Coming of Age at Monument Valley

December 29th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Hanging out in Monument Valley.

John was getting more than a little frustrated at my map-reading skills as he steered us onward. Frustration won out, and he pulled off to the side of the highway not only to get a final view of magnificent Grand Canyon, but also to turn the wheel over to me. It was about time; I took the reins, and he headed to the kids’ zone at the rear of the RV.

In the driver’s seat, I noticed something was remiss. Music. I popped in the Indigo Girls, then barreled onward to Monument Valley. It was a perfect choice. I’ve always felt connected to this genre of music: reflective, yearning, insightful. And just fun. It reminded me of my desire for more out of life, while savoring what I already have. One such refrain from “Closer to Fine”:

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains

I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains

There’s more than one answer to these questions

pointing me in a crooked line

And the less I seek my source for some definitive 

The closer I am to fine.

I hit replay. This sort of lyrical connection transcended to other artists like Natalie Merchant and Tracy Chapman, and emerging, equally dynamic ones (which my husband and 12-year-old son play over and over) such as Chris Pureka and Danielle Ate the Sandwich. For now, the Indigo Girls were just the right fit as we traversed through more incredible landscape.

Monument Valley is, coincidentally, the name of the middle school that my son is attending. It’s his first year there, sixth grade, and the challenges and promises and dreams of the future are just emerging in his psyche. It’s quite different than where he had been attending classes, at an elementary school down the street in a village within the Berkshires, with one class per grade, and with peers who were quite respectful but not connecting with him. They seem preoccupied with hunting, guns, going out with dad, tracking game, and, just to mix it up a bit, daggers, knives and other instruments to prey. That is very much a part of reality among quite a few individuals in this area, but my reality lies elsewhere.

It was a tough decision, this changing schools, with inspirationals such as the larger-than-life 5th grade teacher Mr. Keller, and the talented, somewhat (lovingly) scattered and tremendously supportive music teacher Ms. Petty pulling us back. (When I was in 5th grade, teachers like Mr. Hostetler at Farmingville Elementary School in Ridgefield, Conn., nurtured my love for writing and for learning, two important elements in my trade as a journalist.) Despite the exceptional teachers and the school’s close proximity, I knew that Richard had to move on and we had to mix it up a bit, introducing him to kids from all over and a jazz band program that was unequal in the region. He was at the edge of entering adult reality, trying to figure out and explore life, and we wanted to open the door a bit wider for him before he stepped in.

My thoughts veer back to the road. This remote corner in northeastern Arizona is staggering in its beauty. I have also never seen so many mobile homes peppering the stark landscape, which, although breathtaking, seems as inhabitable as the lunar landscape. The mobile homes look pristine next to the few rundown wooden structures barely able to stand up. It’s a harsh life here: little work, land where farming is futile, and a sense of utter remoteness. The juxtaposition of these box homes seemed out of place against the scale of beauty where they inhabited, with natural temples borne out of sand, and where desert life in any form or species has got to have it rough.

I have read about the mesas in Lonely Planet Guide to Southwest USA, and have come across that term and another one that is not so dreamy — butte — in other readings. If I were to write a guide book and came to this section of the journey that lies along Highway 163 on the Arizona-Utah border, I would put aside my more descriptive inclinations and put down the following: Go to Monument Valley! You have to make the stop and stay overnight. Your life will be completely changed and you will realize the grandeur of this universe. It’s indescribable.

A magnificent mesa within Monument Valley.

As I watch John photograph the monoliths that night, shifting from one spot to another with his lens on his tripod, I am struck with the thought that even he won’t capture the essence that surrounded us. It’s too huge. It’s too overwhelming, and the magnitude is too awesome to encapsulate in a single image. Or two. Or more. And I sit outside our RV at the edge of several buttes, with a glass of wine in one hand, my head up to the sheet of stars covering the sky, and a group of people sitting by a campfire talking about their day in the near distance, it suddenly strikes me. The enormity of the sky, the stars, the moon, have found their balance in the largess of the mesas that lay before me. And the Grand Canyon that I experienced for the first time just a few days ago has now found a balance. My concept of dimension and size have been blown out of the water. The vast ocean, the endless sky, the moon and the sun have found companions on earth with these natural wonders.

