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Thoughts on ordinary and not so ordinary adventures in the life of one Mom

Thursday, September 8, 2011

It Was a Beautiful Day

Flight 93 (temporary) Memorial, July 2011
 If you ask anyone who lived in the Mid-Atlantic states about September 11, 2001, they'll start off by telling you how beautiful it was.  It was one of those September mornings that made you wish you could stop time and soak in the moment forever.   The sun was shining, the sky a brilliant blue and the temperature was just perfect.   It was a day that held so much potential, maybe a bike ride to work or a long lunch, perhaps a picnic with your kids after school.  

We lived in a Washington, DC suburb at the time and on the morning of September 11, Joey had been dropped off at preschool, Steve was at work, and I was busy finishing up a consulting assignment so I could enjoy the maternity leave I had planned for the upcoming months.   I remember listening to the radio as I typed my reports and hearing about a fluke accident where a plane (presumably small) crashed into one of the Twin Towers.   The moment of realization that there were two passenger jets each hitting a tower weighs heavily on me as it does a nation's consciousness.  Suddenly, as if all at once, everyone understood that the United States was under attack.  Instinctively wanting to be with their families, nearly all the parents who were able to, took their children out of Crossway Community Montessori School as soon as they heard the news.   After picking up Joey and making sure that Steve was on his way home,  I settled on our front steps and gazed at an eerily quiet sky which gave way to the unfamiliar streaks and sounds of military fighter jets headed towards the capital.

Calls to my family in NY reassured me that they were ok, shaken and distraught, but making their way home from the chaos in Manhattan.   Steve had left work early enough to avoid most of the confusion and traffic brewing in DC and was home with me and Joey.  Wanting to shield our 3 year old from the terrifying images on TV, we chose to listen to the radio instead, learning about the Pentagon, Flight 93 and the total collapse of the World Trade Center.   When it became too much to bear, we took a surreal walk to the park with our mentally challenged neighbor.  He would break the silence every so often, repeating "I think they did it on purpose."  My response "I think you are right" released the tears I had been trying to suppress all day.  

Now ten years later, it's been a week of tears with each news story commemorating the anniversary.   I still want to shield my kids from the constant stream of horrible images, but I am quite sure they are better equipped to handle it than I am.   For them, it is an important historical event, about which they are eager to learn.  For me, it was the most devastating day I had ever experienced and one I'd rather forget.   While listening to the stories of those directly impacted by the events of 9/11 makes me uncomfortable and sad,  I believe it is important for everyone to be able to tell their story.   These personal histories need to be remembered.  I would not want my story, that of a typical American family who were indirectly, yet deeply, affected to be dismissed.  This is a time of shared mourning and everyone should be heard.

So, on Sunday,  I will try to commemorate the events of 9/11 to the best of my ability.  I'll be with my children and will answer their questions honestly and without fear of them seeing my emotions.   I'll remind Alex that his middle name, Thomas, honors one of the heroic passengers on Flight 93.  I'll tell them that although the promise and potential of that beautiful morning was lost for thousands of people, more beautiful days are ahead of us and we are safe.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Family Portrait

Picture a family living apart and visiting once in a while
Picture an occasion that brings them together that makes everyone smile

Picture a marriage 50 years strong with children and grandchildren to show
Picture a celebration including a photo shoot that fosters the warm family glow

Picture a setting with trees and a pool, with sunshine and fun things to do
Picture the children enjoying each other as if every activity were new

Picture good food,fun talks and some fighting
(but not much, we were especially good)
Picture an atmosphere where everyone feels at home and is in a very good mood

Picture the goodbyes, the waves and kisses as one by one we depart
Picture the sadness as we slowly realize we will again be apart

Picture a family living apart and visiting once in a while
Picture the memories of an occasion that brought them together to smile

