California: The Souls of Dinosaurs

Elyse wakes up at 4:13 a.m. It’s our first morning in San Francisco and we’re staying in a hotel room Dan booked on points.

Our free hotel room consists of two separate rooms, includes a full kitchen, and that morning we enjoy a complimentary hot breakfast. We swim in the “heated” sparkling pool upon our arrival. We are pleasantly surprised.

My husband graciously slides out of bed, checks on Elyse in the bathroom. There’s the pitter-patter of feet and two more sisters out of bed. I get out of bed to help but insist on keeping the lights out to try and hold onto the night. We’re all shuffling around in the dark.

The day before, on the first day of our ‘round the world trip, we arose shortly after 4 a.m. eastern time. We woke the girls from their peaceful slumbers – what felt like a violent act – and loaded them into the minivan. We ate a rushed breakfast past airport security then were delighted to find ourselves in row eighteen of the plane, the first row past business class with extra leg room. The girls were even gifted an activity bag as they boarded the plane containing earphones for the onboard TVs, a colouring book and a small foam game of exes and oes.

The first five hours of our flight from Toronto to California were smooth sailing. The girls settled happily into their seats, ensconcing themselves in ipad land, embracing permission long denied, finally granted, to go back to their beloved screens. Around the four-hour point of our flight, Dan and I insisted Elyse forfeit her screen to use the washroom on the plane. She was belligerent about the request but didn’t cause much of a scene. When we unstrapped her from her seat she flopped onto the floor down on her bottom. She insisted on being carried to the bathroom. Dan didn’t mind obliging, but we should have taken this as a sign. When the duo returned from the bathroom a second time, Elyse climbed into Dan’s lap and tumbled into sleep. Her sleepiness was atypical, but not unusual given the circumstances. When Elyse awoke an hour later, it was time for landing. Penelope was getting giddy and worked up by this point in the five hour and forty-five-minute flight and when disconnected from her screen, Ariel had been uncharacteristically scowly and cantankerous. As the plane commenced its descent, tempers flared. Ariel and Penelope, seated to my left, went after each other. There was catty poking and swatting, eye rolling and whining. In other words, typical childish behaviour from kids who haven’t had enough sleep.

Our plane touches down seamlessly and I look over across the aisle to see Elyse slouched down in her seat like a sack of potatoes. My two quarreling girls are settling, their cat fight giving way to the novelty of the moment – t’was but a scratch – when the words you never want to hear as a parent come barrelling out of my husband’s mouth, “Are you going to be sick? Elyse, are you going to be sick?” Elyse looks placid, pale. Like she might cry. She’s dry heaving and making that gagging sound kids make when they’re trying to throw up. Passengers are disembarking all around us. Thinking fast on his feet, Dan reaches for the activity bag, containing headphones and all, and Elyse vomits into it. As it turns out, the poor kid suffers from motion sickness. And so we arrived in San Fran with a splash!

We got our rental car sorted without problem, Elyse recovered nicely and we were swimming in the hotel pool feeling nice and relaxed by early afternoon, having gained three hours heading west. On our drive to dinner, not surprisingly, Penelope fell asleep and by 8 p.m, it’s safe to say, we were all knackered. Ariel and Penelope slept together and fell asleep in the exact position they first laid down in and Elyse took the pull-out, joining them in dreamland a few minutes later, with Dan and I not far behind them.

Why then, at 4:13 a.m., when our kids woke up in San Fran, did they seem so damn fresh?

By 5:15 a.m. I’ve given up on trying to get the girls to go back to sleep. Any pretense of getting them to rest has faded away, so I turn on a light and pull out their books. Dan has clamoured back into our bed and as I flop down beside him, I feel a deep-seated exhaustion, despite having gone to bed the night before at 8:30 p.m. My legs are lead, my head all foggy clouds, like the ones we flew through high in the air and the ones down below us enshrouding California hill tops.

“Why don’t the kids feel exhausted?” I bemoan to my bedside partner.

“because they didn’t have to get themselves here.”

Elyse interrupts our sleep a few minutes later.

“I want breakfast.”

Our time in San Francisco did not disappoint. We visited the tall and majestic sequoia trees in Muir Woods National Park. We took a short boat ride to Alcatraz – “The Rock” – and took a stroll down to Pier 39 to gawk at sea lions and ride the merry-go-round. We ate clam chowder at Fisherman’s wharf and gazed out over the Pacific as the sun set in a dazzling array of purples, pinks and oranges. We crossed the Golden Gate bridge and stopped to take pictures. We experienced crime and big city problems. Homelessness. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. In the middle of the day, the car beside ours was broken into, smashed glass everywhere. There was a bomb threat nearby and several earthquakes an hour or so away. Nobody seemed perturbed. In comparison, I appreciate the relative calm and safety of our small town; the uneventfulness of small-town Ontario. Big city, big problems. Yet, San Francisco is not without its charms and character. Scooters and bikes and motorized skateboards abound. The giant sequoias and hearty palms, windswept vistas overlooking the ocean, and picturesque rows of stucco houses that go on and on in tiers packed into hillsides. Roads that disappear into the horizon. A shoreline with surfers, pelicans and sea lions; and who could forget that California sunshine. Even when it’s cold in San Fran, it isn’t really cold.

On our way into the city we came across miles and miles of white tombstones. An entire cemetery of them in the heart of the city. Ariel asked what we were seeing from the backseat. I told her it was a graveyard, and Dan added,
“That’s where soldiers are buried.”
“That’s where the souls of dinosaurs are buried!?” Ariel was incredulous.

California has class and soul. The city has grit, but its inhabitants are peppy, friendly. Sun-shiny. On one such vista overlooking the Golden Gate bridge and the endless city, Ariel and I stumbled across a blond in a leather jacket, chest heaving, one leg propped up on her Harley with her burley fiancé, hipster beard and all, pressed up behind her for a photo shoot. With the golden gate bridge in the background, the pacific and steep drop to our left, I thought, yeah, this is San Francisco.