I took a three-hour tour the next day with a Navajo woman named Hope, who was barely voting age, and we climbed into a beat-up jeep that took us across the sand dunes and into the land of the gods. Her slight physique and gentle talk was transformed into this focused, almost possessed guide who took control of some of the roughest terrain that I have ever driven through. As I careened from left to right, trying with all my might to keep from being jettisoned into the landscape, I was struck by the revelation that I was actually not in a foreign country.

I was mildly impressed when Hope spouted off butte trivia. John Wayne made films out here, she said as she pulled into a makeshift tourist stop. And there he was: A life-sized photo cutout of the Duke in all of his cowboy regalia was looking out from a glassless window within a makeshift plywood cluster of buildings where Navajo-made silver and turquoise jewelry was sold. I was aching for a cold Diet Coke and eyed an oasis of a cooler in front of one of these structures. A handwritten sign in front of it said, “Cold Drinks.” Here was my chance. I questioned its validity, though, when I was within a meter of it and a half-sleeping man sat nearby, his chair pitched on its two back legs. “Not cold, only water,” he said. I had to see for myself. I opened the lid and there they were, two bottles of water at the bottom of a bone-dry cooler. Bummer.

The Duke makes a reappearance.

I had some time to talk to Hope as our children tumbled again and again down the sand dunes. She graduated early from high school and needed to make money to go to business school. At first she wanted to be a veterinarian, but channeled that desire into helping stray dogs and other animals in her Navajo community by one day opening up a business. There are plenty of stray dogs roaming these tourist points and campgrounds, scavenging food. It was reminiscent of our days traveling around the Yukatan Peninsula in Mexico, where dogs were left to fend for themselves. My sister, our travel partner at the time, befriended a dog and named it Celestune, which we still talk about.

Hope continued on her tour-guide rhetoric, noting that Metallica made a music video atop one of the mesas, on a restricted area only accessible by helicopter and adventurers driven to scale the steep inclines. Tom Cruise filmed a piece of his Mission Impossible 2 over there. And Clint Eastwood even scaled one of the tall fingers for one of his flicks.

Now it was my children’s turn at stunt making. They tumbled down again and again the steep sand dunes, rolling out of control with the fine crimson dust splaying from their tiny bodies and long hair. They scaled the base of these monuments and looked even more diminutive than they already were, but just as fearless as Tom or Clint. To do all this in the playground of the gods was something I hope they keep with them for a lifetime. We stopped at different sandstone formations with names such as Sun’s Eye and Ear to the Wind, and for each of them I had to throw my head back and look up to the sky to take in the massiveness.

And the small details are just as inspiring: a small creek running through the sandy terrain, a smattering of greenish of green bushes and flowers, their colors vibrant despite their diminutive size against the massive backdrop. Wholly cow.

I was transported back 20 years ago  — was it that long ago?  — when I stood at the precipice of a valley in the chilly early morning hours in Nepal, struck by the emerging beauty of the Himalayas. Another wholly cow. Here we are at Monument Valley, with just a third of a tank of water left in the RV tank, no water source to hook up to, and all of us caked in red sandy dust. The plan was to strip naked outside the van in the darkness, brush off as much of the earth as possible and then shower in the closet-sized bathroom by turning the water on and off between sudsing. The boys’ faces were thickly painted with the red sand, and they quite possibly swallowed a good handful during their tumbling escapades.  When all was said and done, when everyone was washed, I fried up homemade burgers and baked beans for dinner, we ate outside under velvet black sky punctured by incredibly bright stars and called it a night.

Wandering through the land of the gods.

A Wasteland or the Promise Land?

December 22nd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

In Bedrock.

