Not Disappointed

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For our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband planned a trip for us to our favorite place, Avila Beach. Looking to be generous, he booked more nights than I was comfortable leaving my twelve year old in the care of his adult siblings. So, in a what-were-we- thinking moment, we decided to bring him along.
Since the  crowd was already growing, we next invited my daughter, and granddaughter, to join us.  She jumped at our invitation, and then soon after announced that her husband had gotten the days off from work and would be joining us.  How perfectly reflective this growing crowd was of our family’s growth over the years.  What started out as a pair was added to and multiplied. Like our vacation list, our family has seen both planned and surprise additions, each a treasure to cherish.

The younger couple decided they would camp nearby in his favorite vacation spot, the Oceano Dunes, and travel between their campsite and our haven, Avila Beach. This would be a true blending of vacation styles for all of us.  To better understand the contrast between the two vacation sites, let me describe.

The Oceano Dunes is a state park in California with 5 1/2 miles of beach that vehicles can travel on.  Many, like my son-in-law, drive their 4 wheel drive trucks pulling toy haulers, loaded with quads and other off road recreational vehicles, and drive as much of those 5 1/2 miles as they can.  The trick is to not get stuck in the sand, but if they do, there is a certain prestige to being able to pull others out.  So those who get stuck are helped to get out. When they find their sites, these dry campers (no water, electric or septic hookups) turn their trailers facing away from the ocean, so that the constantly blowing sand doesn’t get in.  They set up camp in the shelter of their trailers, often placing temporary skirts along the spaces under the trailers as an additional protection from the blowing sand.  This environment is my son-in-law’s favorite place on earth.

Meanwhile, a vacation in Avila Beach means time spent in a hotel or vacation condo.  As described in my previous post, it is a warm, sunny cove with many visitor friendly amenities.  These include restaurants and swimming pools and sleepy afternoons on the beach followed by warm showers and possibly a dip in the hot tub.  After dinner, we walk in the balmy evening air, eating ice cream on the promenade and watching the tide come in. This is the kind of vacation my family enjoys.

Many times our son-in-law has been a good sport about vacationing our way. So when he and my daughter wanted us to come over to their campsite for a barbecue and campfire, we felt we had to reciprocate and take this chance to experience his kind of vacation.  None of us realized the date we’d set for this was our anniversary date.  We reserved rental quads for my 12 year old son and husband and bought some goodies to go with dinner.

At the appointed time, we tentatively entered the sandy path leading into the dunes, my husband driving his pick up truck which does not have 4 wheel drive. (We’ve never before missed this feature!)  It gave us a surreal feeling to be driving our vehicle along the water’s edge.  Though there was a track somewhat packed down, we were driving where children played with shovels and pails and dodging the incoming waves with the truck like we do when we walk barefoot along the beach. “What will happen if a wave reaches us?” my son piped up from the back seat.  We didn’t have an answer.  I wanted to know what happened if someone going the other way wanted to drive by.  I didn’t have to ask because very soon we had to squeeze past an oncoming truck, they not wanting to go too high up into the softer sand and we not wanting to venture any further towards the ocean.  “People do this for fun?”  I questioned aloud. My husband just shook his head, and I could tell he was not one of them.

Another question I did not need to voice was “What happens if we get stuck in the sand?” After ten minutes of driving, instead of finding my daughter at her campsite, we happened upon a patch of unpacked sand and couldn’t go any further.  We were stuck. My stomach turned and I worked hard to hold back a feeling of panic.  My husband, for whatever reason, didn’t appreciate my unsolicited advice to stop turning the tires.  I was sure he was digging us in further, but he assured me that he was “rocking” the truck out of its rut.  I texted my son-in-law for help while my husband continued “rocking” the truck for another ten minutes.  The truck made sounds that I was sure came from important pieces breaking off. However, before my son-in-law arrived, my husband was able to free the truck.  We agreed to immediately get off the dunes with our unequipped vehicle and park it on blacktop at the edge of this sandy park.

