Welcome home, now GET OUT

When we got to Seal Beach RV Storage, I was stoked to see that Davista was just as we’d left her last December.  Flight and I had estimated at least a day’s worth of tasks to complete before redeploying in our house on wheels, so we planned to spend a couple of days at the Seal Beach RV campground before getting underway in earnest.  First and foremost was getting the water tanks sanitized for our return to traveling.  That process involved plenty of bleach, repeated filling and dumping of tanks, and patience.  I’m not so good with the latter, so it was good that Flight led the charge there.

I spent some solid time meal planning and, frankly, felt a little out of practice.  How lovely it was to be back in a small space that required solid advanced planning and no waste! WOO HOO! I couldn’t help but wonder why we have so much stuff in a sticks and bricks house…  Within 30 minutes of our relocating Davista to the campground, I felt a great rush of being welcomed home and gushed to Flight, “I am so happy to be back here!”

As we got reacquainted with Davista, Flight and I were both surprised to find the stash of clothes we had left here to overwinter was more plentiful than we had remembered, meaning we were, ahem, overstocked to some degree.  Firebolt had the greatest number of outgrown clothes awaiting our return, which we stashed in Davista’s underbelly until I could take them to rejoin their friends in Maryland a few weeks hence.  We had also sent six boxes to our friends’ house, much of which were filled with homeschool books and all contents needed to find homes somewhere in Davista.  The kids were happy to postpone schooling as long as possible and weren’t disappointed that we couldn’t collect the packages until the following day when we planned to grab dinner with our friends and make the drop.

While Flight ran to Trader Joe’s to refill our larder, the girls and I went for a bike ride. Actually, they were on their bikes and I was walking at a brisk clip and loving every minute of it.  Having narrowly escaped the latest Nor’easter, it felt decadent to be out again in my standard deployment uniform of t-shirt and exercise skort.  Our excursion halted abruptly at the gated entrance to the Weapons Depot, where this ship was loading up, and we turned back.

IMG_0079.jpg

As my ability to identify ships is rather dated, I am unable to classify this one more specifically than, “Um, Warship?”

More interesting than those pointy grey things that float on the water (Sorry, Papa), we saw a few signs of wildlife. The last time we were in Seal Beach I was so focused on lamenting the closeout of phase one of our travels that I paid no attention to the fact that the Naval Weapons Station partially shares a footprint with the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge.  While the girls were thrilled to be reunited with their bikes, I was surprised to see how much had escaped my notice here last go around. On our hike/bike we found a sizable discarded snakeskin (don’t care to wonder where that larger creature went), a salamander whose tail may or may not have been made shorter by Firebolt’s bike tire (she wasn’t sure), and a host of heron nests (as impressive in size as the winged creatures themselves!).  I have indeed missed our travels.

It took us less than 48 hours in Seal Beach to regain confidence in our gear and we managed an early launch Friday morning for Joshua Tree National Park.  This was the first (and likely only) place we would be revisiting on the next installment of our trek and the kids were beside themselves excited to return to the Park.  I was curious to see how well I’d be received as the last time around it didn’t go so well for me.

Prior to leaving Maryland last week, I had read Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss, a Yale-trained psychiatrist who stumbled upon an interesting premise while regressing patients in therapeutic sessions, inadvertently seemingly into past lives.  Dr. Weiss has found that unexplained phobias can sometimes be traced back to a time that predates our current life experiences.  While the jury is still out on all that I read, I was curious to learn more about his process.  My angel again suggested Google and I discovered that, while he would be speaking in Japan the following month and somewhere in Europe after that, Dr. Weiss was scheduled for a conference in Phoenix the day before we arrived in town.  !!!

Curious timing, I thought, and felt compelled to go.  I told Flight there was a speaker I wanted to go see in Phoenix on the day we were rolling from Joshua Tree and he said, “Go for it!  Take the Subaru and we’ll follow either that afternoon or Sunday, depending on whether or not they have room for us.”  Perfect – I love how a plan comes together!

IMG_0102.jpg

That afternoon we hiked about near our campsite and Flight and the kids climbed as many rocks as they were able to.  Keeper was wearing a skeleton mask/neck guard that he had received as a party favor before we departed Maryland.

I found his ensemble a little disconcerting, but he was keen to keep the sun off his neck.  I deferred to my vertigo’s dictated demands and didn’t venture terribly high, again happy to assume the role of the photographer.  As we were getting dinner ready, the girls were busy playing and dancing on nearby rocks.

Firebolt was stoked to begin a new whittling project and WoodSprite just wanted to dance.  On the rocks.  Better than on tables or a bar, I suppose…

While the girls were jamming to music only they could hear, I was unable to ignore Joshua Tree’s continuous unspoken invitation to depart, which again left me on edge.  Apparently, the arrival of 2018 has rendered me no less repellant to the quiet energy at home here.  After a fitful sleep (no kidding, the worst slumber I’d had in a long time), I woke up for the final time to dress and got on the road by 4:57 am.  It was just over a four-hour drive to Phoenix and the conference started at 10 am.  Despite being so discombobulated by my return to Joshua Tree, I was on time. Early, even.  Yay, me!

Intrigued by what I might learn at the conference, I let my thoughts meander while the sunrise burst forth.

IMG_0126.jpg

It was a lovely display, and I contemplated life’s mysteries, potential past lives and stewed prunes. I rolled into Phoenix and pulled into the parking lot of the hotel hosting the conference.  Time check, 9:22 am.  Check me out – I am NEVER early.  Permit me a little backstory to explain.

When I was pregnant with Keeper, my initial gestational diabetes test results came back questionably high and it was recommended that I do a more extensive test.  This particular test requires fasting and, after an initial blood test, begins with ingesting a nasty sugary concoction (sadly, they were out of jelly beans) to see how your system handles the sudden glucose spike.  Following consuming this vile drink, you provide blood samples at intervals of 30 minutes, one, two, and three hours post consumption. After I provided the initial sample and drank sugar, I pulled out my knitting and a woman having the same test done, hers to evaluate hypoglycemia, said, “You know we can leave between the blood tests, right?”

