Childhood Unplugged

san clemente family photographer _ ashley jennett-1710

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Please join me in supporting the other photographers participating in the Childhood Unplugged movement by clicking here to see all our submissions. You can also follow us on instagram (@childhoodunplugged) and be sure to use #childhoodunplugged for a chance to be featured on our Instagram feed.

Seattle & Alaska

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I can’t remember exactly how old I was the first and only other time that I went on a cruise. All I recall is that I won a quick $100 bucks, not sure it was legal for me to be playing or if my dad let me pull the handle when no one was looking. I was into boys. In fact, I remember having to pay my parents $100 for a 10 minute phone call I ‘secretly’ made to a boy back home. A boy that later stalked me, but that’s a separate story. In any event, it was to the Caribbean and the perks of the cruise excited me; all you could eat junk, a nightclub with fancy lights, multiple pools. All the consumerism USA that, like candy cigarettes, try to suck you in at a young age and get you hooked. As I write this, I wonder what my parents really thought of it; when I think of my parents and traveling the first image that comes to mind is my my dad naked on a rock in Yosemite. But I’m sure, like most who seem to walk the line, they figured it’d afford a little something for everyone; for my sister and I, a bit of freedom that teenagers only dream of. And for them, less whiny teenagers as a result of said freedom.

Fast forward to my early twenties when I traveled a lot; planes, trains, automobiles, mopeds… everything short of a cruise, cuz, well with my twenties came two diplomas and no career. Not that it mattered anyway, to this day my chosen mode of travel is on a budget to countries that the only thing you need to save for is airfare. Janet and I spent two weeks in India, for example, and spent a total of $500. Five. Hundred. Dollars. And much of that was spent on bus fares because I distinctly remember paying $2 / night at some places.

In any event, in celebration of forty years of marriage, Willy’s parents kindly offered to take us (and Willy’s brother’s family) on an Alaskan cruise. Let’s pause the cruise talk for a moment because 40 years of marriage really deserves a moment of silence. I’ve always felt so fortunate to have such strong examples of marriage in both my own parents and in Willy’s. His parents are two of the most kind and giving and humble and -since I’m being honest – raunchy people around (gotta love straight shooters. Well, at least I do). They still hold hands and kiss goodbye.

Nothing devalues quality time with family and this particular trip wasn’t about the cruise experience so much as it was about spending time with grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and each other. And for that and that alone I will walk off the ship with fond memories.

That said, if you subtract family and celebration from the equation, the cruise life is not for me. I found it hard to get past the forced fun and the amusement park-esqueness of it all. Getting off the ship, or trying to anyway, amongst lines of people and staff scanning badges only to be force-rushed into a picture with a man in an eagle costume gave me anxiety. The kids drew a lot of stink eyes early on from fellow cruisers that presumably sensed the threat to their peaceful retreat; one women remarked from a balcony below below how loud the kids were being and that was before the ship even started moving.

Leading up to the cruise I heard myself testifying to not being the ‘cruise type’, clinging to the hope that the Alaskan cruise is different than the rest, ‘no better way to see the glaciers’ being my cling-to-hope catch phrase. And then I boarded the ship and came upon staff dressed as lumberjacks enthusiastically dancing as if they were at a pride parade. I love a good pride parade, don’t get me wrong. In fact, we missed the one in Seattle by a day which bums me out. It all just feels like a weird pairing; chefs on floor 5 carving watermelons and pineapples into the shapes of owls and fish and birds, group jazzer size on floor 3, and glaciers and bear spotting out the right-side of ship.

I can recall visiting many of cities that would change from quiet, serene towns into an implosion of tourists as soon as the ships dock. And it always ruined it for me. I mean while the town was taken over, anyway. I felt bad being the intruder.

Toward the end, I think we all accepted it for what it was and relaxed to take in the real purpose — a celebration of love and togetherness. A tribute to the simple truth that any experience in life is made meaningful by those you spend building the memories with.

And the glaciers. I mean, they sure were incredible.

Maui

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I still identify with being a traveler and my heart still aches for the same as it did back then. I guess the only difference is that I no longer cringe at the idea of a vacation; leave it to parenthood to make you feel like you’ve earned the right to put your mother fucking feet up.

I’ve been coming to Maui since I was a little girl. I have all the typical tourist pictures buried in albums and albums of my childhood (though, to be fair, nothing close to the number of albums that would surely fill an entire room today — I’m talking about the 5 or 6 albums that basically encompass my entire childhood. And my sisters). Pictures of me dancing in luaus, biking down the volcano, holding those same parrots that are still there for the same photo op in Lahina to this day, eating ice cream under the big banyon tree, and so on and so forth. It’s the one place I feel okay going to and doing nothing but relaxing. As much relaxing as you can with kids in tow that is. Which is slim to none, really. But at least it’s in lieu of the weight of having an itinerary.

The flight was dreadful. I mean it can always be worse but there was a solid 30 minutes of screaming and for that 30 minutes you really didn’t know what way the remaining 5 hours were going to go. Hooper and Van’s demands and whines were extra loud; think of those people with head phones on that talk at the volume they can hear, which is louder than it needs to be because whatever they’re listening in their headphones is already loud. That was them. I NEED TO GO POO. I WANT MY GOLDFISH. HOOPER HIT ME. VAN WON’T SHARE. Combined with screaming Sonny and less-than-helpful or tolerant, for that matter, flight attendants, and Willy and I both considered just opening that giant door and jumping. Sonny fell asleep the minute the wheels hit the ground. Because life sometimes gives you the finger.

