Scenes from Utah

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, my kids and I traveled to Utah early in September, and we had a fabulous time. The trip reminded me for the second time this year (the first was our visit to Joshua Tree National Park this past spring) how much I love the western United States and how much I love the desert especially. Next time I travel west, I hope to visit some or all of the five National Parks in Utah. I’ve been to Arches, but it bears a return trip, especially now that I’ve read Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey.

But even staying in and near Salt Lake City, we had a blast. Some photos from our adventures, curated to remove anything unpleasant—like my son’s epic nosebleed and almost-very-bad head wound—because that’s what blogs are for:

Tracy Aviary, Salt Lake City:

Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship, Midway, Utah:

Salt Lake City Public Library:

Around Salt Lake City:


Minimalist Packing

Earlier this month, I went to Utah with my kids. It was our first trip back to Utah since we moved away more than six years ago, and it was my first trip by airplane on my own with my kids. Without my spouse to lug things, I decided it was time to practice minimalist packing.

Here’s what I packed (including what I wore on the airplane):

One dress, one hooded sweatshirt, one pair linen pants, one sun shirt, one skirt, one tank top, two t-shirts.

Not pictured: undergarments, socks, one set of pajamas, footwear (one pair walking shoes, one pair sandals), and one swimsuit.

Also not pictured: the shorts I forgot to pack.

I realized I’d left the shorts in Massachusetts almost as soon as we stepped through the door of our rental apartment at crazy o’clock PM after enduring a lightning strike to our airplane and a ridiculously long wait at the rental car counter with my daughter at my elbow saying, “Mommy, I think I might throw up.” There was only one couple in front of us at the counter, but they appeared to have never rented a car before. (“Should we get the extra insurance coverage, Bill?” “I don’t know, Edna. What do you think?” “Well, I’m not sure. We should have him explain the options again.” Me: “NO, you don’t want the extra coverage! It’s a racket! Just take the keys and get out so I can get my car and get outside before my kid tosses her cookies!”)

At any rate, I was in a bit of a state by the time I realized that I had no shorts. I texted my spouse in a panic, and he reminded me that if I really needed a pair, I could probably find a store in Salt Lake City that sells shorts.

But it turned out I didn’t need the shorts. Nor did I need the dress, the swimsuit, or the sandals. I walked all over Salt Lake City and even hiked in Little Cottonwood Canyon in my skirt, which was a first for me and something I would never, ever do in New England because ticks. But in Utah, it was fabulous! Highly recommended.

We did laundry once in the middle of our week-long trip, which, with the 97-degree heat, probably made it less unpleasant for our friends to hug us during the second half of the trip. Without a washer in our rental, things might have been a little more complicated, but as it was my exercise in minimalist packing was a complete success.

Maybe next time I can even get by without checking a bag.


Vacation Hangover

“The best part of vacation is coming home!”

Or so say many of my friends on social media. But it turns out I don’t share that sentiment

I used to. When we lived in California, I enjoyed our time away, but coming home really felt like coming home, and I appreciated being back in our little apartment. When we lived in Utah, I liked spending a week or so in humid weather—or in the case of winter travel, in better air quality—but was glad to be back to dry air and the comforting embrace of the mountains.

Now that we’re in Massachusetts, the closer the plane gets to New England, the worse my mood becomes. It’s possible that this is because we’ve been visiting places I like—road trips to Acadia, Prince Edward Island, and Asheville, North Carolina, flights to Joshua Tree National Park and San Diego and Salt Lake City. But that doesn’t quite account for my dark mood.

Other people say, “I enjoy being away but after about a week, I’m happy to be back.” Not me, at least not since we moved to Massachusetts. Even after two weeks away I want to keep on traveling.

Maybe I have a travel bug. It’s possible. I’ve never had one before. I’ve had a moving bug, but moving is different from traveling. It’s possible I’ve caught a bit of a travel bug and just don’t recognize it because I dislike flying and don’t like hotel rooms.

But it’s also possible that I just don’t like Massachusetts.