I thanked her for the reminder and told her I was aware we could leave, but it probably wasn’t wise for me to do so.  I admitted to her that I feared I would get busy doing something else and wouldn’t get back at the appropriate time, meaning I would have to redo the test.  I assured her it was much wiser for me to stay here and knit for the three hours instead of running the risk of being late. She chuckled and, apparently not suffering the same time vortex issues, went about her day easily popping back in at the appropriate times.

There was a crotchety older gentleman a few chairs down who followed our exchange and gruffly noted, “You sound like my daughter-in-law.  She’s late to EVERYTHING.  It’s very rude.”

“Um, wow, sounds like you’ve got some family stuff to work out,” I thought before benignly commenting, “Well, I certainly don’t mean to be rude, I just try to do as much as I can and that sometimes means I run later than I’d like.”  He loftily proclaimed, “It sounds like you need some military training.”  I momentarily entertained the idea of sharing with him my military pedigree, but thought better of it and simply stated, “I’m not sure that would help.”

The additional 13 years since hasn’t helped me hone my concept of time.  Flight maintains that while I am not quite as bad as P-3 Maintenance Time, which required automatically tripling any forecasted repair times, I do tend to constantly underestimate how long things should take, often by as much as half.  I looked on the positive side of my sleeping so poorly – Thank you, Joshua Tree, for ensuring I was out Davista’s door in plenty of time.

Upon arrival, I wandered into the hotel and looked around for the conference.  Because I knew it wasn’t planned to be a small, intimate affair, I was a little perplexed by not immediately locating the venue, so I asked at the front desk where I might find the conference.  The woman behind the desk looked in her huge scheduling binder and informed me that the conference I was looking for was actually on tap for tomorrow.

Unable to comprehend what I just heard, I said, “I’m sorry, um, what?  I thought it was scheduled for Saturday, March 25th.”  And, as she was confirming that today was actually Saturday, March 24th, my brain slowly caught up.  I belatedly realized that if you were to look at any calendar, iPhone, or conference confirmation email, you’d see that March 25th is, in fact, a Sunday and that today is not yet that day.

Strong work, TACCO, strong work.

While 38 minutes early was a certainly noteworthy given my history, 24 hours and 38 minutes early was (thankfully) truly unheard of.   I wandered back out to the car, wracking my brain on how I managed the scheduling SNAFU. I blame Joshua Tree’s understated yet very clear eviction notice.  After I texted Flight and sheepishly confessed my calendar mix-up, I holed up in a fantastic local Scottsdale eatery (Modern Market) and tackled writing about some of our last travel phase.

Admittedly, I am woefully behind on our blog.  It’s tricky business when every day is a big day.  I might have caught up some while back in Maryland, but found myself consumed by intermittent travels bookended by house projects.  I can’t help but apply an observation Flight has made regarding my admitted knitting problem: “I think there’s a calculus equation that proves that the rate at which you acquire yarn will never be overtaken by the rate that you complete projects.”   While I didn’t at all appreciate his blunt estimation, most frustratingly, he’s dead on.  Similarly, I’m sure the rate at which we enjoy our experiences on the road will continue to exceed my ability to capture them in a timely manner. Sigh…

In addition to affording me some quiet alone time to write, I was able to reflect on how our redeployment is very different from our initial departure.  The biggest difference is that we now have an ultimate destination and end time.  That and our lessons learned thus far really only need to be dusted off instead of, well, learned.  Resuming this lifestyle has been far easier than either Flight or I had anticipated and I am delighted to be back underway.

Gathering that comforting observation around me, I again tried to unpack how I could have gotten my days so confused.  I kept coming back to Joshua Tree really wanting me gone.  Why was that so? I wondered.  Perhaps I had set fire to that parcel of land in a previous life?  I guess I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out…

Easing Back In (with the help of our favorite rocks)

IMG_0764One prediction I nailed at the end of Phase One was how Joshua Tree would age in the kids’ memories.  While back in Maryland, we were often asked by friends what our favorite stops over the past several months had been, and the kids generally answered “Joshua Tree and Zion,” sometimes leaving out the “Zion” part.  There may be some recency effect involved in that answer, as we could generally elicit other favorites by reminding them of the eclipse, the beach, the mountains, the river float, etc. but regardless I don’t disagree with them.

Hence our decision to commence our traveling lifestyle re-engagement with a day spent scrambling on Joshua Tree’s rocks.  I realized this go-around how fortunate we had been previously to snag a reservation at the campsite with so little lead time – all I could manage this time was one night.  But it turned out to be enough, as Tacco had to leave at dawn (or so she thought, but that’s another story) to catch a conference in Phoenix, and without our Toad, we had a much smaller exploring radius.

Backing up slightly… I had been skittish about everything involved with the sudden transition back to travel.  We hadn’t given it nearly as much thought this time, and were slightly hobbled in our planning capability by not having Davista sitting in our driveway for a few days while we loaded her up and fine-tuned our itinerary.  Plus our mental space was entirely booked out by home sale preparation.  Among the things I had forgotten was the fact that I had left all my clothing drawers in Davista completely full upon our departure in December, and would not have had to add a thing to them in order to successfully re-launch.  So the full suitcase I brought, not to mention the extra clothes I had stuffed into a few of the six extra boxes of “stuff” we sent to our friends in Long Beach, qualified as pure bloat.  Fortunately we have room for it all and it’s not heavy, but the inefficiency bugs me.

More significant, however, was my skittishness about basically everything else – the condition of the car and motorhome, my presumably long lost big-rig driving skills, and most of all, the ability of the family to so abruptly re-adapt to our tiny new home and life on the road.

It wasn’t necessary.

Davista looked like new, and fired right up once I re-connected her battery, as did Toad.  Supplemental systems all fully operational as well.  And remembering how everything worked and fit together took me no more than the half-day in Seal Beach we had set aside for that purpose.  The forecast LA deluge never really materialized, the kids set up their spaces quickly and excitedly, we had dinner with our friends in Long Beach, and by the following morning we were back into the groove and Joshua Tree bound.

IMG_0749

The kids bolted straight for the rocks upon our arrival.

IMG_0751

IMG_0754

IMG_0757

OK, me too.

Tacco joined us for part of a family climb, but her vertigo issues caused her initially to stay lower on the rock and then to return to base and watch from afar.  The kiddos, however, and Firebolt in particular, attacked the climbing with a confidence I hadn’t seen before, which warmed my heart.