For lots more pictures, visit  www.aidaspics.phanfare.com

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Gateway to the West

Lady Gaga would have enjoyed the ride
After several days on the road, stopping mostly just for convenience,  I was happy to be headed to our first pre-planned destination, St. Louis.  I have fond memories of the time Steve and I "met" in St. Louis during our long distance engagement and I was especially eager to show the kids my favorite monument, the Jefferson National Westward  Expansion Memorial (aka - the Gateway Arch), an engineering marvel.  Even though we arrived on a July day Arizonans only dream of, with it's blue sky, mild temps and slight humidity, we didn't waste time enjoying the climate.  Instead, we hastily made our way through the picturesque Memorial park to the underground entrance for the Gateway Arch to catch the next tram ride up to the top.   A capsule (5 person egg-shaped elevator), takes you up to the top of the arch where you can see various sites of the city, including the Eads Bridge (inspiration for the Arch), Busch stadium, the Old Courthouse and the mighty Mississippi river.  But my favorite view by far, is straight down.

With nothing directly under you and leaning forward toward the slanted windows, you get the cool sensation of falling toward the Arch's shadow.   The kids enjoyed this St. Louis must-do and quickly internalized that, at 630 ft,  it is the tallest US monument and more than twice the height the Statue of Liberty.  They thought it was very cool, just like Mom.

After spending some time at the museum, learning about Westward Expansion and trying on pioneer bonnets, we headed outside for  a riverboat cruise along an industrial and very busy portion of the Mississippi river.   Then we strolled, leisurely this time, through the park and enjoyed some lunch, including a plate of toasted ravioli (St Louis favorite), while we waited out an afternoon thundershower.

When we hit the road again,it really felt like we had crossed a threshold in St. Louis.  We were not expanding westward in to unknown territory, though.  We were headed east, toward home and places familiar to me.

Monday, July 11, 2011


As we drove past billboards and truckstops along Interstate 40 yesterday, I started to think all that Oklahoma had to offer was humongous American flags, 72oz steaks and messages from God, himself.  I was resigned to more of the same as we left our overnight stop, Oklahoman City,  this morning, but luckily, while trying to start an audio book on a misbehaving ipod, I missed a critical exit, which took us on an unexpected and delightful detour.

Route 33 in Oklahoma: no billboards

Rather than turn back to the Interstate, we continued on Rt 33 under a blue sky dotted with  diorama-like clouds that appeared to be made out of cotton balls.  The road winded through rolling grass-filled hills and small towns.   The town of Drumright was particularly quaint with its normal sized flags and busy main street complete with an old lime-green roadster built for one.   This was a welcome change from our usual Interstate sightings of  Indian Casinos and Golden Arches.  I was so glad to have seen the beauty of Oklahoma on my first visit to the state.

In contrast to our Oklahoma detour, we planned to get off   Interstate 44 at Miami, OK to venture into Kansas.   Since Steve and I (and now our kids) have a decades-old goal of  eventually visiting each state in the U.S., we decided we could not pass on a 30 minute side trip through the southeast corner of Kansas.   We drove on  historic Route 66, and not so historic Rt 69A through the lovely town of Baxter Springs.  Although this part of Kansas looked a lot like Oklahoma, I could have sworn I saw more wheat fields and a flying house.

Having a schedule and specific destinations on a long roadtrip limits your ability to go off and explore.  Sometimes though, you'll luck out and get lost.  Other times, your compulsive need to plan and check off lists will lead you to a detour you've been wanting to take for years.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

The One That Started It All

Planning our upcoming cross country family trip has me thinking about the first time I drove across the United States.   Eighteen years ago, Steve and I took a 30 day roadtrip mostly through the south.  Newly engaged and moving on to my first real job as an engineer in Vancouver, WA, we loaded up my brand new Geo Prizm and started our trek.  Starting in Pennsylvania (at my parents Poconos home where we were later married), we set out on an adventure that would take us through 18 states (PA, MD, VA, NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, MS, LA, AK, TX, NM, AZ, NV, CA, OR, WA).