But flights are never easy. And there’s little reason to bitch because we recognize our privilege. We also recognize why my parents, who met us there, opted to go on a separate flight.

We stayed at the same place we’ve stayed every time we’ve visited, a condo complex mixed with vacationers and those who have made the sleepier south side of Maui home. And we quickly adopted our routine; beach in the morning, lunch on the way home, pool time while Sonny napped, and dinner in or out. The same, on repeat, for all the days we were there; with only a break here or there to venture into Paia, our favorite little town. No trips to Hana, though we love it there and will go when Sonny is a bit easier to manage. No overpriced luaus, no sunset cruises, just beach, eat, pool, sleep. On repeat. It was great.

The flight home was much of the same and nearly washed away any remaining aloha vibes. Making my pitch to Willy to travel with the kids to Asia all the harder. But in the end, I always think it’s worth it. Because, well, memories. And the best trip, in my opinion, is when you can insert a little vacationing with a little travel. Thus, my pitch for Asia. Trying to wrap my head around that flight though… Who wants to babysit Sonny?

Childhood Unplugged

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Please join me in supporting the other photographers participating in the Childhood Unplugged movement by clicking here to see all our submissions. You can also follow us on instagram (@childhoodunplugged) and be sure to use #childhoodunplugged for a chance to be featured on our Instagram feed.

Baja

the bee & the fox

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I have no handle on time these days and as bad as I’ve yearned to sit down and tend to this space, time just slips away. I have loads of pictures to share from all our summer adventures so I figure I best get to postin’. Summer went incredibly too fast, as it always does, and the days we spent away from home seem to far out-number the days we were here. The endless game of pack-unpack-catch up-reset-repeat. I can’t say I’m happy to have the boys back in school (Van is now in kindergarten and Hooper, in first grade) because I tend to favor the freedom of summer and all the adventures (even with all the chaos). So we’re adjusting to the change in schedules and to the setting of alarms. The silver lining resting, I suppose, in being able to sit down and hit ‘publish’ on a long overdue post from our time in Baja, Mexico.

In other news, hope everyone in Texas affected by the hurricane is safe. Keeping y’all in my heart.

A Road Trip | Arizona

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Even three kids deep, I feel like we are still learning so many of the basics of parenthood; like the freedom in forging our own paths and molding new traditions. For the last few years it’s felt like the holidays have brought a lot of fumbles, like they creep up so fast and take over before a plan ever gets formulated. Throw in the unpredictability of my hospital work schedule (I’m required to work one major holiday but do not get the official schedule until the being of December) and it’s easy to let the season grab us by the proverbial balls. So it felt nice this year to try something new and combine a bit of family with a bit of adventure. And so, we hit up a few towns in Arizona before making our way to Willy’s parent’s house outside of Phoenix.

We were able to take off a few days earlier than expected due to a last minute change in my hospital work schedule. So we got the last of our shop orders out, threw the final things in the truck, and headed to the town of Prescott to visit Willy’s old boss who has retired there. We watched the temperature drop from the 60s here in California (which to-be-fair is freezing by California standards) all the way to the low 30s as we made our way into Prescott. We spent time exploring the downtown and stayed at the historic St. Michael hotel, right on the corner at the end of Whiskey Row. If only you could safely leave sleeping children in a hotel room. Despite the cold temperatures, we walked quite a bit; I could feel my jeans get cold each time I took a step as they separated from my body only to return with a cold bite. The boys rocked jackets over t-shirts, refusing to wear any of the adorable knit sweaters I brought for them (luckily I hadn’t removed any tags. Ho hum.) and Sonny stayed bundled up in one of those zip up fleece onesies that had him looking – and I’m sure feeling – like the kid from A Christmas Story. And poor Van, sporting two left shoes for the entirety of our trip. At least they matched.

The trees in the center of downtown were all lit, a scarf wrapped around the base of most with the sweetest handwritten notes reading sentiments like, “take me, if you’re cold”. A town filled with lovely people, beautiful turquoise, and so much Christmas cheer it was hard to not stay and enjoy what ended up being 6 inches of snow on Christmas Eve.

But alas, we headed through the mountains to the town of Jerome. A super small mining town that boasts having once been the fourth largest city in Arizona but nowadays is more well known for its ghost tours; The Grand Hotel having once been a hospital that served as the end of the line for many of the miners that contracted TB.

We stayed at a historic home that arguably has a more captivating history than the town itself. Built in 1898 to house mining executives, then sold to a family of five who survived the mudslide in the 1950s that completely destroyed the majority of the home. The floor rolled up and tangled with heaps of mud until 2013, when the home was completely renovated back to it’s original glory. And when I say original glory, I’m talking original wood burning stove glory. Complete with the added battle-wound-markers, like the plaques that are found throughout the home to show just how high the mud reached. And heaps of framed photos documenting the restoration process. A process that had to be none other than a labor of love seeing just how difficult it was to drive our pickup truck up its windy steep path, let alone the machinery needed for that kind of construction.

It wasn’t a bad place to be stuck when a stomach bug took a few of us down. The tree swing proving a peaceful retreat during the breaks in the storm that came sweeping through and made staying in, despite illness, somewhat enjoyable. A break in the travel go-see-do mentality.

We spent the better part of a day driving through Sedona and stopped at Arcosanti on the way to Chandler, where Willy’s family lives. And from that point on it’s kind of a blur, with too many Christmas shenanigans to count and the mound of new toys making my head spin. The best kind of blur, I suppose.

We made it back just before the New Year and were greeted with rain, which for those in California is so coveted these days. The perfect way to ease back into the whirlwind that is everyday life. Unpacking, laundry, sorting, donating, regrouping. And, just like that, the calendar flips, one year ends, another begins, and life goes on.

