Two States Later…

Two States Later…

Whoops. It’s been a minute since I last wrote something. Since my last post on September 15th, we have lived in two states, traveled home to Kansas City, celebrated our daughter’s second birthday, and mourned the loss of our sweet dog Mia. Ethan worked a not-so-great travel assignment at a hospital in Salt Lake City and started a new job in a Silicon Valley hospital. I fell into something resembling the routine of a stay-at-home mom to a toddler. I had high hopes of adding regular blogging into that routine, but clearly that didn’t happen.

Our move from Washington to Utah was stressful and frustrating, and it ended with a huge emotional blow. Our plans to visit some bucket list destinations between Port Angeles and Salt Lake were foiled by wildfires, so while we tried to make the best of our travel time, we ended up having a lot of unnecessary transitions with our kiddo, hopping from Airbnb to hotel to Airbnb, etc. Ethan had an awful time getting all of his requirements completed to start the SLC job on time. The agency seemed to throw one new thing after another at him, including 20+ hours of online training modules that he had to somehow squeeze in while we were on the road. Stress levels are already elevated when traveling and moving with a toddler; ours were through the roof at this point. Finally, the day came for us to move into our new place, a basement Airbnb apartment in the suburbs of SLC. The promise of stability and structure and sleep was so close we could almost taste it. We had planned to move in a full week before Ethan’s start date just so we had time to get settled and explore our new city.

About an hour into unpacking, while Ethan was across town getting yet another flu shot or TB test or drug test or whatever random procedure, our elderly, three-legged lab Mia began to show signs of distress. As soon as Ethan returned with the car, we rushed her to the closest vet where we were informed that she wasn’t going to make it. I don’t want to rehash a lot of the details, and honestly my abrupt pause in writing was due in large part to this event. I wanted to write about her death, but then again, I didn’t. It felt like a bad dream or a giant f-you from the universe right at that moment. I didn’t know how to put her passing into words that would honor her life, and I couldn’t just move on and write about all the cool places we were visiting. So I stopped. I thought about writing again, but I didn’t. Weeks went by, then months. I started stressing about how long it had been, what my first new post would be about, did I even want to do this anymore? I let myself forget about blogging for awhile, but I believe I’m back for now.

I will leave you with some happy pictures of our Mia girl, and then I’ll be back soon with some updates from sunny California.

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Changing Plans, Changing Landscapes

Changing Plans, Changing Landscapes

Arid climates do not typically draw my admiration or appreciation. My aesthetic preference is crystal clear tropical waters, lush greenery, crisp mountainsides, cascading waterfalls, that kind of thing. We planned a two-week vacation between assignments to see some of our bucket list landscapes, most notably Glacier National Park. We wanted to hike some chilly green forests, gaze at and dip our toes into glacier-fed waters, and marvel at one of the greatest national parks in the U.S. As our departure date quickly arrived, I watched the news and weather reports with growing resignation: we were not going to Glacier. The park was on fire, large swaths of it were closed to the public, an iconic lodge had gone up in flames, and the air quality was hazardous to everyone.

We revisited the itinerary and cobbled together something acceptable, complicated slightly by some annoying work requirements for Ethan’s next assignment. Apparently it’s impossible to get an employment drug test in Seattle, and you have to drive 3+ hours away just to find an acceptable facility. *Insert gigantic eye roll* Whatever.

Rather than camp in the Yakima Valley after visiting Mt. Rainier, we stayed in a hotel near Sea-Tac. We are typically die-hard Airbnb travelers who scoff at the idea of cramped hotel quarters, but I have to say, an all-you-can-eat breakfast and indoor pool kind of made me rethink my lodging snobbery.

After mapping a more-or-less direct path from Seattle to Salt Lake, we booked a place near Walla Walla so I could have some wine adventures and Ethan could complete his elusive company drug testing.Why this had to happen in the desert of southeastern Washington and not in the booming metropolis of Seattle, I still don’t know. But I digress.