We planned to see everything that the southern part of the US had to offer.   We visited friends, family, National Parks, roadside fruit stands, historic sites, weird truck stops, tourist traps and countless roadside rest areas.   While the changes in landscape were astounding, the changes in culture were surprisingly subtle.  We noticed different accents, colloquialisms and political views (especially from the Arkansas couple who sold us the best peaches ever and then apologized for unleashing, then President, Bill Clinton on the country).   These small differences could not mask the general American sensibility we encountered, though.

(Republican-owned) Arkansas roadside peach stand

Everyone was eager to hear our story:  We were just engaged and planned to get married in 3 years when Steve finished Graduate school at University of Illinois.  I was moving off to Washington state to start a great job at Hewlett-Packard while my family and Steve lived thousands of miles away.  We were kicking off our long distance relationship with a roadtrip across the country.   Everyone assured us that we could do it, that it would be tough, but we would reach our goal of living in the same state when we were married.  This was our American Dream.  While my experience in other countries is limited, I have always gotten the sense that most people tend to stay put (often by necessity) in their childhood hometowns, close to the comfort of their families.   Our type of movement and exploration is uniquely American, and you find it in small towns and big cities all across the country.

This trip kicked off  our family's continued romance with roadtrips and a thirst to see more of America.  In fact, in 1996, we ditched our tentative plans for tropical honeymoon in favor of a high adventure roadtrip through our 49th state, Alaska, pursuing our goal of driving to the Arctic Ocean and taking a dip.   Alaska was the 35th state I ever visited. Now, I have a hand drawn map of the U.S. with the 40 states I have visited filled in with crayon.   I'll pick up just a few more states on our upcoming roadtrip, thanks to a carefully planned route and a few detours.   The kids, on the other hand, will rack up the states now, giving me and Steve a run for our money.  Alex is proud to point out that he will be able to add 11 more states to his map, bringing his grand total to 27.    Visiting all 50 states in one's lifetime, I think, is an admirable goal.  There is so much to see in this fabulous country!  But to discover your neighbors, as well as yourself, is what keeps us packing.  Experiencing those subtle differences of American towns is what leaves us wanting more!

P.S.  - Fixed the comment link...you don't need id to post a comment now.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Venturing into Unknown Territory

This Father's Day,  I'm reminded of one of the bravest things I've ever done in my life.  For many people, the simple act of saying "I love you" comes naturally.  It's easy for them to tell those they care about these three little words, but it's not easy for me.   I was always comfortable saying "I Love you" to my kids and niece, my Mom and siblings, and my husband, but no one else, including my father.  

Growing up, I never heard those three little words from my Dad's lips and I took his lead, never telling him "I love you" either.   The sentiment was there, but it was silently shared between us.  My mom always assured my siblings and I that he loved us and we all knew this was true.  But, about 10 years ago, probably influenced by the age of self help books and Oprah,  I decided it was time to actually come out and say "I love You" 

Sometimes words are not necessary

One evening, after a lengthy conversation with my Mom, she put my Dad on the phone so that we could have our usual 2 minute conversation.  The chat was always the same and one I could have with almost any acquaintance.   This evening, though, was different, because I had  decided I was actually going to end the conversation with three words he had never heard me say.

Not knowing what to expect, I nervously said "I love you" when were about to end our conversation.  He was obviously taken by surprise because there was silence.  I didn't know if I would get an "I love you " back and I half expected to hear "very good", my dad's go-to response for nearly every statement.  When he started to respond, his already shaky voice cracked a little more than usual as he said "I love you, Aida".   I was happy to hear it, but even more, relieved that we could break the silence for the the rest of our lives together which I hoped would be a very long time.

Nowadays, saying "I love you"  comes naturally between us.  However, venturing into unknown emotional territory remains a challenge for me.   When I am afraid to open up, I often look back about ten years to when my father let me know that it's ok for me to take the lead once in a while.  He inspired me to be brave and that's what Fathers do best.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


We put our baby on a plane to Fairbanks, Alaska a few days ago.   He was with his grandparents and, at 12 years old, he's not exactly a baby anymore.  This takes me back to the last time we were in Fairbanks, when Joseph actually was a baby.  It's not easy traveling with a baby, but we have always felt that, even though they may not remember the specific experiences, traveling will foster a love of exploration in kids.  I remember a friend of the family imploring us not to take an 18 month old to such a cold place.  Apparently, she didn't know that there were already babies in Alaska and they use these things called coats to keep warm.

