10 Free and Easy Ways to Be A GREAT DAD

It wasn’t rocket science nor did any of the things that made a difference cost money. Any man can be like my dad and/or my step dad… Here are a few of the things they did…

Today is Father’s Day and of course, I am thinking about the incredible paternal influences in my life. Hardly a week goes by where I am not reminded of some major impact my father had on my life even though he passed away almost 25 years ago. I’ve written about him quite a bit over the years I’ve been blogging but I’ve never really talked much about my step-dad. I got lucky at the age of 14 when my mom married him, although it took me a few years to realize it. He was a strong mentor and a true cheerleader in the face of my dreams. He fiercely loved my mom and provided another amazing example of how to respect a woman. He epitomized fairness and equality even while being a strong disciplinarian. I didn’t always agree with his approach, especially if he was bellowing but in retrospect, I appreciate his passions.

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1990 with my Step-dad Francis K. Bean

I cannot speak about ‘being’ a father but I can certainly attest to the attributes of two remarkable men who embodied the role successfully and share my perception of how they contributed to my life in such positive ways. It wasn’t rocket science nor did any of the things that made a difference cost money. Any man can be like my dad and/or my step dad… Here are a few of the things they did:

THEY SPENT TIME WITH ME

I never really cared how… it might have been sitting on dad’s lap as a little girl, fixing something, or being a helper as he tinkered on one of his many projects… It was often taking a walk, swinging in a hammock, or cooking together.  I  always knew that my dad and my step dad were available to make me a priority from time to time.

THEY LISTENED TO ME

Both of these men were on my ‘call list’… the ones you could call at any time, for any reason, under any circumstance and they would listen. They knew when to ‘fix’ things and when to simply listen. They offered suggestions but didn’t criticize. They didn’t get defensive or judgmental.

THEY TAUGHT ME

My father in particular was one of the most patient and kind individuals I’ve known. He found the patience to help me over and over again regardless of the task I was learning. My step dad might have had a bit less patience but he was determined to stick by you until the knowledge was imparted. Both of them were completely selfless when it came to sharing what they knew from common sense to book smarts, and they were equally relentless in their pursuit of acquiring more.

THEY FORGAVE ME

I was less than a perfect child and my mistakes occasionally ran deep and wide. They provided me with the space to fail and learn and they were always there to help me stand back up. When I was rude or sassy they stood firm, but let go and moved on without persecution or resentment.

THEY MODELED FOR ME

They modeled the behavior they expected from me. It was never ‘do as I say, not as I do’… While neither one of them were perfect of course, they upheld the values they spoke of; integrity, honesty, compassion, and respect. They never asked something of me that they weren’t willing to do themselves.

THEY PROTECTED ME

They protected me. Sometimes it was from myself, others it was from a boy who broke my heart or from a bad financial decision. They stood by me when strangers were rude or when I was treated unfairly. When Rocky died they literally held me up – one on either side of me and when I remarried, they shared time on the dance floor with me. I felt safe in the world because of them.

THEY ENCOURAGED ME

My father said that the only thing in the world I could never achieve was to become a father… other than that he said, “dream away”. My stepdad believed that I would conquer the business world and would challenge me to “work my brain” during the years that I chose to stay at home with the kids. If I had an idea, they were the inquisitors and financiers in support of the endeavor.

THEY TALKED TO ME

They asked about my day with genuine open-ended questions and prompted solid discussion about my life, social issues, and investigated topics of shared interest. When I moved away they would call me first… wanting share in my life even from afar. They were never salty or sarcastic about who called who – they promoted interactive communication that I knew was respected.

THEY LAUGHED WITH ME

I grew up knowing that it was OK to be silly and have fun, to tell jokes and play pranks. My dad and stepdad laughed with me even if I was laughing at them sometimes. My father was especially good at knowing how to balance life with silliness and laughter.

THEY SAID ‘NO’

They set boundaries, established rules, and demanded respect regardless of my age. I learned early not to expect everything I wanted but that my needs would be met. Of course, when they were able and often with delight, I was the recipient of their generosity whether it was a plane ticket home or a new dress for no reason.

These are the things that stand out.

My son recently became a father for the first time and I know he will be a great one. He has grown into a kind and fair man with an even temper. As I watch him look at his son, the love and awe in his eyes is vividly apparent and I know he is experiencing a love far deeper than he has ever known. This list is for him as much as it is for anyone so that his own son may someday describe him from this vantage point.