IMG_0762

IMG_0760Later in the day I was able to take Keeper with me for a more sporty climb that involved a few “I’m not sure I can manage that, Dad”s, all of which he deftly conquered immediately thereafter.

IMG_0771

It was a very, very good day.

IMG_0783

IMG_0781

Interestingly, Tacco had another unsettled night and attributed it to the Joshua Tree vibe once again.  I’ll be interested to see how she fleshes that out in writing.  I had no such disturbance and awoke happily to the cool desert air and blanket of quiet.

Some more rock scrambling gave way to a nature trail hike prior to our noon departure, and we were out of the campsite and on our way to Phoenix by noon.

IMG_0769

I opted to take the extra half hour to make the drive through the park rather than around it, with the intention to stop at Joshua Tree’s Cholla Garden for lunch.  Cholla, a variety of cactus, are more commonly known as “Jumping Cholla” due to their tendency to attach themselves both readily and doggedly to anything that happens to brush against them.  They don’t actually jump of course, but they do have tiny barbs at the end of their spines which make them tenacious hangers-on, as well as lots of pieces that tend to dry up and break off of the main cactus body.

Keeper had been more or less pooh-poohing the Cholla lore, or maybe more accurately, tempting fate by brushing against them lightly or even picking up a few of the fallen pieces when we came across a plant or two.  A bad dad idea intersected with his luck running out on that front when we stopped for lunch and I tried to set up an album cover-ish photo among the cacti.

IMG_0789

The photo’s reasonably cool even if I didn’t quite get the “our album’s about to drop” thing nailed, but Keeper’s reaction when we stepped on some wayward cholla chunks was less so (rightfully).  What dad plops his kids into the middle of a field of Jumping Cholla in the name of a picture?  This one does, I guess.

IMG_0791

IMG_0792

Fortunately we were able to escape this situation relatively unscathed, with only Keeper cactus-pricked and only one spine needing to be removed from actual skin.  His shoes took me quite a bit longer to de-spine, but within a half hour or so we were intact, fed, and on our way to Phoenix, where the plan is to take over a portion of my closest college friend’s driveway and lawn for the upcoming Easter week.  Not only do they have four kids whose ages approximate my kids’, but we have seen each other for years.

This is a great start!

Firebolt Checks In From J Tree (and tosses some shade)

We are back in Joshua Tree National Park!  It’s been soo long since we have been in Davista.  I’ve missed her sooo much.  But it was hard saying goodbye to all of my friends.  I’m hoping to see some of my friends soon.  I just went on a rock climbing adventure. And I’m probably going to write about it so stay reading the blog.  What we’ve been doing for some time at national parks is jr.ranger badges ( you can do it at national parks. Just ask one of the Rangers in charge and he or she will probably hook you up).  I’ve got more writing to do about my adventures. Bye!

Blog this morning we went on a nature walk. But before we were going on the nature walk we were going to check out our old campsite. But before we even got to our old campsite Woodsprite was “tired” NOT! After a little bit I went back to Woodsprite and gave her a piggie back ride up the hill. Even when I was tired I still pushed forward. It was easy first but having to carry her over and over again it got harder every time. It felt awesome when she was off my back. She walked the least of the whole walk! She was the definition of lazy. But still it was really fun. That’s all for now. Bye Blog!

[Editor’s note: Event in question pictured below…]

IMG_0787

 

Re-launch!

[For any who may not know: We’re not using our real names, click here for details]

One of my major concerns about halting our progress back in December, was, as a friend put it, “re-establishing escape velocity.”  Not only had we attained a comfortable momentum in living on the road, but we were really enjoying ourselves.  Bringing it all to a screeching halt, re-integrating into our previous life, and then trying to start all over again a few months thereafter seemed beyond daunting when we tried to envision it.

It turned out to be considerably less daunting than we had imagined.  It helped not to think about it too much.  We basically just set a date and then forgot about it.  Which isn’t entirely accurate, but what we did do was pack our schedule so full with putting-the-house-on-the-market tasks that we really didn’t have time to consider anything else.

I did do some pre-planning and campsite reserving (we learned our lesson last time about staying ahead of that), so I was mentally ahead of Tacco in that particular arena at least.  But two weeks, one week, even down to just a couple days ahead of our departure date it felt absolutely nothing at all like we were about to upend our lives again.  Several times we stopped whatever we happened to be busy with, looked at each other, and tossed out something to the effect of “wait… check me on this, this can’t be right.  Are we seriously leaving this house for good and living on the road again in xx days?”

It was right though.  And if things go as planned, not just the house, but the life.  Everything.  Crazy.

Preparations were orderly right down to the last day – anyone surprised?  Our intention was to fly from DC to Los Angeles via a connection in Boston, leaving early on Wednesday, March 21st.  We had emptied and unplugged our fridge, made reservations for a fun dinner out on Tuesday night, and figured we would have the rest of the night to tie up any loose ends prior to bolting for the airport at 5:30AM.  But I didn’t intend to have any loose ends to tie up.

And then… here’s the weather forecast for our departure — the day we had planned on for the past three months:

Wx departure

Yes, biggest snowfall event of the year for Maryland.  Wintry mix, freezing rain, sleet, then snow and more snow.  10” forecast, and oh by the way that storm was set to move up toward Boston immediately thereafter.

The cascade of flight cancellations began on Tuesday morning, and within an hour or so the entire schedule out of BWI and DCA for Wednesday was gone.  There go plans A through K.  Tacco and I had multiple flip-flopping (and each time conflicting, amusingly enough) gut reactions about how to proceed.  The one general tack was to do whatever we possibly could to get to Boston ASAP, get a hotel for the night, then escape to the West Coast before the storm hit Boston.  The other was to relax, have a nice dinner, watch a movie, and don’t even think about leaving Maryland until the storm cleared and the scads of displaced passengers had worked their way through the system.  We didn’t know how long that would last, but my best guess was Friday.  The latter approach held considerable appeal, given that leaving Tuesday afternoon/night rather than the following morning would force us into crisis mode with respect to getting the house ready to leave, and there was no guarantee we wouldn’t get stuck anywhere along the way, including at the airport in DC (we didn’t have a car), or at the hotel in Boston.  Yet we did have a plan, and people expecting us, and the kids wanting to scramble on Joshua Tree’s rock piles on Friday (no space available next week)… shouldn’t we at least try?