What We’re Made Of

Free advice: if and when you plan a trip around the world, don’t leave the final details until the week before you leave. There are best laid plans and then there is reality. The reality is you might not have time to apply to that publisher you were hoping to apply to; you definitely won’t write that piece for the magazine and you will more than likely have to put all of your writerly activities on hold. You will bow down to the demands of the schedule. Finalizing the itinerary will become all you know, the intense focus on your existence; the first thing you think of in the morning and the last thought jettisoning through your mind before bed. Sleep will be fitful. Exercise will be cut short. Your children’s questions will go unanswered, and they will repeat them ad nauseum until they grow tired and weepy and wander away, mewing like kittens who’ve lost their mother. You won’t really be gone, but you’ll be transformed from a living, breathing person, to a research troll. Your obsession with controlling the trip – before the trip controls you – will be all-consuming in the final days before your flight; it has to. You want to bitch and moan about all the work you have left to do, but hell, who would listen? I wouldn’t listen to me. And who am I kidding? A bit of sweat and tears, the burning sensation in the back of my eyeballs from too much screen time, is a fair exchange for the trip of a lifetime.

What do you mean, trip of a lifetime? You might ask. Where are you going? There are the physical locations themselves, but a trip, a real voyage, is so much more than that. The girls’ music teacher said to me, “you’re going to shed some skins on this trip,” and I told her I liked that, I liked that a lot; that she nailed where we are going right on the head. Traveling is about unravelling other versions of yourself; peeling back, delayering the proverbial skins. Let’s see what we’re really made of.

I’ll give you an example. Surfing. Let’s take surfing as an example. Canadian Adelle, the person typing this post in her usual local café wouldn’t consider surfing as a family activity that her particular family could enjoy. Dan and I knew WE, the adults, wanted to go surfing while in Hawaii, and we included Ariel in that realm of possibility, being the capable, swimmable, eight-year-old that she is. We wrote the other two off…we’d have to do something with them. But travel Adelle, the woman looking ahead, reaches out to her future self and sees that all is possible. She scours websites for information and sees the surfing company, the one with the cool name, North Shore Surf Girls, and the possibility of surfing for children as young as two. As young as two. She writes to said surf establishment in Hawaii and she inquires…are you sure? I have a three-year-old and a six-year-old who can’t swim and my six-year-old has Down syndrome…are you sure? She wakes up to the chipper reply. Yes! But what sealed the deal was the closing line in the email response, “I think it will be super fun.” Super fun? Can I get a HELL, yes! She’s speaking your language.

Suddenly new horizons open up. The impossible becomes…likely. Normal. Travel can broaden that which we didn’t even know was narrowed; can unearth truths buried deep below. I want to hold my children back, but the world calls them forward with open arms, out into un-surfed territory. The pre-planning is about keeping them as safe, comfortable and well fed as possible, to make our trip as enjoyable as possible, but there is so much impossible that becomes possible in the course of a day in another country that maybe it’s best just to let go. Just let go.

Maybe that’s another great reason to travel. To just let everything go. Step outside the relative safety of the everyday, the worn path and to look around the corner, check out what’s over there. I’m one to explore new paths, hike my way through a new forest, perhaps not always in the safest of ways. I’ve read atrocious stories of women walking alone in the woods and the bad things that happen to them or almost happened to them. Little Red Riding Hood for starters, but memoirs, too. A distance runner hiking with her baby when a man with a mental health issue emerges and out of nowhere throws a boulder grazing her ear, narrowly missing her newborn baby’s head in the carrier. Stories of rape, homicide, murder and the occasional animal attack. I should probably carry bear spray when I walk alone, but not because of the bears.

I have read horror stories from travel on the road, too. Whole volumes of them. Travellers who’ve gotten hurt, lost, scared. Who’ve encountered murderers face-to-face and lived to write about it. I’ve read a memoir written by a woman whose fiancé died from a fatal box jellyfish sting in Thailand, as well as a woman who became paralyzed falling off the second story of a building in Thailand because of a loose railing. There are SO MANY factors out of our control to worry about. There are terrible things that happen in my neighbourhood, yours too, stories I try not to think about.

But do you know why I’m not afraid to travel? Why we can’t be afraid to travel? Because as much as bad things can and do happen, more often beautiful, transcendent moments occur out on the road. Moments of hilarity. Moments of solidarity and humanity. I’ve read these stories, too; mostly these are the stories I choose to focus on. There is kindness to experience that goes beyond words. There is nature to encounter that draws the breath away. There are places to explore and people to meet who will open the heart up wide and in exchange there will be pieces of your heart left behind, I am sure of it.

Travel because who can stay still for long? And my biggest because, is because travelling together is a guaranteed way to spend time as a family. Sure, we don’t need to go to Japan to do that, but wouldn’t it be fun? There is a big part of me who knows I am going because I can. Because today is the day. Now is the time to go. Not tomorrow. Not later. This year, right now. Okay, in five days. FIVE DAYS!!!

As if I needed any more reasons to get away, I am reading the British author A.L. Kennedy and her meditation (or is it a witty rant?) called On Writing about the daily act. Her writing packs a punch, but it was this line that spoke to me last night at Ariel’s TKD practice, “Oh, but inside, Dear Reader – the writer is in minds, under skins, on roads untravelled, and anywhere and everywhere and more.”

The writer is under skins, and this trip will nurture my inner writer, fill the well so to speak, in a hundred different ways. The writer in me is giddy AF to soak in the world’s offerings. I’m all eyes and ears. This skill that writers must hone, this paying attention, children do it naturally, so I don’t even have to tell you what my kids will get out of our trip. But my hope for them, if I had to peg one down, is the collective experiences from our travel will shape the rest of their lives and provide the map and compass that will help them find their place in the world. And even if we get lost, we will be lost together, and they will know they are loved indeterminably because time is a great gift of love. Time is all we have, and love is all we need (if that isn’t already a song lyric, it should be).