The point of this post is hidden in a modifier of the last paragraph: the desert of SE Washington. Call me an ignorant Midwesterner, but I had no idea Washington had desert climates. It took a few hours of driving and the sudden realization that I desperately needed Chap Stick before it really sunk in: this vast agricultural swath that produces delicious fruits and wonderful wines is a freaking desert. Our vacation spot for three nights of our two-week vacation ended up being in a double-wide manufactured home on the top of a huge hill overlooking a parched, brown valley choked in a smoky haze from the wildfires. Not exactly my glacier-fed, clear water, green landscape I had been envisioning.

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Yet somehow I still found beauty in this landscape. It’s not my ideal, but I want to always appreciate the place where I land. If I only dwell on what could have been and regret what actually is, I’m missing the point of this thing we call life. Sometimes wildfires happen. Sometimes plans are derailed. And sometimes you find yourself on a desolate hilltop in the desert, surrounded by your favorite people, contemplating the beauty of a landscape you never thought beautiful before.

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Wednesday with Walla Walla Wine 

Wednesday with Walla Walla Wine 

Once again, I find myself sitting in my running car, letting the kiddo sleep in her car seat. This is a much more ideal situation, as I am surrounded by 26 different wine tasting rooms and Ethan is here to help supervise the child. 

Our afternoon plans were to arrive in downtown Walla Walla to grab some lunch, visit a tasting room or two, and let Carl run off some energy at a nearby park. She surprised us by falling asleep in the car, so rather than wake a sleeping baby, we are tag teaming this business. 

First up, a delightful wine tasting at Browne Family Vineyards. Two delicious whites, four delicious reds, and a nice conversation with the friendly woman whose job I envy. We discovered we are both former educators, and it occurs to me that all of this is taking place on a Wednesday afternoon in September. I would normally be in a classroom, reviewing French vocabulary with a group of awkward yet usually adorable and endearing high school freshmen. Instead, I am 1600+ miles away from my classroom, enjoying my leave of absence to its fullest.

This whole off-season travel thing has its perks, and it is definitely new for me. I’ve been stuck following a school-year calendar for basically all my life. I’ve never vacationed on weekdays in September before. I usually spend my September weekdays with a heightened sense of anxiety, anticipation, and incredible stress as I attempt to set the tone for my school year and regain a reasonable workplace rhythm. 

This year is so different, and I think I like it. Perhaps this is what retirees or the independently wealthy get to experience with travel. Instead of being jam-packed into a tasting room at the height of tourist season or on a busy weekend, I had the place all to myself, perhaps got an extra pour or two, and had a lovely conversation with another human who isn’t related to me. I get the chance to sit here as Ethan does his own solo tasting, writing this post, rediscovering my desire to write that has been suppressed for way too long. Not too shabby for a Wednesday afternoon. Cheers! 

How to Survive Travel with a Toddler. 

How to Survive Travel with a Toddler. 

Short answer: coffee, wine, patience, flexibility, and scheduled “alone time” away from the tiny tyrant who runs our lives. 

Long answer: I have no idea, but I will pay good money to anyone who has the answer. 

I am by no means an expert at anything toddler or travel related, but I can offer a brief glimpse into our experiences. As you will note, most everything will be referenced based on when the toddler sleeps (or doesn’t). If you weren’t aware, parenthood is 10% keeping a child alive and happy, and 90% stressing about how/when/how long the child sleeps. This is only magnified when traveling with a two-year-old. We were forced to change our travel plans due to wildfires, so we have been in a hotel in suburban Seattle all weekend. It’s a sort of suite, with a curtain partially separating the sleep and living areas. The first night of sleep went okay, though bedtime has pretty much gone out the window on this trip. The second night in the hotel was pretty terrible, and we are still feeling the repercussions. 

Here is what happened over the past 24 hours or so:

Saturday, 9:00 a.m. Wake up to the dog barking at someone closing a door in the hallway. Curse the dog for waking the kid, then realize it’s 9, so we actually got to sleep in. 

9:50 a.m. Grab a huge breakfast before the hotel closes up the kitchen for the morning. Our first mistake: the big chocolate donut, aka sugar crash waiting to happen. 

