Tuesday, January 24, 2023

What To Do With Daylight

January 24th isn't the best day to visit the cemetery. Taking time to remember or to go lay flowers gets pretty impractical when the sun sets so early in the evening. Today, I'm bringing my car to the shop, taking my daughter to the orthodontist and (surprise!) going to my son's basketball game that was rescheduled from last week. A lot of these things happen while the sun's still shining.

A lot of these things happen on days like the 24th of January because that's how life works. I have stuff I "can't cancel", when in reality I know I could, but should I? Will January 24th ever be just another day for me? It won't, but in the stream of life and living, it kinda already is.

So I don't have an answer for the questions and I'm pretty sure they don't even have "right" answers. In my mind, the bigger question is this: What to do with daylight?

Grief-guilt is crazy. It seeps through the cracks and vulnerabilities like an infestation. You start telling yourself dumb stuff like:

"You have to feel *this (specific) way.*"

"Healing takes *this* much time. (No more. No less.)"

And my least favorite:

"Make sure you have *fully grieved.*"

These thoughts can serve as pointers, but as a pattern, they're not really that helpful. 

Because one year seemed easy to mark, but two feels much different. Life has moved on in every way possible and I think I've learned to be OK with that. Will there be a touch of melancholy that follows me for the rest of my life on this earth? Maybe.I don't know.

But I do know what to do with daylight. 

Whatever it means to have "fully grieved" and however long the timelines are, what I've found after two years is life only happens by living it. Hook every Geiger counter up to your calamity and point every lie detector straight at your tragedy that you desire. You'll never get all the answers you want.

But if we need questions, then I've got a few more: 

What happens to you when things start to get better? 

Can you live your life above the shadows of your past? 

Are you brave enough?

Even if you know they may never go away?


How do you feel when you figure out you've moved on? 

Have you left the things you loved behind?

The love will never go away. It doesn't have to.

And would you want it to?

I'm already on the road, fresh map and all. My life isn't dominated by tragedy or sadness and there's so, so much in front of me and so much to be happy about. Healing never came to my disaster, but healing came to me. And if healing is here, how could I sit here crippled?

I won't. Another day is breaking and I know what to do.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The Radical Sabbatical: Days 15-21

Day 15: Galveston

It was Juneteenth weekend and--since Galveston is the place where the last slaves were freed--celebrations were still happening, so we took a quick stroll downtown to grab some candy and celebrate some history. All that's great, but we wanted the beach.

It was a glorious day for our first time at the Gulf of Mexico and we used all of it. I remember going to the historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk when I was a kid and Galveston's Pleasure Pier is similar, just 90 years younger. All the rides, games and corn dogs you could ever want are up on the pier and don't take you too far away from the water. (And you can stand under it when the sun gets too hot.)

And did I mention rides? Let's go back, guys.

Pleasure Pier Awesome Score: 7/10

Galveston In General Awesome Score: 9/10

Day 16: Galveston to NASA to Lafayette

The official beginning of summer had us leaving Galveston Island to tour NASA. We got to Space Center Houston--which is the tourist side of the property--soon after it opened, but my real hope was to tour Johnson Space Center next door. We booked two tours as soon as we could (Hack: use two different cell phones to book two tours back to back.) 

This was one of the few days that was more for me than it was for the kids. I wanted to see the Saturn rocket and the Astronaut Training Facility, but most of all, I wanted to see Apollo Mission Control. Mission Control was restored a couple of years ago to look exactly like it did in 1969 for the first moon landing. Seeing the re-enactment of that historic moment was pure delight for me.

NASA/Space Center Houston/Johnson Space Center Radical Score: 9/10 (crowds were crazy)

We had our first day back on schedule in a week and a half coming up in two days, so we had to head east. We stayed until NASA closed and drove the four hours to Lafayette, LA. I'm afraid there's not much to Lafayette (shout out to Lauren Daigle), but we enjoyed some genuine boudin and tried not to get eaten by the bugs.

