let the packing begin

As the trip draws closer, things have changed. Sort of like my life. I plan with high hopes, but things never seem to work out like I wish they would. And so it goes with our summer vacation. What originally was us getting to see the Grand Canyon at long last, will now not even put us in Arizona. We’d planned to couch-surf our way through a few places and one by one, others’ plans have changed and we’re left without a place to stay. And with the little money I have, we need all the free places to stay as possible. So it’s with a bit of sadness and frustration and the slightest bit of anger that I cross the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde and all the Utah national parks off my list of things to see.

Road Trip 2010

Instead we’ll be spending two weeks in California and Oregon. It should look something like this with stops in Bend, Crater Lake National Park, Sacramento, Gilroy, Monterey, Solvang, Los Angeles, Riverside, Yosemite National Park, San Bernardino National Forest and Redwoods National Forest.

It’s close to 3000 miles total and even though we’re taking two weeks to do it, Google says we can make it 2 days and 7 hours. I guess what that really means is that I’ve got something like 60 hours of driving ahead of me. There are going to be some long days on the road, but interspersed with enough fun stuff, I hope, to keep the kids happy and me sane.

So yesterday I hit the local library and picked up some audiobooks for the drive. With what already have in my audiobooks file (thank you, audible.com!) we should have plenty to listen to:
* The Funny This Is… by Ellen DeGeneres
* Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin
* In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
* Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
* The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski
* The Help by Kathryn Stockett
* Going Solo by Roald Dahl
* The Lost City of Z by David Grann
* The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
* Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
* The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

I was thinking we might be able to get through the whole Harry Potter series over the two weeks, but the library didn’t have them. So instead, we’ll get a mish-mash of fiction and non-fiction, youth and adult.

Hopefully it’ll drown out any sounds of arguing from the back seat.

We’re bringing my niece along for the bulk of the trip, returning her to her parents (my sister and her husband) in Los Angeles. Should be lots of fun to spend so much time with her; since she lives so far away, we don’t get to see that side of the family often. In fact, it had been two years between visits (we’d been in Vietnam last summer when they visited), making it extra nice to be together again. But it also means that for the next two weeks, I’m the mother of three and I never liked being outnumbered by kids.

I pick up our rental car on Wednesday morning and we’ll hit the road at noon. Wish us luck; with my history of things not working quite right, we’re going to need it.

traveling close to home

The chaos of summer has struck for certain these days. We are in and out of town like crazy. I had the pleasure of spending four days at a beach cabin with a good friend of mine.

Then a week later I joined him for three days of camping at the Prineville Reservoir.

Just yesterday, the three of us returned from a beach trip with my sisters.

You wouldn’t guess by looking at us, or our children, that we’re related at all. We look, talk, eat, parent, and simply live our lives different from each other. The kids did well enough this trip, too, though there are always inane arguments when you have cousins together. Especially with the three girls: 12, 11, and 9. It was mostly good though and the girls had fun wearing big sunglasses, looking chic, playing board games and roaming the sand.

We had a mini-dance party (which always makes me happy):

We lit the last of the fireworks from the 4th of July celebration:

And overall, everyone had a good time despite our differences. I think that’s part of what makes family interesting, though, are those differences. The three of us were raised in the same house, by the same parents and we’re each unique. I wonder sometimes how it will be with my own two. I can see how they differ, yet they get on so much better than my sisters and I did as teens. I can hope for less bumps in the road to their adult friendship, but there’s some relieve in knowing that how a kid turns out isn’t all in how the parents are. There’s s much more to it and it makes me intrigued to watch my children become adults (something that is happening faster than I’d thought possible). It makes me grateful for our little family and for all the family members who are a part of our lives.

Snow has returned…

At least it was a reason to bring out the candles and make it even prettier.

What was originally intended as a dinner party, turned out to be an intimate family-style dinner with our household plus Stuart’s friend and his dad. The food was good and the view out the windows was beautiful, so as disappointing as it was to have to cancel the party due to the snow… well, at least was enjoyable. The trees that surround the house were covered with a fair helping of snow and the whole front yard was white.

The two younger ones, Ryan and Audrey, took off down the street and played down the street with the neighbors. They were all glad we live in such a hilly area–perfect for sledding down the streets.

This isn't just a dusting, believe-you me.

As of this morning, the deck is still covered, the fog has hidden all the neighbors and it’s a bit of a winter wonderland out there.

If it melts we’re doing an encore performance of the dinner party. If not, maybe we can friends over tomorrow? Frustrating, but the kids love it.

As for me, it’s back to organizing my sewing area and prioritizing projects.

Photos from Asia, part two

The Petronas Towers fill the skyline in Kuala Lumpur.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is an incredibly modern city that bustles all day (and probably all night, though we always stayed in). People are always coming and going somewhere with tourists nearly always heading to the KLCC. It was the one place I definitely wanted to see–home of what was just a decade ago the tallest buildings in the world, the Petronas Towers.

