Hitting the road, post-lockdown

After 18 months of lockdown, last week we took our first family road trip in almost two years.

I was one of those people who didn’t mind so much being trapped inside during the pandemic. I loved having my family around me, and I enjoyed not having to drive places. I read lots of books. I wrote a lot. Teaching? Boot up the computer. Get-togethers and meetings? The same. I suddenly found myself in the odd position of being on time to things.

But travel is a big deal for me, and I was missing it. We were set to go on a trip to Disneyland the week that the Bay Area (and the amusement park) shut down in March 2020. And while I could have found a way to travel during lockdown, we chose to follow the fairly strict recommendations of my county.

With long Spotify playlists and bags full of not-too-healthy snacks, all of us vaccinated people set out for Seattle to visit my oldest son and his wife, whom we hadn’t seen in two years. This time, we had a little dog with us, which turned out to be easier than I thought it would be and more entertaining. There are lots of pet-friendly hotels! And at least one coffee shop.

The pup, with booties to protect nice, hardwood floors

In our case, months of deprivation led to appreciation. I looked on things with fresh eyes—the northern Central Valley with its fields of sunflowers and almond trees wasn’t just a place to pass through on the way to somewhere else; it looked beautiful to me. Oregon’s rivers seemed so exotic—we don’t have legit rivers in the Bay Area. And the Seattle area, with its ferry boats and miles of deep, green forests was stunning. We took a ferry boat over to Bainbridge Island to visit a friend and loved that we could drive onto a boat and get off and drive wherever we wanted on the other side.

Oregon’s Willamette River, looking very exotic to my Bay Area eyes
Sunflower farms in the northern Central Valley.

But the best thing? Hugs. We could hug each other. We could talk and see each others’ expressions without masks–and not through a video screen. Zoom kept us from complete isolation, but we were made to see, hear, feel and connect with each other in person. Nothing substitutes for that, long term.

My husband and I are big fans of British comedy. On a show called That Mitchell and Webb Look, there’s a repeating skit called “After the Event,” in which contestants play a game show after a fictional apocalyptic event has decimated their society. It’s obvious that this event has maimed and deeply affected the contestants. The audience is warned to “REMAIN INDOORS” and not to think about “The Event.”  

Will COVID be our “Event”?  It’s possible that something worse will come along in our lifetime. But now, most of us have the ability to go outside, hug one another, see each other in the flesh, and travel (to most places). I’m going to enjoy it as long as I can.

Have you taken any big trips, post-lockdown? What was it like?

All together after almost two years

I have to clarify (because he will read this) that my husband Pete (third from the left) chose to fly to Seattle rather than do the road trip portion with us. And that’s okay! He loves both us and trips, but long car rides with very talkative people and loud singing along to playlists are not his thing.

Remodeling the Hero’s Journey

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We’re finally finished with our kitchen remodel. This was a big one. We completely gutted the aging kitchen we had for seventeen years.

Thanks to a five-year-old who liked to swing on cabinet doors, we’d been displaying our mismatched dishes and pantry contents for the world to see for years now. And because of an odd kitchen layout, a sink with dirty dishes was the first thing anyone saw when coming through our front door.

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Before: Proud display of dirty dishes

I knew the remodel would be a chaotic inconvenience. Microwaved food on paper plates for at least six weeks. Strangers in our house every day, sledgehammering, dry walling, cranking classic rock and Mexican tunes on the radio and yelling at each other. There would be dust in all our rooms, because there is no place that stuff doesn’t reach. My noise-averse husband and son would burrow into their respective hollows, with their headphones on.

That’s exactly what it’s been like. Some mornings I’ve walked through the kitchen and reminisced about the semi-darkness of our old kitchen with its flickering 1970s fluorescent light. Was it really that bad?

I’m a writer and an English teacher, so I know a messy middle when I see one. In a story’s messy middle, the protagonist has left the land of the ordinary, often reluctantly, and entered into the crazy, hostile world of the extraordinary. Think of Bilbo Baggins leaving the peace of the shire, at the wizard Gandalf’s urging, to steal the dwarves’ treasure from the dragon.

Bilbo doesn’t think he’s suited for this adventure. Gandalf thinks otherwise, calling Bilbo “the Burglar.”

I like living in the shire. I like tidy, peaceful places that are quiet. I don’t like being in messy, in-between states where power and water are turned off and perfectly good dishwashers are accidentally carted off to the dump.

My toddler-sized brain looks at the daily chaos and thinks only, This will last forever.

But like so many transitions we deal with in life, this is not true. Things do resolve, and the reason we human beings love stories so much is, their beginnings, middles and ends are so comforting. We hold on to this cycle for hope. When we are old enough to have gone through enough messy middles, we know in some way, things will change. This too shall pass.

A remodel is not up there on the scale of life changes. It isn’t divorce, death of a parent or spouse, or the loss of a career. At least one of those things will come my way soon enough.

This remodel is a light practice run.

The kitchen is looking wonderful, thanks to the contractors who have worked till dusk over the past six weeks. After everyone’s packed up at night, I walk on the smooth, new tile floor and think, Is this really my kitchen?

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After:  All done!

Oh, yeah, that’s another thing. I didn’t even do the actual work myself. I’m thankful for that, because I’m not a fixer-upper person. The results would not be good.

Here’s to life’s transitions. And to the good that awaits on the other side.

hobbiton

Home again, but better.