10:00 a.m. Book a last-minute doggie daycare sitter through Rover.com (referral link for $20 off!) pack up the pups, the kid, and drive to the sitter’s home. 

11:00 a.m. Carl loses her mind with really sad, big tears upon leaving the pups. She is only consoled by Ethan sitting in the back seat reading choo choo stories. Sugar crash #1.

12:00-4:00 p.m. We power through nap time, fueled by the logic that we wasted two hours yesterday trying to make her nap like normal at the hotel, and she wasn’t having it. We explore downtown Seattle, play at the children’s museum, eat some more sugar, wander Pike Place. I buy some shoes while Ethan tries to keep her from totally destroying the Vans store. 

4:00-4:30 p.m. Carl literally crumbles and sits in the middle of the sidewalk at 4th & Pine. She. Is. Done. Sugar crash #2. She passes out on Ethan’s shoulder and only briefly flutters her eyes open when the choo choo (Monorail) horn beeps. 

4:30-8:00 p.m. Second wind! We consult Google and find a kid-friendly brewery. Naked City Brewing exceeds our expectations. The large outdoor patio is full of other families with running toddlers. We don’t have to corral the kid at the table for the duration of the meal, we just have to make sure she doesn’t steal the other kids’ toys or run under the server’s feet. The only thing it needs is a train table, then it would be perfect. 

8:30 p.m. Pool time at the hotel. Goal: wear her out so she sleeps. Lololololol. 

9:30 p.m. Carl decides she needs to eat a hot dog. Okay. Kids sleep better with a full stomach, maybe? 

10:00 p.m. Bedtime routine begins, two hours later than it should be, but actually on par with her travel routine thus far. Sleep sack, stories, dim lights, sound machine, her Boo bear, her toy choo choo, water… Carl says “NOPE.” 

10:30 p.m-12:00 a.m. Ethan and I take turns doing everything we can think of to make this child sleep. We regret all of our decisions. We consider the possibility that she will literally be awake all night long. 

Sunday, 12:00 a.m. Ethan summons the patience of a saint and reads to her til she finally gives in while I down a couple glasses of wine. There may have been Benadryl involved at this point. 🙈😳

12:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. We sleep!! 

9:00-11:00 a.m. Upon waking, Carl tests out her cranky pants. They fit. She has mini meltdowns every few minutes. We make plans to give each other some personal time away from her today. Our patience is super thin. Ethan heads to the gym and I pack up Carl Cranky Pants to find a playground, fueled by the promise of my own workout and leisure time after the park. I can power through. 

11:15-11:30 a.m. I drive around and finally find a park that looks fun. Carl is fast asleep. My first thought? Aww hell no! Now?! Second thought? Praise Jesus! Let this tiny monster sleep! Please, please keep sleeping. 


So here I sit, outside a park in the south suburbs of Seattle, busting out a blog post on my phone, sipping my hotel coffee, keeping the car running and the radio playing old Rise Against. Can’t risk disrupting the hum of background noise, after all. The only downside is that my coffee is now finished, and I’m crossing my fingers no one calls the cops on me for sitting in my car outside a kid’s playground.  

Who knows what the rest of the day and the weeks ahead will hold for us, but it’s sure to be a solid mix of frustration and fun. Don’t ask me if it’s worth it, my answer changes hourly. From here, we have three more stops, three more transitions for Carl to make, before we settle into our apartment in Salt Lake. I’m dreading each and every night’s sleep between now and then, yet I’m also excited for the things we will see and do between now and then. In the meantime, if anyone has the magic formula for surviving travel with a toddler, I’m all ears. 

It’s Go Time.

It’s Go Time.

After a not-so-intentional hiatus from blogging, I’m back to update our adventures. Travel assignment #1 is complete, and we have three weeks off to explore the sites between the Olympic Peninsula and our next home, Salt Lake City. About a month ago, we made our itinerary, booked our campsites and Airbnb stays, and congratulated ourselves on having solid plans.

The itinerary included Seattle, Mt. Rainier/Yakima, Coeur d’Alene, Glacier National Park, and Yellowstone.