Our son-in-law picked us up from the parking lot we found and chauffeured us, as well as his mother and brothers who had just arrived, to his camp site.  My heart was racing and my stomach was still in knots from our ordeal, trying to get to this spot.  The campsite was a random patch of sand on a barren beach at the base of the dunes.  It was windy and cold and while the boys prepared to ride quads, we girls huddled in the shelter of the trailer and tried to stay warm, if not sand free.  I thought I was being pleasant and open-minded to this different type of vacation.  However, my daughter’s mother-in-law recognized the look in my eyes and, laughing, said, “This is how I spent every vacation. We had sand everywhere.  When the boys went riding, that was my time to clean up camp and make their next meal. It was no vacation for me!” (I knew not everyone thought this was fun!)

Once settled in with the memory of our traumatic ride in fading, my husband, son and I enjoyed our time on the dunes. Both son and husband loved riding quads and connecting with their masculine selves. The cool wind made a barbecue and campfire even more appreciated than usual.  The smell of hamburgers on the grill was familiar in a new place and something about a campfire creates an instant sense of togetherness.  Smoke from the embers drifted among us, lacing us together with our children, grandchild and in-laws.  As the day wore on, we were less observant of our environment and more aware of our company, the family we’ve gathered over the years.

When it was time to go, our son-in law once again drove us the nearly 20 minutes along the beach, pointing out the trucks and trailers that had gotten stuck in the sand while we were visiting. He would help them out after he drove us back to our parking lot.  We shook our heads as we again tried to wrap our brains around the idea of this being anyone’s idea of a fun time.  As we were unloading ourselves and our chairs and sweatshirts from his truck, our son-in-law said, “Today is your 25th anniversary, isn’t it?  Happy anniversary!” We’d nearly forgotten!

Back at the hotel, we were grateful for warm showers.  As my husband and I fell into our fresh, clean bed that night, my husband began to apologize.  He felt bad about the way we ended up spending our milestone anniversary.  “Did you ever think 25 years ago that we’d spend today celebrating our anniversary getting stuck in the sand and …..”

I interrupted and was honestly able to tell him, “I am not disappointed.  We spent today with children we created over the past 25 years and the people they love. We are blessed to have family who want to be with us no matter where we are. I am really not disappointed.” And I really wasn’t.

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Suitcases!

20160617_075942-1.jpgThe suitcases are coming out! Time to shake out last season’s sand and load them up with shorts and bathing suits.  The very sight of luggage littering the bedrooms gives me a thrill of anticipation.  It signals the start of the vacation state of mind.

Vacation!  A period of liberation when we leave stress and responsibilities behind and devote ourselves to enjoyment.  We forget our schedules, break routine and lose track of time. For a short duration, the only concern is our pleasure.  Although this means many things to others, for me it means my freshly pedicured toes are in warm sand.  I am content to watch the tide rise and fall, mesmerized by the endless waves slapping against the shore. The ocean has a heartbeat which lulls my soul to rest. When I am not sitting serenely  on the sand, I am hiking beach or trail in awe of nature’s beauty, inhaling the salty, fresh air blown in from the sea.

Here, in my element, I find my true self.  The person I am obligated to be in my responsible, everyday life gets stripped off like the clothing over a bathing suit. I am reunited with my childish self and I remember how to feel and dream and play. My own children particularly like this and we make memories that glue our family together.  If only for a short while, I get to be the best version of myself.

And so as I fill the suitcases, it isn’t what I put in them that matters.  Their importance lies in what they promise is to come: a chance to be reacquainted with myself and a freeing of the child within.

Avila Beach, CA

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Avila Beach is a tiny paradise located on the Central Coast of  California. The main beach is barely more than a half mile long and the town is equally as cozy.  It is known for its mild temperatures. On a foggy day in San Louis Obispo,  Avila is the first place the sun breaks through.  The once unknown, defunct shipping port is now a busy vacation destination, attracting visitors both local and international.

