Monday, August 07, 2023

The RS: Days 28-31

Day 28-29: Baltimore

Baltimore is a whole different thing. We started off our Saturday morning by doing outreach in the just off Broadway in preparation for a street service and back-to-school celebration the following day.

From there it was off to Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner." I've seen the original flag itself at the National Museum of American History, in Washington, DC, but being at the location helped me better understand what the lyrics of the song are talking about. (Because, I don't usually see "ramparts" and stuff.) The kids got to participate the the lowering and folding of the flag and we got to check off the only Historic Shrine in the country.

Fort McHenry Radical Score: 8/10

I already talked about Ice Queens' shave ice and the world-beating pizza at Angeli's. They were fuel for Sunday's street church.

Street-service day was frantic and fun in all kinds of different way. Getting all the chairs, sound equipment, instruments and people in place was the gretest four-block journey ever told. It was worth all that effort when we saw we had 150 Baltimoreans there to hear about the hope only Jesus can bring and celebrate going back to school with their new backpacks.

Day 30: Washington, DC

Anne-Marie and I had the privilege to go to DC for two days back in 2010, but the kids had never been. We did our best to tackle it in a single day. Here's what we did:

First stop was the National Museum of African American History and Culture. All of the Smithsonian museums are unforgettable experiences, but we chose to visit the newest one and it didn't disappoint. The injustice of slavery and exuberance of jazz music are captured in the same place and it's priceless. We stayed three hours until the ushers politely force us to leave. I could go back tomorrow and spend another three.

NMAAHC Radical Score: 9/10

We timed our visit to DC later in the day to allow us to walk the National Mall in daytime and after dark. All the museums were closed and all we got around to was the one, so it was endless photos and monuments. Here's a few:

Washington deserves a full two week of exploration. So far, I've given it three days of my life, but I hope to be back. We milked our stay amongst the lights of the Mall for as long as we could, then drove back for one more night in Baltimore.

The National Mall Radical Score: 10/10 (you gotta go to know)

Day 31: Leaving Baltimore / Philadelphia

We had to part ways early Tuesday, so we finished up laundry (more on that later), re-packed everything and pointed the Hyundai northeast toward Philadelphia.

Last thoughts on Baltimore: Being in this beautiful, historic city with all the challenges of poverty, substance abuse and gang violence was a powerful experience. It was an honor to share those things with Anthony and Erica after three years of being apart*. Vanilla lattes and Old Bay Bagels are on me next time, Erica.

Baltimore Radical Score: 7/10

Did I mention how Delaware happened? (only pic)

Philly was the only city still masking up at the time of our trip and tight windows for all attractions were still being maintained for crowd control, so our trip took some planning. 

We arrived in town before our timeslot for Independence Hall, so we wandered into Old City to enjoy cheese-whiz-free cheesesteaks at Sonny's. From there we stumbled around the cobblestone streets to Betsy Ross House. The story about the first flag is probably inventive fiction, so we skipped the expensive tour, but it was nice to see the traditional birthplace of America's flag. And we picked up a magnet, which is important (more to come on that).

We timed it so we would have time to visit the Liberty Bell--which is a self-guided tour--right before our visit to Independence Hall, which made a lot happen in a hurry. The Liberty Bell is just about as simple as it can be as far as actually seeing it. There's exhibits and videos and whatever else, but Nicholas Cage already explained all that stuff to us. We made a beeline for the Bell.

Most of these American icons are thousands of miles away from us, so we had to get dozens of photos. The thing I loved most about the Liberty Bell is how they positioned it so you could get Independence Hall in the background of your photo.

Liberty Bell Radical Score: 7/10

The Independence Hall tour is a must, not because the guide is going to tell you much more than you learned in sixth-grade Civics, but because it's the only way to be afforded the chance to stand in the same place as men as George Washington, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. I don't remember much that was said, but I got to look at the place that's in all the paintings.

Independence Hall Radical Score: 8/10 (glad I went at least once)

From all the super-serious history, we Uber'd to Midtown to go shopping and see the Love Statue. Then we made one of the worst decisions of the trip when we decided to walk more than a mile through the scorching heat to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We made it--and we even ran up the steps--because it's not about how hard you can hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep movin'.