Day 17: Lafayette to Baton Rouge to New Orleans

Our night in Lafayette was the result of us not having the will to drive any further (kind of like Tucson), but like I said--we were on a schedule--so it was time for a quick breakfast, but first we took had to see one thing in Baton Rouge, just to say we did.

Lafayette In General Radical Score: 5/10

We chose the campus of Louisiana State University. The historic campus was full of whimsy and wonder as we strolled through the ancient trees and caught a glimpse of Mike the Tiger. One the biggest of our "Big Ten Stops*" was calling us to the Big Easy, so we were out of there.

Baton Rouge Radical Score: incomplete

We arrived in New Orleans with the evening left to go, so it was us moving into of the most fabulous rentals of the entire trip and immediately a block's walk to the St. Charles Streetcar Line. A very, fast walk through the French Quarter got us to our destination at Preservation Hall. We had standing room tickets to see an hour's worth of New Orleans jazz in a crowded room with triple digit temperatures, and it was worth it. From jazz it was jambalaya then Jackson Square.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band Radical Score: 8/10

French Quarter Radical Score: 5/10 (great food, but dirty and crowded)

Things get a bit rowdy in the Quarter when the sun sets, so we decided to head back to Uptown before we got swallowed up in it.

Days 18-19: New Orleans

Our first full day in New Orleans started with a swamp tour just outside of town. The two options for most of these tours is the lazy "floatboat" tour or the feisty "airboat" tour. We chose feisty and there's no regrets.

Zipping through Lake Salvador and into network of swamps and bayous was all kinds of fun. Alligators were everywhere and I guess they love marshmallows. An hour on the water fighting sunburn and mosquitoes was worth it, but we had beignets to eat. 

Louisiana Swamp Tour Radical Score: 8/10

If you're in the Big Easy, do make time to go to Cafe Du Monde and get powdered sugar all over yourself. It's less than four bucks and the only regret to be had is if you choose not to go. (But I don't want to get ahead of my upcoming food post, which I won't take the time to tell you right now about Domilise's mind-blowing po-boys. I'm not even gonna mention them.)

On the nineteenth day, we decided to make an entire day out of visiting the Audubon Zoo. All kinds of beauty is already happening across the street at the Tulane University campus and the hundred-year-old animal park follows right along by being completely gorgeous. Savanna, swamp and pampas are all nestled in the giant oaks and brick buildings. It was tremendously hot, so we spent the afternoon in the Cool Zoo splash area. I think pretty much everywhere in America is hotter than Portland in the summer.

Audubon Zoo Radical Score: 7/10

New Orleans Radical Score: 10/10

Without doubt, we will return.

Day 20: New Orleans to Selma to Montgomery

We had to say goodbye to our Airbnb early Saturday morning. We wanted to sneak in a trip to Selma, Alabama, but had to make a stop in Biloxi, Mississippi, to say we'd been there.

(Between Biloxi and Selma we snuck in one more driving lesson at an old church cemetery.)

Selma was one of the more challenging experiences of our summer. The kids and I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the National Voting Rights Museum along the path of Bloody Sunday where so many were attacked and beaten because of the color of their skin. I talked the kids through it as best I could, but the sobering images at the museum were just hard. We left Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail to the Rosa Parks Bus Stop and that was enough for one day.

No Score for the Selma to Montgomery: It seems disrespectful to boil it down to a number (you should go)

Our friends, John-Paul and Julia had barbecue ready for us at their house on the east side of town. It was time to relax.

Day 21: Montgomery

John-Paul and Julia founded a church in East Montgomery over 12 years ago. I remember the excitement of talking with them about it back when we were all a little younger. Sunday, June 26, was finally the day for me to see it in person. I was proud to meet the people and celebrate in worship with them in the old church building they bought and fixed up a couple of years ago.

Day 22A: Montgomery to Orlando

This was the last day of the first "half" of our seven week trip. We were headed home for the month of July. We drove eight hours south, parked our car in Orlando and flew home to Portland. The end of July was taking us straight into week four and Walt Disney World.