Life seems overwhelming sometimes. There’s so much to do. I have all these obligations connected to my children that have kept me running for the past two weeks. I have a million and one other things to accomplish, and I’m trying to squeeze into all of that a few gatherings, some baking, visiting relatives, wrapping presents, writing holiday cards, and so on. Sleep seems elusive these days. The holidays, American style. So what’s it all about? I don’t know. I don’t know what it’s all about. We just keep on. For some reason, we just keep on keeping on, following the way it should be done, even though at times we are burdened by it all. We’re caught up in the mechanism of society and its subcategories within each community that dictate, without a word spoken, how we should be doing things. I’m actually rushing now to get this done so I can be at the elementary school by 10 a.m. to take part in holiday arts and crafts at my daughter’s preK class. The pressure is on to get there on time, even though I’m already late. Wait a minute. Let’s put things in perspective here. Granted, I know being with my little girl is special, and these childhood moments will pass quickly. But we’re talking preschool arts and crafts, for God’s sake. I pause, then the pause becomes elongated, then, snapping out of it, I kick into high gear.

Amid all this holiday flurry, I take a step back and reflect on our Southwest trip, and the day that we stumbled upon something quite unusual, something considerably worn out, degraded, dingy, crumbly. Despite its appearance, this roadside stop was one of the most magical places we have ever been. Even now, thinking back made me realize that this location managed to rise above all the day-to-day drudgery, all the monotony, the obligations, the weightiness of life. Have you ever looked in the mirror and see someone unfamiliar? The worn eyes that don’t hold a spark anymore, the dark circles, the permanently concerned look. What’s underneath it all? I don’t know. Then I go back again to this land they call Bedrock, to the home of the Flintstones, where we stopped overnight on our road trip.  Despite the obvious — this place was on verge of condemnation and closure — it was still alive. Just take a look.

Class is in session at Bedrock.

Do I dare? I COULD use a new hairdo.

What do you see? What do I see? Yes, I see a life-size Rock Quarry and the small village that includes a school, a market, a beauty salon, the homes of Fred and Barney. Then everything else just melts away and it becomes fun again. The tables have turned. Life has lifted. And your — my — whole sort of perspective changes. What about that? In a phrase, just lighten up.

Bedrock City, location Williams, Ariz., is a 40-minute drive from the Grand Canyon. I briefly searched the Internet before writing this post and saw that it has had some reviews, on sites like roadsideamerica.com and yelp.com. One person wrote, “They shouldn’t even be open in that condition. We were the only ones there, wandering this surreal wasteland on our own. Get out, take pictures of the front signs, then save the $5 and get back in your car and go somewhere else!”

Still in the afterglow of the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon, we came upon the larger-than-life waving Fred Flintstone from the side of the road. The buildings of this roadside pitstop looked sort of like slabs of rocks colored coral red with blue flat roofs. It didn’t take much to make out that it was nothing more than eroding concrete. Brightly painted caveman signage seemed oddly misplaced against the gravel and crumbling concrete parking lot. Rundown, yes. Inviting? We felt the welcoming pull of cheeky Fred glowing in the darkness.

We were again entering yet another surreal situation after nightfall. I pretty much stayed in the RV that evening, taking my first shower in there after hooking up to Fred’s water supply. The morning brought a sharp reality to our Bedrock City cartoon world. This place was nothing more than a makeshift long-term trailer home park, I thought to myself as I scanned my surroundings. Trailers rested on concrete blocks and some even had small porches and staircases built off them. Dismembered cars were parked in another part of the barren parking lot. I found myself spending a lot of time that morning bouncing between Wilma’s Laundry and Fred’s Diner. In the dingy laundry area, our kids found the only working video game within what appeared to be the remnants arcade and billiard hall, equipped with some well-used washing machines and dryers. There was an ancient Pacman game gathering dust, and the kids lingered for most of the time at a foosball table. I felt a certain connection with Wilma as I folded my laundry and looked up at a cartoon painting of her sudsing clothes, scrubbing them clean within a wide-open pelican’s mouth as her bubbly washbasin.  I guess I couldn’t complain about my workload with smiling, perfectly coiffed Wilma slaving away.

Then it hit me, the absurdity of it all. What the heck was I doing washing my family’s clothes in machines that have laundered who knows what? The disgusting possibilities were limitless. I just couldn’t bring myself to think about that and kept going through the wash-and-dry-and-fold ritual. Meanwhile, a small group of young men, apparently migrant workers who weren’t likely to give anybody their names, were hanging out by one of the washers, waiting for their laundry. The seediness of this all intrigued me. At the same time, I was glad I had my own bed to sleep in, and I didn’t even attempt to use the showers in the expansive bathrooms. I did use the toilet and found a few belly-up cockroaches in the stalls. At least they were dead.