LOVE Radical Score: 7/10 (I know very little about pop art, but this was fun.)

Philadelphia Museum of Art Radical Score: 6/10 (we didn't actually go in!)

Rocky Statue Radical Score: 57 Wins, 23 Losses and 1 Draw

Uber got a bunch of our money just so we could get back to our own car.

We pulled out of town late and got to our hotel near the Medowlands after dark. Our time in New Jersey was limited, because Manhattan was happening in the morning.

New Jersey sign, but I parked too far away

*Since the time of our visit, our friends have moved back to Portland. I'm beyond proud of the work they pioneered in Baltimore and left in good hands.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

The Radical Sabbatical: Days 22-27

After 5 weeks of crazy life back in Portland we flew all night to Orlando to rejoin our car and take on Walt Disney World. It was Sunday, July 31.

Celebrating WDW's 50th year

Day 22B: Animal Kingdom

I probably don't have to put together exhaustive posts on Disney World like I did six years ago with Disneyland. Most of you have been to the world of the anthropomorphic mouse or have no desire to go, so here's this is a somewhat condensed version of us at WDW:

The 31st was our day at Animal Kingdom. Keep in mind we hadn't really slept after spending three days at Northwest Youth Conference and immediately boarding a redeye from one corner of America to the other.

So what about Animal Kingdom impressed? Avatar Flight of Passage. Yes, I got motion sickness due to the previous four days, but it was still an amazing experience and was chased down with the 15th best meal of the trip at Satu'li.

Expedition Everest and Festival of the Lion King were solid as was a kids party with Kevin from Up, but we were honest enough with our expectations and energy level to tap out in the late afternoon and head for the room. Which brings us to this commercial for Disney nerds:

Pop Century Resort has 30 ft tall versions of all the toys

Pop Century Resort might've been the greatest choice of the entire trip to Disney. It's fun, cheap and located right on the Skyliner. If you want to stay on the grounds, don't need a pool with nine different water slides and *love* murphy beds, you need to stay at the Pop. Art of Animation (next door to the Pop) is too expensive and ESPN's All-Star Resorts are pretty much located in Tampa.

EXTRA PRO TIP: Don't go to Animal Kingdom after a three-day youth conference and all-night flight. Unless you're part of our family. We're down for whatever.

Animal Kingdom Radical Score: 7/10

Day 23: Magic Kingdom

We had the distinct advantage of the aforementioned trip to Disneyland, which is kind of the same as Magic Kingdom. We hit all our favorites. Space Mountain, Small World, Thunder Mountain and (the inferior version of) Pirates. We found a new favorite in Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which is the smoothest, quietest roller coaster I've ever ridden on.

Dole Whips, funnel cakes, parades. Everything was going along as effortlessly as the Mine Train when we were walking to catch our Fast Pass at Splash Mountain and we got whacked with a thunderstorm that closed everything for an hour or two. This included closing Splash Mountain for the rest of the night. This was our last chance to ever ride Splash Mountain before it becomes Tiana's Bayou Adventure of Amazing Creole Fantasticness. I was a little *too* disappointed. It's my favorite.

The good news is that the storm let up 25 minutes before close and since, most people just went back to their hotels, we got a chance to run through and meet various princesses that I've forgotten by now and ride Winnie the Pooh. As we were exiting WTP, one of the Disney employees ran up to us and let us know we had a chance to ride the Mine Train one more time before the park closed with no wait. So one more time we got to glide through the rocks and tunnels.

An evening spent mostly staring out the front door of the Frontierland gift shop was capped with spontaneity and unexpected blessings. What more could you ask for at Disney?

PRO TIP: If you've already been to Disneyland, prioritize what's different at Magic Kingdom. A lot easier for a guy like me to get back to Anaheim than Orlando.

Magic Kingdom Radical Score: 8/10

Day 24: Hollywood Studios

This was the day Elisha was waiting for. We bought our advance tickets to Rise of the Resistance as soon as they were released and geared up for the ride of our lives. After Mariah got stopped by stormtroopers in the plaza, we got our ride and--trust me--RotR lives up to the hype. If you haven't been it's a dark ride, walking tour/interactive drama and virtual ride all in one. Best ride in any of the four parks. No more spoilers.