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2017  New Dad Francis Marion with son Francis Marion

I never cared how much money my dad earned or how many places he took us. It didn’t matter if we went to Disney because we spent Saturday afternoons walking along the creek looking for tadpoles. A deep and thought-provoking conversation over a pot of coffee was far more memorable than taking his credit card to the mall on Friday nights.

I was a lucky girl and I like to think that some of the characteristics that my father and stepdad demonstrated infiltrated my own parenting. I see most of them in my brothers as I watch them with their young children and I wish them for my son as he embarks on this personal fatherhood journey.

Happiest of Father’s Days to all the dad’s out there!

 

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This Mom Has a Favorite Child

When Erin was home a few weeks ago she took the Red-eye in from LA and arrived in Philly at the ungodly hour of 5 am. I had worked late the night before and had clients scheduled well into the evening that night. Instead of forking out the mula for an airport shuttle home, she opted to transfer across a few different trains and arrived in our town at the more appropriate hour of 8 am where I excitedly and lovingly met her at the train station.

This past week, daughter Sara was headed overseas for a quick visit with Frank & Rosie. She has scored a great price flying out of Philly so even though she doesn’t live that close anymore, she drove *home* and then I took her to the airport for a mid-afternoon departure.

Apparently, this transportation arrangement led to a discussion between the two girls about which child was my favorite – based on the criteria of my willingness to drive to the airport. I believe it went something like this:

Erin: “That’s bunk, I’m obviously not the favorite child”.

Together in unison: “That would be Emily”.

Sara: “No, Frank is both the favorite son and the favorite daughter”.

I have always remembered – and recounted – a story I read in the Virgina-Pilot Ledger Star some thirty years ago, close to Mother’s Day. It was about a woman who had raised a few children by herself after the death of her Navy husband and when interviewed independently, each of the children had expressed that they always thought that ‘they’ were the favorite child. I recall thinking ‘what a gift she gave them’ as I… firmly believed that I was the favorite and I am convinced that it offered me a foundation of confidence.

My parents are gone now so we will never really know but I’ve strived to convey that same sentiment to my own children. I’m not sure it helped to tell them that I was trying to convince each one of them that they were my favorite. Perhaps it is kind of like your husband telling you how beautiful you are – we figure there is an underlying motivation and/or it is a fully biased statement; what else is he going to say?

In any regard, for most of my children’s lives – indeed, even now – my hope is that they know they each ARE my favorite for very different reasons

Frank – well, he’s my only son and the product of my first true love so he gets two very specific distinctions setting him apart from the girls; no doubt motivating their dialogue. He is responsible for my first gray hairs and my laugh lines. He is about to become a father for the first time and I am not only crazy anxious to meet that little critter but also excited for Frank to know parenthood and the enormity of love it manifests. Frank and I had several years alone together after his father died and became my reason for living; there is no doubt that a unique bond forms under those conditions. He IS my favorite son.

Sara – she is the manifestation of my childhood imagination as it pertains to what I ‘thought’ having a daughter would be like. Any time I played ‘house’ with my baby doll (aptly named Sara), I would imagine becoming a mother someday and when Sara was born she was it… She has always been my ‘little helper’, dependable and eager to please. Sara has yearned to learn since the day she was born. Her favorite pastime was to play school and she wanted to be the student. That desire has morphed into exploration and entrepreneurship as she matures, continuing her love of new information and even though it takes her far away from me, I am always so proud of her never ending curiosity. She is the peacekeeper and the unifier having adopted and now embodying the truest spirit of ‘family’. She wraps my heart in a hug with the simple words “Hi mom” and it feels like home. Sara IS my favorite oldest daughter.

Erin – she is my mini. She is headstrong and determined – creating a battle of wills from time to time that keeps her pushing forward. She is fiercely dedicated to her convictions and deeply emotional; traits that I admire as they remind me to stay true to myself and I honor that she acquired that knowledge so young. She is loyal and dedicated; maintaining friendships almost as old as she is. She loves with her whole heart, working to stay open and vulnerable; communicating through her fears. I wonder if Erin is an old soul, here to master a few lessons; focusing on perseverance. She lights my heart like a ray of sunshine every time she turns to look my way. Erin IS my favorite middle child.

Emily – she is the one that did all the things I said my children would never do and has consequently transformed my ideology of motherhood; I became less rigid. Her presence in my life has forced me to relax and reevaluate my priorities. I named her after an Aunt who personifies peace and humility and so it may be no accident that she was born with an elevated sense of compassion and soul, helping me foster and grow more of my own. She is equally fun and serious; diving headfirst into her passions with vigor and persistence. She fortifies and strengthens my heart with something as simple as a phone call. Em IS my favorite youngest child.