We skipped breakfast in the RV and ventured through a dusty maze of a gift shop (I couldn’t resist buying a small handful of Flintstones/Bedrock City/Grand Canyon postcards) to the diner that boasted 5-cent coffees and a limited selection of cereals that included, yes, Fruity Pebbles. We asked for our 10 percent discount because we stayed overnight here. As if the food wasn’t cheap enough. I couldn’t resist getting an even better deal.

And we did pay the $5 a person to enter the main attraction. We came this far. You can’t even buy an ice cream cone for that much at Disney World. This was the real America, a sort of oddly conceived homage to Fred and Wilma. It’s perfect roadside nostalgia that attempts to make a cartoon come alive. And fails. But, strange as it may seem, that is OK and you can’t help but admire the blokes who put this all together. (Wonder if there is any celebration planned for its 40-year anniversary in 2012. I think the most we can hope for is that it isn’t closed down.)

The best was yet to come. Behind pseudo stone-slab walls reaching 8 feet high was the Promised Land. Bedrock City. Behind there was the land of Fred, Barney and the gang. It’s set up like a deserted prehistoric village, or the set of a Hanna Barbera cartoon. An ardent Flintstones fan in my younger days, I quite possibly got more out of this little village than my three children, although they had a blast meandering through the buildings that were straight out of the cartoon world.  The concrete huts painted in primary colors were peeling under the merciless Arizona sun. The kids even had the rare opportunity of sliding down the tail of a dinosaur. To them, it was bottom-sizzling fun thing to do. For me, I had flashbacks of Fred at quitting time.

High noon at the Quarry.

There was a “grocery store” with a deli sign with such delectable fare as rhinosaurus ribs and brontosaurus beef. Today’s special, another sign reads, cactus juice. Throughout the park streamed audio from a nameless segment of the Flintstones, with Wilma yapping with Betty about how their men never take them out. (Some things never change.) There was a gas station with fuel labeled regular and dino supreme. All this juxtaposed against barren scorched land.

We got our fill of Bedrock and I had given up on fully drying our clothes that had been tumbling in an overworked dryer for more than an hour as I wandered through Yabba Dabba Doo flashbacks. I folded the still-damp clothes and carried the big stack back to our moveable digs. Time to shove off and to remind myself that it’s all about perspective. It’s all about having fun, even in the midst of decay.

Music for the Road and Grand Canyon for the Soul

December 14th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

The Grand Canyon and Richard.

Selecting music for a road trip is, at first, an exhilarating proposition. What a pleasurable diversion from the uninspiring task of packing for myself and three children. It’s such a process for me: doing all the wash, taking out every potential clothing that each of us might wear, then whittling it down to what we really need. Throw in the toiletries, the reading material, the toys, the coloring books, sketch pads, crayons, pencils, the iPods, the sunscreen, hats, flip-flops, fishing poles, tackle box, some extra rolls of toilet paper, first-aid kit, nail clipper.

Time to add another suitcase. I can’t help but overpack. My husband has it down to a science. Granted, he usually only packs for himself. Not himself and three children. And he oftentimes does it an hour or two before departure, even if it’s for a monthlong assignment to several countries. His priority is to make sure he has enough underwear and socks to change daily. Everything else can be worn several times before needing fumigation.

Back to something a bit more enlightening than dirty underwear and smelly socks. I turn to music. My perspective of this task quickly shifts, though. The reality, the pressure, seep in. It was almost a bigger job than packing for four people in two suitcases. Make that three suitcases. Selecting music was an awesome responsibility, a decision that could greatly affect the mood of our monumental road trip. A choice that could leave the driver — me or my husband — frustrated or, worse yet, challenged to stay awake during those long hauls. Not to mention that there’s nothing more irritating than having to flick through radio channels every 15 minutes as you go in and out of range while driving hundred-mile stretches.