Family Video | December

December came and went faster than I can remember any of the Decembers past. A combination of having a school aged kid and a retail shop both in conjunction with holiday travels and other get togethers that seem to trump ordinary life, like doctor appointments, that typically fill the little ol’ boxes on the little ol’ calendar. A whirlwind that has me wondering how it’s January and I’m still standing.

I remember writing a post about Christmas cookies that I never got around to making when Hooper was a toddler. The post spoke to the infamous ‘mom guilt’; how in an instagram snap-happy world of decorated mantles and garland-line banisters I couldn’t even manage to put some damn cookies in the oven. Fast forward to present day, where we had dinner with friends with intentions of having the kids all make cookies; ending instead with a big mound of dough, an unhealthy serving of sparsely spread out large groupings of sprinkles, and a few contaminated droplets of wet sneeze all to prove that no one cried over cookies that were imperfectly perfect and questionably editable. That despite long to-do lists and short days the magic of Christmas runs in a child’s bloodstream the same way liquor seems to take over ours.

And so it goes; what is a whirlwind for us is a wonderland for them. Christmas cookies, two visits to Santa, an evening at zoo lights, way too many presents (it deserves a post of its own, but seriously, how do you combat the amount of toys and stuff people get your kids for Christmas… it’s insane), a road trip through Arizona, a load of celebrations with family and dinners with friends, and so on and so forth.

And now, in January, nothing but a shit load of pine needles I recruited Hooper to help me vacuum up the other morning and a fake Christmas tree stuffed back into the top cabinet it came out from seemingly yesterday.

Entire seasons coming and going, kids growing and maturing. All of it way too fast. And so, I record what I can, write down the tidbits I want to remember, and suck up the fact that it’s not at the speed that I want but it is, indeed, everything I want.

Baja

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The border crossing was our most eventful yet. Flooding the border were hundreds of Monguls, the border police scampering to herd them like cattlemen corralling sheep. Only the cattlemen had assault rifles and the sheep were anything but, well, sheep. And for whatever reason we got lumped in with them, Willy’s tattoos – perhaps – causing concern enough to subject us to a thorough search. If you saw my post on Instagram, you know Willy’s balls took a few days to recover. I asked to take Sonny out of the backseat so I could feed him and a few of the border policemen actually made a barrier to protect me while I opened the door and took Sonny out. As if there was going to be a gun battle. It was crazy. After some questioning they realized we had no affiliation and basically told us, nicely, to get lost. And we did.

We visited our regular haunts, returning to the same restaurant we frequented the last time we were in the area; the waitress as happy as ever to scoop a not-so-little Sonny back up into her arms to parade around the restaurant as if he were her own. The boys, impatiently waiting their turn for the pool table where they crash balls into each other and where we buy a round of beer for the few patrons that have to put up with such. Where the fish is fresh, the drinks strong. And where one night we forgot to bring cash (because, Mexico) and had our bill taken care of by two nice gentlemen we had seen eating there the night before.

We spent one afternoon just driving and exploring, making our way down dirt roads and pot-hole-ridden back roads, weaving in and out of the outskirts of downtown Ensenada. Trying our best to teach the boys that there are so many different ways to live. That while some are poor and live without many of the niceties they’re used to that there’s still life and love and happiness. Hoping that one day they will feel the gratitude I know Willy and I both feel for the lives we live. That they will feel and experience the same warmth from giving.

Sunsets on the beach turning the wet sand into glass, their little shell-collecting-bodies reflected so beautifully. Days spent at a pace slower than we’re used to, the door open, flies roaming in and out as if invited, and Sonny – sweet Sonny – happy as pie to be anywhere we are all together.

We’re hoping to do another trip south of the border soon, adding a few more stops and towns along the way.

You can view images from our last trip here and the family video I made by clicking here.

Arizona

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My heart is here, in this little corner I’ve carved out on the inter webs, always. Finding the time, however, is always a struggle. Perhaps more now than ever. But I’ve kinda just succumbed to the fact of it and get in when I fit in. Trying to find peace with a to-do list that shows no mercy. Life slows for none of us.

And so, some pictures from our last trip out to Arizona. Over a month late, but who’s counting. A trip where we tried desperately not to melt; where the only time I had any energy to capture anything through my lens was in the comfort of air-conditioning. Or a setting sun. Where the boys left with a hue of green in their hair from the pool, which truthfully did little to quench the heat.

In any event, it was a nice time spent with cousins, grandparents, great grandparents; the boys enjoying their rides on the tractor and collecting bugs in the yard. I was able to score some nice things for the house as well, including an old wooden dresser and an antique mirror.

Hoping we’ll make it back out this fall, when the weather has cooled.

Springville

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It got me thinking about what I do value. Not that I hadn’t evaluated such prior to now, but in that moment I couldn’t think of what my equivalent to his Rolex would be. I thought about the things I own and the price tags attached and all I could come up with was camera equipment, which truthfully speaking is an avenue of income and therefore doesn’t really count.

And then I thought about what I asked for for my birthday because surely birthdays are special and gifts for such are typically heartfelt. I asked for a trip; nothing fancy, just a weekend away with all of us together. And on my birthday I unwrapped a little box that contained a folded up piece of paper with a picture of a renovated barn on it.