Travel because, beneath the layers of skin, we are connected to this whole big wide Earth; to the land and the people in it.

Travel for no other reason than to go, to take a look. It’s time. Let’s see what we’re made of.

Sharing My Bed

We share our beds with our lovers, of course, but also with our loves.

We lay there, our bodies overlapping and draped over one another like puppies. Tucked in my bed this way, my girls by my side keeping me warm, I begrudgingly get up to start my day. I can’t shake the morning chill seeping through the windows during these late summer days. I’d prefer to crawl back in with my litter. Never mind, adventure awaits.

Fall is creeping in as our family draws nearer to our departure. Like the birds, we are setting off, migrating to warmer climates.

We leave in thirty-five days; we will be gone for forty-five days. That is one thousand and eighty hours to fly, sleep, eat, roam, swim, hike and explore new countries. The math is staggering – how quickly the trip has arrived, how soon we depart, the sheer amount of time we will be gone – just astounding to me. And yet, I have planned it all. Do big events in life sneak up this way? Like they’re just another day – because they are – but at the same time, they’re not. Not at all. You blink, and it’s the day of your wedding. You blink again, and if you forget to be in the moment, the moment has passed you by. I try to stay awake. The immediacy and inevitability of our trip is almost as perplexing as the children sleeping in my bed. There is something unbelievable in making things happen.

Who let these children in? Well I did, of course. When Dan’s away, and half of our bed is empty, there’s always a child willing to fill the space. Elyse comes in during the wee hours of the morning, around four a.m., crawls in beside me, folds herself up and falls back asleep. She literally sleeps folded in half; her head tucked peacefully onto her lap.

At some point in the morning, I notice Elyse folded in half in her signature position but facing the foot of the bed with her head tucked underneath the sheet. Next, she slides sideways, wedging her little body between me and her big sister, legs pressed into her sister’s side, head weighing into the softness of my abdomen below the sharpness of my ribs. Normally, I can’t stand being touched when I’m trying to sleep, let alone laid on, but today I don’t mind. Elyse knows how to nestle herself in well and sleep pulls at me from every angle.

Next to me lays Ariel. She’s been having a rough patch with getting to sleep after we read the first Harry Potter book and then jumped into the second. Chamber of Secrets proved to be much too scary for her, as I suspected all along it might be based on my own recollection of reading the tale for a university Children’s Literature course, but Ariel wouldn’t let on until it was too late; she pressed me to continue reading, pushing the boundaries of her own fright too far until she was past return. Predictably, the nightmares arrived.

My girls seem to hold the imagery of books in their minds the way I do: the pictures come to life and feel quite real. Once you see an image (be it in your mind or elsewhere), you can’t un-see it, and the picture in Ariel’s head of he-who-cannot-be-named is haunting her dreams. She now readily admits Harry Potter is too scary for her, but she is also convinced the night terrors are caused by sleeping on the top bunk. When asked to elaborate on her fears, she explained that the curtains in her bedroom take on a form of their own in the dark that is not unlike a man who-cannot-be-named. Logic will not prevail; emotions are strong in that one. We won’t be reading Harry Potter again any time soon, but the damage is done.

Ariel’s first solution to the nightmare problem was to switch rooms and sleep with her baby sister. Penelope’s toddler bed having recently been removed and replaced with a queen-sized mattress coincided perfectly with her plan. I was immediately dismissive of the idea – dead-set against it – but the girls cajoled and eventually I caved, and that little adventure lasted all of three days. Unsurprisingly, both children’s sleep was getting disrupted.

Back in her own bed, I was able to convince Ariel that it wasn’t the physical bed or sleep space that was giving her nightmares, i.e. her top bunk or the curtains in her room, but the ideas in her head that needed to change.

“Try thinking of the fun you had with your friends today and focus only on things that make you happy.”

She humoured me with this idea for one night, then it was back to bed rebellion.

“Please mom, let me come sleep with you.” My response was resolute – no.

I tucked three bodies into their separate beds, and eventually, after standing sentinel in the hallway for a while, two children fell fast asleep. I climbed into my own bed and laid there reading Patti Callahan’s Becoming Mrs. Lewis. I know enough not to read scary stories. I expected to hear footsteps down a ladder and shortly thereafter I did. A familiar face hiding behind cropped wavy brown hair popped up in my doorway.

“Can I just sleep here, with you, for a minute?”

“Fine,” I eventually acquiesced. “One minute.”

A minute later I sent an obedient child back to her bed; Ariel’s head hung low. She drew out each step and dragged her feet reluctantly through the carpet.

I turned back to my book. Minutes passed. The clock showed half past nine. I could hear the crinkling of sheets, the tossing and turning, the not sleeping and other tell-tale signs of anxiety. I remembered crawling into bed with my own mom on nights my dad travelled for work. Oh, alright.

“Ariel. Ariel? You can come in here.” I called to her down the hall from my bedroom.

She was down the ladder and tucked in comfy under the sheets of my bed in two seconds flat, a broad grin stretched across her face. I continued to read, and eventually heard her breathing get slow and heavy, felt the weight of her body go slack beside me. She found her peace.

It wasn’t unusual when Elyse joined us early in the morning, but I was pleasantly surprised by how seamlessly she made a spot for herself. She pleated into the space between Ariel and I like a garment in a suitcase.

And that is how I found myself in the morning with two children in my bed and feeling a bit sorry for the third one left out of the pile. Not sorry enough to go wake her up, but sorry not to have every one of my loves tucked in tight beside me. Not to worry.

That is how I found myself ready for the day and dreaming of adventures to come, so soon, with all of my girls, our whole family by my side.

While waking up with two daughters in my bed is certainly not the norm, it was oddly comforting homey scene in juxtaposition to the foreign-ness of the sleeping arrangements to come. Unbelievably so, this trip is happening.

