2018: A Year in Ruins

If 2017 was the year of moving to new house and getting married (exciting year), 2018 was the year we decided to start exploring the many ruins of the Colorado Plateau.

This year we visited Walnut Canyon, Wupatki, Montezuma’s Castle, Tuzigoot, and Mesa Verde National Park. This wasn’t the only traveling we did, as we also visited Monument Valley, Durango Colorado, California, Tucson, and Texas; but for this post I’m going to write about the ruins. Our longest, furthest, and most epic exploration was that of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. I knew it was famous, I had heard of Cliff Palace, I had seen some pictures, and frankly I didn’t have high expectations.

I was wrong.

Spanish explorers were the first European settlers to discover this place in the 1700s, after it had already been abandoned for 500 years. That’s crazy to me. Time is so, so vast and we are just little blips in the timeline. I envy those early explorers traipsing across the wild continent of North America and stumbling upon these silent and empty villages, full of pottery and other artifacts that were long ago pilfered and then spirited away to museums. To see a pot under glass in an air-conditioned museum is not quite the same. I long to sit among the ruins in perfect silence, run my hands along the pottery, and imagine the lives of the people who lived so long ago.

The kids were more fascinated than I thought they would be, and the park rangers were very interesting and informative. They were good storytellers. It’s important to remember that the people who lived here so long ago were just like us–a thousand years isn’t that long in human evolution, and physically the Ancestral Pueblo (also sometimes referred to as the Anasazi) were the same, although we are a bit larger due to increased caloric intake and nutrition. They had hopes and dreams and fears, they told stories and and jokes, they complained, they studied the weather, they gossiped about their neighbors. They loved their children.

Mesa Verde is famous for a handful of cliff dwellings that can be explored through guided tours, like Balcony House, where you have to do quite a bit of hiking and climb huge ladders. We practiced at home before we visited, and Aria was pretty proud of her ability to climb without assistance.

The wood and mortar on this dwelling is a thousand years old. The mind boggles.

Mesa Verde also has hundreds of dwellings which are not accessible, some of which can be seen at various outlooks.

One of the best parts of these visits to various ruins over the past year is that the kids have not only learned about the history of the Colorado Plateau, where Flagstaff is located and where they were born and raised, but they have also learned about geology, geography, anthropology, archeology, agriculture, and climate. They’ve learned that everything changes, but some things remain the same, and we love that we can step away from our screens and busy lives and take in the world around us.

What Were We Thinking? (And Other Bad Ideas) 2010

So, I’m in Texas, sitting on the floor of my parent’s living room, surrounded by suitcases, diapers, teething biscuits, and Breathe Right strips. My sister is on the couch, texting. Except for the presence of cell phones it feels like my childhood. When I was a kid, we took many road trips to visit family and presidential birth places, and tomorrow we will face a two-day, 1,100 mile drive to UP Michigan and later Detroit for a family reunion. This was hard enough when it was just my sister and I squabbling in the backseat and my parents squabbling in the front seat, but this time we’ve added my seventeen-month-old toddler to the mix. Wheeeee!

On Wednesday Oscar and I boarded a plane for Dallas, leaving Darin behind at home in Flagstaff. I held Oscar on my lap during the flight, which turned out to be easier than anticipated, except for the fact that I couldn’t reach my carry-on and there was an eight-year-old boy inexplicably glaring at us from the next seat.

We spent a couple of nights here in Plano at my parents’ house, my sister and I sharing a bed (yes) and Oscar sleeping in his pack-n-play in the same room.¬† My sister informs me that I snore (well, Darin has been telling me this for over a decade) so I’ve researched a number of home remedies. I’ll let you know if anything works. You are welcome to leave tips in the comments section, but I am not sewing a tennis ball into the back of my pajamas.

We’ve stocked up on toys, DVDs, and diapers for Oscar; and magazines, snacks, and laxatives for everyone else. Oscar and I have three times as many bags as the rest of the family put together, but when my sister made fun of me I told her it’s impossible to pack lightly for a toddler who lacks bladder control.

My sister and I decided to name our trip, kind of like The Great Depression, and as we were eating Skittles and tossing around names, my step father muttered dryly from across the room, “What were we thinking?”

Oscar at Sea Part III–Debarkation is Not a Word

Getting off the ship is not a simple matter of walking down the gangplank. You have to “debark.” I found this term annoying. Isn’t it “disembark”? My 900-lb unabridged dictionary says that debark and disembark mean the same thing. Damn. Why wasn’t I consulted? “Debark” sounds like something I’d like to have done to my neighbor’s dog. “Disembark” is much more elegant; I’m picturing women with parasols.