Within its small boundaries are a plethora of activities for vacationers to do beyond the obvious beach, souvenir shops and eateries. A good portion of its space is bird sanctuary. Right alongside of this runs the three-mile long Bob Jones Hiking trail, beginning in the town of Avila Beach, next to a golf course, and ending (for my walk anyway) at the Avila Red Barn.  This is an extensive produce and baked goods “stand” with a petting zoo and lunch counter. For those who don’t wish to walk, the town hosts a farmers market on Friday evenings at which local farmers and restaurants set up booths and sell their wares. Saturday brings out the artists and there are many drawn to this inspiring spot. Everyday sees water sports available-kayaking, sailing, chartered boat rides, paddle boarding.  These offerings and many more are squeezed into the several square miles that make up Avila Beach.

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The wildlife, which coexists with the ever increasing population, is my favorite part of an Avila Beach vacation. My husband and I forgo sleeping in (much to the chagrin of our teenagers) and  meet the sunrise every morning we are there.  We are rewarded with flirting Sea Lions, snowy white Egrets and the once elusive Great Blue Heron.  In the late afternoons, I have kayaked up the estuary and counted as many as nine Herons in plain sight. They give me the whole show, from seeking camouflage in the cliffs and trees to announcing take off with their loud prehistoric screeches and incredible wingspans.

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Just last year I was able to cross “whale watching” off my bucket list when a pod of Humpback Whales chose to come play in the bay for the whole weekend my husband and I were there for our 24th wedding anniversary.  We saw them, unexpectedly, while walking on the pier, and fortunately had already booked a ride on a small boat the next day.  They didn’t disappoint.  From our dingy we were able to sit in awe of their majesty from a respectful three hundred feet away.  We’ll never forget our front row seats to see these overwhelmingly large and timeless creatures.

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My love for this beach town goes back more than 20 years. We stumbled upon it when my oldest was a toddling one year old.  Unable to stand the cold mornings on the neighboring beaches, she needed something else to amuse her.  We went exploring and found a small beach in a cove, called Avila.  Sheltered from the sea winds, it was a warmer place.  With only a convenience store and a couple of other businesses around it was very quiet in the mornings.   She was able to toddle from one end of the beach to the other, exploring tide pools and collecting shells, rocks and sand dollars.  We enjoyed it so much, we started regularly packing lunch and making this secret haven our main destination.

A few years later on a beach day excursion, now two children in tow, we were surprised to find bulldozers digging up piles of sand and dirt along the beach and front street. Disturbed by what we saw, yet not knowing what was going on, we were forced to leave for another beach.  Later we found out that a major oil company had allowed its refinery to contaminate our beautiful beach.  It would be closed indefinitely.  And while my family had to find another beach to call ours, the families of Avila Beach had to engage in a difficult lawsuit to make the oil company clean up its mess and restore the  beach.  It took years, but the outcome created the beach town that exists today.  The oil company had to clean up its contaminates and refurbish the beach and the store fronts. They built new public bathrooms, a promenade and a children’s park.  Today, a new visitor would not find a hint of the hardships this town went through.  Its beautiful, relatively new facilities are very welcoming.

My family has reinstated ourselves as Avila Beach regulars.  We once again walk the beach, exploring tide pools and collecting shells, rocks and sand dollars.  We love Avila’s new, modern look and the many happy faces of other visitors like us.  But we never forget a time when Avila was an unknown haven, a secret that had not yet been let out.

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Where Did She Come From?

Part of the journey on the other side of the hill involves letting children go.  It’s easy to forget that their independence was the goal all along.  This can be both heart wrenching and freeing, at the same time.   My oldest has been married and on her own for nearly two years.  My second in line is now testing the waters, finding her footing and getting ready to launch into her own big world.

I just bid farewell, for the summer, to my younger daughter.  This is my middle child, with all the traits known to that position in birth order.  She wants to be considered as independent as her older sister, yet wants to be taken care of as much as her younger brother. She can breeze through a room, turn it upside down, then waltz out as if nothing has happened. Her ideas are grandiose but not supported by planning or follow through. She has an oppositional streak, making choices that directly defy my wishes.  No gift is special enough, no time is long enough, and no amount of attention is deep enough for this insatiable human being.  She is a child that humbles me and makes me doubt my abilities as a mother.