The In-Between

I’m walking to the library, laden with notebooks, my laptop, beverages in each hand (my morning Green Monster smoothie and a London Fog) when it hits me: a gust of cool wind blowing across my bare, short-clad, legs. A chill cuts through me. I’m wearing thong sandals and a neon orange halter top underneath a light-weight black long-sleeved tee that’s open at the back that I thankfully thought to throw overtop. I am dressed for summer, which today the weather has confirmed it is decidedly not – or rather, the summer I once knew is slipping away before my very eyes and bare knees.

Standing in our kitchen early this morning, three-year old Penelope, with her mop of curls, had a far-off look. “It’s time for school now, mommy?” She felt the unmistakable shift in the air, the characteristic and melancholic pull of the final two weeks of August closing off the season.

As if the cool breeze hitting my legs wasn’t enough of an invasion on summer, I crossed paths with a large yellow bus on my drive downtown. You know what that means. And yesterday, in our local café, I ran into two teachers prepping for back to school. I remember those days well; the equal sense of rising panic and elation, prepping for twenty-five new grade one students, still haunts me.

What hits home, personally, is that my summer training is complete. I participated in my second and final triathlon of the season last weekend and that’s it. Finito. No more lake swims to slot in, or forty kilometer bike rides (though I would like to get in more bike rides before we’re blanketed with snow), or back-to-back “brick” workouts of running and biking. I’m in the week after the race, forcing myself to be still, wind down, take a break and admittedly this is hard for me. What’s next? screams my insatiable ego. An ultra race? A half iron man? We’ll see.

Luckily, I’ve had something to fill the space, the gaping hole and sense of loss the end of summer brings, in the form of a round-the-world trip to look forward to. I’m losing my kids to school only to regain them for a second summer in October – and I can’t wait. Ariel and I look at websites together, clasping hands and jumping up and down giddily in anticipation. Of the three, she’s the most fully aware of the adventure that lies ahead. Interestingly, I think it will be the youngest two, who are developing their sense of time, who will be the most present.

A month ago, our travel agent sent us an itinerary for Japan through a reputable company that included hotel stays and some transportation (but not all) for an outrageous sum I refuse to even write here. I will say it was four times more than I was willing to pay. She wasn’t being cruel – Japan is expensive – but I knew I could plan our Japan segment much more wisely and cheaply by booking it myself. The trade-off was time.

Having put off the job for most of the summer, one day this week I finally got up at five in the morning and spent a solid five hours poring over Japanese accommodations. I continued my research for a few more hours the next day. This is my idea of rest after the race. From an affordable Airbnb in downtown Hiroshima and vending machine ramen to a lavish hotel with our own private onsen (hot air bath) overlooking Mount Fuji that includes our meals, we are going to get to experience it all. Our trip has been weighing on my mind and I can breathe now that I’ve got most of our Japan stays booked. Two more days – one in Kyoto, one in Osaka – left to arrange, then we’re off to Thailand and the unknown. I don’t ever want to become a travel agent, but planning your own trips and discovering new countries and cultures is hella-fun. And we haven’t even left home yet.

There are two weekends left in this Canadian summer, really only one to get back-to-school shopping done. I happen to be going to Montreal to visit a childhood friend and her new baby this weekend, so Dan is in charge of back-to-school shopping. He will be the one braving the crowds in the mall with the girls, picking out Velcro running shoes and pencil case supplies, water bottles and lunch containers, maybe a new outfit or two – and for that I am grateful. Both for myself – for not having to do it, and for my husband – for getting the chance to. Organizing the tiny details of our children’s lives is both a great privilege and a weight best evenly distributed. Truth be told, when it comes to shopping, Dan is probably better at that stuff than I am anyway. I usually do it because I’m the one who’s around, but he has a penchant for coordinating outfits I can only aspire to.

While letting summer go is hard, there is an excitement that accompanies back-to-school. The promise of reuniting with friends, new backpacks and shiny shoes, crisp duo-tangs; of kids emptying out of the house and regaining routines. The draining of leaves to reveal their true colours, raking said leaves, the shortening of days, apple picking and pumpkin carving, turkey eating. Fall isn’t half bad. Some, like my husband who continues to wear shorts late into November, might say it’s their favourite season. While the Purdham family is going to miss the tail end of fall – Ariel was surprised to learn we’d be in Japan for Halloween (where apparently they do celebrate) – for now we’re going to try and stay in the present moment, and appreciate this last bit of summer while it lasts.

A Summer’s Day

I don’t have to tell you how hard it is to find the time to write or to work in the summer months – you already know. About cottages and the sun dancing across great lakes like sparkling diamonds; and children, rummaging for the hem of my shirt, lifting it up to press a smudgy face into my belly. I accidentally wrote “life it up” – I’m not convinced that wasn’t my unconscious intention.

You already know about the Sufi mystic Rumi and his love poems, and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and reading about, intuiting, the link between meditation and running. Meditation is meditation, running is running and writing is writing. Remember that.

You already know about sandy toes and the outdoor hose used to rinse before traipsing through the beach house, and the dead spider floating in the rusty bowl meant to catch the overflow. You know about wet bathing suits and coming together as a family for a bear hug in the water and jumping over waves, one after the other, all together! And screaming, screaming like banshees, and pulling little faces back out of the waves and laughing, laughing until you’re screaming again.

You already know how it is on vacation, when your outside life keeps banging at the door, demanding to be let back in. “Go away!” you shout, and how vacation isn’t really a vacation until you can let your mind go free.

You already know about afternoon G&Ts, followed by steak and red wine dinners, pulling chopped pieces of wood from the burlap bag you bought for $5 from the guy who lives on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, dragging that bag down the beach with your bare hands and little footprints behind you. About towels caught in the wind, blown to the ground, half buried in sand. The incessant wind. A wind that dries, cools, mends, soothes and breaks. The string that snapped, the kite that drowned. The waves that appear out of nowhere. And how the water can just as suddenly quiet.