My children make me want to be a better person as they mature in their amazing individual traits and talents. I have believed from my first moment of motherhood that they are each unique and magnificent gifts to me and have as much to teach me as I have had to teach them. I am honored – every day – to be their mother.

 

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Freaked Out By “Shoulds” – A client’s letter to her mother

I realize that I was always trying to be who you wanted me to be …

This letter was written by a client as a ‘therapy’ homework assignment and I thought it was incredibly powerful. She gave me permission to reproduce it as long as I waited at least a year and omitted her name. I have done both. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen through the years that could have written the same letter addressed to either a mother or father.  Read through and see my thoughts at the end…

Dear Mama,

I’ve been asked to write a letter to you that expresses my feelings about growing up as your daughter. I’ve thought long and hard about what I want to say to you because I don’t want to hurt your feelings. In fact, I’ve always wanted to just love you. I’ve wanted you to love me and I think you did. In your own way. I have had a hard time understanding that you love me because I don’t believe that you ever accepted me. There were so. many. shoulds. I can’t get rid of them.

I know, you say that you do accept me except that you kept telling me all the things I “should” do. You told me I ‘should’ go to church, that I ‘should’ date Kevin, that I ‘should study harder, and that I ‘should’ go back to school. I tried to tell you that those things didn’t matter to me but you didn’t listen. You told me I ‘should watch what I eat” that I ‘should’ wear my hair short, and that I ‘shouldn’t’ wear short shorts. If I had done those things, I would have been a mini version of YOU – not me. Those things weren’t ‘me’. More than that, you told me I ‘should’ have kids before I got much older and when I did you went so far as to tell us how we ‘should’ parent them. Jesus mom… why ‘should’ I??

Today, I am freaked out by all the ‘shoulds’ that I’ve never achieved. I feel like a failure. I didn’t do what you thought I ‘should’ and somehow I decided that since I wasn’t doing those things that you wouldn’t (couldn’t?) love me. I am not all the things I ‘should’ be mama and I know you are disappointed. Here’s the thing I am confused about.

Why couldn’t you just love ME. The person I am. Why do I have to be like you in order to be considered good or OK? Why do I have to like what you like? Why can’t you just be OK with the person that I am? I’m not a crack addict or a mass murderer. I’m a pretty good person but I feel like it will never be ‘good enough’.

Frankly mama, I didn’t ask to be here. You did that. And because you chose to bring me into this world, I would assume that you might just be happy with who I am but that’s not what I thought for most of the time that I was growing up.

Yes, you came to my basketball games. Yes, you bought me a prom dress. Yes, you sent me to college. I probably didn’t appreciate any of those things at the time as much as I could have. However, I never felt like I could really talk to you. I was always waiting for the next criticism to come. “Don’t eat that”, “you need to lose five pounds”, “Don’t drink, or have sex, or curse”, “go to class”, “clean your car”, yadda, yadda, yadda.

I’m in therapy now mama and I am trying to discover who I am. I realize that I was always trying to be who you wanted me to be and I never figured out what felt right to me. I am almost forty and I am just now doing that. I am not blaming you per se as the therapist tells me you probably did the best you knew how to do. I hope to accept that someday.

In the meantime, I want you to know that I am throwing all those shoulds out the window and I am asking you right here, right now to ACCEPT ME AS I AM. I think that is your role as my mother. Just love me and all the things that might be different from you. We don’t have to agree, we just need to respect that we are two different people and accept those discrepancies, not judge them.

I want you in my life IF you are willing to just take me as I am. I, in turn, will take you as you are. No blame. Just compassion and acceptance. That’s it.

As children, we make the general assumption that our parents love us – or at least we have the unconscious and simply human expectation that they do/will. We tend to develop an understanding of love’s expression via the environment, television, social cues, etc… if a father beats his child stating it is ‘because’ he loves him/her – the child develops an understanding that physical abuse is a form of ‘love’ until he/she is taught otherwise.

If a parent is ‘absent’ – for whatever reason – there is generally an assumption on the child’s part that love is also absent. Children have difficulty sometimes separating ‘fact’ from ‘perception’ – actually even adults are challenged with that from time to time and yet we may expect that our children ‘know better’ (well, of course I love you).

