We did not exchange numbers or emails or anything even though we had done everything together for the past 3 days. We had planned ambushes on the girl who we all knew was smoking in the train bathroom. We all secretly named her unruly two year old daughter Pinkie Pie because her hair was dyed pink like a My Little Pony. We all harassed Raphael the cafe car boss. We had exclaimed about views. We had shared our food. We had shared dvd's.

Some may say that all I did was see the back of America and it is true not much is built to face the train tracks. But I saw some most magnificent views of this diverse country we live in. I was so very excited about everything I saw. Everyone surely is blogging about me the woman who would not stop pointing out stuff out the window :)There is no way to describe the feeling of going across a body of water on a train. You can not see the track and you feel like you are just gliding across the water. When mountains open into beautiful valleys....yeah, good times.

The minute I got off of the train in Portland my parents asked me if I would do it again and without hesitation I said oh yes. I have information now and know how to do things a little better than I did this time. IT was a most fabulous way to see America. I saw some breathtaking scenery that made my heart swell so much I thought it would burst. If you want to take a train ride just be sure to make sure you have time and nowhere you need to be. I felt so bad for the people who were missing weddings and funerals and other things because they chose to travel by train. Also, make sure you take someone to share it with that loves to hang on every word you say and loves to verify that everything you just saw was indeed very cool.

 I am not sure how many years it will be before my girls realize what we just did and that this was an epic trip. Right now it is a good idea not to talk to them about it...at all.

Aug 6, 2014

I Still Love You Amtrack.

Journey's always surprise us. In any room of people you are going to find all sorts of "journey gone awry" stories. All the injustices that have been done by airlines, trains, hotels. All the lost luggage, weather messing things up and just plain human error stories. We all do everything we can to prevent life/inconvenience from happening but it just happens. I knew this going into this trip. Amtrack themselves have actually been sending me emails for days warning me that they were sharing the tracks with freight trains. I appreciate being warned that some inconvenience may be coming. Maybe some other parts of my life could please start sending me some warning e-mails about upcoming inconveniences?  I think I already told you all a few blogs back I expected the inconvenience and had plenty of time for it. Yes, I was embracing my impending trouble :)

But let me go back to the beginning. We left Springfield train station on Monday at 2:25 in the afternoon. Me, Tatiana, Natalie, 3 suitcases to check on the train all the way to Portland and 6 carry ons. Usually I feel anxious when I am doing something I have never done before but my life seems to lately only be full of doing things I have never done before and I seem to be over the get anxious about it thing. I still ask lots of questions about what is going on of everyone around me. I still gather all the information I can. But I seem to have finally grown up and recognize when it is time to just let things happen. I wonder if I win anything for this realization? :)

The seats on the train are big and spacious. Lots of room between the aisles. Lots of room between my seat and the seat in front of me. But that being said do not forget that I am 4'10" and weigh 118. I can curl up anywhere. The windows on the train are so big. I love that. I could look out them forever. The bathrooms are big too. I love that you can get up and walk around the train. I love walking between trains....it makes you feel rather bold and cool. Natalie was a little bothered that there was no seat belts but she soon got over it. If I stand on the seats I have no trouble putting my carry-ons in the overhead bins and taking them back down again....much to the amusement of the people sitting around me. And I did take the opportunity to amuse them.

The girls wanted to immediately break into their fun/new/yummy stuff we had packed and I held on as long as I could. The train stayed on schedule for two stops and then things started sliding. By the time we pulled into Chicago we were 8 hours late. Everyone was sad and grumpy. Except me. I expected it :) The hard part for the Baird Family was the long walk from the train to Amtrack Passenger Service. Those 6 carry ons I mentioned? Yeah, necessary but hard. Each of us has to carry two and they are heavy and awkward and the girls were done. I explained to them that if they wanted to leave their things their on the platform I was okay with that but I could not carry six carry-ons by myself. I was already making a spectacle of myself with two huge duffel bags criss-crossed across my body. They decided they could do not do with out their books and color books and dvd's so they trudged along behind me. Funny what you can do when you realize you have to.