You already know about fussy toilets and setting up floor fans to disperse warm air in humid rooms. And the oppressive heat that settles overhead in the middle of the day and beats you right back into submission, sand that burns soles and whiny children needing to be carried back into the house, sleepy and sun stroked in your arms.

Fires at night, with the wood you bought from the guy on the side of the road; many false starts then flames bursting, licking the wood, ravenous; finding that perfect spot for handmade roasting sticks and the one marshmallow that inevitably gets burnt, beyond eating. S’mores and sticky fingers. Chocolate-smeared faces.

A burning, searing sensation on the top of your head, causing your hairline to itch, the nauseous nagging feeling of too much sun and the pull back inside, but the counter-weight of the wind and water, of the glittering shoreline, is greater still. The gasp, “Ahh” as the water line accosts your chest, your soft side, and the chill and thrill of diving under. That refreshing feeling, as the water heaves, breathes you in, of being part of it all. Floating, tethered like a buoy, weightlessness.

About food, again. Gummy bears and a giant chocolate almond bar and pretentious crackers: organic artisan crisps of raisin, rosemary and pumpkin seed made with bulgar, Himalayan pink salt and extra virgin olive oil slathered in cream cheese and red pepper jelly. About stops at the cheese shop for squeaky curds and the local farmer’s market for peas so fresh they make you want to weep. At the fleetingness of time and seasons. And tiny beets. And cleaning out Beans Bistro of all their freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. About letting calories go.

About waking up before everyone else and cracking open a book, or watching the ducks float by, or the sun setting a sub-Saharan Africa red; or throwing on a bathing suit and cutting through the lake one efficient stroke after the other to train, or to throw on a pair of running shoes and run, run, run, feeling the pull of the wind.

About leaving showering behind, letting the children go feral with one eye open and sticking out your tongue at the passage of time with only the shadows of the sun and the rumbling of tummies to remind you that the day is moving on and you probably should too.

About thoughts from the outside world: the upcoming triathlon; planning a writer’s retreat; a trip around the world; writing that next book, and extended family – how goes our family back home? What is everyone up to? Grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. Of course, the world continues to go on.

And about monkey brain. Do you know about monkey brain? It’s when your mind hops from one thing to the next and lacks the focus to stay entirely on one subject. I am a monkey brain.

But you already know about all that. Our Canadian summer, wild and free. Fleeting. Snippets of life, at the cottage. Carry on.

French River: Pools of Glass

I’m writing this in the car travelling home from French River, a cottage locale situated as far north as Manitoulin Island and almost as far north as Sudbury. On our way up North, Dan and I stopped in Orillia, the birth town of The Group of Seven artist Frank Carmichael. Closer to our final destination, The Lodge at Pine Cove, we stopped at the French River Trading Post, and I picked up a copy of David P. Silcox’s lovely illustrated text The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson. Through its pages, I learned artist Tom Thomson died tragically by drowning before The Group of Seven was officially formed, but the group insisted he was very much a part of the movement and so he’s remained. This famous Group of Canadian artists defined Canada to the rest of the world through their sketches and paintings portraying Canada “the North” with images of nature, both dense and desolate; landscapes now synonymous with this country. I have at least one thing in common with Frank Carmichael, the Orillia native I mentioned earlier, which I will get to shortly.

On our four and a half hour drive from Peterborough – where we dropped the girls – on our way to French River, we skirted around Georgian Bay, past the Muskokas and along paved highway that cut through pink granite, the rocky face of Ontario’s North, bedrock better known as the Canadian Shield.

“Under the Canadian Shield is where they bury nuclear waste,” Dan informed me at some point during our 4.5 hour long conversation. “They dig deep, way down. It’s one of the safest places to put it.” I hated to think of this beautiful landscape as a dumping ground, but props to Dan for keeping the interesting facts coming on our lengthy drive.

On our way home, we stopped in Parry Sound for a quick Subway bite. My first trip to the area was at twelve years old for a gymnastics competition. I was in awe of the rock lining our passageway and the notion of workers having to blast through it to build the roads. Later, at a friend’s cottage, I slid off rocky slopes into smooth dark waters, and fully appreciated the region’s beauty. There is nothing quite like Northern Ontario.

While the magnitude and scope of the rock is impressive, what I’ve truly fallen in love with are the waterways. The bodies of fresh water.

From the beach of our cottage resort we launched our kayaks and let the river current pull us down stream along the shore line. Not far into our paddle, we came across a tiny inlet, the water level so low we could barely gain access. Our oblong boats glided across a narrow channel of rocks laying just below the surface, when around the bend, the pond came into view.

The pond was a wide, full circle dotted with lily pads and white flowers and lined by an audience of pines like spectators in an arena. As an island of rock blocked off the pond, separating it from the main flowing river, we found ourselves in a quiet, perfectly still sphere, save for the one startled fish who made a jump for it upon our arrival. Dan and I intuitively set down our paddles and floated together in silence, taking in the beauty around us. The pond was smooth as glass, and though I could spot the bottom if I tried, it was the surface reflecting the blue sky and onlooker trees like a mirror that caught my eye. With the sky above and the sky below me, was I in heaven? Yes.

This is where my sights and those of Frank Carmicheal aligned, our imaginations similarly captivated. Before I had a chance to properly read through The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson book I picked up, I titled this post Pools of Glass after the lasting impression of the pond lingering in my mind’s eye. Only later, in leafing through the pages, did I come across Carmichael’s famous painting, Mirror Lake, 1929 that exactly explores the quality of the water I so admired. Mirror Lake is a real place in the Muskokas, but the title of the painting was about more than a place. Carmichael and I each took notice of the northern water as glass reflecting the landscape like a mirror.

Frank Carmichael Mirror Lake 1929

I don’t know if Carmichael felt the same way, but it wasn’t enough for me to look at the water, I needed to experience it.

In the mornings, I set out for my swims. I sliced through the deeper water off the dock, one, two, three, breathe right; one, two, three, breathe left. Swimming in fresh water is an act of meditation.