If I don’t leave, I can manage it okay. I focus on the native plants in my garden and the birds and insects that visit them rather than on the suburban inability to walk anywhere and the fact that Chipotle is the best restaurant in town. I focus on spotting and identifying flora and fauna on our hikes rather than on the Lyme- and babesiosis-carrying tick population. I focus on staying home and taking care of our house and children and monarch caterpillars rather than on the aggressive drivers, potholed streets, and rude populace.

But when I leave, I remember that there are other places to live and that in other places, there are lots of friendly people, not just employees at Trader Joe’s. When I leave the East Coast, my shoulders relax. I breathe easier. I’m more apt to converse with strangers, and they’re more apt to converse back in a kind manner. I know this doesn’t happen everywhere and that part of it is a result of the places I choose to visit (and because I’m white), but that doesn’t change the exhaustion I feel being back in the place where my house is.

I know this is an unpopular view among New Englanders. Particularly those who are from here defend the region fiercely should anyone dare to say it’s not the right fit for them. They’re not rude; they’re straightforward! The drivers are only aggressive because there are so many on the road! Doctors really understand Lyme disease now—well, most of them, and it only takes them about six months to finally diagnose it, and only about half of the people I know have had it! And I believe that New England really is a welcoming place—to people who’ve been here since the Mayflower landed. But for those not from here, it’s tough to break in.

Despite the arguments to the contrary and despite my valiant and exhaustive (and exhausting) attempts to find a place here, Massachusetts just isn’t my spot. But it’s where I am for the foreseeable future.

And that’s why I’m in a bad mood when I get back from vacation.


Midwestern Meander 2012: Greenfield Village

Photos from our visit to Greenfield Village outside of Detroit, Michigan.

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For those unfamiliar with Greenfield Village, it’s the location to which Henry Ford had bunches of historic locations trucked in, from the Wright Brothers’ home and bicycle shop originally in Dayton, Ohio, to Thomas Edison’s labs and offices at Menlo Park, New Jersey. The exhibits and interpreters avoided all mention of the controversies surrounding many of the achievements of these great people in favor of hero worship and a rather rosy view of bygone days (stretching from the 1600’s to the 1920’s), but we were able to set these shortcomings aside and enjoy ourselves. I mean, they’ve got a carousel and a steam engine and Model T’s driving around cobbled streets. How can that be anything but awesome?

I’m a little concerned that now my children are going to think that all of these innovations happened in Detroit, but I’m sure I can set them straight in the future.

Related Posts:

Midwestern Meander 2012: The Michigan Challenge Balloon Fest

We visit our families in Ohio and Michigan most years, and each time we visit, my father-in-law suggests two or three venues or events that we just can’t miss. With younger kids, we often missed most of these, but now that the kids are both a little older, we’re able to pack a little more into our schedule with minimal negative repercussions (ie, our kids don’t whine or throw tantrums as much as they did a couple of years ago).

This year, one of the two main attractions of our visit  to Michigan (besides being spoiled by Grandma and Grandpa) was the Michigan Challenge Balloon Fest in Howell, Michigan.

We got there early and staked out a good spot under a hill on a tree. We supplemented the treats we’d brought in the cooler with elephant ears and fresh lemonade and other classic fair food. We saw skydivers dive from the sky, watched jugglers juggle, sat in a small airplane, and visited with a groundhog and a great horned owl while waiting for the main event.

The wind grounded many of the balloons; of the ~40 scheduled to take off that evening, we got to see 10 go up. But we didn’t mind. For my family, ten hot air balloons was all of the excitement we needed.

I’ve posted a few photos here, and I’ll post more on the Imperfect Happiness Facebook Page.

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Midwestern Meander 2012: New England to Niagara Falls

It’s eight hours from our house to Niagara Falls. Because my kids are champion road-trippers, this wasn’t actually as hellish as many people might expect. We listened to several of Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona” books and began Black Beauty, which we all loved. My daughter loved that it was told from the horse’s perspective and my husband and I loved the not-so-subtle messages of temperance from the 19th-century Quaker author.