About to board the flight to Portland

* The Big Ten being Yosemite, Phoenix, Houston/Galveston, New Orleans, Montgomery, Walt Disney World, Baltimore/DC, New York City, Chicago/Iowa and Yellowstone.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Silent Nights

(Written over the course of a December where Christmas plans were canceled twice in heartbreaking fashion.)

It's quiet around here. Anticipation is still high, but not like the glory days of grade school where sleep was considered an enemy. No, those days started fading away three years ago. Or was it four? I don't really remember. Regardless, we will indeed celebrate and celebrate big this year because family is always worth celebrating. Jesus is always worth celebrating.

This Christmas, you may find me staring out my front window at any given moment. I feel like a hypocrite, because a large portion of my life I wondered why this beautiful, joyful season was considered a time of pain and grief for some people. Then, somehow, I became one of those people. At least sometimes.

My default has consistently been to think of Christmas as the time for generosity, lightheartedness, friendship. Where is the room for *those other people*? Only experience has shown me how both find room in the same space: The one where the idea--the ideal--of Christmas is left behind and the entirety of God's promise is received.

There's a spiritual gift God has given all of us this year. I don't mean the ability to prophesy or work miracles, but I mean the ability to see what God has been telling each of us for the last twelve months. How was He working? What story was He writing? I know it's been written well, but I want to read it well. 

Knowing my tendency to misinterpret, here's hints at a couple of my own chapters:

Though it's not where I expected to be, to see myself only as "alone" in the narrowest sense of the word is to ignore the most precious gifts God has given me this season. Because I alone get to celebrate the affection and smiles of my children as they open their gifts. Only I get to witness the day-to-day unfolding of their lives. They look to me to walk beside them on this journey. I'm one in eight billion and it's an honor.

And I was the one who prayed that God would keep me from a "boring life." (And I still think you should pray like that.) I asked to be tested. I put my life God's hands to go wherever He would take me. More than any prayer I've ever prayed, I know He heard that one.


I want those prayers to lead me to a deeper place than just a therapeutic exercise of "re-framing." I want it to be an acknowledgment of the blessings I've been given and the ones on the way. I truly want to see it as part of a carefully crafted story. Not ignoring grief or heartbreak but understanding the built-in benefits of the life I've been privileged to live.

Every ending is the opportunity for a new beginning, and I want to celebrate a day of brand-new mercies. I want to embrace every good and perfect gift God has for me. Those gifts point back to the gift of a Child born on that one silent night. It was a gift for all people and God help me not to forget how "all" includes me. 

And it includes you.

On these silent nights, sometimes you may struggle to find Him, but He's not struggling to find you. And He will come. He always does.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

The 2022 Radical Sabbatical: Days 9-14

Day 9: Tucson to White Sands to El Paso

There's a *lot* of open desert in this part of the country so early mornings were a requirement. (I'm not a morning person. No, not at all.) We grabbed coffee and some genuine Tucsonian hot sauce and hit the road for New Mexico, which was state #6 if you're counting.

Mariah was feeling a bit sick coming out of the weekend, so we cut a few things from our itinerary and pointed the SUV toward White Sands National Park. This gave us a chance to do a quick stop in Las Cruces to buy sleds (I'll explain) and make our first trip to Whataburger, which may get a mention in the soon-to-come RS: Food and Fun post.

I'm glad we went to White Sands, because the thousands of acres of bright gypsum powder are unique to this one place on Earth. However, it was really hot and the sledding thing didn't work that well, at least for us. Maybe we should have gotten some wax or something. Has anyone else had luck with this? It was non-stop frustration for us.

White Sands National Park Radical Score: 8/10 for beauty, 4/10 for fun

From there it was south to El Paso and the kids first trip ever to the state of Texas.

Us trying to act like Texas outlaws

Day 10: El Paso to San Antonio (Drive Day)

El Paso has amazing food, exciting history, striking architecture, but why is this city just kinda creepy? I'm not sure what was up, but the streets--with all their things to see, do and eat--were just oddly quiet in the evening and not much better in the morning. I don't get it. Oh well.

