Tuesday, April 20, 2010

All that we left behind

1 pair of cars/truck pajamas
2 nite-finder Nerf guns
2 pairs of pants
1 shirt

Friday's drive was less than eight hours. It should have been a walk in the park. It should have been pleasant and leisurely. We had done many longer drives on much less sleep but this particular journey seemed fraught with stress.
"Stop touching me!"(James decided that punching and kicking were more entertaining than any of the toys he had gotten on the trip.)
"You don't have to speak to me like that!" (We all needed to work on our tone.)

While we were gone, I gave my father the key to our house and asked him to keep an eye on things for us. And he did, daily. Of all the things I worried and fretted over on our trip, the house was not one of them. Grandma and Grandpa Frank popped over soon after we got home and the kids were excited to see them. On Saturday we stayed pretty close to home, but we did get a visit from Grandma Edwards and Grandpa Mike before their own epic journey around the world.
Most of the people we saw on this trip, we hadn't seen for five, seven or even ten years. Most of the people we visited with had never met Miranda or James (and were thus unprepared for the power of their charms). Unfortunately, we couldn't see everyone we wanted to on this trip and and that was difficult. We would have loved to visit the Christina Hunt project in Seattle or the Sarah Roberts experiment in San Antonio, but they were a way too far off the beaten path. There were even friends and family in the very towns we passed through that we were unable to see because of time and schedules. I really feel like we made the most of our time and we're so grateful for all the support we had both at home and abroad. For many people the idea of a four week, 13 000 kilometer, cross country trek with four young kids in tow is the very definition of insanity. It's only because of all of the help we received from beginning to end that we were able to have such a positive experience.
I haven't taken a picture for almost four days now, I've had nothing but day to day life happen to me and I don't know how to make the day to day interesting. My sisters have much more interesting lives to write about, or are far better at making the daily grind seem interesting.(http://thepachamama.blogspot.com/ , http://lovelydainty.wordpress.com/ , and http://www.franklyentertaining.com/) I'm not planning to retire the blog, but posts will definitely be less frequent, that is until something exciting happens to us like being offered a contract to teach in Abu Dhabi.

Friday, April 16, 2010

So this is what the end of my tether looks like. I had no idea it was so frayed.

It's hard not to be overwhelmed by DC. The architecture, the size, the cleanliness and the abundance of one way streets make one very dependent (almost too dependent one might say) on the GPS.

We were off early to DC and went straight to the Zoo. It was really the perfect afternoon. The weather was cold and wet and at times it was unpleasant, but it really cut down on visitors to the zoo so it felt like we were having a much more intimate experience with the animals. It really felt like they were looking at us looking at them. Very cool.

It was so cold even the wildlife were trying to get inside.

We saw this in the zoo parking lot. We believe in home schooling--just not this much.

My good friend Shawn met us at the zoo and we went out for some great Indian food down the street. It was my first time eating Indian and it helped to have someone I trusted to guide us through the experience. He works for PBS and his wife, Sarah, teaches photography. There was so much to catch up on and talk about that, between the excellent food and great conversation, we barely had time to breathe.

Tuesday night was the first time we had a little trouble getting a hotel room. After a couple of tries, though we secured a place right next to some road construction. Not the best sleep of the trip, but a little better than the car.

Wednesday started off with a couple of meltdowns. It wasn't the meltdowns that were telling, it was how I dealt with them that was the main indicator that we were approaching the end of our journey. I believe what I said was, "If you can't stop your whining and be happy, so help me, we will all pile into that van and drive home right this very instant!" I felt like one of those parents you see at Disney World. You know the ones that bring their kids to the happiest place on earth and then berate their children if they're not having fun. The only difference between me and those parents at that moment was that I didn't have a passel of bystanders looking on to judge me.

Finally, after Julie smoothed everything out (she's really handy to have around for that kind of stuff), we found a metro station with available parking and caught a train to the Smithsonian.

In retrospect, it might have been better to limit ourselves to one or two buildings. We did a lot of walking and rushed through some of the exhibits a little too quickly. In many ways, it felt like a primer trip. We'll do much better next time.