Parents can listen more and preach less.

Parents can accept more and judge less.

Parents can teach more and dominate less.

Parents can trust more and fix less.

Parents can guide more and dictate less.

Most parents do the best they can – based on what they know – in that moment. We really can’t expect much more than that but… when we learn more we need to make it a point to do better instead of assuming that it’s too late or that we are too old to make big changes.

The mother of the client who wrote this letter eventually came to a few sessions with my client where they discussed this letter and learned to accept and honor one another’s differences. Today, the client and the mother have a loving relationship based on compassion, tolerance, and clear expectations. It is working.

Too bad it took almost 40 years.

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LA Bound – Tale#7- Arrived!

… I was getting a sneak peek into the next phase of her life.

Continued from LA Bound – Tale#6

“Never surrender your hopes and dreams to the fateful limitations others have placed on their own lives. The vision of your true destiny does not reside within the blinkered outlook of the naysayers and the doom prophets.” ― Anthon St. Maarten

Our effort to drive into Los Angeles in daylight was somewhat anticlimactic due to the heavy fog and driving rain that greeted us in the morning. Top that off with morning traffic in the second most populated city in the USA where no matter what freeway you pick – and there are LOTS to choose from – it is bumper to bumper. It’s rather comical to see a speed limit sign allowing you to move at 75 mph when most of us could walk faster than our car was moving. The saving grace was the HOV-2 lane because at least that was rolling along…

My goal to accidentally drive by the Hollywood sign was a bust as the fog cover was hovering low enough that you had a sense that God had stuffed a big wad of cotton over the top of LA, trapping the emissions to give it a smoked butter glow. It was better than it had been thirty years prior when I left the area, back when every metropolitan area dealt with smog problems, but it was still evident.

We drove straight to a little restaurant we found near Universal Studios, a healthy ‘California Style’ hole in the wall where Vegan options were well represented. There, we connected with my first cousin and her family – a reunion she informed me had been 34 years in the making. We were simply older versions of ourselves and it was another validation for Erin that she ‘looked just like her mother’. I never tire of the wonder with some people and how, even after several decades, you can just pick up and carry on as if there hadn’t been a massive interruption in your interaction.

This particular cousin was one of the ‘big girl, big sister’ types in my life… a mentor of sorts who had the dream I wanted when I grew up… a home, husband, family & apparent Brady Bunch style contentment. That was my frame of reference – the Brady Bunch. I didn’t think too much about the marital history of Mike and Carol (Mike was depicted as a widower but the networks didn’t want to allow Carol to be a ‘divorcée’ so they just didn’t say), I just wanted a family like they had and my cousin appeared to have it. Indeed, (and maybe sadly??) I recall that my dad – who stayed with her for a few weeks – told me she would have all the laundry from the day before washed, dried, and put away before noon each day. For some reason – I used that information to create a standard by which a ‘housewife’/’good mom’ handles her home but that tidbit of information is for another story…  we will leave it to say that lunch with my cousin was good.

The best part for Erin was that my cousin’s son, her second cousin as lineage would outline it… lives in Malibu and knows people in the television industry. I guess if you live in LA, you are bound to know someone who works in television. It also turned out that my cousin’s granddaughters step-father’s brother-in-law’s neighbor… or something like that also produces a program and yadda, yadda… we’ll just say that numbers were exchanged and it never hurts to pass names along. The farther you cast a net – the more you have the potential to catch! Any and all help is appreciated!

Erin arrived in LA with no job and no place to live other than the AirB&B she reserved for a couple of weeks. She had been busy when not driving to connect with people about both and so this day was about organizing and preparing to find a job and a place to live. She had commented one evening at dinner – earlier in the week – that it had dawned on her that I “was just dumping her in LA and then heading home”. Indeed, my goal was to grab the Red Eye back to Philadelphia and my life there – that night.

I thought about this for a bit as we unloaded her car, the few measly boxes that she had packed to bring with her – none of which included furniture, décor, or kitchen items (outside a waffle maker she got for Christmas and photos of people she loves) … I am leaving my girl here with no family, no close friends, and no job. What kind of a mother am I? Suddenly this felt a lot like throwing a baby in a pool to see if instinct takes over and it automatically swims. I knew logically that this was different. She had been preparing emotionally forever and literally for a couple of months. She had a sizable savings account, lots of soft leads, efficient technology, and most importantly – a good head on her shoulders. I also knew that after we got the car unpacked and put a few groceries away that there was absolutely nothing that I could do. I would want to of course. I could do the apartment hunting for her, I could scour resale shops in search of a dresser and a clean sofa but I also knew that Erin needed to do it herself. Maybe she didn’t ‘need’ to but if everyone was right and she was as much like me as they all claim… she ‘wanted’ to do it and no amount of ‘mothering’ from me would change that.

