Moxie Mom On Life and Kids

MOXIE MOM on Life & Kids

First Solo Flight

We put Leah on a plane to Portland the other day for her first solo flight. We thought it would be no big deal: flying out of little ol’ Bellingham, 55-minute flight, relatives to meet her at the other end. But from the perspective of a 13-year-old (and her mother), getting out of Bellingham was no easy task.

In short, the airport was a madhouse.

The ticketing area was jammed with passengers and uncertain lines. No one knew where to go, and everyone boarding the San Diego flight was running late. They were stressed and unhappy, and we kept overhearing grumbling about lack of signage, bad organization, and long lines. The ticket agents began calling Seattle passengers forward ahead of the rest of us (apparently they were running even later than San Diego folks).

“If you’re flying to Seattle, you need to check in now or you’re going to miss your flight,” the agents announced. Passengers hustled forward, panic in their eyes, as the rest of us stepped aside.

In addition to the chaos of the ticketing area, we weren’t sure we would be allowed to accompany Leah to the boarding lounge, which is really just a glorified portable. We hadn’t paid the accompaniment fee (optional once kids are 13), and I had been told on the phone the decision for parents to accompany kids was up to the ticket agent, dependant on whether the airport was crowded. Thankfully, the ticket agent said, “Of course,” despite the madhouse (precisely when you need your parents).

We got checked in with half an hour to spare. Plenty of time for security.

Right. Another epic queue. The San Diego flyers were even further behind and more stressed, and they had taken to cutting in front. For my part, I had forgotten about small toiletry sizes for carry-on luggage. When we got to the conveyer belt, the security official squawked unhappily as Leah’s suitcase went through the x-ray. He yanked it off the belt and flung it open to reveal loose toiletries—no clear plastic bags—and he promptly confiscated the Costco-sized tube of toothpaste (really, Leah?) and a brand-new bottle of sunscreen. Crap.

Disgruntled and impatient, he growled at us about the 3.4-ounce rule and flung the toothpaste and sunscreen into a bin behind him.

“Um, can I just take those home with me?” I said. “I’m not boarding a plane.” Ever the cheapskate, I couldn’t imagine letting that $10 sunscreen go to waste.

“I would have to escort you to the door right now, Ma’am. Do you want to be escorted?” Clearly, he did not want to escort anyone anywhere.

Uh, no, never mind.

Leah’s suitcase had to be x-rayed again, not a quick endeavor with the massive shuffle of bags and people. We had to step off to one side to wait as her suitcase sat in the queue behind all the others. Her toiletries were put in a tray to be x-rayed separately, and she could barely contain her panic.

“When will I get my suitcase?” she kept asking. She is a child who hates being late, and today, suddenly, being late mattered. For my part, I was feeling bad I hadn’t gone through her toiletries. Normally, when we fly as a family, we check our bags, and I’m not sure I ever knew the 3.4-ounce rule. (“I don’t even bother with toiletries these days,” a friend later told me. “I just hit the nearest the Rite-Aid after we arrive.”)

Eventually, Leah’s suitcase reappeared, and she was allowed to repack her travel-sized shampoo and conditioner. She would have to use her cousin’s toothpaste and buy new sunscreen.

Rushing to the boarding portable, we learned her flight was delayed an hour. After all that. Curt decided he would head home. “Call me when you’re ready to be picked up,” he told me.

Then we and all the other Portland passengers had to relocate to another portable next door, just opened that day—for the mass of passengers, apparently, that this tiny airport is not ready to handle.

Then it was announced that all large carry-ons would have to be put on a luggage cart outside the plane because the carry-ons were too big to fit in the cabinets above the seats. So much for the furor about tiny toiletries. I couldn’t help thinking wistfully about that sunscreen. Although, yes, I could have doctored them in the boarding lounge.

“What does that mean?” Leah wanted to know. “What does the cart look like?”

For an adult, these kinds of changes are no big deal. We know to listen for the announcements and the flight numbers, and we ask boarding personnel if we don’t understand. But for a 13-year-old who doesn’t want to look foolish, it’s all new. Through the window, I showed her the luggage cart sitting outside the plane, explaining she would also have to pick up her suitcase planeside in Portland. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” I said. “If you don’t know, ask, ask, ask.”

At last, the passengers were called by seat row, and Leah got in line. I watched her go through the door and out onto the tarmac. I watched her approach the employee standing beside the luggage cart. He was turned away from approaching passengers as he gabbed to another employee. Leah stopped and waited. And waited. He kept talking (come on, dude). I wondered if she would put her suitcase on the cart herself or if she would wait. She walked around in front of him and planted herself—good girl—so he had to notice her. He took her suitcase, and she boarded the plane.

I waited, watching through the window, to see her suitcase put on the plane (I wasn’t assuming anything at this point). At last, the boarding steps were wheeled away, the door was sealed, and the plane revved its engine. I watched the plane taxi, turn, and take off at last.