Shawn met up with us as some of the exhibits that were closing down and walked us over to the White House for a better look at the snipers positioned along the roof. It's hard not to feel spoiled at having so many friends spread across the country. The nice thing about Shawn is that he's so wired in that it's easy to stay in touch with him.

Do we look like a happy couple here? It's amazing what you can do with photoshop.

Originally, we were going to go to see an old friend in New York on the way home, but, out of a selfish desire to actually look like a kind and loving parent, we decided that it might be best to make for Canada. We did one last overnight marathon drive and made it to Maine for breakfast.

Thursday was a day of decompressing. We did a little shopping in Portland and then Freeport, and then checked into a hotel in Bangor early enough for the kids to enjoy the pool and for Julie and I to get our heads around the fact that tomorrow we'll be home. I'm not ready to right the trip retrospective yet, but even with the fatigue and stresses we endured, I really think we're all going to look back on this as one of those moments that defined us as a family, and I can't begin to express my thanks to everyone on both sides of the border who helped to make this possible.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sunday and Monday- Lexington to Lexington

My children basically vanished for about a day and a half. Pretty much as soon as we arrived at the Rowe's on Saturday evening, I lost track of my children. Once they connected with Chris and Tressa's kids, it was as if they didn't need me. It was nice not to be needed by my kids for a little while.
Our time with the Rowes was another mini-adventure. Chris and I picked up where we left off. It's hard to believe it's been over seven years since we had last seen them. Though, the truth is we could have picked a better weekend to visit. Chris was swamped with work and Tressa was recovering from a tonsillectomy and possessed limited use of her voice. Fortunately our children distracted their children enough for Tressa to get a little rest through the day and for Chris to address some of his responsibilities.

Sunday night there was a trip to the ER (I would imagine it is a fairly common activity for a family of nine) and Julie spent spent the night trying to be Tressa's chauffeur and voice. Madison had to be admitted, which through a wrench into things, but people adapted quickly enough.
My children experiencing their first Twinkies.

Monday we just tried to stay out of the way. We made a short visit to the hospital to see how Madison and her mother were doing, and both seemed in capable hands. We packed up, visited a Five Guys burger joint for a late lunch/early dinner, and hit the road. We only drove about five hours which felt positively leisurely. The countryside through Kentucky and West Virginia was simply stunning. The scenery has yet to get old.

Monday, April 12, 2010

What 1500 Miles Feels Like

We left Vernal Friday morning with the intent to push through straight on to Lexington. We had done it once before, and it only seemed to make sense for us to do it again. It was a little longer than our first marathon journey a couple of weeks ago, but it shouldn't have made that much difference, right?

We drove through the rockies past Vail and Copper Mountain, and then over the plains of Kansas and through the lush valleys of Missouri and finally into Kentucky. It's difficult to describe the effect of seeing such ample and varied beauty. Even our children appreciate what they've been blessed to see. All of them have exclaimed, "Wow," more than once as they're confronted with some new landscape. It is awe inspiring to see so much over so little time.

Apart from the beauty, a little incident with car sickness, and Lucy's refusal to acknowledge the grandeur of the St. Louis Arch there's not much to report on. We made the trip in about 30 hours.

Our kids are like Lego pieces, but instead of moving them around a play set, we're moving them around the country and inserting them into all kinds of different families, and, like those little plastic blocks, they fit wherever they're snapped into place. Within minutes of arriving, it was as if they knew the Rowes their entire lives. They've gotten very good at finding common ground very quickly. Nintendo has proven to be a great starting point, Webkinz too.

Day 17 -- A thing resembling rest

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And here we stayed.

Whether it was the most comfortable mattress I have ever in my life slept upon, or whether it just felt that way really doesn't matter, does it? I just knew that when I opened my eyes in the morning, there was only one thought running though my head--I never want to leave. Now I don't want to discount the many gracious host who have heretofore opened their homes and lives to us. I am grateful to each of them, and would not trade those nights on air mattresses or pull-out couches for anything, but if there needs be opposition in all things, I have endured the spotty sleep of a slowly exhaling air mattress that I might know the rest of cushioned springs.