Oh, and also – here’s the Southern California weather forecast for our arrival.  Southern California!  Thursday was supposed to be our get-everything-in-order day and they’re calling for a maelstrom.

Wx arrival

Sparing you the gory details of our pulling off getting the house ready and the MANY interim plan changes, I’ll tell you that we found ourselves at DCA (Washington National Airport – sorry, can’t get used to spelling out airport names) at about 9:30PM on Tuesday night awaiting a flight to Boston now delayed until 12:30AM.  And here I should clarify this process briefly – when flying standby the game is to figure out which flights or combinations thereof can get you to or near your destination, and then to check the “loads” (seats available) on these flights, through various means, so that you can determine whether you’ll actually get a seat.  Flying on your own airline is preferable because it’s free, but other airlines are possibilities too, just less desirable because there’s a fee involved and the means for load-checking aren’t as accurate.  Where it gets hopelessly complex is during periods of cancellations, because all those displaced passengers are re-booking in real time and they all have priority over you.  So a wide open flight can become a fully booked flight within minutes, not to mention the fact that everything gets delayed, so you have to start looking at whether connections will work, and then on top of that you start getting crew availability problems.  Anyway, back to our now-after-midnight hop to Boston.  After deicing the freezing drizzle and ice pellets from our wings and braving the bumpy ride, we pulled into Boston at just shy of 2AM and made our way through the empty airport toward our hotel van, armed with the newfound knowledge that the next day’s flight to LA that we had been banking on had filled up with revenue customers somewhere between 11 and midnight.  So that was now off the table.

Woodsprite had a meltdown in the airport, and I so wish we had pictures, because it was so her…  she was dead tired (of course) and dragging her roll-aboard through the airport like the rest of us, and she just flippin’ lost it.  Just started crying angrily and inconsolably, but kept dragging the rollaboard through the airport.  It wasn’t a minor meltdown by any stretch of the imagination but it was so civilized how she waved everyone off and just kept doing what she was doing.  “I’m 6 years old and it’s 2AM for Pete’s sake, just get away from me and let me cry my head off while I do this bag drag, will you??”

Plans L though Y or so died quick deaths between our DCA time and my extra hour awake in the hotel by the light of my laptop.  But plan Zulu prevailed, and at 10:36AM we jumped (still flying standby, miraculously) onto an American Airlines flight to LA.  How this flight had open seats I have no idea.  It even surprised the gate agent, who advised us, prior to taking a look at our flight’s status, that we shouldn’t bother our checking bags because “everything’s full today.”  Everything except this flight I guess!  We even sat together.  Victory!!

Here’s our (very very) rough plan for the last phase of our journey.

Da Plan

See you from the road.

Plan Zulu Post Phase Two

I can’t believe it.  Our redeployment day is actually here. Oh no, wait, that’s tomorrow. Or it was when we were on Plan Alpha. We’ve now made our way through the alphabet and I’m writing this post from somewhere over the Midwest as we make our way from Boston having overnighted there to avoid the season’s third Nor’Easter. We’re on our way to Southern California, which is expecting downpours and ensuing mudslides, to reacquaint ourselves with Davista and continue our travels this time from the southwest to the southeast. For starters. You can see our proposed path on Flight’s post here.

So, a summary of Phase Two of our travels (decidedly less nomadic) is probably in order. Until I can catch up with my musings from Phase One, a quick recap…. “No, there is too much, lemme sum up…

Our house didn’t sell in our absence, so we redeployed to Maryland on December 7th (notable in that during my squadron days I both deployed and returned from deployment on the “date which will live in infamy…”), two days before the Army-Navy game and the heaviest snowstorm of the season. We had shipped seven boxes back to Maryland, one of which WoodSprite could have comfortably slept in, and spent our first two days unpacking and settling in, picking out and decorating the perfect Christmas tree, dropping off our 4Runner for a deep detail (it had grown a disturbing layer of moldy fuzz in the wildly varying weather extremes during our 4.5-month absence), before popping over to enjoy America’s Game with my Academy roommate’s family and several of our friends. Although I had a hard time packing up to leave Davista, immediately basking in solid friendships softened my heart as soon as we returned.

However, we weren’t in town for too long before we departed again. Nine days later we loaded up the car and drove to the Chicago area to spend the holidays with my family.

IMG_9207 (1).jpg

Our departure timeline was dictated by the dates of Chicago’s Do It Yourself Messiah. If you haven’t been to one of these events, you need to put it on your list. A volunteer orchestra plays the Messiah, accompanied by four professional soloists, and the audience arrives, scores in hand, to sit by vocal range and serve as the evening’s chorus. A classically-trained violinist, my father has played in the volunteer orchestra for the last twenty years and since my first DIYM 17 years ago, it has remained one of my favorite Christmas events. A bonus was that our extended family was joined my closest friend from childhood and her niece.

IMG_9125.jpg

The joyful flurry of activity that makes up our family holiday routine zipped by and we returned to Maryland for a fairly quick turn around. We were in the house less than 48 hours to unpack from Christmas and brutal 4o Chicago cold, do laundry, and repack for a stint in San Diego and Mexico. Flight took off on a trip that had a crazy-long layover in San Diego, so I followed the next day with the kids.

We met up on December 31st in San Diego and I was able to visit with a friend over coffee before spelling Flight. He went back to his hotel room to sleep for his New Year’s redeye back to Boston and his immediate return as a passenger to San Diego, while the kids and I enjoyed a marvelous taco dinner and watched the ball drop in New York before crashing out. Happy New Year indeed. I couldn’t help but wonder where we might be residing when we ring in 2019.

The next morning we met a very groggy Flight at the airport and caught our flight to Cabo to spend five days celebrating his parents’ 50th Anniversary with Flight’s sister and her family.

IMG_9499.jpg

The week in Cabo was magical, save acute Achilles tendonitis experienced by yours truly following yoga and my second surfing lesson (I refuse to be older than 30, but sometimes my body tells me otherwise) and I’ll devote another post to our time in Mexico when I can get to it. We all flew up to the Bay Area to celebrate in our nephew’s coming of age celebration, a wonderful family tradition that also warrants its own post.