“Is this place always this crazy?” I asked the boarding agent fiddling at the boarding pass counter. Aside from a stranded passenger, we were the only people in the portable.

He laughed. “Lately, this place is chaos.”

Huh. And this town wants to run with the big dog airports? Okay, I admit, we did our bit to contribute to the chaos. The 3.4 rule is etched in my brain. (And I do appreciate that we can fly from Bellingham, really, I do).

We also know now to arrive a full two hours before take-off.


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July Traveling

How can we already be at the end of July? Every summer at the end of July, I realize just how short summer is.

But we did get some traveling in (also the reason I have been so slack about posting). We did a road trip through Oregon and northern California with heavy emphasis on family. On our way south to the Monterey Peninsula, we stopped at the Lava Beds National Monument in Northern California. Ever heard of it? Probably not. It only gets 100,000 visitors a year.

lava tubeKids love this place, and if you’re in the neighborhood, I recommend it. There are more than 700 lava tubes with about three dozen developed for the public. The tubes were formed by volcanic eruptions from thousands of years ago. The lava flows cooled around the outside, leaving a molten middle that flowed away, leaving pitch-black tubes perfect for exploring.
Some of the tubes were closed while we were there because they were hosting baby bat populations, and we also opted not to visit the caves that required crawling, which left us with the best of the best.

Ceiling of Golden Dome tubeGolden Dome was our favorite: manageable ceilings that required some stooping but not crawling (watch out for “headache rock” as you enter), long tunnels, and a glittery gold ceiling formed from water droplets adhering to a coating of hydrophobic bacteria. Sounds gross, but it’s not. Looks a lot like fool’s gold. We didn’t get lost, but because the cave has a figure 8 shape, you could easily go around in circles, and I must admit, I did find it a little worrisome. But then the kids started to recognize various boulders and entrances to tunnels as places we’d been before. “This way,” they would say. Whew.

Petroglyph caveYou do want to wear a helmet (we had our bike helmets with us) to protect against head bumps—plenty of those to go around. We met families without them, who looked at ours rather enviously. And you definitely want flashlights, which we checked out from the visitor center.

If you’re heading to California, the Lava Beds are a great stop.

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Winthrop Camping

We crammed in a camping trip to the Winthrop area last weekend, and with rain looming this weekend, I am so glad we did. I got my last blast of heat (mid-90s) before the fall weather sets in.

We camped up the Chewuck Valley north of Winthrop at a forest service campground, which Leah was dreading because she likes to shower every day, and pit toilets are notorious for spiders. Amazingly she did fine—she encountered no spiders—and willingly washed her face in the river at the edge of our campsite every morning and brushed her teeth strolling among the pines. Although she brought a mirror along (that proved indispensible for my contacts), she’s more of a camper than she realizes.

Besides river play, biking, and ice cream in Winthrop, we drove up to Harts Pass one day, the highest elevation you can drive to in the state. A stunning place, truly. If only the drive weren’t so epic. If you don’t like heights—and I don’t—this is one road to avoid. Of course, by the time I figured this out, we were in the middle of it with no turning back.

In truth, most of the (unpaved) road is fine, but there’s a narrow stretch called Dead Horse Point (we learned this afterward—probably a good thing) that hugs the cliffside for half a mile, zigging and zagging around the curve of the cliff with alarming frequency. A posted warning sign tells drivers of the “Hazardous Driving” ahead, but as far as I’m concerned the heads-up only amps the stress. Luckily I was sitting in the back seat on the inside and didn’t bother to look over the cliff out Ty’s side (“Don’t look, mommy, you wouldn’t like it”).  Sheer drops, no guard rails, lots of fallen rock and gravel, many blind curves, and all kinds of potential (it seems to me) for slippage. What, I wondered, do you do if you meet a car coming the other way?

View of North Cascades from Slate Peak At the top, I was very surprised to see so many people, ranging in age from two to seventy-two. How did they get up here? Who drove? Well, I couldn’t help thinking, if that old couple there can drive up here, we can certainly drive down. Seeing all the visitors helped me relax into the spectacular views of the Cascades and (mostly) stop thinking about the drive down. Really, the views don’t come any better. Slate Peak, at 7488 feet, is just a short jaunt from the parking area and here you can see far into the wild blue yonder. We also hiked out along a high ridge line trail, which we had almost to ourselves.Ridge walking near Slate Peak, Harts Pass

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to bask in the wilderness quiet for long. That evening, a group of what I can only call party animals rolled into the unofficial campsite across the river from ours. They blasted 70’s rock, mostly Led Zepplin, from their truck stereo and laughed and cackled at top volume while their tiny children meandered down to the river and back. My kids were intrigued at first—Ty mostly with the swearing—but by the next morning they were appalled. Thankfully the local sheriff shut the party down around 9:30pm so we got to sleep at a reasonable hour before the tunes started at 7:30 the next morning.