The goal of the day was to get on the road early, but the Picards said there was no hurry, and we took them literally. After a morning of luxuriating, we had a great visit with Julie's Uncle Bill in the afternoon and then went to the rec center around the corning for a swim to tire out the kids. It worked. It was on our way to the pool that Julie told me she wouldn't be swimming, so, dear reader, you have her to thank for the pictures of my in all my pale, skinny, middle-aged glory.

I spent a good portion of the day fantasizing about the bed and its promise of peaceful slumber, but James became a little croupy. For some reason his struggle with breathing prioritized his need for a bed. Although Julie got to share the bed with James, I took some consolation in the knowledge that she got even less sleep than I did on the air mattress in the play room.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

On the road again

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On Tuesday, we put off leaving as long as we could in the morning. We had great visit with the Gees, more than worth the treacherous drive north.

We travelled from Logan to Vernal, UT. Vernal's not on the way to anything. It's not really close to anything. And, apart from the big dinosaur in the city center holding an Easter egg basket and wearing a set of floppy bunny ears, there's really not that much to see here. However, back in the early stages of planning, Vernal, Utah ranked somewhere above the Smithsonian on our list of places to see as we zoomed back and forth across the country. Vernal is where Julie's mom was raised, so there was a family history component to the visit, but it is also where our good friends the Picards live. Julie and I got to know the Picards while we were in Moscow, ID. They were one of those mentoring families that was a few years ahead of us and really showed us what our family could be like down the road. Being around them was always a hopeful experience. Whenever I felt overwhelmed by by what the future held for our little family, looking at the Picards made it seemed something to look forward to.

We hadn't seen them since we left Moscow, and in that time they've had another child, sent two of their kids off on missions and made several moves around the country, and, despite the changes in both our families, within seconds of walking through their front door, it was as if we had never been apart. They're still a family that shows us what there is to look forward to and the stresses of my children as missionaries and teenagers seem less intimidating.

James pretty much assumes that if there are kids in the house he must be related to them somehow, so he took to them like family, Elizabeth got on famously with Miranda and Lucy and, once we broke out the Nerf guns, D.J. and Liam became fast friends (nothing brings people together like little soft foam bullets).

Now, it would have been great to see Sara and E.J., but with them on missions it meant Julie and I got to take a break from the air mattress. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pajamas, Puzzles and Papa Murphy's Pizza

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This is where the day started, and this is where it ended.

I did not get out of my pajamas today. It was a conscious decision and I don't regret it a single bit. After getting in so late, it was nice not to feel the pressure of going anywhere or doing anything. It ended up being a day of games. Pam had given me a neat puzzle of a folk painting of Logan. Now I am not a puzzle person, but it was pretty hard not to get sucked in by all those little pieces looking to belong (Lucy wants the world to know that she was largely responsible for the pumpkin patch in the southeast corner of the puzzle).

After the puzzle, there was pizza and American Idol. It was the Lennon/McCartney songbook night which I thought was a good thing, but most of these kids were too young to know what they were thinking about, and never have I thought that "Hey Jude" has been missing bagpipes.

After the kids were sent off to bed at something approximating a bed time, we stayed up visiting with Pam and Steve and Becca. They all seem to be doing very well and once we found the rhythm of the conversation it was hard to resist the momentum.

Temples, Toys and Shakespearean Parmesan Chicken

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Monday, Day 15. After a protracted departure from the Lambert household (tears were shed), we spent the day in Salt Lake touring Temple Square with the kids. We too in the visitor's center and the Church Art and History Museum. There was a nice pace to the events and we capped things off with the Joseph Smith film playing in the legacy theater. Watching the movie was a little surreal after having visited so many of the places depicted. I'm not always the biggest fan of the church produced films, but I did like the actor who portrayed the prophet even if all of the clothes were a little too clean. It was a powerful film and accomplished quite a bit in its relatively short running time. Although I have to admit that the actor who portrayed Hyrum looked so much like Josh Groban that I kept expecting him to break out into song.
"What do you know about the Mormons?"
After Temple Square we took a short detour down to the Gateway mall to get something to eat and so that I could play with the iPad at the Apple store (It really is as cool as people are saying). Julie wasn't as taken with the little wonder as I was, but that might have had something to do with the fact that she was trying to reign in a wandering James at the time.