The main event being over early, the rest of the day was us running from Toy Story Land to Rock 'N' Roller Coaster to Grand Avenue, back to the hotel for a nap and back for more rides and the nighttime animation show.

PRO TIP: We think Hollywood Studios is the best of the four parks. It has less rides than the others, but every single ride is a winner.

Hollywood Studios Radical Score: 9/10

Day 25: EPCOT and Goodbye WDW

We had to choose the park that would only get a half day and EPCOT became the unfortunate victim of time restraints. I didn't realize EPCOT was the largest park (for how far you have to walk) of all the Disney parks. We got a workout. Pro tip: there's a *huge* manmade lake in the middle of the park that forces you to pick a specific path. It's a mile to walk around it. All the walking made our attempts to get up early, pack and check out a bit futile. 

We made the best of it by prioritizing a ride on Frozen Ever After in advance of the big crowds arriving. We made it on the ride, but it got stuck halfway through. The giant snowman threatened to smash us for 20 minutes, but our boat was stuck. They threw a special "gangplank" across the gap to get us out a side door, and for the first time in my life, I got a Disney backlot tour. They told me not to take video, so I only took pictures.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is easily the second best ride at either of the Disney Resorts (Radiator Springs Racers in California Adventure is third). Cosmic Rewind is like Space Mountain, but your car spins 360 degrees through a series of giant LED screens. No more spoilers. So much fun, but over in three minutes.

Also, it was the International food festival, which allowed us to eat samplers of all kinds of crazy food for cheap.

PRO TIP: Test Track is a great ride that has a single rider line, so you can ride it three times in a half hour. And (spoiler) it's the same ride as Radiator Springs Racers in California Adventure, just not as fun-looking.

EPCOT Radical Score: 7/10 (but underrated by most, if only for the wackiness of the whole thing)

And, yes, after that craziness, we drove straight to Charleston, South Carolina. Not straight there, because--as I mentioned in the last post--we enjoyed an incredible meal at Steffan's in Kingsland, Georgia, which is the ONLY thing we did in that state, but we've been to Georgia!

Staying too late at EPCOT and eating to much in Georgia, put us on a lonely state highway to get out to the Carolina coast, but we fought through it and arrived at Charleston's French Quarter long after our bedtime. 

Day 26: Charleston

It had been more than a week since the start of Northwest Youth Conference and we were overdue for a down day.

We slept until 10 or 11 and spent all day at Folly Beach. I didn't take many photos, but instead walked up and down the beach on a beautiful Thursday afternoon and thought about how grateful I was.

The kids and I put our toes in the Atlantic Ocean for the very first time and that alone was worth the trip across the country.

Day 27: Charleston to Baltimore (Drive Day)

The twenty-seventh day was going to be a long one, but we had just enough time to stop at Bitty & Beau's (again), check out the City Market and hit the road. Charleston is the place of all the places that I want more of. We didn't stay long enough, and I regret it.

Just a taste of the stunning beauty of Charleston

Charleston Radical Score: 9/10 *stunning*

We stopped at a mostly forgettable burger place in North Carolina, got out of the car for a minute to say we were in Virginia and powered through--for the second night out of the last three--to Anthony and Erica's house in Baltimore.

We drove to Baltimore from Charleston in a single day. We did that.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

The Radical Sabbatical: The Crazy Food List

This is wild trying to cram writing a few thousand words about a trip that happened six months ago into our family's winter adventures. Basketball season, braces and bunches of other busyness are threatening to swallow us up, but they won't win. No, no.

It's halftime of our seven-week-long trip, so let me break down a few things for you about *food*, because the internet loves lists.

Best Food Cities:

5. Baltimore
This was the surprise. Baltimore has a reputation, but it's not for its amazing history or stellar food. I want to be a voice that changes that. It's a beautiful city that you can eat your way through (see below).

4. San Antonio
San Antonio's street food and taco trucks got it here. Plus, (*spoiler*) they'll be in the top overall cities in my upcoming post. Just too much good stuff going on here to ignore. 