If there's any chance of me "getting it", I can guess that it's because included in the AirBnB was a super-spooky, but much needed coin-op laundry room that was practically hanging over the Rio Grande and looking into Mexico. It could not have possibly been more horrifying without being an active crime scene, but I did the laundry anyway.

Overlooking all 1.5 million people in Juarez

As a side note: our tentative trip into Juarez, Mexico, was dropped due to the virus Mariah was fighting.

El Paso In General Radical Score: 5/10 (my least favorite city of the trip)

This second week of the trip really was us making an unscheduled and undisiplined trip across Texas, and Texas is pretty big, which means a lot of driving. No day said it more clearly than this one, but driving through the nothingness of Texas gave me the chance to give the kids their first driving lesson in the tiny town of Fort Stockton. Beyond just being a great memory it was an amusing diversion from the miles and miles of desert.

By late in the evening we made it to an AirBnB condo in San Antonio and got late night tacos at a truck a few blocks away. (My life was changed that night, but [again] I might leave that for the food post.) 

Day 11: Downtown San Antonio

We allowed ourselves to sleep in that first night in SA, but too many adventures were calling by mid-morning.

We hit Legoland Discovery Center first, because even as early-teens, the kids still can't quite say no to Lego. (Note that this is not the same as Legoland Resort in California and Florida. Those are theme parks; LDC is more like a Lego museum.) Fun, but just the beginning.

Legoland Discovery Center San Antonio Radical Score: 5/10

We went to see The Alamo, but kind of like Hoover Dam, we weren't feeling the full-blown tour. We opted to walk the grounds, which are very beautiful, and catch an Uber to...

The Alamo Radical Score: 6/10

Market Square! This mercado is the largest Mexican market that's not in Mexico, so we made up for some of what we missed in Juarez the day before.

Market square is not far off from Seattle's Pike Place Market, but with less fresh food and more leather. We took in all of it that we could of the music, souvenirs and food before Ubering back to our car for my favorite part of the day.

Historic Market Square Radical Score: 7/10

The River Walk is the best part of San Antonio. Rather than walking the Walk, we decided to take the guided cruise to learn the history and see the most famous sites the city has to offer from the water. The network of canals displays the art, architecture, culture and beauty of the city in the most relaxed way possible. Highly recommended, which is why I give it...

San Antoinio River Walk Radical Score: 8/10

Day 12: Aquatica Water Park at SeaWorld

We purposely selected our AirBnB to be at a midpoint between downtown and SeaWorld. I knew that endless weeks of rocks and plaques would be too much to ask of the kids, so it was time for a non-stop fun day at the SeaWorld water park. We splashed and screamed and played all day at one of the best water parks in America. Then we drove back to the condo for a nap. Then we woke up and did it all over again in the evening. Just about zero photos to show, but it was crazy and unhinged fun.

Aquatica San Antonio Radical Score: 8/10

San Antonio Overall Radical Score: 8/10

Day 13: San Antonio to Beaumont (Drive Day)

It was time to say goodbye to San Antonio, one of the biggest surprises of the trip. We may even go back some day just for fun.

Did I say something about Texas being really big? We had our second drive day of the week taking us all the way from San Antonio to Beaumont. With our only significant stop being Buc-ee's, the biggest truck stop I've ever seen in my life.

I have friends from way back that my kids had never met in Beaumont, so we had a good time with their family catching up and telling stories.

Day 14: Beaumont to Vidor to Galveston

My friends don't just swap stories, they're crazy-talented music minsters at their church in Beaumont. Of course, I knew that, but I'd never seen them in action and these guys have been *putting in work* the past 15 years we've been apart. It was also Father's Day, so we sent them off to celebrate with family and went to Waffle House to celebrate (Waffle House will be on that food post for absolutely sure).