Then the West caught fire. Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 1.04.06 AM.png

Yakima has the worst air quality in the state of Washington right now, so that camping reservation just got canceled. We’re sticking with Seattle and will probably be heading north to Anacortes to see another part of the coast. After that, we’ll wait and see I suppose. Winds could shift, rain could fall. There may be a slight chance we can still see some of Glacier. There may be a larger chance we’re going to hold our breath and sprint to Utah a week or so earlier than planned. I hear they have some pretty parks there too, so it won’t be all bad.

In the meantime, we have a house full of stuff to pack and clean and a pot of coffee to guzzle, so off we go!

Hit the Ground Running.

Hit the Ground Running.

Thirteen weeks goes by quickly. It especially goes by quickly when you’re trying to maximize your time and experience as much as possible. Ethan is about to wrap up his fourth week, and we’ve had a very full schedule so far. I’m still trying to decide if we’re being efficient or over-zealous. Perhaps a healthy mix of both?

Here’s a sampling of our experiences in and around the Olympic Peninsula so far:

Two impressive waterfall hikes. Zero bears. Extreme amounts of beauty.

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Marymere Falls/Lake Crescent
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Sol Duc Falls

A day of lounging in mineral hot spring pools, surrounded by evergreens and the sound of a babbling spring behind us. Only took a couple showers to get rid of the ripe, egg-y mineral stink. #worthit

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Hot springs lounging view

Four ferry rides across the US/Canada border. Carl has her first two passport stamps!

A trek along the tide pools of the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Salt Creek.

Seventeen miles to the top of Hurricane Ridge, where we had impressively clear views of both snow-covered mountains and the coast of Canada across the Strait.

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That’s Canada over there.

A Father’s Day road trip to Port Townsend, an hour to the east of us. Dozens of sighting of steampunk enthusiasts, one fantastic park, and some very mediocre poutine. Bonus: before that day, I was ignorant to the existence of the Steampunk/Pirate/Victorian/Nautical fashion niche. It’s apparently a thing.

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Blech. Never order poutine outside of Canada.
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Steampunk pirates. Port Townsend loves them.

Those are just the excursions we’ve had. We’ve also checked out numerous restaurants in town, tested out some local playgrounds, signed up for summer reading at the library, played on the city pier, and patronized some downtown businesses. You guys, they have a stationery store!!! It’s full of all the organizing things: dry erase calendars, planners and notebooks and office supplies of so many varieties. I found my people and gave them several of my dollars.

We have two longer trips on the horizon: three days each in Seattle and Vancouver. I’m about a day ahead of all this planning (though I suspect this timing will improve soon, courtesy of my new color-coded dry erase calendar!), so I don’t have itineraries for these outings yet. All in good time, right?

Somehow between all of this, I’m trying to fit in all the toddler-raising, household-maintaining, family-feeding stuff while also trying to have some “me time.” Anyone who knows me well knows that I fiercely need my “me time.” I’m the quintessential introvert who not only longs for, but requires, nights alone in pajamas with a book or Netflix. I also have aspirations to work out regularly and meal prep, to blog every few days, and to maintain some friendships via regular texts, calls, and other correspondence. The temporary nature of our lives here makes it hard to find a routine, but I do believe I’ll find it. Eventually.

Life is full, and I am certainly no Wonder Woman. I can’t do it all, and that’s okay. I’m lucky to have the help of a supportive husband who willingly gives me breaks from kid duty even when he is coming off three rough night shifts. He does his own laundry and cleans the kitchen and goes to great lengths to wear our child out so she *hopefully* sleeps all night.

The level of tired I feel now is nothing like the level of tired I had when teaching full time (or even part time, to be honest), so I’m going to keep on with this current pace of life. It’s a bit hard to put into words, but this type of busy/crazy/full life makes me feel lighter and happier in a way I don’t think I’ve felt before.

 

Toddler Transitions.

Toddler Transitions.

Turns out, toddlers really don’t like change. Over the past month, our poor, sweet Carl girl has been subjected to all kinds of upheaval. She watched all of her belongings get shuffled and boxed up and moved around and sold at garage sales. She stood by, observing her mom and dad ride out various waves of stress and chaos. She endured a full week without dad and the dogs in the house, after they set out for the PNW ahead of us.

