My passport lies beneath the fruit bowl’s shadow next to a random penny and within sight of a drinking glass brimming with sea shells. At the end of my kitchen counter (still, always, and forever cluttered) is a grey pebble, a mountain in impossible, undeniable miniature. Passport, penny, sea shells, pebble: all mementos of my recent visit to the other side of the planet, an adventure born of longing, stubbornness, miracles, hard work, selfishness and benediction. Now – nearly two weeks after I staggered off the plane straight back into home’ (and winter)’s enthusiastic embrace – I’m right back in the mayhem and reality of my life. Except the horizon’s canted a little to the left, the Pacific Ocean no longer seems quite so wide and my pants are cheerfully tighter than when I left. I don’t want to put my suitcases away. I want to go back. Continue reading
There was one big box, wrapped in polka dots and housing her 12th birthday present. I told her as she surveyed the seemingly sparse landscape: it’s a big one, I promise, so this is it. She opened it gingerly and took a suitcase out of the delicately unfurled paper. “Oh my gosh, I love this suitcase!” And she ran towards me, across the kitchen, to give me a hug.
I stopped her and said, “Wait! You need to open the suitcase!” She did, and suddenly, an explosion of NYC ephemera– a tee, a mug, itineraries, tickets, plans. It took her a few open-mouthed seconds to get it, but before long she was screaming, and faster than that, we were on our way, nonstop to JFK. And hurry! We had a schedule to follow after all.
Normally, I don’t schedule anything for vacation; I find myself beholden to the clock in normal life only because I have four kids—slow is my very nature. Slow as molasses is me on vacay. But this was New York! The city that never sleeps! We had only 80 hours and I intended to make the most of it, with even sentiment and memories penned in the margins between minutes: temple baptisms in Manhattan (awwww), following her red-jacketed form around the Met (lump in my throat), tickets for the new Cinderella (once in a lifetime).
Can you plan a moment, though? Like one of those “I’m-never-going-to-forget-this-moment-for-the-rest-of-my-life” type moments? Walking off pizza, trying to make room for Milk & Cookies, we wandered to Washington Square Park. The arch is worth the extra blocks in the wrong direction alone and I wanted my daughter to see it. It was freezing, there was a man playing a grand piano in the middle of the park– Bach, I knew it– the pigeons fluttered, the sky was blindingly blue. No big. Until, we turned back to go towards the bakery, and suddenly the high, simple strains of Clair de Lune started, piercing and lovely through the frozen air, I stopped. So did my husband. So did my daughter, confused. The rolling of the music started to open itself up to the day, welcoming and bold, and it was something magic. “This is it,” I said to my husband, “This is your song.” And he turned, his eyes squinting in the bright sun, the bitter cold, “Yes.”
My husband. He is good at many a thing, but one of my favorite things is his knack for making little movies. We love our family movies. Sometimes we spend Family Home Evening just watching dozens of them and we (the parents) laugh that we are turning all our kids’ memories into something perfect. With a soundtrack.
Anyway, he was capturing ten-second clips on his phone the whole time, but that frozen moment in the park, when Debussy started, was like one of his movies come alive, and the cold and the sound, and the blue, and the pigeons, and the red jacket, and him, and her, and everything was something I almost can’t describe…
(lump in my throat)
(once in a lifetime)
All put together.
And totally unplanned, right? But caught.
Like many people my age, travel wasn’t a big part of my experience growing up. Our family vacations consisted of road trips and camping. The one epic journey of my childhood was when I was twelve, and all seven of us spent five weeks in a van, driving through “thirty-two states two foreign countries* and the District of Columbia” ~ a phrase we parroted to all who would listen (*Canada and Mexico).
Let it be stated that most of these places were mere “cross the border so we can say we were there” destinations. Although after driving over the boarder into Mexico, my dad saw that gas was slightly cheaper than in the US, so he decided to fill up the tank before returning to the states. He didn’t realize til after he’d pumped it that the price was per liter, not gallon. Oops!
So we gerrymandered our way all across America, camping at night unless we were crashing at the home of some acquaintance or distant relative. We bought groceries and prepared meals and snacks enroute. We never ate at restaurants, but during a large gathering of extended family on the east coast, a great uncle went to McDonalds to pick up some burgers for dinner. “I’d like fifty hamburgers and fifty cheeseburgers” he informed the employee. She looked at him standing there all alone and asked “will that be to go?” “No ma’am, I’m going to eat them all right here”. We thought that was a hilarious story.