We got a sudden inspiration while we were at Waffle House. I have another longtime friend that pastors a church just down the road and they were just about to start their service. Since it was still "freestyle week", so we decided to go. I don't get to make a surprise appearance 2300 miles away from home every day, so we had fun with it. Elisha and Mariah were just about beyond fun by then.

For the first time in two weeks, we made the decision to drive backwards. To start week 3 and wrap up our time in Texas, we were headed west to Galveston for some beach time.

Next up: Galveston, New Orleans, Montgomery

Thursday, December 01, 2022

The 2022 Radical Sabbatical: Days 4-8

Day 4: Las Vegas to Hoover Dam to Grand Canyon to Route 66

Las Vegas wasn't our thing. It just wasn't. Too much facade; not enough substance.  The food was great and one other thing.

The Pinball Hall of Fame is my favorite thing in Las Vegas.  No admission and the machines still cost a quarter so for $25 dollars we all played an hour on machines that go as far back as the 1930's and 40's. Also, it's air conditioned! Triple-digit temperatures make this invaluable.

We had to make it to our hotel on Route 66, so a mid-morning departure to the east was a must. Hoover Dam is just outside of town, so we made the quick stop and I spent my first moments ever in my mom's birth state of Arizona. I worked a decade in structural engineering, but really Hoover Dam looks like a big concrete wall to me. Fascinating as a short stop, but maybe we should have taken the really expensive tour (we didn't).

We weren't done because the Grand Canyon was just a few hours away. We opted to go to Grand Canyon West to save a day of driving. (Going to the South Rim would have added another 7 hours to our route.)

Here's the deal with Grand Canyon West: it's run like a business. There's roadblocks set up a few miles south of the canyon with a visitor's center and shuttle buses that ensure that you won't even get close to seeing anything without paying admission. We waited for the bus that promised us two stops of panoramic canyon views. The first stop featured the famous Skywalk, gift shop, restaurant, etc. It also featured big fences that obscured your view if you didn't buy tickets to the Skywalk. Blech!

No cameras are allowed on the Skywalk. You can pay them to take your picture. It's not cheap and the lines are long to get one. Mariah opted not to go on the walk due to her fear of heights, so I thought we might not get any pictures at the Grand Canyon. Vegas, Hoover Dam and now the Grand Canyon! I was starting to get frustrated. We bought our souvenirs at the shop and drug our disappointed selves to the second stop.

It was absolutely perfect. No fences and no sales pitches, but just pure and beautiful amazingness. We got our pictures. What was I worried about?

We *still* weren't done because we had a reservation in Seligman, Arizona, at a motor inn on Route 66. It was getting late and we needed dinner. We coudn't find an open restaurant. I hit a jackrabbit (Not kidding. That actually happened.) We pulled into Seligman at 9:15 and found the world's loneliest Subway for dinner just before closing. The longest of long days was over.

Pinball Hall of Fame Radical Score: 7/10

Hoover Dam Radical Score: 4/10

Grand Canyon West Radical Score: 5/10 (go to the South Rim)

Day 5: Route 66 to Sedona to Phoenix

Seligman, Arizona, is the town that inspired the Pixar film, Cars, and it lived up to every bit of it's nostalgic reputation. Diner food, old cars, souvenir shops. Every picture you see in your mind of what Route 66 is supposed to look like, you can find in this town of 450 people.

Route 66 Radical Score: 8/10

Afternoon pushed us on to Sedona, to meet friends at Slide Rock State Park. The 80-foot-long natural sandstone waterslide makes this one of America's best swimming holes and the kids were all in for every bit of it. It's a former apple orchard surrounded by red canyon walls and full of happy people. 

Sedona itself is a high-end resort town that manages to still be accessible. It was a short break for food and shopping, but worth the stop.

Slide Rock Radical Score: 9/10

Sedona Radical Score: 7/10

Day 6-7: Phoenix

We were due for down time and thankful for a comfortable place at Aaron and Teri's house. I'm not even quite sure what we did on day six besides breathe, let the kids splash in the water and refill the snack box for the next leg of the drive. We had a great time at Pentecostals of Phoenix on Day 7.