Experiences, memories, and even the hard, trying times that come with traveling with littles are what make my heart pitter patter. And so, over summer (man I’m reminded of how behind I am on sharing stuff here), in celebration of my birthday, we loaded up the van and headed up to Springville, at the base of the Sequoias, with no plans in particular because, well, itineraries – and the people who make them – scare me.
We stopped at Walmart once we got into town, stocking up on breakfast items, a few snacks, and some fishing rods for the boys. Fishing rods we’d grow to detest in due time. I met Willy and the boys in the store after having fed Sonny in the car and upon walking into the ginormous store, I heard Willy screaming for Van. A few seconds after that I heard the announcement that a blond boy, in a black shirt, was lost and to keep an eye out. There is no feeling that can adequately describe the feeling of potentially having lost your child or, worse yet, having your child taken from you. I made a dash for the exit and frantically scoured the parking lot. I came back into the store, heard “code Adam canceled”, and found the boys; my heart trying hard to settle back to it’s ordinary position in my chest.

Down a dirt road, past a field of cows, we came up on the barn; the outside adorned with cobwebs and scorpions, the inside eclectic and kitchy.

We ate that night at a roadside dive bar; the kind of place you have to poke your head in and ask if kids are even allowed and when they tell you they are you’re directed to a table, the only table, in the corner of the bar. A bar filled only with locals. A bar we entered knowing no one and left knowing everyone, thanks really and truly to Willy, who is always the social butterfly of our clan. Not to mention the parting gifts we received, including fresh grapes from someones local vineyard and a tip on the trees the neighboring llamas enjoy most. We fed the llamas before heading down to the lake, the sun setting just behind the mountain as we got there.

We returned to the lake the next day, the 110 degree weather causing us to want to turn around nearly as soon as we got there. We settled in anyway, a few cold beers and some good tunes allowing us to sink our feet into the mud and forget, momentarily anyway, about how miserable triple digit weather can be. Unphased by the weather or the muggy water, the boys broke out their fishing poles, played with the worms, and practiced their casting. A thousand tangled lines and hundreds of lost bait later had us questioning Walmart’s return policies. And truthfully I thought it was all fun and games until Hooper came running up from the shoreline, a small fish dangling from the end of his line. Pride beaming from every orafice of his being and jaw dropping bewilderment on the faces of Willy and I. And tears, oh the jealous tears, streaming from Van’s eyes. Willy has the best picture on his phone of Hooper holding his treasured fish and Van, in the background, crying a cry that would lead one to believe a shark bit his hand off. Classic moments in brotherhood.

We returned to the lake later in the evening; the boys with a new found excitement about fishing and a new found determination to catch another. Chasing the dragon, if you will. Which, as life would have it, didn’t work out a second time. But there were frogs and they proved to be a welcomed distraction.

The following day we had intentions of making the short drive up the mountain and into the Sequoias as, truthfully, being amongst the trees is more what I had envisioned when we initially planned our trip. The road up the mountain, however, looked more like the way a drunk man would draw a straight line if blindfolded and using his non-dominant hand. Point being, it was a super winding road and given Hooper’s history with yacking – the latest culprit being the mere turnabouts in downtown Tijuana – we opted to skip the trees and head for another body of water instead.

We’re not the best planners and by the time we got out the door the following morning, it was verging on nap time, aka our-saving-grace, and so leaving when we did truly was a gamble. There were more tangled lines, this time accompanied with more tears and whining from Van (who needs a nap like a banker needs money). Not even a small catfish found on the end of his line, that Willy caught in an attempt to level the I-caught-my-first-fish playing field (and much to my dismay because hey, you win some and you lose some / life lessons) could brighten his day. We hung on for as long as we could before packing up and keeping our fingers crossed that we’d make it back in time to at least get an hour of downtime. And we did. Actually I found Hooper (who thankfully agreed to a nap despite it not being a part of his regular routine these days) curled up in the pack-n-play we brought for Sonny. Oh my mama heart…

That evening we returned to the same bar we had fell in love with prior; the food nothing to write home about but the faces familiar, the welcome warm, the beer cold, and the tunes spot on. We got to talking to two young cowboys and the boys were all kinds of impressed to see the videos of them riding bulls. Hooper requested a picture with them and of course I obliged. We hung with the locals, mostly transplants from other areas of California, while the boys flung the pool balls about and attempted to befriend the llamas out back.

We left in the morning. Our last adventure before the dreaded, though not-so-dreaded, start of school. But more dreaded than not dreaded because summer has our hearts.

Arizona

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We typically try to avoid Arizona in the summer months, the desert heat being the obvious deterrent. But with Sonny relatively new, it only made sense to get out there while we can. With Hooper starting Kindergarten, our days of picking up and leaving for a week at a time are more-or-less a thing of the past; a hard pill to swallow considering that we’ve worked so hard to avoid the 9 to 5 only to be imprisoned by a different kind of normalcy. In any event, luck was on our side and in place of the standard summer heat we were greeted by storms that left the sky overcast and the air moist enough to only flirt with being uncomfortable.

We spent much of the mornings in the pool, where the older boys are finally getting more comfortable and where sweet Sonny floated as though he was born with the notion of what it means to relax engrained in his bones. I used to dread having to travel with a little one in tow, but he’s proven to be adaptable and thus far has skipped that whole 4 month sleep regression thing that I remember experiencing all too well with Hooper and Van.

The boys caught some spiders, rode around on the tractor, and spent some time with their cousins. Zoe, who is just about a year younger than Van; close enough in age that the competition – in Van’s mind anyway – is fierce.