After unpacking the car of the few meager belongings that she chose to take with her, we completed a Target run for groceries and a few remembered necessities. We sat in her room for a bit as I took it all in. For a brief period, she would be living there – in a rented Air B&B room that was void of her personality but full of her stuff. I was feeling grateful not only for the chance to have spent a week with her but for the moments we were having now… I was getting a sneak peek into the next phase of her life.

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We spent a few hours with her cousin and my Godchild, a student at UCLA in Santa Monica – walking the pier and eating dinner and then it is time. It was time for me to let go. Honestly as I type this I can feel the lump grow in my throat. It sits there because I don’t want to have her so far away from home that she can’t come over for Sunday dinner. It sits there because I know that if she needs me I can’t just hop in the car and comfort her with a hug. It sits there because I am so incessantly proud of her courage and determination. It sits there because I remember being the same way and I imagine that she may learn a few similar difficult lessons; ones that won’t feel good and I desperately want to protect her from them. It also sits there because I know that she can handle it and I am overjoyed with happiness for all the fun she is about to have as she discovers the young woman she is.

It didn’t take long… in just three days she received a phone call asking if she could be at Universal Studios the next day at 6 am. She got her first gig. She’s working on a new show scheduled to air in March, meeting people, networking, and working on the perfect roommate/apartment. She did it!

 

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LA Bound – Tale #6

This roadtrip, a priceless adventure with my daughter was almost over.

Continued from LA Bound – Tale#5

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. ~T. S. Eliot

It wasn’t long before we saw signs for Blythe, the California town just on the west side of the border. Erin was getting excited and wanted to make sure that I was prepared to take a picture of the state sign. She had a few very specific expectations on this trip and most of them involved a picture of something that she had anticipated as important – the California sign was at the top of the list – the granddaddy – the one worth turning around for. We entered Ehrenburg (notice the pronunciation is ‘Erin’ burg – weird coincidence?) and slowed down… it turns out that the state line is in the middle of the Colorado river which divides the states and we were on a bridge, on a highway… there was no where to stop.

California has border check points especially for livestock and produce… they are very protective of their produce, thankfully. We were waved through and immediately noticed a ‘Welcome to California’ sign on the right side of the highway. We pulled off on the side of the road while eighteen wheelers whizzed past us as they accelerated back up to speed, so that Erin could stand under the sign and have me snap a few photographs. We had arrived.

And yet, we were still several hours away from our next overnight stop. Since we gained another hour of time crossing the border we agreed that we would divert through Joshua Tree National Park. While I had heard about it, I didn’t know anything about the park or about the Joshua Tree. The park consists of almost 800,000 acres where the Mojave and the Colorado deserts converge. It is home of the Joshua Tree – a unique specimen that was named by the Mormons because they believed that the tree was welcoming them to the West and urging them onward.

We entered the park on the south side and drove north toward Twentynine Palms, a city infamous for its Marine training base. It was instantly apparent that we were entering a desolate desert landscape and once again, there was basically nothing… it was as if we were on Mars, I think. I’ve never actually been on Mars, but it’s exactly what I imagine Mars to be like… rocks and fine silty sand with little variation in color.

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Looking across the landscape it was as if we were in the bottom of an empty ocean. You could clearly see the drifts of sand up against the mountains as if there was a soft gradual rise exactly opposite what we see/experience when at the shore and walk into the water on the sandy bottom. The road seemed to disappear into the gray sand and we couldn’t tell which way it went unless we happened to catch a glimpse of the sun bouncing off a car coming toward us. Only then could we decipher the road as it wound its way through the martian’esque surface. We had no cell service and no GPS… we simply followed the road; trusting that it was leading us toward something worth seeing or experiencing.

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And it did… suddenly we were facing a field full of a type of cactus that is totally ‘unworldly’. In fact, it looks like it belongs under the water or specifically in a terrarium. I imagined it to be a natural habitat for tarantulas because they kind of look alike. It was the Cholla Cactus Garden and there is a quarter mile nature trail meandering through it but thankfully, we were short on time as I am not sure I could move away from that tarantula vision long enough to motivate myself onto the trail. And so, we kept driving.