I’m not quite sure where my wanderlust came from, but somewhere along the line I fell in love with travel. When I found out that Travel and Tourism was a major at BYU, I was exceedingly astonished. “You can DO that?!” I asked my guidance counsellor. I mean, it seemed too fun, like majoring in Chocolate or something. Wasn’t school supposed to be onerous?
I never aspired to become a flight attendant. In fact, during college I boldly stated “I’d never become a flight attendant; they’re just glorified waitresses trapped in a metal tube and they don’t even get tips.” I obviously had no idea what being a flight attendant entailed. I also thought the directive to secure your own mask first before assisting others was super selfish, “I’ll just hold my breath while I help others”. You could rightly say I was clueless.
I’d worked at a hotel before my marriage, but the first time I ever stayed in one was my wedding night. I’d worked in several nice restaurants, too, but growing up we just really didn’t eat out except for the annual “birthday breakfast with dad to IHOP or Denny’s” excursion. That meant Dad got to go out five times a year…which thing I was slightly jealous of.
So it’s safe to say I wasn’t really exposed to much in terms of Other Ways To Live. But one of the things I love most about my job as a flight attendant is that it has given me a few opportunities to go places and experience some of the different ways we humans have of living, worshiping, eating, being, relating. I really wish I’d had these kinds of experiences at a much younger age, because it’s so easy to operate with the assumption that your way of living is the “right” way, simply because it’s what you know.
Traveling to other lands and seeing other “right” ways of living has helped me to have a healthier perspective, become less-judgmental, and gain an appreciation for the variety of cultures, and a deeper sense of gratitude for the things I that I enjoy. I’ve seen some of the poorest homes filled with genuinely happy people. Generous beyond belief, they are an example to me in many ways.
I recently returned from a visit to my sister’s inlaw’s home. I didn’t speak any of the languages they spoke so there was much smiling, nodding and pantomiming when my sister weasn’t around to translate. But the love and welcome I felt from them was incredible. Things that we think of as imperative aspects of life (e.g. sanitation, screens and doors to keep out the bugs and animals, soap and water or at the very least, hand sanitizer on a regular basis) are non-existent in their lives, and there are a lot of things that I know I would find annoying initially if I lived there (e.g.: I could happily live without roosters and stray dogs everywhere), but I found my perspective shifting as I spent time among the people.
I still love eating out, and staying in hotels, and that’s okay. But the chance to experience life with the locals was a priceless gift that I wouldn’t trade. It’s made me more grateful and thoughtful about my own choices and life.
How has visiting other places broadened your life? Have you been anywhere that you think should be on everyone’s “Must See” list? Any advice or tips for others you’d like to share?
I am fresh off an excellent trip to Costa Rica with my husband. We celebrated our tenth year of marriage with many hours in a terrible BeGo SUV rental as we bumped along narrow weathered roads banked by gorgeous green hillsides, fields of banana trees and wild hibiscus. Our nights were steamy: in unair-conditioned jungle cabins and locally own, tico, bed and breakfasts. And each day we scarfed down the local fare, gallo pinto (a seasoned combination of black beans and rice served with the national condiment, salsa linzano), hungry from our adventures hiking through the rainforested paradise.
While we were only there a week, I ate beans and rice every single day. It seemed like a lot of beans and rice. It was a lot of beans and rice; and I love beans and I like rice, I’ve don’t eat them day in and day out. Even when I am eating a lot of beans at home, I am moving around in the legume family, never resting my affections on one variety alone. Not the case in Costa Rica. There was only one occasion I was served dark red kidney beans instead of the classic black beans. Rice and beans, beans and rice: any meal, every day. And while I savored each delicious preparations, and there were some excellent ones, it was a lot of repetition. Continue reading
“Welcome to Splendid Isolation,” says the large wooden sign posted over the dock. As our boat slows to a stop, I get my first up-close look at Hinchinbrook, the island just a couple of miles away from the Great Barrier Reef where my husband, our four children, and I will be spending the next five days. It’s just like the pictures on the Internet: moon-curved, pearl-colored beach fringed by lush rainforest, waves lapping the shore, green hills rising up beyond the trees. I congratulate myself on having found the perfect place—billed as a family-friendly eco resort—to end our long anticipated dream vacation to Australia. Sure, we’ve had cold, wet, miserable weather our entire trip so far, but here, in paradise—in our own, reasonably priced beach cabin, no less—we’re sure to have better luck. I can already see myself sipping passion fruit juice by the pool, frolicking in the surf with my children, hiking through the rainforest, and, of course, snorkeling and diving on the Reef. Continue reading