This “child” is my 19 year old college student who has yet to leave our nest.  She attends a local college full time, works half time, attends church, has a great group of friends and runs marathons with her sister.  On the surface she is making good choices, functioning successfully, and doing what every parent wants their young adult to do.  Why then is she so difficult in my home?  Why must we  constantly butt heads over every issue that arises?

When my daughter started researching summer long missions, I had a variety of thoughts. Would she be able to plan long term enough to apply, fund raise, pack for and attend a summer long mission?  Could this person who likes to be taken care of serve others for two months? How quiet would my house be for a whole summer?  If her plans were successful, this would be her fledgling experiment with independence,  the first time she’s spread her wings so far.

Her coming of age parallels my own.  She is nearing official adulthood and I am coasting down the hill to a time when I’ll be a “retiree” and an “empty-nester.” Her summer away is our trial run at the second vacancy in my home.  Though each departure brings an ache to the heart, each vacancy in my home represents a more simplified life and the freedom for this mother to remember who she is.

After months of planning, praying, coordinating, the day for her to leave for the mission site arrived.  In the hours leading up to her departure, I waited for her nervousness to turn to irritation with me as it usually does. Instead, she grew more and more calm during the  24 hours before we left.  In place of the frazzled, irrational girl that I’ve always had to usher through new beginnings, stood a serene, confident young woman.  Where did she come from? She was focused and at peace.  Her voice, instead of shrill and frantic, was sure and quiet. I’ve never met this young woman before, but I liked her and felt an instant bond with her. And as we prayed together for a summer of glory, growth and safety, I felt the long buried cord between us tugging our hearts together.  I felt a hope that God has my little bird in the palm of His hand and that, perhaps, I have done something right as her mother.

Lessons from the Journey

 
     If you’ve seen my previous post you already know I spent last Saturday hiking Valencia Peak trail for my 50th birthday.  I approached this task with many reflections regarding my passage to the half-century mark, but with quite a cavalier attitude about the hike itself.  I am no mountain climber, but the peaks in California are mere hills, I thought to myself. Valencia Peak is only 1347 feet up, as reported by the website.  I was sure this hike would pose no difficulties for me.  And it didn’t, at first.
     The bottom half of the hike is a friendly trail with a gradual grade.  It affirmed my belief that this would be a cake walk.  I was mildly surprised when we started hitting patches of crumbling rocks with little place for sure footing, but it was still no great challenge for me. Near the halfway point, that changed.  The grade became steeper.  At the same time the beaten path disappeared and combinations of smooth and crumbling rocks took over.  Not ready to tell my daughter, and hiking partner, that I was beginning to tire, I suggested more frequent water breaks.  We continued to creep up the ever steepening hill, and I began to gulp for air.  My heart pounded way too hard against my chest.  As we stopped for our umpteenth water break I had to admit to my daughter that I was having trouble.  I doubled over to lower my heart’s position and slow its rate.  While waiting for that to happen, I encouraged my daughter to go ahead at her own pace and let me catch up when I could. (I secretly hoped she’d make it to the top and back to me before I had to climb the two final ramps of trail I could see along the mountain’s side, just before the top.)  She dutifully declined and we continued.
      Next we reached a plateau, about three-fourths of the way through the trail.  It had a great view of the valley below.  We considered letting this be our “top” of the hill.  We could take a great picture and start our descent.  Then we turned around and saw the two remaining “ramps” up to the real peak.  We knew what we had to do.  The water breaks turned into breathing breaks and the struggle was real.  Those last two legs of the journey were the most difficult, nevertheless we made it to the top.

     There was nowhere to sit on the boulders that made up the apex of this hill.  So we stood and looked over the valley below and the trail we had just scaled.  We took our pictures, drank more water and caught our breath. Then we happily began our descent.   Hiking was so much more pleasant going down the hill. I could breath and enjoy the scenery. Although I did become aware of a whole new set of muscles being put to use, I was greatly relieved at the relative ease with which we glided down the mountain.  It seemed like no time at all passed before we reached the ending point of our hike.