Every morning our ship, after sailing all night, would stop at a new port. We stopped at St. Thomas, Dominica, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua and St. Kitts. Despite the fact that our room had no windows (it’s a very strange sensation to have no idea what time of day it is outside) I always knew we were about to make port because the ship would start to shudder and vibrate. I loved this feeling. I would lay in bed and think, “Oh, I guess I better get up soon.” Sometimes I would hear Oscar chattering in his crib, or banging away at the metal bars. The crib they gave him to sleep in looked like something out of a Dickens novel.

We were usually up, dressed, organized, and at breakfast by around 9:00. My idea of a relaxing vacation is to loll around in bed until a more respectable hour, say, 10:00 A.M. or so. But we had Places to Go! and People to See! I have to admit, I’d probably rather be on a sun drenched beach than under the covers.


We got our share of sun drenched beaches on St. Thomas, Barbados, and Antigua. Darin and I got to go snorkeling at all three beaches and had three very different experiences. On Barbados we got to swim with and touch sea turtles¬† and on Antigua we saw beautiful coral and colored fish. As someone who loves the water but has never felt entirely comfortable swimming, I had mixed feelings about trying snorkeling, but was surprised to find that I love it. It’s relatively easy and relaxing.

One of the best parts of the cruise was the kindness and friendliness of the staff and the other guests on the ship toward our baby. In the dining room they never forgot to bring Oscar’s steamed vegetables (sweet potato was his favorite) or his dinner rolls (he liked to suck on these for awhile then throw them on the floor. We spent most of our time in the dining room retrieving rolls from under the table). I was nervous that people would make snarky remarks about babies, especially when Oscar fussed in the dining room or when I breastfed in public areas. We got nothing but smiles and questions about Oscar. He even made friends, and everywhere we went people would say, “Hey Oscar” when passing by.

One of the worst parts of the cruise were the cab rides on the islands. No car seat, no seat belts. They really cram you into the little (barely air-conditioned) vans, and I would have to hold Oscar on my lap while the drivers sped along narrow, two-lane highways. Thankfully nothing happened!

Overall, the trip was fun but exhausting. Would I do it again? Yes, but at a slightly slower pace, and with a few small changes (such as bringing along a nanny).¬† The inconvenience of traveling with an infant was rewarded by seeing Oscar’s face whenever we took him in the water.

Stay Tuned for Part IV: Stuff You Need When Taking a Baby on a Boat.

Oscar at Sea Part II: Caribbean Dreamin’

Our first port was St. Thomas. The plan was to meet our group on the dock to take a ferry to nearby St. John’s where we would attend a vow-renewal ceremony for some friends. Since it was our first time traveling with Oscar, however, we ended up taking twice as long to get ready as we thought we would and we were late. After discovering that we missed our group, we decided to take a cab to the ferry to try to catch up with everyone. In the rush of the morning and in our inexperience, we left the boat with little cash and no credit card, and when we got there, we realized that if we took the ferry we wouldn’t have enough for a cab ride back to the boat. So we stood there, far away from our ship, momentarily at a loss for what to do. Darin found a map and we saw that Sapphire Beach (which we had heard good things about) looked close by so we decided to try walking there. We headed off down the road: a narrow, winding, two-lane highway with no shoulder. In the middle of the Caribbean. With a seven-month-old.

I was wearing sandals and trying to push Oscar’s stroller through the rocky sand. It was hot and humid and cars went whizzing by every few seconds (on the wrong side of the road no less). Clearly we had lost our minds. After walking probably the better part of a mile, we finally came to a huge hill that didn’t allow us to see what was on the other side. Darin told me to wait with Oscar while he ran to the top to see if there was any point in going further. He came running back and said he could see the water. It was one of happiest moments of my life!

As we crested the hill, there in front of us was a sign for the Sapphire Beach Resort. We walked down the hill toward the gate and saw a guard booth. My heart sank. Surely they wouldn’t let riff-raff like us into their pristine resort. I braced myself for an imposing guard, but instead a large Caribbean woman stepped out and gave us a big grin. She looked at Oscar and said, “You got that baby all bent!” She asked us if we were going to the beach, we said yes, and she sent us in the right direction and welcomed us to the island. Just before we got to the beach we found a gaggle of cab drivers lounging under a tree. We asked them about a ride back to the ship, and they quoted a fare we could afford and said they would be available all day. We were set.