Dan kindly paced alongside me in his kayak, my protector from potential boats coming through. And snakes. I was weary of water snakes, though I shouldn’t have been.

Before we left on our trip, Dan’s sister lovingly sent us a picture of a three-foot long water snake her friend had just caught in French River. I asked the owner of the Lodge about water snakes upon our arrival, and he just shrugged with a laugh, “No, no. The snakes are my friends.” I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that, but I took it as a sign not to be worried. I saw one cute baby snake scurry out of my path while hiking in the woods, but beyond that, nothing but plump loons and the occasional jumping fish in the water, in addition to a few toads and a muskrat while kayaking.

“The dogs on the property help to keep the black bears away,” the owner also informed Dan. Black bears. Who said anything about black bears?

During our stay in French River, our girls’ piano teacher happened to be visiting family in French River as well. She posted on Facebook about a close encounter with a water snake. I’m not crazy about the idea of encountering a snake in the water, but I can tell you last summer when we spent a week in the Bruce Peninsula region of Tobermory, with its crystal clear, frigid turquoise waters, the first thing I did at our cottage was swim across a small cove of water over to a large rock. I climbed up onto that rock, triumphant, saw a large snake, and immediately got back in the water and crossed the cove back to shore. As it turns out, that rock was the snake’s home and we later saw him zig-zagging through the water. Ariel and a friend were the first ones to spot him in the cove, while I was coming back in from a swim out into the depths of Lake Huron. The snake and I crossed paths, but he went the other way. That snake wanted nothing to do with me (the feeling was and is mutual). My point being: I’ve already experienced my first water snake, you’d think I’d be over it.

The first time Dan and I got in the water together at French River, he swam up behind me and playfully grabbed my toes (not funny). I reminded him that snakes usually swim on top of the water, they glide their bellies across it half immersed. Or so I thought. I later found this on the Ontario Nature site, “The northern watersnake eats fish and amphibians, hunting for its prey along the water’s edge or underwater. It is an excellent swimmer and can be found up to three metres below the surface of the water and several kilometres from shore.” Huh.

The idea of snakes gliding across the water’s surface grossed Dan out, as he had imagined the snakes resting at the bottom of the dark murky river, far down below in the fathoms we can’t see, which I think is infinitely worse. In general, I recommend not worrying about snakes when you’re swimming down a river. They’re certainly not worrying about you.

I wish I could pack a northern lake into my back pocket and take it home with me, snakes and all, but alas, I’m but a mere mortal, stranded and surrounded by dry ground. If I could swim in a lake every day, I would. Maybe one day I will.

I hope I come back as a water snake. I can see myself now, gliding serenely through pools of glass.

Around-The-World-Trip Part II

Our trip begins in Thailand, the sky ablaze with floating lights. Having experienced Asia in 2014 when I travelled to Delhi and Chennai in India for the World Down Syndrome Congress, I knew I wanted my family to experience that vibrant and chaotic side of the world, and I wanted to do so in an authentic way. I can think of nothing more authentic than attending a festival, and Loy Krathong is a big one. Yee Peng, the lighting and releasing of  lanterns into the sky, is a small festival within Loy Krathong. In this way, Thailand became our official starting destination; we would work backwards – or rather – around the world, from there. But where to next, and how best to get from Canada to Thailand and avoid dreadfully long flights?

While we hadn’t been having the best of luck with travel agents to date, I decided to give the travel agent game one last try. This was a good move. While there are challenges working with others: waiting for email replies, trying to convey your vision, explaining why 24-hour flights won’t work to a person without children…our travel agent has proved invaluable, especially when it came to booking our flights, and helping us to form an itinerary that makes sense.

Nancy came to us with an understanding of flight paths, how to best organize plane tickets, and industry connections and knowledge. She taught us there is a real thing known as an Around-the-World ticket, or as it’s short-formed, RTW ticket. Booking a RTW ticket through Star Alliance, which is what we are doing, is saving us more than half on ticket fares for each destination. This is worth spreading and repeating. If you’re planning a trip with multiple stops, RTW tickets save you money – loads of it!!! I’m talking 45 days of travel to five destinations for five people for under twenty grand. This is not an insignificant chunk of change by any means, but I can assure you that number would be well over twenty grand if we booked each ticket separately. If I had been left solely in charge, I shiver to think of the financial consequence.

Which brings us next to destinations. Dan and I have long discussed a trip to Hawaii to celebrate our ten year anniversary, which passed this summer – why not work Hawaii into our RTW trip we reasoned? We therefore decided to leave Canada and head around the world in that direction. We had to decide between Vancouver or California as a stopover point on our way to Hawaii to break up the long flights. We decided on San Francisco, California for two reason. One, none of us have ever been there, and two, because of the coastal redwoods and Muir National Park which houses the ancient sequoias, the largest trees in the world with some as old as 1,200 years. THAT seemed like a sight to see that the kids would enjoy. Also, who doesn’t delight in a large bridge and an island prison?

After a short four days in San Francisco, we fly to the Big Island of Hawaii. I was locked in to flying to Big Island (Kona airport) to see the volcanoes the island, and the region, are famous for. Hawaii is made up of hundreds of islands, but there are eight main islands, with Hawaii (Big Island) being the largest. Based on our next destination of Japan, which Dan and I decided would be “neat” to see, to say the least, according to our trusty travel agent we needed to fly out of Honolulu on O’ahu (different island). This meant splitting up our week-long trip to Hawaii into two sections. With the inter-island flight lasting only an hour, the situation wasn’t terrible. While not ideal, we’ll get to see what we want to see, explore more islands this way AND stay in not one, but TWO awesome beach houses. Win win. We are hoping to surf, view sea turtles and check out an active volcano in Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park along Crater Rim Drive. Lava, I want to see lava!