We ventured into the Tonto Forsest, one of my favorite places to visit when in town, where we came across a dead dog (it looked as though it were a fighting dog that someone ditched on the side of the road) and wild horses; the wild horses, of course, being the highlight. We also made the drive up to Prescott for a rodeo which, for me, was more successful in terms of people watching than in terms of barrel racing. In fact, the whole event had me scratching my head as to why animal rights activists aren’t all over this shit. My mother-in-law and I dodged at least half of it, opting instead for the 50% off sale at the thrift shop across the street, where I scored a pencil sketch drawing of a Boxer I’m still salivating over.

Trying, already, to plan a few ditch days so we can head out to Arizona again. Summer has come and gone too fast; the start of school seemingly bringing an end to a season – my favorite season – despite the heat and orange sunsets that have all of our minds still in a summer trance. Because, really, it is still summer. Damn education.

Childhood Unplugged

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A warm, summer night, in Arizona, walking the long dirt road to the dairy across the street all while slappin’ the mosquitos and taking turns being the leader. Oh ya, and Bitsy, the cow who’s been in their lives since day one.

Please join me in supporting the other photographers participating in the Childhood Unplugged movement by clicking here to see all our submissions. You can also follow us on instagram (@childhoodunplugged) and be sure to use #childhoodunplugged for a chance to be featured on our Instagram feed.

Baja

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In any event, we nearly opted not to go two hours into our drive when we realized we left our passports at home. Passports, that in all fairness, were not needed years ago when trips down to Baja were our summer norm. Before, you know, you heard stories of families being carjacked at gunpoint, the mother raped in front of her children, and the family left roadside with no means of getting home.

Willy and I gave each other pep talks on the way back home to retrieve our passports, taking turns calming one another down and promoting all that good attitude shit that’s really the last thing you want to hear when you’re sulking in your own despair and watching minutes turn to hours all the while questioning the safety in Tijuana after dark. Especially when one member of our gang whines a whine that makes even a desert lizard’s skin crawl about having to pee. Roadside piss stops in Tijuana after dark? Let’s just say we were happy to have crossed the border and made it through Tijuana while it was still light. Never mind the other member of ours that hurled all over himself and his carseat, the mere turnabouts in Tijuana causing whatever food we had thrown back at them to quiet them on a drive that turned out to be double the amount of time we had anticipated (all because of said passports) making its way back up. And out. And all over.

It was only after cleaning up the barf that we could begin to tackle how to get to where we were going. There was added frustration having had no address for our destination provided and instructions that included “turn left at the Cali-Mart”, only there were several Cali-Marts, and “turn right after the first speed bump”. Fortunately we were able to laugh about most of it because, well, Mexico. It’s all part of the experience, verdad?

The next day was a bit of a debacle. With the loan on our new house (we’re moving at some point this summer) closing, there were documents that had to be signed. Time sensitive documents. We spent the day with broken cellular connections trying our best to figure out a plan with our loan officer who ultimately, bless him, met us – well after dark – on a secluded road outside closed businesses, halfway between where we were and the border. We signed those papers in the back of his car with nothing other than a lone street light making the dotted line visible. We turned down a street vendor selling some stale shrimp on a questionable wood platter (because, Mexico), took a picture with our loan officer (because, memories), and headed back on the road in search of that damn Cali-Mart we missed the first time we passed it.

And from there, it was smooth sailing. We ate dinner at the same roadside restaurant, nestled amongst dilapidated homes and stale stagnant run-off outlets from the ocean, each night. It was the kind of place where everyone learned your name and our waitress, Brenda, traded me a margarita for Sonny as soon as I stepped foot in the door each night. The boys hung out in the room adjacent to the bar, crashing balls on the pool table into each other. And no one even gave us stink eye. Because, well, Mexico.

We had hoped to ride some horses along the beach but Willy veto’d that idea, questioning the safety of the boys on horses we didn’t know in a country with a less-than-desirable reputation. And truthfully, when I saw the state of the horses available for riding, I too agreed — more for the horses sake than for the safety of our kids. It seemed abusive riding horses so weakened and dismal appearing.

We stopped to get gas one evening, however, and adjacent to the gas station were some horses that I told the boys we could go look at. Next thing ya know some sweet Mexican man is lifting Hooper up on a horse and giving him a tour of the questionable surroundings. I posted a picture of him on the horse on instagram and practically spit out my margarita when someone commented saying that they too were offered a ride on a horse in Mexico and when the woman asked the man the name of the horse, the man replied, “I don’t know. It’s not my horse”. Oh, Mexico.

Thinking back, I can’t even recall the boys fighting much. I’m sure it happened, but it’s amazing how something that can downright ruin your mood in the moment it’s occurring can all be but forgotten some weeks later… after the stiff margaritas have worn off, I suppose.

In any event, we made it back – albeit a two hour wait at the border (during which I took Van to pee three times) – sans barf, with some homemade tortillas, some salt still on our lips, and plans to return again. Hashtag: poor man’s Big Sur.

The Desert

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That’s what photos do for me and I suppose that’s why I do what I do; I like to replicate feelings so that more than just the moment is captured… I seek to hold on to feelings.

I digress. This last trip to the desert was the pits in so many ways. It started with the stress of leaving and preparing the house for some showings we had scheduled (we’re planning on moving this summer). Do you know how difficult it is to turn a home kids live in into anything other than a junkyard? I must have removed at least 5 partially eaten squeezable yogurts from under the sofa. And that was just the beginning of what I found under there. In any event, thanks to friends we were able to pawn Van (aka Mister-asks-a-thousand-questions-an-hour) off for the morning and by the time we left in the afternoon, the house was in an order we’ve never been lucky enough to enjoy it in. Meaning it was clean. And organized, albeit haphazardly.