I look at the time. 2:30 a.m. Our flight to Arizona leaves in 12 hours, and somewhere between now and then, I need to get some sleep. Time to take a deep breath and just pick out the music. I hadn’t gone through our CD collection in ages, and here I was fingering along hundreds of discs, waiting for some sign from God to lead me to the chosen 20. Which is how many would fit in the portable case.  I was led, I can’t definitively say by the hand of God, to Don Henley, the Cranberries, Natalie Merchant, Rolling Stones, some Dave Matthews, some Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Ravi Shankar’s Morning Raga, to name a handful of my final selection. What turned out to be the best road trip series by far was the three-CD collection of The Beatles Anthology. Wow. My two boys were drawn into it, especially the obscure recordings. Mind you, they’re only 11 and 8. Age doesn’t matter, though. I even found my 3 year old dancing around the RV to tunes like the Taxman. It was such raw, inspiring ageless music to roll along the highway miles as we sought new countryside.

I’m sure many of you have a Beatles CD or two somewhere in the house, or downloaded in your iTunes collection. Take it out now, listen to it. I can wait….Because this will bring you back to life again.

So the second morning of our trip, somewhere in Arizona, with the Beatles’ Lady Madonna cranked, we hit the road again. Now this is what I call a road trip. Driving through rugged, rock-jutting landscape suddenly gave way to utter expansiveness of rolling hills adorned with nondescript shrubs that seem to go on and on into the horizon. It was hard to imagine that we were so close to something so awesome. But the GPS said we were, and I’ve come to trust that little instrument more than my own instincts. Have I mentioned that my sense of direction is about as good as my little Francesca, the 3 year old, reading a road map? Let’s say the map is a bunch of scribble to her, and instead of trying to make any sense out of it, she adds to the scribble with her own line drawings. I am right there beside her with my crayon.

The first telltale road sign emerged from the barren landscape. A large billboard flanked by McDonald’s and Dr. Pepper symbols. In the middle, yellow lettering read “Grand Canyon, 46 Miles.” You’ve got to love America. Or despise it. One of our greatest natural wonders is standing side-by-side some of the worst creations for our bodies and individuality. This is a land of opportunity and free choice. Yet the rundown mobile homes that pepper the barren landscape along the highway house native Americans who seem to have been forgotten in the American Dream. This is truly the land of opposites, of haves and have nots, of hope and despair, of health food and junk. I suddenly have a hankering for a burger, side of fries and a soda. Which one to visit first? It was a toss-up. I quell my hunger for something bigger.

As if on queue, out of the vast nondescript terrain, the most amazing natural wonder overshadowed anything — ANYTHING — created by man. I just could not prepare myself, I could not anticipate what I saw. Immense. Overpowering. Otherworldly and godlike. We were expecting hoards of people, but the hundreds, thousands, were dwarfed by the immenseness. We stepped out of our RV and into this strange new world of the Grand Canyon. There were moments when I felt the pull of energy, wanting me to go closer and closer, yet even as I did stand at the edge of the precipice, it seemed just as unreal, just as unfathomable. I had to hold myself back.

At the edge of the Canyon.

We lingered until dusk then stayed overnight in a state park nearby. The next morning, we drove along the canyon’s rim to our next destination, again stopping to take in the glory and awesomeness of this wonderment. It was just as unfathomable as when we came upon it the day before.

Then, still numb, we climbed back into the RV and back into reality. Driving and living in this vehicle is liberating in a way, at least for someone traveling with three children and a husband. For a two-week journey, it is so much easier to load up everything we need and take off, not to be concerned about where to eat our meals or where to sleep, unpacking and packing again, getting up and leaving at a moment’s thought, or lingering longer to savor the beauty of a new discovery. Even things like doing laundry in a laundromat instead of a hotel where the cost of such a service can be more than the room rental itself.

What could top something like the Grand Canyon, our first touristy stop on our Southwest adventure? We were inexplicably drawn to a rundown RV park off the side of a busy four-lane road. We couldn’t resist the welcoming face and waving hand of a two-dimensional, larger-than-life Fred Flintstone standing by a sign that said it all: Yabba Dabba Doo! It was our evening’s destiny.