Along the way, I was struck with a few more reflections from the physical aspects of my hike.

When it was hardest, just before the top, I didn’t think I could do it, but I did. At least once I was sure I was physically incapable of climbing to the top.  I was wrong and I did accomplish that goal. This leaves me wondering how many other times in life I have nearly accomplished something but didn’t because I was sure I was not capable.  How many of those times was I wrong? How many opportunities and blessings have I missed because I mistakenly believed I was unable to do something?  And most importantly, will I be able to find new confidence to know all that I am capable of?

On my trek down the hill, I felt empathy for people I passed just going up.  I knew how I’d felt climbing up and I wanted to “help” by sharing some of my new knowledge of the trail with them.  Yet I didn’t.  Wisdom, my filter, call it what you will, kicked in and I didn’t say anything more than “good morning.”  I left passersby to their own experiences and interpretations of the trail.  As I am starting down the hill of my life I often feel that same way.  I so want to share my unsolicited wisdom with my younger colleagues and family members.  I’ve been through situations like the ones they are in, and I could tell them just what their responses should be and what happens next.  Yet on a good day I do not.  Instead I respect that each journey is unique and each person must learn from their own choices and mistakes.  As much as I want to guide them to what I have found to be the correct path, I have to let them find their own footing up the hill.

It was much faster navigating down the hill than it had been climbing up.  It’s a universally accepted truth that the trip home is always mysteriously shorter than the trip to whatever the destination. The life analogy is obvious. The second half of life will no doubt be the more concise half.  Coasting down the hill will be fun and most likely swift. Time seems relevant anyway, regardless of calendar days.  For children, from one birthday to the next seems like an eternity.  But the more we age, the sooner birthdays come. Even if I live another 50 years, they will seem to pass by more quickly.  Still, I’ll glide happily down the hill until I reach the end of my hike.  The trip is always shorter on the way home.

Over the Hill

 

I will be spending my birthday hiking up (and down) Valencia Peak in Los Osos, California. This is an appropriate way to spend my day. I will literally be going “over the hill” on my 50th birthday.  I remember when I was younger and getting over a hill meant getting past a difficulty.   When riding bikes as children, we struggled up the hills so that we could coast down the other side with hearts beating double time and the wind blowing in our hair. Wednesday has been universally dubbed “hump day” because on that day we have climbed halfway through the work week and can see our way through to the weekend.  On Saturday when I hike, I assume it will be a relief to reach the top and have only the descent left.  In many contexts, getting over the hill means we’ve reached the better half, so when did getting “over the hill” become a derogatory term for aging?  I want to apply the other contexts for this term to the second half of my life.

The other side of the hill promises to be the better half of my life.  I’ve spent the first 50 years climbing to this point.  I’ve worked hard and learned from countless mistakes made. The struggle has made me strong and showed me what to have confidence in.  I am learning to discern between what matters and what doesn’t. I’m becoming able to truly be at peace and enjoy.  The hard work it has taken to get to the top of this hill is starting to reap benefits.

There is an ease to this later stage of life which contrasts the chaos of earlier life, much like the hiker who has reached the apex and is getting ready for descent. With age seems to comes serenity and security.   Perhaps this is why I’ve secretly looked forward to being an old woman since I was a child. It may not be life that actually gets easier, just our reactions to life’s events.   Outer circumstances may not be what changes, but rather the inner fortitude.  With so many problems conquered (or at least survived), new challenges seem less foreboding.  Tasks that used to seem overwhelming have become commonplace and routine.  Older beings, it seems, move through the same difficult world with a new calm.

I am ready for the exhilaration of my journey down the other side of the hill, ready to struggle less and experience more.  Maybe I’ll try new things, crossing items off my bucket list. Perhaps I’ll observe more carefully and appreciate what is already around me. Either way, I want my heart to beat double time with the wind blowing through my hair.