Not long after arriving, we hightailed it for the pool; the hundred degree weather leading the way. And not long after that, Hooper ate it… The sound of his head hitting the wet concrete piercing the ears of everyone who happened to witness it. I held him in my arms as he cried and cried. It wasn’t until he started throwing up that Willy and I started to really worry and so we gathered our things and decided it’d be best to get him checked out. Jimmie peed on the way out, right there on the concrete by the pool. Because – you know – that’s how shit goes down sometimes.

We spent a few hours in the ER, Willy juggling Van, Sonny, and Jimmie in the car while I waited with Hooper in the waiting room. We left after 11pm, never ate dinner, and waited another hour at a 24 hour pharmacy for a medication that cost $60 and that we only gave him one time. And then he barfed in the car, on the way back to the hotel, for good measure.

We got back to the hotel after midnight, realized the air conditioner in our room was not working and had to pack up everything we had unpacked and switch rooms to a smaller room where any sort of pathway or empty space quickly got eaten up by rollaway beds for the boys. Willy and I slept on and off because there’s nothing like worrying about a child to keep a parent up at night.

The following day we split forces; Willy stayed in the room with Hooper and Sonny to rest while I took Van to the pool. A better day when compared to the night prior which would have made many of the days in our shit-hit-the-fan parenthood capsule look more desirable.

We ventured out to The Salton Sea that evening and enjoyed dinner at our favorite dive bar in the area; also-known-as-the-only-restaurant-for-miles. We left with lifted spirits, the kind that only an adventure that didn’t end with a trip to the ER could bring.

We returned home the following day; the clean house we left unraveling faster than a ball of yarn rolling downhill. And so it goes, right?

Another trip to the desert, albeit our costliest yet, in the books.

Traveling With Kids | Cuba

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I feel like any gosh-I-hate-this-term “mommy blogger” has at-some-point written a post filled with advice about traveling with kids. I’m pretty sure if I dug through my own archives, I’d find one that I even wrote prior. But if time and experience has taught me anything about traveling with kids, it’s that the key – the secret ingredient – is not something you can fit in your suitcase, forget at home, or buy when you get there. What makes or breaks traveling with kids is nothing more than your attitude and the perspective and expectations you use to funnel your travel experience.

Because what parent is going to forget the bag of snacks or to download their child’s favorite cartoon on the iPad or your iPhone? No one. We all have a similar bag of tricks and there’s no secret trick that you can buy, other than maybe Benadryl – and sure, I recommend that, too – that’s going to make your trip go as smooth as can be. Except, that is, for your attitude.

When we first brought Jimmie home, life sucked. He’s not an easy dog and there were times Willy and I both wanted to throw in the towel. Those that have been reading my blog since the acquisition of Jimmie know that his anxiety is through the roof, so-much-so that he’s on prozac and still looks as though he’s going to have an aneurysm should we even use the word “go” or “leave” in a conversation. In any event, the boys picked up on the tension in those early days and were not so nice to Jimmie. They’d hit him and speak mean to him; behaviors that, in hindsight, mirrored how Willy and I were affected by his behaviors.

Point being, kids notice shit. And they mirror what they see. If you’re calm and relaxed, they’re calm and relaxed.

So how do you keep calm and relaxed while traveling with kids? You take care of yourself and nurse that attitude I’ve spoken so highly of. Little things, like making sure you stay fed and hydrated. Other things that help facilitate a good attitude:

-Realistic expectations. Traveling is never easy. Airports suck. People can suck. Spending money you didn’t expect to spend sucks. Changing time zones suck. So planning on and expecting the worst sometimes makes it so the little victories – like a plane that’s not full and a free seat next to you – really shine through. I set myself up for such grand disasters so that when the plane lands and we’re all still alive, I smile. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but you get the point.

-Talk with your spouse before the trip about your concerns and fears. When you can know what’s really going to throw a wrench into one another’s trips, it’s easier to navigate and avoid such. For example, I’m not one to make many plans when I travel. Before having kids, I’d go wherever and find a place to stay when I got to wherever “wherever” was. Prior to leaving for Cuba, Willy expressed concern about the potential of running into difficulty finding a place to stay once we arrived in Havana. And trust me, finding a casa particular (home to stay in) before actually arriving in Havana is in no way as simple as booking a hotel. I had made reservations with one only to be told weeks later it was no longer available, with no reason provided. In any event, I found us a home just two days before we stepped foot on the plane. Crisis averted. Fear squashed.

Really though, the point is to be on the same page with one another; to communicate and act and support one another as a team. Because nothing wears you down faster than having children. Oh wait, that doesn’t have anything at all to do with traveling, does it? Are you sensing my point? Traveling makes those little rascals wear you down even faster and to a even smaller entity than you ever thought possible. So build the trust in your partner to hold you up when you need a little lift and vice versa. And if you’re both being worn down at the same time – go back to my hydration plan and grab a beer. Sometimes a little break with a cold one in an outdoor eatery where the kids can run around in circles like crazy lunatics is a game changer, an energy recharge.

-Slow your roll. If you’re the type that travels with an itinerary, loosen it a bit. If you’re a planner, schedule time to do nothing other than relax. Because sure, seeing King Tuts tomb while in Egypt is certainly important, but so is that 2 o’clock nap. And arguably, the former may only be enjoyable if the latter is accomplished. Catch my drift? Don’t fill your plate, fill yo’ cup.

Have other tips you’d like to recommend to one another? By all means, sharing is caring.