March in Fairbanks is colder than the worst January anywhere else in the US.  While we were there, we experienced -20 degree temperatures.  With that, though, came the opportunity of seeing the greatest light show on earth, the Auora Boreialis, or Northern Lights.  It was incredible to step outside in the middle of the night and see shimmering green curtains grace the sky.  It was a once in a  lifetime experience.

Fairbanks in March, also hosts the International Ice Art Festival which brings teams from around the world to compete in an incredible showcase of artistic talent, sculpting huge blocks of ice into grand works of art.  Multi-block sculptures are often two stories high and comprised of more than 46,000 pounds of ice.  We had a wonderful time walking amongst the elaborate sculptures and visiting the Kids Park with its ice slides and playhouses.  I'd love to go back!

One of the mulit-block sculptures from Ice Art 2000

Unfortunately, this 22 year old Fairbanks tradition may soon go by the wayside.  The Fairbanks North Star Borough needs to secure the  30+ acres known as "Ice Park".  If the Alaska State Legislature votes against this transfer, Ice Art in the US may be a thing of the past and Fairbanks will suffer a devastating cultural and financial loss.  Our children may not get to experience a true winter wonderland filled with whimsical works of art as big as houses.  For more information, visit http://www.icealaska.com/.

Right now, my son is experiencing the wonders that an Alaskan summer offers:  warmer temperatures great for hiking countless mountains and long days perfect for wildlife exploration.  While he has always been proud of the fact that he had been to Alaska as a baby, I am so glad that he will actually remember this trip.  He will have his own reflections of this travel experience and won't have to rely on our stories and pictures.  Now, at 12, he can make his own memories and tell his own stories of exploration.  This is what we have always wanted for our baby.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Gearing Up

We are going on a cross-country family road trip in about a month.  2 adults, 3 kids,1 minivan, 6000 miles, 29 days.  I think it's a little crazy but that isn't stopping me from getting excited about it.  It's too early to pack and clean out the van, but it's just the right time to shop for all the gear we'll need before we hit the road.

I am very happy that our kids don't have all the latest devices, like Nintendo DSs, iPods, cell phones, netbooks.  This way, when I spring some of these gadgets on them right before our trip, they'll be so plugged in that they'll forget that we are cooped up in van driving for >5 hr stretches at a time.

Once they get their toys, I think they'll have hours of fun, especially if they can play Angry Birds.  But when the novelty wears off, I have an ace in the hole, something that has sustained us for many a roadtrip:  the audiobook.   After many rough and loud starts to road trips, turning on the soothing, yet animated, voice of a skilled actor reading a good story, instantly calms everyone in the car.  We stop to listen and get caught up in the story.  In fact, while listening to L Frank Baum's description of Oz on The Wizard of Oz audiobook cd on last year's trip to California, Nicki (5 at the time),  asked, "Are we supposed to be imagining this?".  We all were.

This old tech device has a new tech update which I am happy to report fits into my shopping spree and helps me justify my next purchase. I can download lots of audio books to my new 64G iPod touch and have room to spare.  And with my new found favorite site, the Greater Phoenix Digital Library, I can do it for free.  With their large collection, I'm sure to find some geographically relevant titles to make our travels more meaningful. 

So, armed with my iPod touch, a new Nintendo DSi XL, our old portable DVD player, we'll be gear-ed up for our trip.  We'll play games, watch movies and may even resort to our old alphabet game or I Spy.   But when things get a little rambunctious, I'll hook up my iPod and turn on the next chapter of our current audiobook and we'll listen to a great story while still enjoying the changing American landscape around us. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

4th Place Winner

Check out my 4th place winning essay on Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  The essay was inspired by my 4 month adventure in Hawaii and is closely related to my blog post "Mother Nature."