The RV, Walmart and Entering Darkness

December 6th, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

I’ve been on the road for the last four days on another planet. OK, you’ve heard that before. And, OK, maybe I didn’t cross any national borders or break through the outer atmosphere into another planetary dimension. But I did cross several time zones yet remained on the same land mass.

We were long overdue for an adventure. We decided to hit the road for two weeks, leave the dogs and the chickens and the nearly ripened vegetable gardens in the very capable hands of a young friend and avid rugby player named Greg. Where were we to go? Quite honestly, we wanted to go back to Bali, to visit our old friends and neighbors, and to take the kids on a memorable journey across still-active volcanoes and pristine terraced rice fields. We wanted to return to where was once our home.

That didn’t happen. Instead, we found ourselves smack in the middle of a Phoenix, Arizona, in record-temperatures of 115-plus degrees. It was the kind of heat that was foreign to us even though we lived in subtropical Bali. It was the kind of heat that smacked you when you walked out of the hotel room, and the shade gave no relief.

Overnighting at a Phoenix airport hotel that I cashed in with our airline points, we hit the road the next morning after making a stop at CruiseAmerica. (I quickly realized that their RVs are everywhere on the road in this part of America, easily identifiable by the blatant U-Haulesque advertising on all sides of the exterior that includes a website address and 1-800 number. This was a far cry from our farm setting in the Berkshires.) From the outside, we didn’t know how we could fit five people and an overwhelming amount of luggage in this vehicle. We even asked for a larger size RV, but they were all rented. Surprisingly, once inside, this glorified minitruck was roomier than our first apartment in Asia, a 100-square-foot flat in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. When I put things in perspective, they become much easier to accept.

My temporary home: a mobile ad.

(If you are at all thinking about renting an RV to take the quintessential family vacation within the next 6-8 months, I would highly suggest planning and reserving now. As if I have tons of time to blow as it is, I must have spent hours on the phone and on the internet exploring RV options. Bookmark a few RV rental places and use Cruise America as your starting point for standards and cost. And, if at all possible, don’t give yourself the leeway to change your mind. Many friends have told me that they’ve always wanted to do this sort of thing. My response is to find a way to make it happen, or else it never will and the dream will become only a vague afterthought of an experience that never happened. And there’s no reason why it can’t. Or couldn’t. Or shouldn’t.)

So instead of driving through the hilly, lush terrain of equatorial Bali, we hit the RV trail with a roughly outlined route by John’s good friend, Martin. The first stop was not on that route, though. Walmart was just around the corner, and there we amassed supplies that I hadn’t brought with me. We walked out three hours later mentally and physically spent, still glowing from the thousands of fluorescent lights illuminating the shopping center, and shelling out more than $300 to stock up our RV. We were good to go with a lifetime supply of pork and beans, canned oysters and Special K berry cereal, among other less essential items. Not to mention I brought from home my own supply of sheets, towels, pans, plastic bowls and cups, kitchen utensils and, of course, a corkscrew and bottle opener for beer and wine consumption.

And onward we rolled in the heavily ladened moveable homestead. From the onset, everything seemed a bit peculiar. It was odd to see cartoonish cacti dotting the landscape as we drove from Phoenix toward Flagstaff, passing by highway markings like Horse Thief Basin and Bumble Bee Road. The sky darkened sooner than I had anticipated into nighttime, our the first day on the road, lightening streaking across the nearly black sky on our way to who knows where. We stopped overnight at a state campground in the northernmost point of Red Rock Canyon. But the name of the location didn’t mean anything. All I knew is that I had enough and just wanted to stop. I’m a bit impatient when I’ve had enough. Or when I’m hungry. I’ve got to have a solution NOW. There’s something disorienting about driving in a foreign place in darkness. Everything seems slightly surreal, fuzzy, as if a cloak has concealed elements of the surroundings, opening up the imagination to the unknown. Not knowing is slightly unsettling, unnerving.  But it seems to always happen whenever we arrive in a new place. We oftentimes enter in darkness and awaken to a new world. And this was by no means an exception.

Darkness and dinner looming.

DUM ditty DUM ditty DUM DUM DUM…

December 1st, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Hand in hand MORE people come.

Daughter and Mother, Grand Canyon.