Cuba

Going through video footage and piecing it together is a lot like editing images from a wedding; by the time I’m done I know every image – all footage – better than I’d like and I’m not pleased with any of them… a direct result that comes with looking at anything too long. In any event, I’ve started and restarted the making of this video more times than I care to admit due mostly to user error, followed in a close second to user dissatisfaction. I’m happy with the final result, but it’s hard to view it without knowing the downright struggle, errrr challenge, it was to make. In any event, here lies a small glimpse into our time in Cuba… A place that’s unlike any other and is changing in so many ways. I have a few more posts on Cuba to share but if you want to see what I’ve already shared thus far, here’s some links:

Cuba, The Good

Cuba, The Bad

Cuba, Part I

Cuba, Part II

Childhood Unplugged, Cuba

Cuba | The Bad

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I’ve traveled enough to know that certain countries are simply more difficult to travel to than others. I remember walking the streets of India with Janet years ago and literally turning around to tell a beggar boy that if he didn’t stop following us and harassing us that we would never come to visit his country again. Admitting that makes me think of myself as so evil, but when you’re in that heat and you’re dirty and down-trotten and the same little boy has been following you for blocks trying to sell you something you already told him you have no interest in from the get-go, your patience tends to waiver. I loved India… but I’m also not ready to return there with my family… these boys of ours are enough of a test to our patience.

Cuba is a hard place to travel to as well, but for different reasons.

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For us, it started when we took a closer look at our plane ticket. We flew out of Miami (offering flights to Cuba from the US is a relativity new thing given the history of the ban on US travel to Cuba). Rather than an airline, we took a charter and having got into Miami the day before, I wanted to call and talk to someone to confirm our flight time and the charter we were taking. My friend Carolyn picked us up from the airport and as Willy waited for our luggage, I confessed that I was just a bit nervous that our tickets were totally bunk and that our agent (whom I refer to as our ‘Cuban hook-up’ as we’ve used her twice now to get to Cuba… both before the lift of the restrictions and, now, after) could possibly have taken our money and ran.

As a side note, the first time we went to Cuba involved lengthy instructions that included things like, “you’ll see a man in a red shirt at the airport in Mexico… give him your envelope of cash and he will return with your tickets” as well as “keep your humanitarian licenses until you get to Cuba, then you need to rip them up”… needless to say, it was sketchier than what was our current situation but nevertheless the last thing I wanted was to be stuck in Florida for two weeks instead with my whole family looking at me like a moron for wiring our money to a woman I refer to as my ‘Cuban hook-up’.

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I never was able to confirm the legitimacy of our tickets, nor the departure time, so when we left for the airport I crossed my fingers and complied with the ticketed instructions that suggested we get to the airport 4 hours before our flight, in the wee hours of the morning, before the airport actually opened.

I should back-up and mention that none of the flight times worked in our traveling-with-kids favor. We had to get the kids up at 3am to make our first flight to Miami and then, when taking the time change into consideration, we had to get up the following morning – errr night – at 1am to get to the airport four freaking hours ahead of time.

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As soon as we got to the Miami airport and worked our way past the seldom individual sleeping on the non-sleep-friendly airport benches and to the area of the charter planes, it became evident that four hours was exactly what we needed in order to make our flight. It was so disorganized and the communication was lacking in such a way that made me look over at Willy and ask, “are you sure we’re not in Cuba already?”. It’s a different experience than traveling to countries in, say, Europe, where there are several other tourists. When  you go somewhere like Cuba, you stick out like a sore thumb because nearly everyone else in line is either from there or visiting family that lives there. Which is fine, and actually a preference of mine when picking places to visit. It just makes the experience a little more intimidating and a little harder to navigate as it’s not necessarily set up so conveniently for tourists.

In any event, we waited in long lines and paid over a hundred in taxes (in cash because not even the airport in Miami will take credit cards when dealing with their Cuba customers) that we didn’t even understand. I think we were also the only ones that opted not to have our luggage wrapped in that weird blue cellophane that we presumed serves no other purpose than to protect your luggage until someone behind the counter clued us in that people do that instead to protect what’s inside their luggage because apparently once you get to Cuba, the airport employees there will go through your luggage and take what they need. Hard to blame them when what they need cannot necessarily be bought or found, for that matter. We opted for zip ties instead and worried the entire time that our shit was gonna be stolen.

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There’s a herding factor that seems to occur when traveling international and Cuba is no exception. Personal space goes out the window and as soon as that plane touches down, people are practically climbing over you to make their way to aisle only to pile into a bus you’re all going to be on, packed like sardines. I can’t explain it except to say that Americans follow a very orderly life whereas there’s a certain free-for-all-without-purpose in many other countries.

When we arrived in Havana, we had to quickly put our guards up. Obvious tourists basically scream dollar signs and given the fact the other obvious tourists are traveling mostly in guided tours, you’re kinda the lone ranger… the sitting duck… and everyone – and their mom – wants to give you a ride. I’ve learned to get out of the crowd and separate myself from the hysteria and find the lonesome taxi guy patiently waiting in the background to give us a lift instead because more times than not, the ones that are all up in your face are also the ones that are going to try to talk you into staying at this fabulous place their friend or brother or cousin owns and it’s all some sort of scam in some way.

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We gave the driver the address to the casa particular we had arranged to stay at (a casa particular is basically a room within a local’s home that they have been given permission by the government to rent out to tourists). We had rented two rooms, as there aren’t any rooms that we could find to accommodate a family of four. Upon our arrival, however, the women we’d come to call ‘crazy Olga’ shuffled us all into one room and communicated (with her broken english and our broken-ish spanish) that the other room wouldn’t be available for another day or so. We glanced into the room that was available and looked at each other a little weary when we noticed two twin beds pushed together to resemble a large king bed.

