A visit to Switzerland, a simpler place and pace

Lena and Johnny greet Grandma and Papa J

This is a guest post by Jim Head, a/k/a “Papa J,” our brother-in-law. At our invitation, he and his wife, Mary, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recent trip:

Just three weeks ago, my wife Mary and I were anticipating a long-awaited trip to Switzerland where we would visit our oldest daughter Kate, her husband Mark and two young children, Lena and Johnny.

It was unlike me to be packed three days before our date of departure, which suggests how ready I was to see this family and to slip away from the work-a-day in Des Moines where we live.

Years ago, Mary and I had always hoped we would travel overseas – we had our passports ready – but it wasn’t until Kate and her family moved there in 2010 that we had the incentive to make that happen.  This trip would be our third since their assignment began and possibly the last to this location before they return to the U.S.  It’s unlikely we will ever visit Switzerland again, so this visit had a slight melancholy feel about it. Continue reading

Our daughters teach us to give and show us the world

Jim, Kate and Mary in Switzerland

This is a guest post by Mary Head, Mimi’s sister. At our invitation, she and her husband, Jim, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recent trip:

Having children … the overwhelming role of parenthood. I must attempt to teach them everything I know, remembering example means so much more than words. Will I live the life of example? Will I be the person who reaches out to others and not the taker? Will I show them enough of myself and enough of the world to open their minds and broaden their horizons?

Oh, the irony of a mother’s worries. I am on a long flight home from Europe – returning from a two-week visit with our daughter and her family – reflecting, laughing and crying. My children are no longer children. Did I teach them all I knew? Not as much as they’ve taught me. Have I been the model of the giver? Not the givers they have been. Have I shown them enough of the world? Not compared to the world they have shown me. Have I broadened their horizons and opened their minds?  Not compared to the horizons they have opened to me. Continue reading

The Heartbeat of the Pacific

Monterey BeachI’m hugely distracted this morning.

Our hotel in Monterey is an older one. There’s nothing fancy about it. The room is clean and small, but comfortable in a way that covers all your needs as long as you keep them simple. I am thrilled to be staying here. Because it’s old, it was built before California outlawed building right on the beach. It’s a windy morning, and the waves are high. It looks like they’re rolling in directly under my room, along with the talented surfer or two.

I fell asleep last night listening to the rumble of the ocean, so loud and rhythmic it seemed to be an extra heartbeat in the room. When I woke up this morning, it was still there, making me smile before I even opened my eyes.

This morning, my companion is off for a visit at the Monterey Herald newsroom. Royal Calkins, the editor, kindly gave him a ride so that I could have the rental car to drive downtown to visit the aquarium or scoot down the coast to Carmel. But I just can’t tear myself away from my little room. I’ve been given a late checkout. I’ve promised myself I’ll work at the table in front of the window, enjoying the sight of the Pacific waves and the squeals of children running down the beach. I’ve left the door ajar, just enough to let the salt breeze in, while keeping the seagulls out. That should be enough, right? I should be able to crank out the many words in this luscious, deep blue setting.

But the lure is just too much. A dozen times now I’ve left my chair to go stand on the deck to just watch and listen. I’ve tried so many times to shoot pictures and videos, but each time I’m disappointed with the result. My little iPhone is inadaquate and my timing is bad. The waves are never as big as the one that rolled in just before my finger hit the shutter. The surfer I’ve watched ride wave after wave falls before he gets to the beach when my lens is on him. Even if I was a better photographer, it’s a fools errand. There’s no capturing this. However much I want to take it with me when I go, the ocean is not a domesticated thing. It won’t be taken to a little landlocked condo 3,000 miles away, no matter how many times I click away.

So the writing isn’t getting done. I have a project to work on for one son, some words to get down before I speak at my goddaughter’s wedding. There are blog posts to write and a manuscript to proof, The characters in my new novel are nagging for attention. It all sits neglected on a laptop that has gone to sleep.

The lure of the Pacific is just too strong. Early this afternoon, my companion will return and we’ll head inland, out of its sight and out of its sound. So right now I have to have it while I can.

Everything else has to wait.

Worth The Trouble

My companion and the giant.

This trip to California has been a bit of a forced march. My companion has jammed 11 newsroom visits into 10 days. Except for the last two nights, we will won’t be in the same hotel twice. Before we return to San Francisco and our flight East, our rental car will have covered roughly 1,500 miles. It has been a marathon of check ins and check outs, while trying (with varying degrees of success) to keep track of our belongings.

We are both hardy travelers, but by the time we hit the weekend, I was ready to ease up a bit. I was tempted to suggest we take just one day to make the drive a short one and veg out by some pool. Better yet, maybe we could find a nice winery in which to pass a Saturday afternoon.

But those of you who know my companion, know he can be single-minded. He’d never seen the giant redwoods and I knew he wouldn’t give them up without a fight. Besides, I’d never seen them either. If we got up early enough on Saturday, we could get to Redwood National Park and spend some time before starting the 400+ mile drive down the coast to our next stop. When I climbed into the car, it was more with an attitude of resignation than anticipation. The phrase “good solider,” came to mind. Let’s take in those big-assed trees and be on our way!