3. Chicago
The level of tastiness in Chi-town was unfairly skewed because we stayed right in the middle of Wicker Park, which is a food paradise. Pizza, coffee, bakeries, burgers. See my favorites below.

2. New York City
This isn't fair for two reasons: The city is bigger than my entire state AND we never left Manhattan. But let me tell you somethin'. NYC lives up to the food hype. Space is so limited and competition is so fierce, they just don't have time for bad food. (And the pizza places are crazy.)

1. New Orleans
Not even sure what to say on this. Po boys, beans and rice, beignets. I feel like we barely touched the food scene here, but it was all excellent. Flavors in a city only matched by the architecture. Go ahead and hate all of NOLA's weaknesses, but the strengths are indisputable.

Best Coffee (with this disclaimer: everywhere else in the US but the Pacific NW--as a general rule--has pretty bad coffee, so most of these places only met the standard I'm used to here in Portland):

5. Amped - Anthem, AZ

4. Impact Coffee - Decorah, Iowa
This is the biggest coffee shop in Iowa. And they serve Fruity Pebbles lattes. 

3. The Wormhole - Wicker Park, Chicago, IL

2. Bitty and Beau's Coffee - French Quarter, Charleston, SC
If there's one single establishment I could brag about in the 31 states that we visited, it's Bitty and Beau's. Not only did they make me a great iced mocha on a hot South Carolina day, they have made it their mission to hire people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and foster a setting that sends a clear message. It's found on the t-shirts of the staff: NOT BROKEN. 
I couldn't help but buy a t-shirt for myself.

Non-Stop Encouragement at Bitty and Beau's

1. Historic Seligman Sundries - Seligman, AZ
I got my best coffee of the whole trip in one of the most famous gift shops in America. A delightful German lady made me an iced mocha that blew my mind. I can't explain it.

Chain Restaurants We Couldn't Stop Going To:

Honorable Mentions: All the fried chicken places. Zaxby's, Bojangles, CF-A. We came and we conquered.

5. Dunkin' - I don't like this place at all, but I couldn't stop going here because *they're everywhere!* Sometimes you just need a coffee and Dunkin' got my money for that reason only.

4. Culver's - OK, we only went here once, but butter burgers are better. Anxiously awaiting my next chance.

3. Buc-ee's - Does this count? This crazy truck stop is the most existential American experience possible. We came for the bathrooms and left with a t-shirt, a tank of gas and dinner.

PC: Jameywiki

2. Whataburger - We went here so many times because they have breakfast. We were either behind or in a hurry or both a lot of mornings and this place saved us. Plus, it is pretty amazing junk food

1. Waffle House - Oh my goodness, this place was the biggest hit. We'll take three all-star specials forever and ever.


Honorable Mention: Churros - Historic Market Square, San Antonio, TX

5. Various Hot Dog Carts - NYC, NY
They hand these to you with a single sheet of wax paper. Sabrett carts were our go-to.

4. Shave Ice - Ice Queen - Fort McHenry, Baltimore, MD

3. Box of Cookies - Twisted Sugar - Boise, ID

2. Fruity Pebbles Marshmallow Bar - Cereal Killers - UTEP, El Paso, TX
Fruity Pebbles has been mentioned twice in a food post I'm expecting people to take seriously.

1. Beignets - Cafe Du Monde - French Quarter, New Orleans, LA
This place deserves to be legendary. We each got our own bag of beignets for dirt cheap and I added a frappe made with that famous chicory/coffee blend we've all seen in the store. This is a must for any first-timer. I'll do a deeper dive next time through town to see if it can be topped.

Muggy day in the French Quarter demands iced coffee and beignets

Best Single Meals:

15. Cheeseburger Dumplings - Avatar - Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World, FL
The food at Walt Disney World doesn't quite measure up to Disneyland in California, but when we went to the cafe at Avatar Flight of Passage and they served us bao dumplings mashed up with a diner-style cheeseburger, I couldn't help but be impressed.

14. Cheesesteak - Sonny's Famous Steaks - Old City, Philadelphia, PA
No, we didn't drive across town to Geno's or Pat's. We were in Philly to see the Liberty Bell. And I had a beyond awesome cheesesteak sandwich at Sonny's. Oh yeah: cheese whiz isn't good! Get these things with mozzarella or provolone.