Upon our return to Maryland, the mother of one of WoodSprite’s closest friends told me that she had mentioned to their teacher (We learned that WoodSprite was originally assigned the same teacher as her friend, the discovery of which on Meet Your Teacher night was met by her friend bursting into tears knowing that her BFF would have been in her class were we still in town…) that we were back for a few months and their teacher said, “Have her come to school!” You can do that? Originally I had planned to take advantage of all the local things we hadn’t yet seen in the area, but this was a new possibility. WoodSprite wanted to try out Kindergarten and take the bus. Firebolt just wanted to hang out with her friends again in the classroom. The only downside I could see was not keeping up with our homeschool curricula, which moved at a different pace.

After a trip to DC to see Ford’s Theater to learn more about Abraham Lincoln’s presidency at Firebolt’s request (she has been fascinated with his story since studying him the previous year and has since proclaimed that she, too, will be a lawyer before becoming president), we met with the local school’s principal two days later. Upon hearing that we were curious about the options for our girls to return to public school for only a couple of months, not including two trips out of town that we’d already committed to, she said, “We’d be delighted to have them – please send them both.” Okay then. Their first day back was on January 22nd.

IMG_9554.jpg

Following her first day of Kindergarten WoodSprite came home thoroughly nonplussed by the experience. She pronounced she would much prefer homeschooling with me and did NOT want to take the bus (it was too loud). Each day was a challenge to get her to go to school and we talked about her observations from each day. On day one she expressed her frustration with her classmates who “Talked all the way through the principal’s daily message. I tried, but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. It was really annoying.” Day two, “Hey, Momma, I don’t know why other kids go to school. They don’t do what they’re supposed to do. They don’t want to do their work.” Noted. Although her teacher told me she integrated beautifully into the classroom, WoodSprite and I fought the “I-Don’t-Want-to-Go-to-School” battle until we went to Bend nine days later.

Firebolt’s reaction to being in her old stomping grounds was 180o out. She has loved every minute of it and lost no time in accruing behavioral yellow cards in defense of her friends. We opted not to rock the Middle School boat and have continued homeschooling Keeper, which has been a different adventure for his solo pupil status and being back in a non-moving house. By way of compromise for the girls, I mentioned to them I didn’t want them to lose their hard earned math skills and required each of them to do a daily math exercise as well as do some reading. Following a week after our return to Bend, WoodSprite rebelled against this requirement and eloquently stated, “Hey, Momma? I don’t know why you’re having us do math after we go to school all day. I’m not going to lose my skills. Firebolt’s not going to lose her skills.” Apparently my girls have non-perishable mad math skills… Maybe yes, maybe no – I’m hoping to flesh out another homeschooling post before to long to talk about just that.

Before we went West for another 10 days, I attended a conference for my Navy job. I had the privilege about speaking to 150ish of our nearly 200 Reservists who support the Office of Naval Research (ONR) on the two acupuncture research studies I’m heading up, namely evaluating the efficacy of acupuncture to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Phantom Limb Pain (PLP). The majority of the ONR Reservists are STEM Professionals who collectively boast more PhDs than I can count (e.g. We have a fellow in our unit who holds 6 patents for the process to transform sea water into JP-5 jet fuel. ??!?! Exactly…) and it was a challenge to find the best way to introduce the challenges of these conditions, the basic tenets of acupuncture (few of which we understand from a Western medicine perspective), and the potential for its use to address PTSD and PLP. All in 15 minutes. And begin. Despite being unsure of how it might go, the talk was well received and I am eager to see where these studies take me…

Two days after the conference, we went to Oregon for ten days: first, to audition Bend in yet another season and, second, to celebrate 16 years of wedded bliss. Bend did not disappoint, far from it in fact, which means it looks like that’s where we’ll be heading to establish new roots. Until I can get to my summary, you can read about Flight’s perspective here. Take away: Bend continues to tug at my heart and soothe my soul, regardless of the season, and I can’t wait to get back.

Flight and I then flew the kids down to Oakland to spend sometime with Grammy and Papa and celebrate Keeper’s birthday before we jumped on a plane and went right back to Portland to celebrate our marriage milestone. Every year we take turns planning an anniversary trip that is a total surprise to the other person. This lively city had been another one of our next residence possibilities so I thought an anniversary trip seemed the perfect time to explore all that Portland has to offer (it was my year to plan…). While we thoroughly enjoyed our time there, we have since stricken Portland from the potential residence list for reasons I will get to in yet another post.

We returned to Maryland and realized we really had no more fart-around time. In just shy of six weeks’ time (we had set the first day of Spring as our schedule redeployment day) we needed to: hire a new realtor team, do one or two passes of combing through and discarding superfluous belongings, determine which of the eleventy billion house projects were necessary (presumably under the guidance of a newly hired realtor team) and feasible to complete before our departure given Flight’s absence for more than 50% of our remaining time, tackle said overwhelming list, pack for redeployment, ship boxes (fewer this time) back to Long Beach, and leave the house in museum state when we flew out on the spring equinox. There was no longer any time for a second exploratory trip to New England. Our time in Bend had rendered that unnecessary and our mounting TO DO list made it entirely unwise, and, consequently, we cancelled our second ten-day travel plans.

Okay then. It’s go time and we kicked it into high gear.

Miraculously, despite (or maybe owing to?) four days of power outage, all that needed to happen did. Although I wasn’t particularly appreciative of my necessary focus on non-electron-requiring projects (e.g. It’s as good a time as any to defrost the fridge…), especially since I weathered (pun most certainly intended) without Flight in the wake of the season’s second Nor’Easter, the experience was made far more palatable by our time in Davista (“Wait, we’re dry camping in our house, but we at least have water? Sweet!”) and, only after it got really cold, I cried uncle and we went to a hotel for what we hoped would be (and was) the last night sans electricity.