Erin was reading the brochure about what ‘sights’ were in front of us and she started reading about Jumbo Rocks… explaining that they were created by magma pushing up through the earth’s crust til just under the surface and then over millions of years, the earth around them washed away leaving the magma remains. For you Geology lovers, I included the link so you can read about it but I assure you – there is no comparison until you actually SEE them. I have yet to see a photograph that captures the magnificence of those rocks… they are massive and they are strewn across the desert in random piles. It’s not an ‘ice age’ kind of thing – it’s not similar to ‘boulder fields’ that exist in the north but it is as unique and one of the most beautiful and interesting things I’ve seen in my life. My bucket list now includes another trip there – in a camper – with time to walk and walk and see the sunset. Around every turn thereafter we were both exclaiming “oh my goodness” and “look at that”.

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Eventually we arrived at the Joshua Tree forest and it isn’t a forest per se… not the one you imagine when you say the word but I suppose it is by definition – that is, a large grouping of trees. I totally understand why there are so many UFO sightings in this part of the world… those aliens probably think they are ‘home’ when they come upon this landscape. For all of my East Coast friends and family… it will be mind blowing for you; treat yourself with a trip to Southern California and make the drive!!

We came down out of the mountains into the north side of the Palm Springs desert and once again I was amazed at the number of wind turbines capturing the currents moving through the valley. I am impressed with the implementation of alternative energy and for some reason – enthralled with wind farms. When we were in Europe a couple of years ago I stood in amazement of them and the fancy of it has not tired yet.

I arranged to meet up with a longtime friend for dinner. I would say an ‘old friend’ but we are both of the age that ‘old’ has a different connotation. We met 35 years ago when she was my boss and after my brief stint with the company, we became friends. She is one of the only people in my life still that remembers me as a young woman madly in love with my blonde prince and it was really fun seeing her again. When we arrived at the restaurant she immediately commented on how much Erin looks like the young me. I’m never sure how Erin feels about that but she is always gracious. What is odd to me, just a little … is that I left California when I was 23 – almost from that very spot and here we were connecting with someone I knew back then as my 23-year-old daughter is entering California… how weird is it to think of that night as some kind of ‘portal’ for the continuation of some cosmic unfinished business??

Ummm… sounds like a sci-fi novel and I offer it up to anyone who has the energy to create it!

We had been on the road for six entire days and it was almost over. This roadtrip, a priceless adventure with my daughter was almost over. For the benefit of our budget we opted to stay out there in the East Valley overnight and drive into the city so that Erin could view LA in the daylight. This had been a dream for almost half of her life and I wanted it to be special for her.

To be continued…

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LA Bound – Tale #5

I thought I could hear Erin’s heart beat just a little faster as the California border loomed in front of us.

Continued from LA Bound – Tale #4

“The earth has music for those who listen.” —George Santayana.

It turns out that we entered Oak Creek Canyon, a fourteen-mile drive along the Oak Creek, nestled in a gorge that has been rated as one of the Top 5 Most Scenic Drives in America by Rand McNally. It’s another of those things on our trip that we only allowed ourselves a tease of as I was determined to make it into Sedona in time to see the sun set against all of the red cliffs.  There were a dozen or more ‘retreats’ and/or resorts in the canyon and I made a mental note to look it up and think about my next ‘vacation’! Additionally, we passed a number of signs announcing a trailhead enticing me to stop and hike for a bit… but this wasn’t that trip. It was a downright chore to keep my foot on the gas pedal.

As we rounded the corner into town the sight was more intense than I had remembered. I was in Sedona about twelve years ago for a really short visit and recalled that I thought the airport which is on top of a plateau, would be a great place from which to view the town and/or the sunset and so I made a beeline there. As it turns out, it is a good place – so good in fact that there is an observation point there and you have to pay $3 to park. I had to laugh a bit as I think I may have been the only one to conform and actually grab a ticket… I didn’t stop to check that other cars had done the same as the sun was setting and I wanted Erin to see it.

There is something magical about sunsets, at least in my mind and there is something electric about Sedona. It’s known as an ‘energy’ center and there are Aura Readers and Reiki Healing signs everywhere in addition to ‘spiritual’ teachers and spas. The people there would tell you that the red rock stimulates a variety of neurological centers in your brain and the green of the pine forests promotes hope and regeneration. I suspect that almost any kind of alternative medicine or treatment available can be found in the Sedona area.