13. Carne Seca - El Charro - Downtown, Tucson, AZ
When I saw that the house specialty was beef being sundried on the roof of the oldest Mexican restaurant in the US, I quickly ignored the price tag and told them to bring it. Chewy, savory, spicy and everything that's good about the Southwest.

Looks slightly like barkdust, but carne seca is a one-of-a-kind Tucsonian experience

12. Rigor Mortis Tortoise Breakfast - Roadkill Cafe - Seligman, AZ
You have to go to at least one of the roadside diners when you're on Route 66. The creative naming for each item on the menu at Roadkill made it even better.

11. Peri Peri Chicken - Nando's - Chicago Loop, Chicago, IL
Think of this as rotisserie chicken, but elevated Portugese style. With sauce.

10. Bmore BRD - BRD - Federal Hill, Baltimore, MD
Baltimore is all about the Old Bay Seasoning and this crispy-crunchy chicken sandwich made full use of the flavor.

9. Jambalaya - New Orleans Creole Cookery - French Quarter, New Orleans, LA
This was a *mid-tier* NOLA restaurant and I sucked up this massive platter of jambalaya like a vacuum. Not sure how I'd even behave in one of those places you stand in line for an hour.

8. Wood-Fired Pizza - Luna Valley Pizza Farm - Decorah, IA
The small town where my brother lives is so ridiculously adorable (more on that later). They're serving pizza in a barn. And it's *good*!

7. Spaghetti with Meatballs - Tavola - Hell's Kitchen, NYC, NY
Have you ever dreamed of being in NYC in a small Italian cafe with brick walls and Frank Sinatra playing the background? We did that. I ordered spaghetti and drank Italian soda. It was glorious.

6. Margherita Pizza - Angeli's Pizzeria - Little Italy, Baltimore, MD
Anthony and Erica always know where the good spots are, even in non-foodie Baltimore. Angeli's did not disappoint in a trip full of Chicago and NY pizza, some solid cheesy/saucy Baltimore Italian food.

5. Tacos and Frijoles Charro - Taquitos Mexico - Misty Oaks, San Antonio, TX
I'm sure I spent no more than $16 to feed all three of us. Styrofoam coffee cups full of Frijoles Charro for a dollar. Crispy street tacos and quesadillas bursting with Mexican goodness.

4. Grandma Pizza - Vito's Slices and Ices - Garment District, NYC, NY
There's *so* much pizza in New York, I probably could have given fourth place to Joe's "Spider-Man" Pizza on Broadway, but The Grandma at Vito's put it over the top. Thick crust. Sauce pouring off it. Soft. Crunchy. Juicy. Stretchy. I dream of going back.

Mariah goin' in on The Grandma

3. Chicago-Style Pizza - Giordano's - The Strip, Las Vegas, NV
The Chicago pizza we got in actual Chicago didn't compare to the double-decker pan of insanity we got from this Chicago-based location in Vegas. Took forty minutes to get to our table, but oh my. Check it out if you're ever in LV. And I'll try to go to the main branch someday.

2. Chicken and Waffles (and Biscuits) - Steffan's Restaurant - Kingsland, GA
This little diner just off I-95 in Kingsland is wall-to-wall people. We went absolutely nuts ordering hush puppies and mac n cheese. But I save most my energy for the Chicken and Waffles, with a side of biscuits. I don't regret trying to drive six hours after that, but I *do* regret leaving those three biscuits on the counter.

1. Cheeseburger Po-Boy - Domilise's - Magazine District, New Orleans, LA
I struggle for words. This dumpy sandwich shop is no secret. Celebrity photos line the walls. The Manning brothers go there all the time. Phone-in orders are flying out the door. I wish I could have ordered one of each sandwich, because they (the meatball, the wiener, the ham and cheese) were all that good, but if I had to pick one, it's the messiest of all: The Cheeseburger Po-Boy. The chili, the hot sauce, the grilled onions roll up nicely in this delicious disaster. I shall return.

This is as impressive as this place looks. (I ate the food too fast for a picture.)

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.