From Honolulu, we are flying to Tokyo, Japan. Japan has been on my list of places to stop since the inception of our RTW plan. I just think it will be otherworldly. I was disappointed many cruise lines didn’t include it on their RTW itineraries, but geographically speaking, the island is a bit out of the way. Flying gave us the freedom to choose, and choose Japan we did. Hawaii to Japan made sense, in terms of the flight path, and it got us closer to Thailand.

I’m in the process of planning our accommodations for Japan right now, which can feel overwhelming. I love the ‘translate this page’ option, with translations off Japanese sites like, “Please enjoy original dishes mainly on Japanese food that is kind to your body and mind.” And “The dining room is a dining room where you can enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of adults using stone materials.” I can only imagine what barbaric translations our websites must spew into Japanese, with expressions like “all you can eat buffets”.

Our Japan leg of the trip is going to be exhausting. Not only is there an eleven hour time difference, but we have plans to arrive in Tokyo, travel to the Kawaguchiko Lake region to view Mount Fuji, travel back to Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city near Tokyo to catch the four hour bullet train ride to Hiroshima; then plan to travel by train to Kyoto and finally to Osaka, our final Japan destination. We have eleven days to do this. I’m working on it. I’m extremely excited about this leg of the trip. The only hitch is that the Rugby World Cup is being hosted in Japan at the same time we are there. This will make the whole country much busier than usual, but it also means we get to be caught up in a part of history, the first time the cup match is being held outside of Australia/ New Zealand, and experience some of the hype. Remember the authenticity I was now striving for? We’re going to dive right in in Japan.

From Osaka, Japan, we fly to Bangkok, Thailand. Through one of my guide books (I prefer Lonely Planet) I discovered there’s an amazing jungle about an hour outside of the city with some fantastic short hikes. We’re talking about the opportunity to experience the jungle and all its inhabitants on a one to two kilometer jaunt. As a family who loves to hike, this seemed like a must. Next, we’ll head to the North of Thailand to Chiang Mai, an excellent place to stay and take in the festival of Loy Krathong, and the best place to get to an elephant sanctuary for rehabilitated animals.

After all of this travel and stimulating commotion, it seemed only natural that we unwind for a week on one of Thailand’s stunning family-friendly islands. We plan to do just that on the island of Ko Samui. From Ko Samui, we fly back to Bangkok, before a monster twelve-hour flight, the longest on our trip, to Frankfurt, Germany. After a less than twenty-four hour stopover in Germany (so that it doesn’t actually count as one of our stops on our RTW ticket), we fly a few hours to the southern-most part of Europe, Lisbon, Portugal. We debated other European countries, but by this time, mid-to-late November, most of Europe will be cooled down, and we tried to stick with moderate to warm climates. Japan is the exception, in that it will be fall when we are there in late October to early November. Light jackets and sweatshirts are easier to pack than winter gear.

We plan to spend four days in Lisbon, taking in Europe’s cobblestone streets and cafes, giving the kids enough of a taste to whet their appetite. We know we will be back to Europe, so we can justify this short stop tease. From Lisbon, it’s an eight hour flight back to good ol’ Toronto, Canada, with enough family memories, I’m sure, to last a lifetime.

I can’t wait to see what we’ll learn, experience, feel, each of us on our own and as a family. This trip will be a stretch for us all, to be sure, but more than anything, I hope it is quality time living life together, and the first of many more amazing travel adventures to come. While our trip encompasses several countries and continents, North America, Asia, Europe… we haven’t forgotten about South America, Africa, the rest of Europe… the question, as always, is what will it take to get there? While travel is a luxury, and certainly not one everyone is able or willing to afford, for many of us, it is only beyond our reach if we aren’t willing to prioritize and make the necessary sacrifices to make it happen. And if you’re like me, and you want it all, maybe you can have that to. I wish that for you.

I plan to write about this trip like it’s everybody’s business, but I can’t promise when it will be posted because I want to be in the moment, not writing about it. What I do guarantee is that at some point I most certainly will be posting about it, maybe in the form of a book turned Master’s thesis.

Until then, we have the summer together before we leave this fall. WE LEAVE THIS FALL!!!!

I hope you will dream big, travel far and do life as a family the way you would do you. Do you. Be happy.
As I’m learning in Japanese, Oshiawase ni! May you be happy, and Yoi tabi o! Have a good trip.

Around-The-World Trip Part I

We have had something brewing for a long time – over three years now. Something big. It’s easy for me to remember how long it’s been because the idea came to me when I was pregnant with Penelope who turns three this week. When I texted Dan at work to tell him I had one of my BIG ideas, I’m sure he was bracing himself. When I get a big idea in my head, it’s hard to change my mind. Later that evening, I approached the subject lightly, after all, I didn’t want to come on too strong and ruin my chances of Dan accepting my big idea. “What about,” I began, “if we downsized and lived in a cheaper house, and then used the money we made on the sale of our home to travel around the world?” I tried not to sound too hopeful. I tried to tame the bubbling excitement rising from my throat. “Yeah,” Dan said, seemingly unfazed, “that could work.”

And so, what began as an idea over three years ago shifted into shape. The first step, we both agreed, was to sell our home, “our Castle on the Hill” as I sometimes refer to it. That house was on a lovely, extremely private cul-de-sac, surrounded by tall trees and lush greenery. We even owned a section of the common greenspace with our neighbours. Yet, we had rushed into it.  We had some fantastic neighbours and a coveted address in town, but…I felt somewhat trapped. After paying our mortgage, we didn’t have any extra money to do much of anything else. We were house poor. I eventually wanted a pool in our backyard, but our Castle on the Hill was set into a steep hill. There was zero chance of a pool ever happening. From a practical standpoint, a kitchen looking over the backyard is best with small children; you can let them out and watch them play while cooking and preparing the many meals and snacks small kids require. Our kitchen looked onto our neighbour’s yard, which offered a picturesque view but was useless otherwise. The best place to play outside was on our large side deck on the other side of the house, away from the kitchen. Unfortunately, there was a pond on that side deck, and so I could never leave my young children to pop in and grab something we inevitably needed. Going outside became a production, and if you know me, and my love for running, cycling, exploring and hiking the outdoors, this was not a good combination. I also questioned the value in owning a bigger home. I began to resent the cleaning and maintenance that often fell on my shoulders as the one who was home. The way I saw it: bigger house equals more to take care of. I wanted less. So you see, there was more than one reason for us to move, and travel made the whole idea of moving so much more glamorous and appealing. This is classic Adelle – I’m very “treat” motivated. I’ll do just about anything, including moving with a newborn, if you dangle the right carrot.