All told, we managed quite a bit after hiring a solid realtor team: Flight power-washed and repaired the fence surrounding our acre stretch; we had a long overdue professional landscaping service clear out the dead remnants leftover from fall; had the carpets replaced (due to a cancellation, they came almost a week ahead of schedule with only 80 minutes heads up – !!!); homeschooled Keeper daily in Reading, Writing, Math, Knitting, U.S. History, Housekeeping, Cooking, Engineering, Chemistry, and Physics; I painted trim throughout the house, a ceiling here and there, and the upstairs office; we packed out more than a dozen boxes and staged our house for showing in our absence, which brings me to about 14 hours ago when we drove away from our house to begin the crazy journey to rejoin Davista in Long Beach. While I was disappointed I was unable to carve out more visits with our local friends, I’m very thankful for the few opportunities that did manifest while we were in Maryland.

Just to give you a picture of the stark difference between our redeployment days, here’s a picture from last July when we had Davista in front of our house to easily load up anything we might need.

 

IMG_3418.jpg

A bright, sunny, but not obnoxiously hot July day. And look how blissfully unaware we are of all that this lifestyle entails…

IMG_3426.jpg

Deployment this go around feels vastly different because we now have some idea of what we’re getting into, at least in the general sense, although we’ll be roadschooling in a very different part of the country. Our lessons learned (many of which we’ve shared in this blog) have been added to our collective stash of corporate knowledge and I feel far more comfortable resuming our travels. A few months is just enough time to start losing the details of what exactly we left in Davista and what we needed to come back with us. Fortunately, I’ll be back in the area for Navy work in a few weeks and can collect any straggler items (e.g. my toothbrush charger – !!!).

Equally different are the accompanying meteorological conditions. Originally planning to leave on March 21st, Flight started tracking the inbound storm that threatened our departure and, as I was painting more white trim, gave me updates throughout the day (March 20th) and our plans steadily evolved through versions Bravo to Quebec. For those who are unfamiliar with the standby travel privileges afforded airline employees, allow me to share the most prominent positive and negative aspects. If we fly with Flight’s carrier airline, we can do so for free. If we fly with a partnered airline, we can do so at an extremely discounted rate. Huge plus, certainly, but it is always, always, always, as standby passengers. So, what does that mean for us? We need to be flexible in our travel plans, certainly, yet if any flights to our intended destination are cancelled, the others fill up with paying passengers and we are out of luck, meaning we’re stuck until five seats on the same flight free up. !!!

As we were getting the girls off to their last day of public elementary school in Maryland, Flight informed me that all the following day’s flights out of BWI and DCA were cancelled due to the inbound storm. Crapity crap crap CRAP. I had two meetings scheduled that day and cancelled both to get prepared to leave that night. True to my genetic stock (my parents are notorious for pulling all nighters before they travel, even at their current seasoned age…), I was anticipating an additional 12 hours of time to finalize our departure checklist. Nope. With the frantic assistance of the whole family, we pulled the house into perfect order and drove to DCA to catch a very delayed flight to Boston to overnight and catch a flight to LAX. At least the storm shouldn’t be getting to Boston until well after our departure, which thankfully held true.

After rolling into our airport hotel room at 2:20 am (“Kids, we’re getting on West Coast time…”) with only one rather civilized meltdown by WoodSprite, all but Flight crashed out. Flight spent another hour awake looking at all the possible ways we might make our way to Davista in the most expeditious manner. Did I mention the inbound front heading for Southern California and forecasting torrential rain for our day to ready Davista for the road? Should be interesting! Fortunately those who will be required to spend time outside (namely the oldest three of our flight) have waterproof pants and exceptional rain shells.

Never a dull moment and we wouldn’t have it any other way…

Interlude

If you had told me back in December how quickly and effortlessly I would adapt to living back in our Maryland house, to the point where I nearly forgot what we had been doing for the past four months, I would have said you’re insane.  “No way.  It’s all changed.  We’ll always feel out of place in that house now… “

Not so.  It was frighteningly easy to slip right back into the ordinary, even though several things about our winter back in our house were entirely different from any time before.  For one, we continued to travel.  Christmas in Chicago, the first week of January in Los Cabos celebrating my parents’ 50th anniversary, a week in Bend… all things that would have been much more difficult to do had the kids been in school.  Tacco wrote an extensive missive covering that time frame, so I’ll forgo the blow by blow.

Which leads me to another significant difference, which is the kids still being homeschooled.  We did end up putting the girls back into school for about 6 weeks once we learned that they were welcome to just sort of show up and disappear again.  It made things easier on us homeschool-wise and getting-the-house-prepared-to-sell-again-wise, but was also valuable for the girls to see their friends again and re-experience the classroom setting.

And then the most significant difference of all, which was our living there with one foot out the door.  We never quite completely unpacked our “stuff” or sprawled out into the house again, which was by design.  Our intention was to look at the winter as a time to catch our collective breath, learn a bit more about where we would end up, and most importantly, get the house back on the market in a way that would actually result in a sale, but not to really “move back in” in any sort of meaningful way.

Despite all this and a looming launch date (we decided early on that we would aim for a departure on the first day of spring) however, everything became very normal, very quickly.  My own bathroom, shower and washer/dryer… throwing dishes in the dishwasher… falling asleep to mindless TV in the basement with Tacco after the kids were asleep… seeing local friends again…  there was no sense of any of that being out of the ordinary.  All of which led to very mixed feelings when we found ourselves a week or two out from departure.

We did accomplish a good bit.  We saw more of the local area (though it’s never enough), and probably most importantly, we took our ski trip to Bend, which got us most of the way down our road toward a permanent home.

We also got our house back on the market.  That part was harrowing and more than a little frustrating.  We did a thorough post mortem of the unsuccessful seven month stretch on the market and think we came up with some factors (other than price, obviously that’s always a thing, if not the thing) that kept it from selling.  We did a lot of work on the house, even though we knew it wouldn’t get us any more money in the sale.  That was a bit painful.  Who knew there was so much more to do, and why were we only doing it now?  We also think we have the right realtors on the job.  Though we didn’t have personal issues with the previous ones, we realized in retrospect that not only should we have conducted several more interviews before hiring them, but we should have been extremely clear in our expectations (not only communicating them, but also knowing precisely what they were!) and brought that to the interview table and to our early interactions.  This new team seems to be a great fit though, and we like the listing and the sales plan we’ve created together.  Hopefully the frustration is over.  Because I have to admit, we’re uprooting again in pretty much the exact same situation we were when we started the first time, which is an unsold house.  As I alluded to in post number one, that was never the plan, and is not sustainable.  Even though we know where we want to be and when, it doesn’t work if we don’t sell our old house.  And we can’t afford to “give” it away, so lowball offers and crazy discounts are off the table.  It should all be very disconcerting.  Yet somehow it doesn’t feel that way.