Behind the towers, as part of the KLCC, is an enormous children’s playground. Unfortunately, it’s patrolled by police officers who don’t allow big kids like Audrey play on it. We wandered around and managed to pretend to play just for a picture. It was a bit odd for Audrey to be chased off the play structure and additionally strange since there wasn’t another kid anywhere on the sprawling playground.

The offspring pretending to be monkeys at the KLCC playground.
Totally unscripted. They are discussing cotton candy choices.
Totally unscripted. They are discussing cotton candy choices.

Kuala Lumpur has definitely lost its ‘developing world’ look and could easily be mistaken for Los Angeles, except for the Islamic holiday sales and Malay-language signage. This is, for sure, at the Pavillion, a large shopping center with an impressive food court on the very bottom floor.

Malaysia is nothing like Vietnam.

Returning to Sam Son Beach

After more than nine weeks in Thanh Hoa, we finally returned to the beach that sits only 15 km away. I’m not sure what took us so long to get back there, but either way the situation was remedied. I had the middle of the week off, so on Wednesday morning we took a taxi out to the beach we’d visited so many times before.

Stuart and Zach collected shells, crabs and other “waste” from the fishing nets. When the boats come ashore, they clean out the nets and all sorts of things find their way onto the shore.

Including this fantastic horseshoe crab specimen. Audrey was especially appalled when some locals started playing with it, flipping it over, etc., but someone nicer came along and lifting it by its tail, threw it back out to sea.

Audrey and I on the rocks. We didn’t yet have the deep red glow we would acquire by the end of our three-hour visit to the beach. Ouch.

Audrey is always happy to pose for pictures–the cheesier, the better.

For a snack, I bought xoi (sticky rice) from this woman. I know I paid too much, but there are times when I feel like it’s worth it. She was so kind; she deserved the few extra VND.Eat xoi on the beach at Sam Son

Overall the trip was enjoyable. We were originally bombarded by sellers and children who would not leave us alone, but a few fellow sellers chased them off from us. It’s always an awkward situation to be trying to set up a beach spot and have people surrounding us, touching us and talking quickly in a language I do not understand. And despite our answers of “Khong…khong thich…di di” they just stay pushing their wares at us.

Then, of course, there was the man who was trying to let me accept a massage. I finally got him to leave, but when he returned the second time he just kept touching, squeezing my arm, then my leg, then grabbed a handhold on my breast. I nearly punched the guy, but managed to keep it to a hard shove. So frustrating.

The kids were all enjoying themselves and we’d rented an umbrella, so we stuck around longer than we should have and three days later, none of us are sleeping well due to the burns. Oops. We forgot our sunblock in Hanoi and the stuff is unfindable around here. The locals carry umbrellas and wear long-sleeves, what would they need it for? So, we all pay the price. But next time when I say we really should go, I’m pretty sure Audrey will be more apt to believe me.

Sigh…

How is it that no matter where you are life does not go according to plans?

Our time has been cut short by more than a week; a week that we were going to spend traveling around the country. Unfortunately when our visas were renewed, they only gave us until the 12th. I will finish work on the 1oth, head to Hanoi, then leave the country. I’m so frustrated I could scream. Not only for the limited time, but for the lack of travel we’ve been able to do. Each time we’ve planned to go to Ha Long bay, a storm has rolled in, cancelling our plans. Then there’s the surprise vacation, mid-week. I will have Tuesday-Thursday off this week, just enough to not really go anywhere. We’ll head to the beach and hope for some fun, but I’m fighting a cold and grumpy as all get out.

I was given no warning of the days off, the money lost. And I’ve got three kids who’ve seen more of the inside of a dorm building that they’ve seen of Vietnam. Quite frustrating.

Hopefully on Saturday we will be able to get to Tam Coc, but I’m afraid that Ha Long Bay and Sa Pa will not be seen this time. And my plans for Da Lat are sinking fast. I have obligations to get to Tam Ky and we may just have to do that instead.

Hitting the Arcade with the Kids

On Saturday afternoon we headed out to Vincom Towers to visit the arcade. You can imagine our disappointment when we arrived and the doors were locked, the room was empty. Of course there was a sign, but we couldn’t read it. Frustrated, we decided to walk around the mall and just happened to stumble upon the arcade.

Audrey at the Vincom Towers arcade
Audrey rode every simulated horse ride available. Surprisingly, there were several.

Stuart and Zach played all sorts of games, including (to my utter dismay) this shoot-'em-up selection..
Take note of the enormous breasts to the left of Stuart's head. I'd walked by them a dozen times before Audrey brought them to my attention. Behind us was a gigantic male torso, as well.

On our first night out as a foursome and for only the second time in all our months in Vietnam, a foot got run over by a motorbike. And of course, it was Zach’s foot.

Note the treadmarks over his toes. This would be the joy of Hanoi traffic.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Just a shout-out to my mom who’s celebrating her 60th birthday today. No matter when we’re away, we always miss someone’s special occasion. This time it’s Mom’s birthday. Next will be my sister’s. But we’ll bring back gifts! Not sure that makes them feel much better, but know that we’d be there if we could.