What can I say about this beach? It was the most beautiful, heavenly beach I have ever been to. Turquoise water stretching as far as the eye can see. Clean white sand. Trees for shade. The only beaches I’d ever been to before are in San Diego and Los Angeles, packed with tourists, teenagers, smokers, boom boxes, and beer. Here, it was so peaceful and quiet that a little flock of birds resting in the sand near us never moved.

We immediately stripped down to our bathing suits and plunged into the water. It was Oscar’s first time in the ocean and he had a ball. The water was the perfect temperature. We rented snorkeling equipment and took turns going out while one of us stayed with Oscar and watched him as he napped, made friends with a local iguana, and ate some sand.

For me it was the best day of the whole trip. Although we would see many wonderful sites and visit beautiful beaches on other islands, we wouldn’t find the same degree of beauty and tranquility again.  It was just the three of us, our little family, experiencing one of those serendipitous moments that can never be planned, and that can only happen when you least expect it.

Stay tuned for Oscar at Sea Part III: Debarkation is Not a Word

Oscar at Sea

We are back home after traveling to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands with Oscar. The trip was both wonderful and exhausting (if you’ve ever traveled with an infant you know what I mean). I’m glad to be home!

We had so many adventures that I decided while writing this up for my blog that I would break it into four parts.

Part I: Planes, Boats, and Taxis

This trip was Oscar’s first time on a plane (except when I was pregnant), on a boat, and riding in a car without a car seat (easily some of the scariest moments of my life). It was fun traveling with him; he’s so curious about everything around him and he’s so good natured and fun. He attracts a lot of attention. However, it’s also very tiring because he never stops moving except when he’s sleeping. He’s a baby on the go.

Last Saturday we flew from Tucson to San Juan, Puerto Rico. For Darin’s 40th birthday, Darin’s parents took us along on a cruise with them and their family. As part of the trip we got to fly first class. We’d never flown first class before and it was pretty fun. No little foil packages of peanuts! Instead, they give you a real glass and a little dish of warm mixed nuts.

As you can see, Oscar was pretty blown away by the whole experience.

We arrived in San Juan and went straight to our hotel. Getting the luggage from the airport to the hotel was something of an ordeal. Let me tell you, babies need a lot of stuff. Oscar really needs a personal assistant. Oh, wait, that’s me. Luckily, the hotel had a pool, and the next morning we went swimming first thing after breakfast before it was time to head over to the boat. Oscar loves the water. He’s like a fish that’s been living in the desert for years and finally gets to come home.

Look how green it is. This ain’t Arizona.

On Sunday we boarded our boat, the Carnival Cruise Ship Victory, and I learned something new. You don’t simply board a ship. Oh no. Boarding is for losers. You embark. And when you get off a ship, that’s right, you debark. More on that in Part III: Debarkation Is Not a Word.

Here I am with Oscar in the Ergo carrier. More on that in Part IV: Stuff You Need When Taking a Baby on a Boat.

It rained in San Juan but after that we had beautiful weather for the entire cruise, except for the fact that it was a little too hot. One of our taxi drivers, who spent his life on the island of St. Kitts, told us it was hotter than he could ever remember it being. I knew we were in the tropics because my skin felt dewy soft but my hair turned into something I don’t want to think about.

The first night on the boat there was a big party on the deck (Carnival is the party cruise line), but we mostly hung out in our little windowless room with Oscar. Oscar was pretty disappointed that I didn’t let him sing karaoke.

If you’ve never been on a cruise, let me tell you, they are geared toward people who get bored very easily. I’ve never seen so many activities in my life. There’s dancing, drinking, magic shows, bingo, trivia contests, water slides, and shopping. They even have a club for Scrabble players. Oh, and eating. Have I mentioned the eating? You can literally eat 24 hours a day.

Here I am studying the room service menu while Oscar investigates the shore excursions.

In addition to buffets, room service, and the 24-hour pizza and ice cream station, they have fine dining every night. Two of those nights you even get to dress up. Here are Oscar and me before dinner. Don’t we clean up well? Of course, after dinner we were both covered with mashed potatoes and soggy teething biscuit crumbs, but it was fun to be dressed up while it lasted.

On Sunday night we set sail for St. Thomas and the Caribbean. Over the next week we would experience some of the happiest moments of our lives, and also some of the most stressful. I guess that’s the nature of travel and the magic of leaving home.


Stay tuned for Oscar at Sea Part II: Caribbean Dreamin’