I make it sound like we made the decision to uproot our lives and travel the world in an instant – we did and we didn’t. We discussed the matter for months, spent time looking at other houses and considering our options, but Dan and I both tend to make up our minds quickly when something feels right, and I think we both knew right away that travelling, and spending an extended period of time together as a family, was something we both wanted to do.

I continued to dream big, imaging us boarding an around-the-world cruise as a family of five, voyaging the oceans of the world for over a hundred days, seeing as many countries as possible. That was our original plan, and we repeated the mantra many times over, let’s see as many countries as possible! We imagined we might be able to plan our trip for when our baby-to-be was eighteen months old, only two years away from the inception of our plan. We were over-ambitious, and a big dose of reality would help to sort things out.

Our house did sell – not for as much money as we wanted or hoped for, but the first phase of our plan was complete. We visited my friend’s mom, a cruise specialist and learned those hundred day cruises would cost in the $200k range for a family of five, and that, well, not many families of five did this kind of trip, but we’d potentially have a lot of loving grandparents to help out! I wasn’t ready to admit it yet, but that kind of disposable income was unfathomable and downright impossible – short of selling our house and not purchasing another. After deliberating over that idea, we ruled it out. If we wanted to cruise, we would have to shorten our trip, though I wasn’t ready to admit that either.

In the meantime, I gave birth to our beautiful baby girl in the house we would soon move out of. We knew we wanted to plan a big trip, but we didn’t know exactly when or where. We would wait for the cruise lines to come out with their itineraries for the next year and see where that took us, and what we could piece together.

It’s not that the trip really ever slipped our minds – more like life took over. We found our new home (thanks Alexis!), Dan and I packed up our house while caring for a five and three year old, plus a newborn, and then moved into our new home when Penelope was one month old. Why do big life changes often happen at the same time as new babes? What is it about new life, and its inverse – the loss of life, that propels us forward?

The girls started at the French school around the corner and we began to settle into this chosen life. There was only one thing Dan couldn’t stand about our new house, and that was the kitchen. Fun fact about downsizing: you need to get rid of some of your stuff! There was nowhere to put our pots and pans in our new kitchen, so we had a Costco fold-out table permanently on display by our back sliding door to store our kitchen wares. After some minor disagreements, we came to terms on spending the money the following summer to renovate our kitchen, which was our main living space – but that that would be it. The rest of the money we made from downsizing would go into our trip. We thought we could do our kitchen on the cheap, maybe IKEA, or some combination of quick fixes. I threw out a random budget of $7000 max, but was dismayed when we started researching actual costs for kitchens we liked. We spent over four times that in the end, though I have to say Dan was right and I love having a functional new kitchen. But I digress.

We hadn’t heard from our travel agent in a while, and time was slipping away. What about those cruises? Weren’t any coming up? After reaching out a few times, and not hearing back from her, I decided to reach out to another agent who got on it right away, pulling together a variety of cruises that might peak our interest. The problem was, we didn’t want a fourteen-day Japan cruise. We wanted to see the world! We continued to operate under the mantra, let’s see as many countries as possible! We worked with this new travel agent and found a wonderful cruise encompassing a beautiful cross-section of the world. The price was still an issue, but we’d figure it out. By this time, a year had passed since we’d moved and it looked like our baby would be two and a half by the time we would be going on our trip.

We thought we were all set. The travel agent said prices for the cruise weren’t posted yet, but as soon as they were, she’d let us know and we could book! I was euphoric, hopeful, and impatient. We leaked the news to a few friends and neighbours about our impending big trip. Then the unthinkable happened. As one of Dan’s work colleagues says to his children when they’re pouting, “There are Big Deals, and there are Little Deals. Is this a Big Deal or a Little Deal?” For us, the Little Deal was that the cruise we wanted ended up being fully booked over a year in advance – our agent hadn’t known the prices weren’t showing up because all options were already taken. We had been waiting an entire year, wasting time – for nothing. Then, the Big Deal. This kind, vivacious woman in her forties whom I had been talking to over the phone, explaining our dreams, called to tell me she would be on leave, and that a friend would be taking over her clients for the time being. A month later, I saw on Facebook that she had passed away. Brain cancer. She left behind a husband and a nine year old son.

Her passing was a terrible reminder that you just never know, to hug your loved ones close – all those clichés – but it also spurred me on to BOOK THAT TRIP TODAY realizing tomorrow may never come. For her, it didn’t. As life happened around us, and our money pile continued to dwindle, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I got this idea from the movie Tangled – the Disney version of Rapunzel – that it would be incredible to see lantern lights released into the sky. When I realized the scene that plays out in Tangled is a real-life festival in Thailand, I had to see it. I thought the kids would love it, and that that would be a great place to visit on our trip. I now had a concrete destination in mind. While cruising had seemed like the easiest option for travelling with three small children, the realities and expense of booking the perfect cruise were sinking in. I questioned our mantra of, let’s see as many countries as possible! What was this, a race? Wasn’t it more important to actually see and experience the countries that we visited? I had been doing some travelling on my own and with Dan in the meantime, and started to realize my priorities had shifted. More did not necessarily equal better. Quality over quantity. Maybe that’s become my new mantra. Let’s enjoy our life together. I asked, what can we do that is doable and enjoyable for us and our three small kids?

Thailand was the spark that lit the fire for our new plan. We would take to the skies.