We joined Julie's good friend Jill and her husband Will Shakespeare for dinner. Obviously, I'm tempted to play on the whole idea of dining with William Shakespeare, but I can't think of a way to do it in a way that isn't kind of obvious and simplistic. It was a lot of fun to catch up with Jill and I really enjoyed getting to know her husband who struck me as both literate and practical with a shared appreciation for all gadgets Apple.
We stayed later than we had initially intended, but it was so good to visit with the Shakespeares that it was hard to leave (or maybe it was just difficult extricating ourselves from their ginormous bean bad chair). We left Salt Lake at about eight thirty anticipating a leisurely hour and a half drive back up to Logan, but alas there was more of that pesky white stuff, known in some corners of the world as snow. In fact, there were great quantities of the stuff. We passed two major accidents and the mountain pass at Brigham City was closed. In total, the drive took us about four hours from start to finish, but even four hours is starting to feel leisurely.

A Case of Many, Many Mormons: General Conference Weekend

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There was snow on the ground...again. The problem with having already blogged about the Julie’s counsel to not bring my hat and gloves is that I can’t really revisit it on the Internet the way I do every morning when I look out onto a snow covered setting and say to her, “Boy, I sure am glad I didn’t use up that valuable space in our van for a hat and pair of gloves.” You’d think she’d be getting tired of the same comment again and again, but she loves it She still laughs as if I’ve only told the joke once instead of a half-dozen times. But once you put it on the Internet, it just feels unoriginal and repetitive.

We drove from Logan to Salt Lake early Saturday morning. We had tickets everyone to go to general conference, but the tickets said ages eight and up. We were tempted to try to sneak Miranda into the meeting but were worried someone would give a talk on integrity. So Miranda and James and I wandered temple square for a couple of hours after finding a parking spot. Temple Square is kind of like a little Disney World for Mormons. There are movies, museums, dioramas and lots of smiling people. The two of them were easily entertained. Lucy and Liam came out of the morning session excited and enthused. There’s just something about joining in with some twenty five thousand other saints and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to sing “Guide Us O Thou Great Jehovah” that’s pretty neat.

We spent the afternoon with Matt and Liz Lambert and Rozanne Hall (Roger was around, somewhere). It was great to catch up and we ended up talking through the afternoon session (fortunately I do have some time to catch up on the road east).

Liam and I attended Priesthood session. I really can’t describe what it was like to be there with him, so I won’t even try.

Saturday night we stayed up much too late visiting which obviously had an impact on the following day.

For those of you who might have missed a talk or two, the church has a great new website for navigating conference talks right here: https://beta.lds.org/general-conference?locale=eng

Sunday afternoon, we were able to visit Anadel and her family. We were worried we might miss them, but they invited us for lunch and our kids were able to spend some time with the last of their cousins on the Nelson side.

Sunday was another late night of conversing. Our kids were getting along so well with Liz and Matt’s that we almost forgot we were in the same house (and consequently forgot to put them to bed at a reasonable hour).

Though the trip has been both spiritually and emotionally energizing, these constant late nights and long days are taking their toll. I feel like I’m blah-gging instead of blogging.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Days 11-12--Once Upon an Air Mattress

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On Thursday morning Liam and I went to the temple to do baptisms first thing in the morning. It was an interesting experience getting into line with a few dozen young women from the university. There was a level of efficiency to everything that would have made my father a little envious. It was a great experience for both of us and a great start to the day. Later in the afternoon we went out for frozen yogurt. Now, before we left, I asked Julie if I should bring a pair of gloves just in case it got a little cold. I think the problem was that we were packing during honest to goodness spring sunshine in Nova Scotia (a rare event that time of year). "Nah, you won't need any of that stuff. , and, believing that of the two climates, a southern/westerly clime would be the more temperate of the two, I took her word for it.

We packed up after supper and were off to Jeannette's that night. Jeff and Jennifer were there and fun and games ensued late into the night. The crowd was sustained by nachos and Jed and Jeannette's year supply of condensed aged cheese sauce.
I abstained.