Overall, it doesn’t seem like we’re “getting back” to it, it feels like starting all over again.  I truly don’t remember what it’s like to be out on the road.  Here are the good things though: we’re ahead of the planning part this time and know about the pitfalls thereof; we have an endpoint and a time frame for it, which cuts down on the flailing; and the kids are in a much better space – despite normal mixed feelings, they’re excited to return and seem to have done a lot of growing up in the last three months.

So have we I guess.

Bent (again)

We concluded part one of our journey having less idea of where we wanted to settle than when we started, despite one of our stated goals having been to start nailing that decision down.  Instead of winnowing the field of potential endpoints, we expanded it.

Consequently we planned a few winter weeks away from home in front-running destination areas – auditions more or less.  The first was Bend.  At some point Tacco and I realized that we were looking hard at ski towns and envisioning season passes and play dates on the hill, yet 2 of our 3 kids had never skied, with the 3rd having only done it one day, many years ago.  Moving into our shiny new ski town and discovering that our kids hated skiing would be a buzzkill, to say the very least.  So we planned a ski week, and opted to do it in Bend as we’d been impressed with it in both summer and fall, but figured winter might be the true test.

The second trip we planned was two weeks in New England, renting houses in Portsmouth, NH and Portland, ME, with me flying a few trips from there to get a feel for going to work without having to commute to work via plane.  Since I’ve been an airline pilot, I’ve never had the pleasure of driving to work and back.

We rented a house near the river there for the first week in February and jumped on a plane to Portland.

IMG_0673

Bend is tricky to get to.  There’s an airport, but counting on standby flying via connecting flights on airlines other than my own didn’t sound prudent or fun, so we rented a minivan for the week and made the 3 hour drive across the Cascades once we arrived.  As tends to happen, our initial five or so plans crumbled due to external factors, with the net effect being a very late arrival in Portland and my mainlining caffeine to keep me alert for the drive over the mountains.  We didn’t see much – me due to darkness and the others due to slumber.

Here’s an overview of where it is, by the way.  I think when most people picture Oregon, they picture Portland and the Willamette River valley (and maybe the coast), which is basically the upper left corner of this map, bordered by the Cascades in the East and Eugene in the South.  Bend is outside of that, and quite different in many ways.Bend overviewAnd here’s a more close-up satellite view.  The distances are short — downtown Bend to Mt. Bachelor is about twenty miles.  And it’s pretty easy to see the color difference between the wet (west) side of the Cascades and the dry (east) side.  Bend is more or less high desert, with the associated climate, but with lots of pine trees and volcanic stone.

Bend close-up

Our third visit started strong yet again.  More great food, world class local beer and cider, walks along the river… while I preferred the summer vibe with bikes and water toys everywhere you turned, this was still entirely decent.  Better than decent.IMG_0674

IMG_0679

That said, the ski aspect of the week started sketchy bordering on disasterously.  A family ski week from long distance is an expensive proposition no matter what you try to do to mitigate it.  After hours of online searching and several phone calls resulted in lots of information that didn’t help us, we opted for an essentially un-discounted 3 of 5 day ski pass for everyone, a 5 day ski rental for the kids, and day-by-day half day lessons for the three of them.  For this we spent far more we than did for our (very nice) rental house, with no guarantee of enjoyment.  What’s more, the weather looked to be uncooperative.  It had been a particularly mild Winter in Bend, and the snow on Mt. Bachelor was more akin to what you would normally see in late April than the dead of winter.  The temperatures for the week were forecast to hover about ten degrees above freezing, with the possibility of rain.  This was not skiing weather.  Still, it’s pointless to stress over that which you can’t control, so we chose what we thought would be the best three ski days out of our week and rolled with it.

Our first ski day saw us teetering on the edge of fiasco.  As anyone who has ever taken kids skiing for the first time can attest to, the best way to ensure a kid hates skiing for life is to put them out there in bad conditions on day one.  Often bad weather alone is enough to ruin them, but throw in a few more unfavorables and you’re just about doomed.

First of all, we were inside a cloud.  Literally.  Zero visibility and damp damp damp.  The snow surface was icy, and there was neither snow nor clearing in the forecast.  Not auspicious.

Secondly, we spent about an hour in the buy-your-tickets area.   Despite having pre-purchased our passes, their computer wasn’t playing along and Tacco went through three employees, the first two of whom had to throw up their hands and ask for help.  Having had a job in the lift ticket office in the past, Tacco was calm and understanding the entire time, but the kids became increasingly less serene.  Thereafter came the rental experience.  It went as well as could be expected, but putting ski gear on kids for the first time is always going to be a little bit fraught.

After we emerged at last, we found that we had about 45 minutes prior to the beginning of the afternoon lesson, so I decided I’d put on my ski instructor hat and show them the absolute basics.  Side stepping, edges, duck walking, getting up when you fall… Let’s call that strike three.

I knew this was a bad idea.  Everyone knows this.  You let the ski instructor instruct your kids.  Duh.  And yet I still did it.  Within 15 minutes I had all three kids splayed on the snow, completely frustrated with me, skiing, life, everything.  Keeper was muttering about how many actual minutes this ski day would take so that he could count down how much longer he’d have to endure the torture.

This is how we left our kids with the instructor.   We took off to catch a few runs in a futile attempt to make the cost of our lift tickets worthwhile.

Visibility got no better on the mountain, and the best we could possibly do was pick our way down at a crawl.  I tried goggles on, goggles off, sunglasses on, sunglasses off, sunglasses under goggles (the sunglasses are Rx, so skiing without them puts me at an immediate disadvantage acuity-wise)… everything either fogged up or got so covered with tiny water droplets that they became useless.  I ended up mostly just going without and rubbing my eyes a lot.  And did I mention it was icy?