We found the most enormous line for the Amtrack Passenger Service office along with everyone else in Chicago and we stood there. Finally I realized I could send the girls over by a fountain to sit with the bags while I stood in line. That made things much better. They got to sit and the bags were now appreciated because you could sit on them :)

I made friends with people in line and heard their life stories. I heard about one ladies first grandbaby and how she traveled by train because her husband would not fly and how he was doing everything she wanted with an as you wish attitude since the train delay was now making her miss a day with her new grandbaby. He did look very meek and willing...bless his heart. I met a regal, calm, very beautiful older woman who has 8 kids and twenty grandkids. I met a thirty something man....who i could not help but meet because he was the one trying to get all of us to go to war against Amtrack. He kept exclaiming in a loud voice about all the injustices Amtrack had heaped upon him. I will spare you all of them but I can tell you in private if you need to know. I know this type and I just smiled at him and let him talk and talk and talk :)

The line was not moving. But all of a sudden an Amtrack employee appeared asking for passengers who were going to be on train 7 and 27 to go with her. I looked at my ticket and that was me. And two other people out of that huge line. I felt like I had won the Hunger Games. Everyone looked in a most jealous way at me. We were taken to the front of the line where I saw and heard and marveled at the woman who had been holding up the whole line for a very long time. She was not moving until she got a sleeper car on the next train tomorrow. Everyone with any power at all explained to her there was no sleeper car but she was not buying it. She is probably still standing there waiting for them to build her one.

They quickly and efficiently gave me my hotel, my voucher for my food and taxis and sent me to another line. I ran into more friends and my old friends and everyone was jealous when they saw I was going to the Hyatt Regency. They wanted to know how I got that. I told them it was because I was under 5 feet tall :)

So I got $54.00 to cover food and a taxi. I got one night in the most beautiful Hyatt Regency Hotel. My girls had their first taxi ride which thrilled them beyond belief. The lady checking us in at the Hyatt thought we were all pretty cute and decided we needed a room with a view on the twentieth floor and that my friends is where I am right now. Curled up in this modern chair looking out my window at the skyline of Chicago and the lake. I can see Navy Pier in the distance. I am letting my girls sleep since they have to carry those carry ons again today :) And since they will have to be on the train until Friday....or maybe Saturday...or maybe Sunday :)

We will check out a noon and head back to the train station. Our train leaves at 2:15. I need to figure out how to get us some more food. We almost ate everything I had. The train has a snack car and a dining car so that will be my plan B.

I am excited about our train today. It is a double decker train. This part of the journey should have the best views. So do not worry about me. I am having exactly the trip I expected and that is so nice :)

Aug 2, 2014

All Is Well, All Is Well.

Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
Tis better far for us to strive
Our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell -
All is well! All is well!

Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
'Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
If we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we'll have this tale to tell-
All is well! All is well!

We'll find the place which God for us prepared,
Far away, in the West,
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;
There the saints, will be blessed.
We'll make the air, with music ring,
Shout praises to our God and King;
Above the rest these words we'll tell -
All is well! All is well!

And should we die before our journey's through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!
But if our lives are spared again
To see the Saints their rest obtain,
Oh, how we'll make this chorus swell-
All is well! All is well!


I think most of you know I am a sixth generation Mormon. My ancestors crossed the plains so that they could practice their religion in peace in what is now known as Utah. I love the pioneers. I devour their stories. I have been known to exuberantly over share their amazing stories with anyone who will listen. I liken my life to theirs all of the time. I feel an enormous connection with this group of people. I think about them way too much as I struggle through my life. When I got to be in charge of the logisitics for a pioneer trek of 80 youth and 30 adults two years ago I was in serious heaven :) When we sing pioneer songs at church or anywhere I fight the tears like a big dog. My heart swells as I think about what my ancestors were willing to do for what they believed in. Some of them died at the Hauns Mill Massacre for what they believed in. Some of them were driven from their homes for what they believed in. They all had to leave things behind. They all had to bury family members as the trekked across the plains. Some had to be rescued at the Sweetwater River. Some were in the rescue party at the Sweetwater River.

When I was a child my dad would play pioneer songs on our piano. In the room where the piano was my mom had this rug that was in the shape of a hexagon and it had alternating rows of the colors brown and yellow and I loved how perfectly my tiny feet would fit in each line. I can still feel the way that rug felt and I can still remember how much I loved the preciseness of the pattern in the rug. I would start in the middle of the rug and work my way out and then work my way back in while my dad would play pioneer songs and sing. And I would sing along at the top of my lungs. One of the songs goes....