On this trip, we discovered that my daughter can’t stomach hip/retro decor. She literally felt ill at the cafe in Utica where this delightfully kitschy owl perched on one of the thrift-store formica tables that populated the dining room:

The rest of this leg of the journey was more pleasant, with two exceptions: The guard at the border didn’t make a big enough deal about it being the very first time my children or I had used our passports (I wouldn’t have wanted her to search the car or anything, but a little, “Woo-hoo!” might have been nice), and my son refused to wear his poncho on the Maid of the Mist boat tour. Poor guy wailed the whole time but no amount of dousing by the falling waters of the Niagara River could convince him to put on his poncho. My husband, daughter, and I stood around him like blue Dementors trying to shield him from the mist but he just cried on. (I probably should have given him chocolate when we returned to shore.)

The highlight of the trip (besides the falls themselves) was discovering a little wooded walking trail behind the police station and next to the public rose garden that allowed us to take a less touristy path back to our hotel from the falls.

Some more photos:

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Midwestern Meander 2012: The Ohio Leg

“Midwestern Meander” is the name I’ve given the road trip we took in late June 2012. We traveled from our home in New England to Niagara Falls, across Ontario to visit family in Michigan, the rest of the way around Lake Erie to visit family in Ohio, then back home again. I plan to post a bit about each stop, but I’m going about it in rather scattershot fashion.

This time we visited family in Ohio, we tried something a little different. Instead of staying at my mom’s house, we stayed about five miles down the road at a KOA (Kampgrounds of America). We’d considered tent camping but two adults, two kids, my blender, clothes for ten days, and a large number of snacks and audio books was about all we could fit in our VW Jetta. Tent and sleeping bags and other camping supplies would have made us look like the Griswolds on vacation. Our compromise was a stay at the KOA’s “Deluxe Kottage” where there were linens provided, a kitchenette, a bathroom with a shower and hot-and-cold running water, a porch swing.

“You guys like this kind of thing?” my second-cousin asked when she came to visit us. The cabin was, to her eyes, too rustic. But for us, it was heaven. Humid and buggy heaven, but heaven nonetheless. My daughter declared that she’d slept better at the cabin than she does at home. I loved the simplicity of the cabin and the quiet and dark of its forest locale. Add one more room and a cellar, and I would be ready to move in.

Our trip itself was filled with visits with my immediate and extended family and a trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio’s only national park and home to Brandywine Falls, the second-largest waterfall in the state and where my son lost the stuffed dragon my mom had given him the night before.

The night before we left Ohio, my daughter discovered what she called The Most Beautiful Place in the World. With her dad’s help, she’d followed a friendly camp cat they named “Pat” down a path hidden in the brush between our cabin and the next. When my daughter came in to tell me about it and ask me to go with her to see it, I was trying to compose a tactful and compassionate text in response to a volley of texts involving my mother’s unexpected absence at dinner at my sister’s house earlier in the evening. My phone was losing its charge and the signal kept going out, and I was feeling frustrated. I put my daughter off impatiently until finally I realized what I was doing. I turned off my phone and let her lead me down that dark path.

At the end of the path the brush opened out into a moonlit meadow surrounded by trees. The meadow and the trees sparkled with hundreds of fireflies. It’s an image I won’t soon forget, and a feeling I hope will warm me forever, my daughter’s hand in mine as she shared her awe with me.

MA to DC Road Trip, 2012: Day 1

This road trip, I was prepared. I bought some nifty little travel bag thingies (on sale), rolled our clothes into little tubes, and packed the suitcase in what was actually a somewhat organized fashion. I fit all of the clothes and toiletries for myself and the two kids into one suitcase, and still had room for my daughter’s flute and her music and about 20 more disposable pull-ups than we needed.

On Sunday, after 4.5 hours on the road, the kids and I dropped my husband off in New Jersey.

We settled Daddy into his dorm room (which involved climbing into the empty wardrobes and then jumping out and scaring each other, getting free cookies from the registration staff, chasing the birds and squirrels on the otherwise quiet campus, and taking a couple of potty breaks) and then we traveled down the road a bit to a hotel outside of Philadelphia.