It then began to rain.  Lightly, but rain nevertheless.  Strike five.  Or six.  At this point it was tough to tell how many strikes, but the whole endeavor took on sort of a zen aspect to it.  Almost relief.  We were not going to be a skiing family, we would not live in Bend, and we were now free to calmly forget about the money we had spent here and just enjoy the rest of the week without any expectations.  Being inside of a cloud while wearing a helmet and goggles and a big jacket makes going zen very easy, incidentally.  Your world seems very small.

About an hour into the two-hour lesson we decided to ski to the bottom to check in on the kids, just for “fun.”  At the bottom we found three empty pairs of skis sitting in the snow.  “Ah-ha, they broke the instructor.  Got it.  Ah well.”  On a whim though, I poked my head into the yurt where I figured they’d be sitting, half hoping they wouldn’t see me so that they couldn’t cry for mercy and beg to be taken back to the car.  Instead what I saw was the four of them (kids + instructor) sipping hot chocolate and chatting happily.  Huh.  “Oh hey dad, we’re just taking a break.”  Oooo-K.  The instructor met my gaze without a “please help me” look, so I quickly told them we’d see them in an hour and headed back out.  They weren’t skiing, which threatened to destroy my serene state with images of how expensive that hot chocolate they were drinking would turn out to be, but I swiftly brushed the thought away and joined Tacco to attempt another few runs.  Or “runs,” as it were.  It was all good.  Sunk costs are sunk costs.  The kids would hate skiing but at least they weren’t miserable right at this moment, and I was free to more or less enjoy my last bit of adult time on the mountain while pondering where else we might want to live.

We returned to collect the kiddos post-lesson ready to concede defeat, grab a warm drink somewhere, dry off and warm up, and figure out what we’d do with the remaining ski days we would clearly not be using.  What we found was something entirely different.  I don’t use the word “miracle” lightly, if at all.  But SOMETHING happened.  All three kids were happily making turns on the small ski-school area’s slope, laughing, waving at us, and asking if we were coming back tomorrow and if not, could we please please please??  Wait, what?!  “Skiing is AWESOME Dad!”

Wow.  Wow!  [insert sound of needle scraping across record here] What just happened?!?

So that’s how the rest of the week went.  Though it didn’t snow, the sun came out on the mountain for the rest of our time and the conditions were Spring-ish, with icy mornings giving way to softer afternoons.  The kids took two more lessons each and did extremely well.  By day three Keeper went all the way up the mountain with us and skied down some intermediate slopes with no problems.  Firebolt did almost the same, and will be ready to join us next time.  And Woodsprite is raring to get back out there.

IMG_0681

IMG_0686

 

 

But it was even better than that.  The kids fell in love with Bend.  I did not expect this.  Even if we discovered that they enjoyed skiing, I had expected resigned neutrality at best.  Not so.  Even Keeper, who, ever since we started this adventure in July has held fast to his “I do not want to leave Maryland, but if we absolutely have to, then I’d be OK with xxx… maybe” sentiment, surprised us with “I want to move here right now!”  The biking, the neighborhoods, the skiing, the river, the restaurants, the weather – hit hit hit hit hit hit.

IMG_0676-h

It was odd to find myself in the position of being the least enthusiastic family member, given that I’d been the one intrigued by Bend’s possibilities for the past ten years or so, before anyone else had even been there.  I still had concerns about the commute to work and the unnecessary time away from home that would impose upon me and the family.  There’s no getting around that.  Fortunately I was able to meet up with a friend and ex-squadron-mate there (one of only two people we know in town), who now flies for Southwest and commutes to Oakland.  We’re fairly like-minded and in a similar life situation, so I value his take on things.  What I expected him to give me was a list of pros and cons that was pretty balanced in the aggregate.  What I got instead was the story of how he worked through that list, to include making the decision to move back to California and going so far as to fly the family out there with the intention to buy a house, only to discover almost immediately that they were crazy to move away from paradise and flying right back.  Basically he was overwhelmingly positive, and made the case, which has always been compelling to me, that loving where you live is more than worth any minor inconveniences involved in being there.

I’ve made that decision again and again throughout my life, trading ease and convenience for quality of experience.  When I lived in the Pensacola area for flight school, I rented a house near the training base in Milton, having been convinced (or maybe spooked) by several stressed-out students that I needed to be close by and have zero distractions if I was going to succeed at this.  It was miserable.  Milton was, that is.  It took a late-night beer-fueled conversation with good friends in a similar living situation for us to conclude that that reasoning was antithetical to our natures and that we would all be better served by living on one of the Pensacola area’s pristine white-sand beaches, even if it meant a 45 minute commute (it did).  We moved with only two months left in Pensacola and it became two of the most memorable months of my life.  When I was based in Whidbey Island I was told by several fellow Navy folks that I emphatically did not want to live in Anacortes to the north and should instead stick to the Navy town of Oak Harbor because I wanted to be close to base and did “not want to deal with that bridge!” (Deception Pass bridge, which spans the gap between Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands).

IMG_5594.JPG

Anacortes is the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived, and contrary to being something to “deal” with, the Deception Pass bridge always gave me a peaceful sense of separation between my home and work lives.  The occasional pods of orcas that frolicked in the water beneath it didn’t hurt either.

I could keep providing examples, but my point is that every time I hesitated and went through this same sort of calculation, I ended up making the decision to take the route that was more inconvenient but provided greater personal rewards, and every time I’ve looked back, I’ve been completely convinced that I made the right call.

I think that might be where we are with Bend.  Right now it’s a 90% solution, and for the first time we all seem to have a “this feels right” sense that has been heretofore lacking.  The kids are all in, Tacco is, let’s call it 94% in (she graduated in ’94 and USNA types are weird about their graduation year… heh), and I’m almost there.  We may have found a home.  I’m certain there will be days when I’ll be stuck in commuting hell, missing soccer games or forcing Tacco to cancel commitments because I’m stuck in San Francisco or LA.  But, theoretically at least, we’re good with that.  It does indeed feel right.  Now to find an actual house within our home.

Oh, and by the way, we ended up canceling the New England trip.  The more we looked at it, the more it now seemed pointless compared to the time and expense.  Sorry New England, you’re gorgeous and we may have carved out quite a life in one of your small towns with me happily driving to and from work, but it looks like Bend may have swooped us.