But when my companion is right, he certainly is right. I had no idea of the treasure I’d find in that forest. It is acres upon acres of stunning life, so rich and full and strong it takes your breath away. Looking up at the tree tops gives you the dizzy feeling you are falling through space. Circle around the massive trunks, and you are overwhelmed with their grandeur. The whole forest seems to sigh with natural sound from the flittering birds to the gentle sweep of a breeze that can be heard, but cannot reach you. Elk, bears and even some mountain lions make the park their home, and although we didn’t see any that morning, there is no doubt they are there. Their life cycles, as ours, are borne witness to by those stately, giant sentinels, Those trees have seen hundreds of years of life pass beneath them, and they will live to see hundreds more.

Even with life vibrating all around us, there was a remarkable peacefulness in the redwoods. It’s like they were created to refresh the spirit. No matter how weary, when you stand among the giants time stops and everything that weighs you down is dwarfed to insignificance. You will be renewed. It is a place where you will rediscover your cornerstones and reconnect to your deepest feelings. It’s a place where your companion of so many years takes your face between his hands and whispers, “I want you with me, always.” And when he kisses you, it’s like it was the first time.

What a fool I’d been, to think it was too much trouble to add the giant redwoods to our trip. And how privileged I was to see them. They are a gift, a special moment, a true treasure that fills your heart and makes it easier to keep moving when it’s time to get back on the road.

The Pacific and the redwoods: I felt tiny

The Pacific Ocean from a turnout along the Shoreline Highway

I spent the weekend feeling small. And it felt great.

In the song, “I Hope You Dance,” Lee Ann Womack sings, “I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.” Well, Saturday, I stood beside the ocean. And then beside giant redwoods. And then drove down roads darkened by so many redwoods they blocked the sun at midday. Then I drove through mountains. Finally I looked down on the Pacific from atop cliffs. Sunday I was back beside the ocean. As I write this, waves thunder on the beach outside our hotel room.

I felt tiny and insignificant all weekend. And grateful.

Work brought me to Northern California last week, visiting Digital First Media newsrooms in seven different communities, ending Friday in Eureka on California’s northern coast. I resume the newsroom tour today in Monterey, nearly 400 miles south of Eureka. But we had the weekend to make our way down the Golden State’s shore. Continue reading

The bike ride: John’s version

This is a guest post by John Johnson, Mimi’s brother. At our invitation, he and his wife, Kim, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recent trip:

Kim had suggested a bike ride a couple times in recent weeks.  I love that she wants to do these things together, but I also know this is one of the angles she’s working to encourage me to get out and exercise more – a lot more.

A couple weeks ago we were staying in the city for our anniversary and walked north along the bike trail from Scioto Audubon Metro Park to Scioto Mile, a revitalized area of Columbus along the Scioto River with a great riverfront park and restaurant we’ve become fond of. That’s when she first wondered aloud if there was a trail we could ride from the north suburbs all the way to downtown.  We often talk about spending more time in the city. I’m continually surprised by how vibrant Columbus is, and equally surprised we don’t spend more time enjoying the city now that the kids are gone.  A bike ride to downtown sounded like a great idea.

Olentangy – Scioto Bike Trail Information (warning – video is 8 minutes):

Starting at the trail head in Westerville, a suburb north of the I-270 beltway, makes about a 15-mile ride to the city, most of it right along the river and passing through several parks along the way.  It’s a perfect early summer Saturday.  As I’m putting the bikes in the truck I’m thinking it wasn’t that long ago I was biking a lot, and a 30-mile round trip is nothing.  Then I realize it’s been almost a year since I’ve ridden and 2003 since I really cycled regularly.  Is that possible?  Where did the time go? Continue reading

The bike ride: Kim’s version

This is a guest post by Kim Johnson, our sister-in-law. At our invitation, she and her husband, John, Mimi’s brother, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recent trip:

I recently discovered that a nearby bike path leads to one of our favorite downtown restaurants. My husband, John, without batting an eye, replied yes when I asked if he’d be up for the ride. Despite that the route is 15 miles one-way, and given that John’s idea of exercise is smoking a cigar on a neighborhood stroll while walking our dog, Marley, I thought this either naive, or adventuresome … probably the latter as that’s just the kind of up-for-anything guy he is.

So, flash forward a week and we load up our bikes. We let the nav lead as we don’t know exactly where the trail starts. We are instructed to “turn right” and arrive at the parking lot of a plastic surgery center. I wonder if this is some kind of divine intervention and as we drive through the lot looking for a trailhead, I ponder all kinds of procedures I could have done. It’s Saturday, though, and they are closed, but still, a girl can dream.

After no luck finding the trail, I turn to my iPhone nav, which directs us down the road a ways telling us to again “turn right” — this time into the parking lot of a specialty grocery store. Thinking we will never find the bike route, I eye the sign for the day’s cookout – soft-shell crabs – and imagine John and me sitting at a sidewalk picnic table drinking crisp white wine and picking flecks of shell from our butter-soaked fingers. But, at the very moment my mouth starts to water we see a car with a bike rack in tow and follow it to the back of the shopping center. Lo and behold, there — next to the dumpster — is the unmarked trail.

Regardless of its meager beginning, it’s a beautiful bike path. Continue reading