This stop was a little gratuitous, but I’d never taken a road trip of any significant duration on my own with the kids. An overnight stop would break up the remaining 4.5 hours of the drive and give the kids a chance to swim in the hotel pool and sleep in hotel beds. You’d think our six weeks living in a hotel last summer would have dampened their enthusiasm for hotel stays, but if anything it seems to have done the opposite. They seem to have the sense that a hotel is just a variation on the idea of “home.”

One of my daughter’s photos from the road trip. She took this book and her World History encyclopedia and was set for hours. I have no idea how she can read in the car without vomiting, but I’m not complaining.


Adventure for the Non-Adventurous

Wasn’t it about this time last year when I was fixated on the idea of selling everything and moving into an RV? I wonder, if I looked at my journals from the past two decades, if I would find that every late-winter brings me this “itchy feet” sensation.

What’s interesting this year is that my husband seems to have it, too.

“I think we should have some kind of adventure,” he said last weekend.

“Adventure?” I repeated, one eyebrow raised. “What kind of adventure?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “Maybe a road trip.”

“We’re going to western Mass in July,” I said. “We could drive up to Acadia and camp sometime. We could drive down to DC and see my dad, visit some museums. Oh! We could fly to Mexico and visit Tucker and Victoria before they head across the Pacific!”

“I’d like to see Vermont,” he replied.

“What about the big Canadian/Upper Midwest road trip you wanted to do?”

“I still want to do that,” he said after a slight hesitation.

“We’ll need to plan it, then. Hey! We could camp all through Canada on our way to Detroit!”

“Umm…” my husband replied.

“The kids and I need passports, and to get those, we need you to come with us to the post office between 10 and 3 one day.” It doesn’t take much to get me off and running in planning mode.

“Okay. Let’s do it. We’ll make the deadline for applying for passports March 1st.” I was impressed by the decisiveness of his reply.

Of course, we’ve not done anything else towards this goal. The passport applications are still collecting dust on the desk. We’ve not investigated routes or campgrounds or timing for a Canadian adventure. We’ve not seriously considered whether our car is big enough for camping equipment for two weeks AND the family.

And it’s not all my husband’s fault. I talk a lot about taking adventures, but when it comes to action, I’m as guilty of procrastination and equivocation as he is.

As much as we’re craving adventure, we realize that our definition of “adventure” is different than other people’s. For us, the 30-mile trek into Boston is preceded by weeks of planning (and then eventually scrapped because it’s too much work/the kids won’t get much out of it/parking will be a pain/it’s too expensive/what will I eat? I missed the Pompeii exhibit at the Museum of Science for all of these reasons).

We will, with little hesitation, pull up stakes and move across the United States, something that other people find unthinkable, but at the same time, the trip to visit my dad in DC has been postponed indefinitely because I can’t decide if he’d be offended if I bought a salad spinner, brought along my Vita-Mix, and filled his fridge with kale during our visit and because between train, plane, and automobile, I can’t think of any way to travel alone with my children that would actually be “pleasant.”

But should adventure be pleasant? My friend from middle school, Maggie, who recently spent a year traveling around the world, wrote about sixteen-hour bus rides with no bathroom facilities (and along narrow roads cut into the sides of cliffs…not sure which part I found most unnerving about this). She wrote about trips down the Nile that resulted in her contracting some kind of parasite. She wrote about almost getting kidnapped and robbed by a motorcycle cab driver in India. She wrote about drinking some unidentifiable liquor during a power outage somewhere in Africa. She risked injury, illness, and death on three continents, and this was all still part of her definition of adventure. It falls more in my definition of “near-death experiences.” Chances are, it’s a little of each.

What, then, is our (our family’s) definition of “adventure”?