"When pioneers moved to the west with courage strong they met their test they pushed their handcarts all day long and as they pushed they sang this song. For some must push and some must pull as we go marching up the hill for merrily on our way we'll go until we reach the valley-o." Yes, of course, I sang it out loud while I typed the words....duh :)

The pioneers did hard things. They had no idea where they were headed or what life was going to be like when they got there or if they would even make it there. But they did not worry. Did you read the lyrics I posted at the beginning of this blog? Those are the lyrics to my most favorite hymn, Come Come Ye Saints. It was written by William Clayton in 1846. It is one of the best known latter day saint hymns. William wrote it while the wagon train he was a part of was resting in Locust Creek, Iowa which is about 100 miles west of Nauvoo, Illinois. William Clayton was one of thousands of Mormons that were driven out of Illinois. My ancestors were with them. It was February of 1846. The weather was cold, wet, and miserable for pioneer travel. William had to leave a wife behind since she was expecting a baby soon and could not make the hard journey in her condition. Finally, about 90 days into his slow miserable cold wet journey William receives word that his wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy and in his relief he wrote the words to this beloved hymn....here is what he wrote in his journal...

Wednesday, 15th. Last night I got up to watch, there being no guard. The cattle and horses breaking into the tents and wagons. I tarried up then called S. Hales and Kimball. This morning Ellen Kimball came to me and wishes me much joy. She said Diantha has a son. I told her I was afraid it was not so, but she said Brother Pond had received a letter. I went over to Pond's and he read that she had a fine fat boy on the 30th ult., but she was very sick with ague and mumps. Truly I feel to rejoice at this intelligence but feel sorry to hear of her sickness. Spent the day chiefly reading. In the afternoon President Young came over and found some fault about our wagons, etc. In the evening the band played and after we dismissed the following persons retired to my tent to have a social christening, viz. William Pitt, Hutchinson, Smithies, Kay, Egan, Duzett, Redding, William Cahoon, James Clayton and Charles A. Terry and myself. We had a very pleasant time playing and singing until about twelve o'clock and drank health to my son. We named him William Adriel Benoni Clayton. The weather has been fine but rains a little tonight. Henry Terry's horses are missing and have been hunted today but not found. This morning I composed a new song—"All is well." I feel to thank my heavenly father for my boy and pray that he will spare and preserve his life and that of his mother and so order it so that we may soon meet again. O Lord bless thine handmaid and fill her with thy spirit, make her healthy that her life may be prolonged and that we may live upon the earth and honor the cause of truth. In the evening I asked the President if he would not suffer me to send for Diantha. He consented and said we would send when we got to Grand River.


Now scroll back up and read the words to that song again. If you feel really ambitious and you really love me you should go to Youtube and listen to the Mormon tabernacle choir sing it. If you feel really ambitious close your eyes and listen to it....I do love doing that :) Okay, wait, I know, if you feel really ambitious get in your car and head for the Wasatch range in Utah and as the sun is rising over the mountains listen to this song as you are driving along the freeway....trust me this is the very best way....and very practical :)

Aren't the words to this song so perfect? These words have supported me so much through these last three years. I have tried so hard to not be afraid of hard things. I have tried so hard to remember the importance of wending my way with joy. And that line that says "Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard? Tis not so all is right" Yeah, I think about that one a lot. It is so easy to get stuck mourning and thinking our "lot is hard". How many times have I had to "gird up my loins and fresh courage take" and remind myself that God never has and never will forsake me.

So as I now head West after twenty five years of living either in the Midwest or the East it is not escaping me that I am making a journey similar to that of my ancestors. No, they did not have fruit snacks, cheez-its, portable dvd players, and trains. My struggles are definitely different from theirs but my struggles are teaching me the same things they learned from theirs. I have to have faith. I have to have courage. And above all I have to know all is well.

So the possessions that matter to me and my children are in one pod and a half sitting in my driveway. Our last day in Massachusetts is Monday. My heart is so full. I am vigorously fighting the tears for all I am worth. I am grateful for dear friends who insisted on showing up to help me today. I had no idea how much I needed the help and support. I am so not focusing very well right now.

So next time you hear from me I will hopefully be on a train chugging West eating fruit snacks :) My goodbyes will be over so do not worry that I am going to rename my blog goodbye thinking everything or living in the past thinking everything ;)


 I am sure some missing will be lingering but I am going to rarely indulge it and be looking forward with all my might hoping I will recognize where I should be and where I should go and what I should do.