When the party left the next day by about noon, Ty and Leah, personally affronted, hiked up their shorts to stride across the river and do garbage pick-up because, they said, surely there will be all kinds of trash. They were right. We carted it to Winthrop before heading home.

Ah well. You never know with car camping. Which is why I’m silently plotting to get our kids into the backcountry next summer (Curt will be thrilled to hear I’m thinking along these lines). I’m guessing there won’t be spiders to contend with, but I’m hoping Leah won’t freak too much about the idea of bears.

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The West End and Twilight

So that eye roll I mentioned? Didn’t last long.

The Twilight questions started just outside of Port Angeles. “Do you think mushroom ravioli is a big seller now on the menu?” “How far is it from Forks to Port Angeles? Two hours, seriously? I can’t believe Bella would drive that far for a dress?” “Do you think this is the area where she almost got attacked?” 

We actually drove around Port Angeles, at Leah’s request, to look for the restaurant, Bella Italia, where Bella and Edward ate mushroom ravioli (we never did find it, but Curt has earned himself a new respect for having once eaten there long before Bella did).

And when we got to Forks, we discovered our motel stood directly in front of Forks High School (can you hear the sighs of envy?). The sign featured in the movie could be seen from our bathroom window. If you’re not familiar with this series, it’s the story of a high school girl who moves to podunk Forks to live with her dad, where she meets a mysterious boy and falls in love. Turns out he’s a vampire. And her soulmate. I think the soulmate aspect, perfect love, if you will, is the main reason the books are such a hit (with women as much as girls, maybe even more). I admit it, I have read all the books.

Hall of Mosses trailThe majority of our weekend was not about Twilight—we visited the Hoh Rain Forest and several beaches—but it’s sure hard to avoid the craze in Forks. Even in the Hoh. We ran into a group of German teenagers, whom we later saw posing in front of the Welcome to Forks sign for photos, and the ranger at the visitors’ center told us the park is seeing a whole new kind of visitor, “Twi-hards” who arrive in Forks to commune with Edward and Bella landmarks, only to learn there is also a national park nearby with a unique rain forest. The publicity has been good for the park.

And Twilight is everywhere, even where you don’t expect it. When we were exiting a Mexican restaurant (which had no apparent tie to the series), we heard an incoming dad say to his kids, “Did you know Edward and Bella had dinner here?” I think every espresso drink in town has a Twilight-themed name (Twilight Tea, Eclipse Energizer…)

Bella's truckEnter the new Dazzled by Twilight store, and you will be overrun. We were, anyway, but it turns out we got there fifteen minutes before the tour left and the store was jammed. That’s right, tour. The store runs tours several times a day for $39 a head (and the tours are full!), taking visitors around to see all the landmarks featured in Meyers’ books, such as the Cullen house, Bella’s house, the police station, and the hospital. These weren’t featured in the movie because the movie was shot in Oregon, but they are real places that Meyers visited and used to base her descriptions on. You can also take a self-tour with a brochure from the chamber of commerce. We did neither, but on a little drive we saw the house the Cullen house was based on, a quaint Bed and Breakfast, and we did pose with Bella’s truck. My idea.

Second BeachIf you haven’t been to the Hoh, I highly recommend it. And the beaches are spectacular. I particularly loved Second Beach, near La Push (where vampires, incidentally, are not allowed). It’s wild and pristine with all the sand our more northern beaches lack. The kids loved it.

We also drove to Neah Bay and hiked the boardwalk trail to Cape Flattery, but this drive is a push for kids. Ours did it, but Leah wasn’t feeling too well after all the twists and turns. It is beautiful, though, and cool to say we’ve been to the northwestern tip of the continental United States.

vampire signAnd it’s kind of fun—amusing, at any rate—to watch the Twilight frenzy in Forks, which, by the way, is still just a little logging town. If you’ve got a tweener or a teen who’s interested, I think the peninsula is worth the trip, especially if she hasn’t seen the Hoh.

By the way, there really is a Forks Outfitters (Bella worked there), and it’s a pretty cool store.  


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Heading West

On Thursday, we’re heading to the Olympic Peninsula with the vow to actually make it all the way out to the beach and the Hoh.

I have a confession to make: I have never been out to the Washington coast. Well, maybe once. I have this dim memory of driving it at night on our way home from Oregon, way back before we had kids. I can’t remember, really, so I must not have seen anything.

And I grew up here. I’ve been to some of the remotest corners of Nepal, Indonesia, Australia, and lots of countries beyond, but I’ve never checked out my own state’s coast.

The forecast is for rain, but, you know, it’s the rainforest. So we’re planning on cheap motels (not hard when you’re going to Forks) rather than camping, and then visiting relatives in Sequim. Part of why we never get all the way west is we get no further than Sequim. Who wants to hang out in the rain if you can hang in the rainshadow?

I’ll let you know how it goes. And, oh, we’re not planning on checking out the vampire scene (major eye roll when I brought it up), but who knows? Young minds can change. 


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