I’ve referred to taking the kids on the bus through downtown Salt Lake City as an “adventure.” There was an element of the unknown. We were doing something out of the ordinary, although not unprecedented. It required ignoring the unpleasant (like the smell of the guy in the seat in front of us) in favor of focusing on the pleasant (my son’s amazement at finding himself inside this huge vehicle, my daughter’s elation at getting to pull the cord to request our stop, my own satisfaction at successfully reading a route map/schedule). But there was little danger of physical harm or even of getting lost. If all else failed, we knew how to get home thanks to the grid system upon which the roads are laid out (my daughter learned early on to ask, “What South are we?” a habit that’s less helpful in New England). And I always traveled with ample snacks and clean water, in case we found ourselves stranded on State Street where there would be nothing but fast food places and adult bookstores (like the one advertising “used” magazines. Ew).

Tucker assures me that adventure is different for different people and that my little anxiety-filled adventures are just as adventurous as his family’s upcoming voyage across the largest ocean in the world. I have the sense that this is at least mostly true, but I’m not  entirely convinced.

I mean, which do you think sounds more adventurous? “We took our two kids and sailed our boat across the Pacific Ocean,” or “We took our two kids to the children’s museum in Salt Lake City via public transit”?

Or how about, “we camped our way across Canada from Boston to Detroit with two kids and a salad spinner?” (Yes, I know neither Boston nor Detroit is in Canada, but there’s some Canada in between the two cities.)


Pleasantly Surprised by Airport Security

A view of Tampa International Airport
Tampa International Airport: Not just nice to fly into, but also a pleasure to fly out of. (Image via Wikipedia)

A few months ago, I wrote an angst-ridden blog post about how I was incredibly nervous about “enhanced pat-downs” and those “look-at-you-naked” new full-body scanners at the airport. I was so nervous, I was considering driving or taking the train to Florida from Utah.

A little bit of research revealed how untenable train travel is in this country (a 3am departure, 5 days of travel, and $2000 if we wanted a tiny little room to contain me and my children rather than sitting on a reclining seat the whole time, which we could have done for more like $1000). And the idea of a solo road trip across the middle of the country during February with my two kids in our compact car seemed like a bad idea even before the snow storms in Texas.

So I bought the plane tickets and hoped for the best.

We went through security at two airports, SLC and Tampa.

At SLC, we were in a rush. Our flight through Dallas had been cancelled and we’d been put on a different flight through Minneapolis. The new flight was on a different airline with a much longer check-in line (because they were, unlike the first airline, running flights) in a different terminal. When we reached security, we barely had time to be crestfallen at the sight of the long line there when a TSA agent opened up a portion of the dividing tape stuff and let us take a short-cut because we had kids. The shortcut for kids involved the traditional metal detector rather than the scanner. I wore yoga pants and a tight top, hoping that this would convince any agents enthusiastic to do a pat-down that it was unnecessary. I don’t know if it was the yoga pants or something else, but we weren’t patted down. And my sleeping son didn’t even wake up when I took him out of his mei tai carrier or when I put him back into it at the other end of the line. We made it to the plane with four minutes to spare.

On our return trip through Tampa, I was even more impressed with the TSA agents. Once again I wore my tight clothes and had the baby strapped to my front. As we were loading up the bins before the metal detector line into which we had placed ourselves, a young male TSA agent came up next to me and said quietly, with a slight Southern accent, “I’m sorry, Miss, but there are two ways to do this with the baby. You can either take him out of the carrier, run the carrier through the x-ray machine and carry the baby through the metal detector with you, or you can leave him in there, and we’ll have to give you a pat-down. I’m sorry, but that’s the regulation.”

“They’ve always made me take him out of the carrier to go through security, so I was just going to do that,” I explained.

“Well, they’re not supposed to make you take him out,” he replied. “You shouldn’t have to take him out of the carrier.”

I was incredibly impressed that he came up to me personally, spoke to me quietly and courteously (and called me “miss” instead of “ma’am”), and explained my options so clearly.

I really like the Tampa airport. They’ve got good restaurants and lots of bathrooms, too.

So, after a lot of worry, it all worked out fine in the end.

Well, the first leg of our return journey ended with paramedics meeting our flight in Dallas because of a medical emergency with one of our fellow passengers, but even that seemed to go smoothly (and the ill passenger was able to walk out on her own, which seemed promising).