We ended up sticking with the room for the duration of our trip because it worked out… but that’s not to say accommodations in Cuba are top-notch or first-world-friendly. For twenty five dollars a night we got: a private room with a private bathroom (many have a shared bathroom with other guests or with the family you’re staying with), two twin beds with horribly bad bedding (the kind of sheets that are so thin they never stay wrapped around the edge of the mattress and pillows that are literally stuffed with cotton balls — not to mention that there are no extra pillows available… that means the boys had to sleep on the presumably dirty decorative square pillows and my pregnant ass had to make due with none of the creature comforts I was used to at home), and hot water but only at certain times throughout the day, which really translates to mean mostly cold showers with a few delightful surprises here and there. Someone also comes in, each day, to tidy up your room which sounds wonderful in theory until you notice $100 missing from a pocket deep in your bag and have to accuse someone who probably needs that $100 way more than you do – someone you probably would have tipped very nicely at the end anyhow – of taking your money. Kinda leaves a sour taste in  your mouth and the feeling of ‘coming home’ / aka back to your room a little less inviting. Without going into much detail, I’ll say that there was a lot of finger pointing and a lot of “that never happens here” said and a lot of yelling amongst themselves but ultimately, the money was returned. The sour taste never went away though.

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Five years ago, when we first visited Cuba, we couldn’t get over how bad the food was. We felt bad for passing judgement given the fact that much of what they have to cook with is rationed and, well, that makes for a lot of baked chicken with little more than salt and pepper on it. And a lot of fried chicken. This time, the food improved. Since Raul Castro has been in power, they’ve had a culinary revolution and restaurants are provided more ingredients to work with. And you can tell, for the most part… though I still wouldn’t suggest traveling to Cuba for the food. Accompanying the more vast menus, however, is a much steeper price tag. Considering that a room for the night cost all of $25, it didn’t seem to make sense that some dinners, which like I said were good but not great, ran us upwards of $70. I justified our trip to Cuba by making the argument that “it’s not that expensive” but really, it wasn’t that cheap either.

The old cars are fun to ride in and a joy to photograph but after a few days walking the city streets the idea of smoking three cigarettes at the same time actually sounds like a breath of fresh air to the ol’ fume engulfed lungs. I can’t tell you how many times we rode in a bicycle taxi only to get behind a bus or 1950’s Cadillac and be spit on by exhaust.

Speaking of old cars, car seats are not a thing in Cuba. All seven of us would pile into a cab, no problem. It sure is easier and more convenient and certainly freeing in a lot of ways. I’ve always believed that we’re a bit overly anxious and protective in the States, but lingering in the back of my mama brain was always the tormenting thought of “what if”… a fear that was so grand I couldn’t even bring myself to verbalize it for further fear of the whole jinxing mentality that thrived in the third grade. Trusting drivers we did not know, roads that were a bit precarious, cars that were a bit tattered, and two crazy boys – that I love with every bone and cell in my body – who flat out refused to sit still.

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Cuba is obviously well known for their cigars and when we were there 5 years ago we learned quickly that to get a legit cigar, you have to buy directly from the factory. The honest Cubans will support this truth as well. The price is a bit steeper than buying off the street, but buying off the street is not synonymous with buying a true Cuban cigar. While the cigars in the factory are top quality and rolled with true tobacco leaves, many sold on the streets or out of people’s homes are rolled with crappy banana leaves. Willy’s hot to trot when it comes to cigars so we made the walk to the factory several times and each time we were stopped more than once and informed that “the factory is closed” and encouraged to buy in the alley behind the factory instead. By the second time we were told this lie, I just wanted to respond with “uh-huh, and pigs are flying, LOOK!”. To make matters more annoying, smoking cigars on the street would lead to being approached by at least five different individuals who want to know where you got it and how much you paid for it and then try to persuade you to buy from them, or their cousin, instead. It made the whole smoking cigar experience less than enjoyable.

We also got hit with the oldest trick in the book, a scam that’s prevalent just about anywhere I’ve traveled, which is when  you agree on a price for a cab only to arrive at your destination and be told that the price is actually per person, not total. This happened with a bicycle taxi on one of our last days in Cuba; day after day of paying the same price and more-or-less knowing how much fares to and from our place should be. Point being, we weren’t fresh off the boat and when the taxi driver started getting hostile, we paid him half of what he was asking for (which was double what we had paid for any other fare), rolled our eyes, and kinda looked forward to returning home.

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We opted to keep The Bee & The Fox open while we were in Cuba. I changed the allotted shipping times to reflect the time we’d be gone and intended to answer emails via etsy while there. To our surprise, however, our shop was shut down and the inability to communicate with heated customers proved stressful. Ultimately, we learned that because Cuba is a sanctioned country, we were unable to conduct business from there. Meaning, simply logging in to etsy from a sanctioned country is prohibited. Certainly we were not shipping any items from there… just managing the shop and keeping up on emails n’ such. And in the whole scheme of threats against the US (other sanctioned countries include Iran, Syria, North Korea), Cuba seems rather outdated and miniscule. In any event, we managed to work things out with etsy despite the shotty internet access, but it was certainly time spent and stress endured that we did not intend on.

All in all, when considering the good and the bad and the fact we’ve been to Cuba twice now, I don’t think we’ll be returning anytime soon. I’m grateful that we got to see it when we did and to compare that first time with this second time and to note the many changes already taking place. It’ll always live in my heart as one of the most unique places I’ve ever traveled and I hope this is just the beginning in terms of international travel for our family.

*You can read my previous post on Cuba, ‘Cuba: The Good’, but clicking here.