So go the wise words in a Dr. Seuss book that I have read over and over again, until it became a mantra. Granted, it was my first child, Richard, who was taken by the rhythm and language. My third, Francesca, just can’t get enough of Go Dog, Go! I sometimes have to hide it under my mattress or else she’ll have me read it three times in a row. And it’s a long one. I just can’t do it again! I silently scream to myself. The little guy in the middle, my second child, well, I can’t seem to remember which book was his favorite. The breaks of the middle child. I can relate because I am the monkey in the middle, too.

So this is what I’ve been doing for the last 11-plus years. Reading to my children. Rearing my children. And writing here and there, time and energy and focus permitting. The focus is the biggest challenge. You know what I mean, if you have any children. Or if you know me at all. I’ve been known to be a bit scattered. No doubt, I love my children. They are amazing, awesome, inspiring, mind-opening, endless love creatures. But as my 4-year-old gets ready for school, I’m relieved and happy to have some time to myself. And I’m also thinking thoughts of getting older. Being old. I’m the ripe age of 47.  Where did it all go? How come only a few years ago, I didn’t give a shit about my age, about aging, about being aged. Now, sometimes, I can’t stop thinking about it. I credit that to moving back to the States from Bali. I don’t really know why exactly. Or maybe I do. People are just too caught up in looks, in perception, in being something besides themselves. An image of what they want to be, yet can’t quite grasp what it is they want beyond the illusion of it all.

There’s no escaping it. I can’t stop time, can I. What a cliche. My thoughts veer inescapably toward something I would NEVER consider just a few years ago: a tummy tuck, liposuction, a boob job. My eyelids are starting to sag, gray hair is emerging only 3 weeks after a color job. An old friend was surprised at my age. She said she thought I was 43. REALLY. I found that insulting. She thought I was THAT old? When I think about it, I don’t really care. I care that others care, which makes me more aware and then feel compelled to give a shit.

Stop right there!

Meatloaf comes to mind at this moment. Not for dinner, which is what you’d expect from a mom of three like me with dinnertime looming. Instead, an image emerges of the bombastic lead vocalist whose classic song has lingered in my mind way beyond the age of reason. The song Paradise by the Dashboard Light remains clear in my head as if it has stood still in time, yet when I think of who I was when it was so popular, at age 13, it seems like a different life. That’s when I sort of got it for the first time, the whole concept of a guy wanting to make it to home base with a girl, the girl holding him off at the final stretch, the promise of forever love, succumbing, and then everything falling apart. Love gone sour, before I even began dating, became utterly clear from this nine-minute song I watched on TV at my cousin Andy’s home in West Palm Beach.

I stray again. What to do, what to do. What is the purpose of this monologue? Where is this all going? I can’t drone on about my age. Or an old rock song that gets resurrected periodically. Enough already. So let’s move on to another subject. Home life.  Here on the farm in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, I once again have a somewhat detached existence from the mainstream, replicating a life lived in other parts of the earth, in the rice fields of Bali, or in a fishing village in Hong Kong. It’s all different, yet really not different at all.  So I am compelled to write about daily life, and try to understand the utter uniqueness in it. This blog is about me, about you, about the irony of life and how everything ordinary is so, well, odd.

On the road, Mars.

Let’s start with our family trip. How trite, you say? Actually, I cannot remember the last time we took a family holiday, a highly unusual event, in fact. Yet a few months back, we made a lunar landing and spent some time on what appeared to be the surface of the moon. Maybe it was Mars. OK, I was in Arizona and Utah, traveling by RV. But it really did seem otherworldly. I loved the freedom of mobility, while cursing the need to still have to cook and clean and do the laundry. I was blown away by the landscape that unravelled before me. So here we go, hold on to your plasticware and paper plates as you join me in this timeless adventure on the mothership CruiseAmerica, a three-bed moveable domicile that mercilessly lumbers along Route 66, or I-15, or some unnamed dirt road. Screw getting old. I’m just going to enjoy the ride and find a rhythm in the tires that hit the bumps on the road monotonously. DUM ditty DUM ditty DUM DUM DUM….

Hand in my hand, time moves on.