We were just about recharged to start the second week.

Phoenix Overall Radical Score: Undetermined, because we really didn't do much in town.

Day 8: Phoenix, Mesa and the drive to Tucson

Monday, June 13, was an opportunity to meet one of my longtime co-workers for the first time at his home office in Mesa, Arizona. Catching up on emails and solving problems from the week I was out took a few quick hours. Mesa (on the east side of Phoenix) was where my mom lived as a little girl, so I got to visit her childhood home and school. 

It was time to head southeast for the next leg of our journey, but like I said, we were *just about* recharged for our start to the second week.  By the time we made it to Tucson that evening, we were done. The second week of the trip was set up to be a "freestyle" schedule, so we were ok to take in the Miracle Mile and eat the amazing food before pushing on

Tucson Overall Radical Score: 6/10

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The 2022 Radical Sabbatical: Days 1-3

We chose the name "Radical Sabbatical" because it was ridiculous and crazy and everything the trip was meant to be. June of 2022 marked exactly 10 years since I started my adventure in the wireless industry and I'd earned the break. And, it was a promise.

By the numbers, the RS was a 50-day, 31-state, 125+ stop cross-country road trip that took most of the months of June and August 2022. My next set of blog posts will take you along on the journey and let you know what it might take to do your own cross-country trip. Before I get into boring details about packing, etc., here's the kickoff of the fun stuff and scores for everything we saw and did:

Day 1: Home to Yosemite National Park

To make it all the way to Yosemite meant an early morning. Thankfully, we were energetic and excited to start out and hit the road by 6:30 AM. It's only a twelve-hour drive from Portland to Yosemite and we were going to drive all of it or pay for that hotel room anyhow. 

This gave us a pretty simple mission: head south. 

Stops in Ashland, Oregon and at In-N-Out in Redding, California, were all we needed to break up the trip. We found our first accomodations at Yosemite Westgate Lodge perfectly positioned near the Big Oak Flat entrance east of Stockton. We were ready to drive the 45 minutes into the valley at first light.

Day 2: Yosemite Valley

First light is early in June, so we were up at 5 AM to beat the heat and the crowds in the Valley.  I think it paid off.

Yosemite may be the most awe-inspiring place in the country. The panorama of granite cliffs and waterfalls creates beauty that constantly wanders just outside the reach of the human eye. You turn to look, then you turn again. 

The Valley is relatively small considering how many places there are to see, so we sought out the best views of El Capitan, Half Dome, Upper and Lower Falls and Bridalveil. Lunch at the village and time in the Ansel Adams Gallery gave us our only hints of anything but pure and unsullied nature.

El Capitan (one of my favorite photos from the trip)

Did I mention that Yosemite is only 12 hours south of Portland? Why did I wait?

Yosemite Valley Radical Score: 10/10

Day 3: Yosemite to Death Valley to Las Vegas

On the Tioga Road

Yosemite wasn't over because we were headed through the Granite Domes on the Tioga Road. Tioga is closed half of the year due to snow, but all was clear as we carved our way through the terrain from forest to mountains to desert.

By the time we popped out the far side of Yosemite we found gas at $7.64/gallon. We declined to fill up.

More hours in the desert got us to Death Valley. We ran into the general store at Stovepipe Wells and exclaimed like noobs, "How HOT is it out there?" The clerk knew exactly how hot it was (considering he's asked dozens of times a day). It got up to 116 degrees while we were there, which wasn't long.

Las Vegas was a few hours away and by the time we got there, dinner was way overdue. We stumbled down the strip to Giordano's for pizza, caught the Bellagio Fountains and went to Hershey's Chocolate World. By then it was nearly midnight and our Vegas adventure was already half over. It was time for bed.

Tioga Road Radical Score: 8/10

Giordano's Pizza Radical Score: 9/10

Bellagio Fountain Radical Score: 6/10

Vegas Strip Score: 4/10

Next up: Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Sedona, Phoenix, Tucson