On Friday, we were up not quite as early as we wanted, but still managed to run some errands and get on the road. We had great visits with the Nelsons and the Dennings, which made it a little difficult to leave. However, I'm sure they're grateful to have a little more routine in our absence.
That afternoon, we took a quick hop down to Logan (after driving across the country, 2 1/2 hours feels like crossing the street) to see Becca Gee perform in Once Upon a Mattress. It was a great show and, despite its slumberly nature and my great fatigue, I managed to stay awake through the entire production. It was a lot of fun.
We didn't get much time with the Gees, but we'll be back by and by. They're definitely worth backtracking for.

An unrecognizable nostalgia

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The days are running into one another in the way that only vacation days can.

We started the day off with a visit to the temple this morning. It’s easy to forget about the majesty and power of some of the big temples. Not that I don’t love the Halifax temple, but it is a different experience. I only got lost twice.

Later, we were able to take Madison Pilling and Crystal Kearley out for lunch. The kids got real kick out of visiting, and it was fun hear about their experiences. Madison said that going together was just like being back in Nova Scotia, only there's nowhere in Nova Scotia to get Mexican food as good as what we had at Ramirez's. Yum!

Bob and Kathy took us out form more Mexican food at Bajio's. Man, I could eat that stuff morning, noon and night.

We got to tour the campus a bit which was practically unrecognizable. It's grown so much that it feels like a different school. I guess you really can't go back, but you can buy a t-shirt to prove you've been.

Sometimes I confuse my fondness for my past experiences at Ricks with a desire to relive those experiences. As we’ve walked around campus and as we visited with Crystal and Madison, I’ve come to better understand the distinction. I had a great experience here some fifteen years ago. How could I not have? It was the place where I met and courted my wife. But as I look at these young couples strolling starry-eyed through the temple parking lot, do I have any desire to go back and do it all over? Absolutely not. Once was good, and the memories are more than I need.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Days 7, 8 and 9—Has it really been three days since I last bought gas?

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When I exhale, it genuinely feels as if all of the air is leaving my lungs. I don’t know if I’ve gotten a chance to genuinely exhale since I’ve left. It’s as if I’ve held on to a small pocket of air down at the bottom of my lung in case of emergency. It’s feels good to get all that residual carbon dioxide out once and for all.

On Sunday, we had a wonderful visit with Julie’s sister Jeanette and her family, and later in the evening, her brother Jeff came over with her family. I am always amazed at how quickly we can fall into familiar patterns and rhythms with good friends and family regardless of how much time has passed since we last saw one another. Sincere relationships I believe are marked by how well they endure over time and distance. I am not particularly good at maintaining contact with people that are dear to me (alas, facebook has not solved that problem for me); however, the friendships I have formed throughout my travels have been genuine, and instead of awkwardness, it has been a real joy to reconnect with some of these people.

When visiting cousins on the Nelson side, it’s best to approach any field of battle well armed. We will not be caught unprepared.

On Monday we entered Rexburg. For the most part, the drive along the highway was familiar, but the changes that have taken place here really started to come into focus when we saw the temple, I knew intellectually that the town had grown, and that the campus had expanded. But to see the changes has been more overwhelming than I would have expected. I have to admit that in spite of some of the added conveniences, I miss the intimacy of a smaller town. Julie says that my disdain for progress is a sign of me getting old. I’d like to disagree with her, but she’s probably right. I just know that it’s hard to feel nostalgia for a place you barely recognize anymore.

Monday night we celebrated Kathy’s birthday with a family talent show. There’s a lot of musical talent in this family, and it can be a little intimidating when your talents don’t lend themselves so much to performance, but it was great to hear some of the kids sing.

Tuesday was spent at Jeff’s house. It was raining and hailing, but none of the kids seemed to notice. That afternoon, we nice visit with the Comeaus who seem to be thriving in Rexburg even if they can’t get anyone to pronounce their name correctly. On Tuesday night we had a great visit from Shauna Samuelson.

Bob and Kathy have been great hosts and the kids have really enjoyed connecting with their grandparents. There’s lots for the kids to see and do in the house, and they’ve been too long away from a piano.

It’s cold here, but I don’t notice it that much.