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From the airport plateau, you can see for miles and walk around to view the city in its entirety. No matter your viewpoint, it is stunning in all variations of light. There are trails around the airport complex providing benches from which to sit and take it all in. Erin and I sat on one and FaceTime’d Harlan and Sara just to offer them a tiny glimpse of our amazement. It felt as if we had to share it… somehow enjoying the experience ourselves seemed almost too selfish. Every time we changed positions, the view was just as dramatic and we both felt peaceful and overjoyed simultaneously.

As with all of our other stops on this trip – we were only there long enough to snap a few pictures and eat. We picked a little spot that was good but unnoteworthy overall; it was just a nice restaurant and then headed south just a bit for the night. As we drove down the road it was apparent that we were missing some incredible scenery as it had become quite dark with little moonlight to highlight our drive. We stopped for the night just outside the city and I tucked away the idea that we might backtrack a bit in the morning just to have one last look at the majestic ‘red rock’ that we were both so drawn toward.

The morning found us itching to make more progress in our westward movement and we had to make a decision about the route; either go back north and head out I-40 or move further south and pick up I-10. The weather made the decision easy as massive amounts of rain were moving across California and into northern Arizona and so we routed ourselves to Phoenix. The drive was uneventful except for the fields of cactus that dot the landscape there. I was more excited for Erin to see cactus than she was and after I pointed out the third or fourth one she reminded me that my ‘repeating’ fostered annoyance. *sigh*.

The service engine light was still on and we were about a thousand miles over the ‘oil change’ recommendation and so we agreed that Phoenix would be a good place to get everything checked out. In the interest of time we opted for a Jiffy Lube and set the GPS for a western Phoenix suburb. The employee who ran diagnostics on the car provided us with a report and told us to get to a Nissan dealership ASAP and that he would was unable to offer any service on the car because the error code indicated that we had a critical problem.

It was Monday morning and we were just under 400 miles from LA… we still had our 24 hour window to address any issues that came up but we were so… so… close and it was disheartening to think that we might be stuck there for even a little while. Nothing is as frustrating as the unknown and so we directed ourselves to a dealership close by and drove ourselves right into the service bay.

I won’t say that I batted my eyes or pretended to be helpless but I might have used a wee bit of feminine wiles in so much as I let them know that we had driven all the way from the East Coast and needed to finish our trip as easily as possible. We gave them the code sheets that JL had provided. I can honestly say that the service guys who worked with us there were two of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. They ‘listened’ to us – addressed our problem (agreeing that it had probably been the gas cap and reset the dash light), put air in the tires and told us we could wait on the oil change until we got to LA. They didn’t charge us a dime and offered to wash the car before we left.

If you ever get a chance to visit Coulter Nissan in Surprise, Arizona… I highly recommend them!

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We grabbed a quick bite to eat and made the turn West, crossing the southwest portion of Arizona where nothing lives except a few wiry green things. If it weren’t for the interesting sharpness of the mountains and the intensity with which they jutted up from the flat sandy desert, there would be absolutely nothing to look at. We turned on Shonda and listened intently. I thought I could hear Erin’s heart beat just a little faster as the California border loomed in front of us.

To be continued…

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LA Bound – Tale #3

We did enjoy some gorgeous colors as the sky darkened but I vowed to make that the last sunset on the trip that we miss.

Continued from LA Bound – Tale #2

When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator.  ~Mahatma Gandhi

That noise in the car turned out to be a soda can that had been in the parking space we pulled into when we stopped at McDonald’s… I’m not sure what it was vibrating against but as soon as we reversed out of the space and headed across the street – it stopped and it never came back. It did make me think though that we were driving out in the williwags on a weekend and if something happened to the car … well, we’d be delayed for sure. I had built in an extra day to our ‘timeline’ just to be on the safe side but it was our sightseeing time and neither one of us wanted to ‘see’ a dealership waiting room for longer than a hot minute.

We were on Day 4 and had a lot of motivation to get as far Northwest as we could and so we drove, and drove. Our conversations had dwindled down to “see those massive cotton bales” and Erin’s annoyance with me became apparent so I suggested we listen to a book. Since Shonda Rhimes was an inspiring figure to her, I had downloaded the audio book “A Year of Yes”, Shonda’s recent memoir. It has charm, humor, and some sound thoughts about living life proactively. It’s insightful but not terribly deep yet I think there is a solid message in the book. She addresses moving out of your comfort zone, taking chances, managing risk, and paying attention or learning how to be present – all things that most of us need to learn and/or refresh our memory about. It was good to listen to and of course it is ‘my kind of book’ in that I listen and then think about my own life – where can I apply the reflections?