A few moments stand out to me, and to be honest, they break my heart a little. This age, around a year and a half old, is such a fun time. Her brain is growing so fast, and there is so much awareness and understanding. At the same time, she can’t communicate her thoughts and emotions in a productive way. This stage of development is fascinating and exciting to me, but it has also made me feel a fair amount of guilt for subjecting her to this. She has observed all this chaos with enough awareness to be discomforted while lacking the cognitive skills to appropriately process the events. Do I regret our choice? No. Do I wish it could have gone more smoothly for all of us? Absolutely. For now, I will choose to reflect on some key moments of our transition and how they affected the youngest member of our family.

The Curb. 

For the last three weeks before moving day, our curb became a one-stop-shop for free stuff. I can’t even recall the number of “COME AND GET IT!!” posts I made in our local neighborhood group. I would gleefully peek through the blinds as random people pulled up to rifle through our offerings, and then silently curse them for not taking more. It was a relatively effective method, and it had the added advantage of not costing $200 for a dumpster rental.

Carl was mainly oblivious to the junk pile out front, until the day the orange chair made its curbside debut. This chair was a staple in our living room for her whole life, and the last couple weeks, it was the chair I used to rock her to sleep. It was also old, dingy, and in need of repair. It was definitely curb material to us, but to Carl, it was HER CHAIR.

She stood at the window, peeking through the blinds at her chair on the curb, with the most confused look on her face. I saw actual sadness there. She pointed, looked at me quizzically, and stared at it until I pulled her away.

That night, I sat in my folding camp chair and read her a bedtime story, in an empty room, before laying her down to sleep in a pack n play. The emptiness of that nursery just about broke my heart, and it was one of the few moments I felt sadness about leaving this physical space behind.

The Dogs. 

Seven days before our flight, Ethan set out with our car, a trailer of stuff, and our dogs. It made the most practical sense for him to drive solo, as the thought of being in a car with a toddler for thirty hours was nightmarish. I had mentally prepared myself to be a single mom for the week, as I finished decluttering, packing, storing, and cleaning our house. I called in reinforcements and had a couple daycare days lined up, so I felt I was up to the task.

The first night, we went about our bedtime routine as usual. We had a fun bath time, brushed teeth, waved in the mirror, and rounded the corner from the bathroom to the nursery.

At that point, Carl looked into the living room and exclaimed “Daaa!!!” (translation: dogs!” )

There were no dogs to be found. They were somewhere in South Dakota at that point, and it was this moment when I realized how engrained our habit was. Every night before bed, Carl looks for her dogs to say good night. The dogs were not there, and the look of confusion and sadness on her little face made me want to cry. I may have been mentally prepared to tackle the next week on my own, but I was not prepared to watch how life without 3/5 of our family affected my daughter.

The Reunion

If I were to dwell on these little moments in time,  I might spiral into an attitude of regret. I choose instead to remember them as sweet glimpses into my toddler’s mind: she loves her people, her space, her dogs. She cherishes her routine and knows what to expect from us. For a brief time in our lives, we had to uproot that routine, those people, that space, and if I had any fear that she might be permanently damaged by our decision, that fear was erased when we were all reunited.

Ethan tells me it was priceless, the look of pure joy she had on her face when we rounded the corner and she saw her daddy and her dogs. She giggled, they hugged, the dogs gave kisses. All felt right with the world again.

For the most part, a week into our life here together, things are becoming easier for the toddler. I can tell she is more relaxed and is having fun in her new home. We still have some hiccups: she won’t nap unless I nap with her in bed, she suddenly hates bath time, and her body is still waking her up on CST even though her bed time has more than adjusted to the later hour. 5:30 am is not okay, kid. But, we are together again. One thing Ethan and I agree on wholeheartedly: from here on out, we do this together, even if it means a thirty-hour drive with a toddler. That toddler needs her people and her dogs. Life apart just isn’t worth it.