I’d like to pass along two thoughts. First, she speaks about saying “yes” to things that she has long been saying “no” to and yet she also touched on something that she hadn’t realized she had been saying “yes” to all along… it made me think about the things in my life that I am saying “yes” to but with shallow awareness. I was pensive about whether or not I wanted to continue to say “yes” to all of the things that I am currently allowing… definitely worth thinking about. The second is the difference between a ‘dreamer’ and a ‘do’er’. Most of us dream but then there are people who actually DO.  Be a DO’er. No matter what happens from this point forward – Erin knows she is a DO’er – she had a dream and then she did something about it. Dreaming without doing is nothing.

We made good time driving. Erin pushes the accelerator down a bit further than I do and I think she drove more that day and so we hit I-40 a bit earlier than I had anticipated. As I looked at the map, I realized that we were only about 50 miles south of Santa Fe – a town I’ve always wanted to visit as I’ve heard that it is a great city. “Erin, how do you feel about a little detour?”, I looked at her with raised eyebrows and hope in my face. “Ok, what’s in Santa Fe?” she concurred with curiosity as I reprogrammed the GPS. “Mountains and cute Adobe stuff”, I replied not really knowing. Of course, Santa Fe sits at the base of the Rocky Mountains and Erin’s never seen a snow-capped peak except on television and in photographs so as we began to climb, I got excited to see her expression.

We’ve lived in the Mid-Atlantic region of the US all of her life and so her experience with mountains is limited to the Pocono range and a couple of car trips across the Appalachians during summer months… neither one of them shake a stick to the peaks of the Rockies. I vividly remember seeing them for the first time after growing up in northeastern, Pennsylvania and I was awe struck with their magnificence. I hoped she would be wooed as well.

While the mountains were certainly beautiful they were more distant than I had thought but she did get a glimpse of their majesty. What stood out even more to us was the architecture. That Adobe look was everywhere and it was gorgeous! I have always had an affinity to that style and I couldn’t take it all in fast enough. Suddenly, I wanted to move there… to retire in a little clay house with wooden beams surrounded by sagebrush hedges. The houses – entire neighborhoods – were tucked into hillsides but camouflaged as their Adobe exteriors blended into the high red desert landscape. It was awesome and in our enthusiastic observations both of us neglected to reach for our camera.

We decided on TexMex for dinner and headed into the ‘town center’ – a setting that Google maps offers.  It was still early for dinner and traffic, both on the road and pedestrian, was light. The streets were delightfully decorated with lights and there were galleries and shops along both sides with small restaurants scattered throughout. There were very few people around and so when we found a restaurant we were seated immediately. It was a pretty typical TexMex menu and I opted for enchiladas, Erin for fajitas – both of them a go to for us. There was a huge bundle of red chili peppers hanging almost right over my head and as soon as I took a bit of the salsa on the table, I realized that it wasn’t left over from late 90’s decorating schematic, it was a theme of their gastronomy. Holy Cow! My palette still hasn’t forgiven me. There seemed to be a ‘smoky’ essence to all of our food as well – perhaps that’s the TEX part of the cuisine.

We walked around just a bit – it was cold and there was a fair amount of snow/ice on the sidewalks. Erin and I both packed with the idea that we were headed SOUTH with a final destination of southern California and so we simply did not have the attire to allow us to be warm and comfortable in all of the cold weather we were experiencing. In addition, we wanted to drive out of the city in time to see the sun set over the mountains and we would have but… Erin prioritized filling up the gas tank…..

We don’t know what we don’t know and she didn’t know how magnificent that sunset was going to be. I was the driver and it ultimately was in my hands but my promise to keep the peace by saying “OK Erin”, was engraved on my heart and so I pulled into a gas station as the sun settled into the skyline and disappeared over the New Mexico mountains before we were able to hit a vantage point. We did enjoy some gorgeous colors as the sky darkened but I vowed to make that the last sunset on the trip that we miss.

It was a push to get as far as Gallop that night – almost to the Arizona border – but we had big plans for Day #5 and we were motivated to push as far west as possible. It was dark and we were in mountains, or plateaus I think – I couldn’t see anything and I was a bit sorry that we were missing the scenery yet I knew there were some amazing things in front of us. I was really excited to share a couple of my favorite places on Earth with my daughter!

To be continued…

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