Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category

The Last Hurrah

The last week of September, Mike and I accomplished another major milestone in our long journey to parenthood–we had our honest-to-goodness last hurrah.

This is the fourth big trip we’ve taken in hopes that it will be the last such trip before we become a family of three. Our first, which kicked off this crazy journey, was to Holland, Belgium, and France in September 2010. The second was the following summer, when we road-tripped to Glacier National Park and still had hopes of conceiving again after my endo diagnosis. The third was in August 2013, when we cruised to Alaska with Mike’s parents while waiting for on the adoption process to stop spinning us in circles and actually go somewhere.

The day we found out our Baby Miracle was on his way, we decided to spend our eighth wedding anniversary hurrah-ing in Hawaii. Provided, of course, that Baby Miracle was doing well by that point. And provided I’d finally stopped throwing up. Both of which, thankfully, happened.

The day I hit twenty-four weeks, we boarded a plane for Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii, which would be our home base for the next week.

Neither of us had ever been to any of the Hawaiian islands. Where we grew up in the Midwest and the Southeast, that’s not so unusual. After all, you can fly to Europe more quickly and cheaply than Hawaii from either of our hometown airports. But in greater Seattle, going to Hawaii is almost expected. I can’t tell you the number of preschoolers at my church who have been more than once on an ordinary family vacation. Since it was not much further and actually cheaper than going to visit either of our families, and it would be someplace where we could relax “for the last time in our lives” (to quote my sister-in-law, who is a mom of three), we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the end of this era of our marriage.

It was hot, like hotter than normal, which wasn’t always comfortable for a fair-skinned expectant mama. And I came down with the second sinus infection of my pregnancy, resulting in a trip to urgent care on our actual anniversary. And someday I’ll learn that sleeping right next to the ocean is nicer in theory than in practice for someone who likes silence when going to sleep. In other words, it wasn’t perfect.

But it was pretty darn awesome:

IMG_1570 IMG_1585 IMG_1590 IMG_1605 WP_20140930_010 WP_20140927_011 IMG_1630Corny as it may sound, though, the best part was a week of uninterrupted time with the man I love. The focused attention we were able to give each other won’t come again for a long, long time, but I’m glad it came then. Here’s to eight loving years, and at least fifty more.


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There was a strong temptation to wallow all Mother’s Day weekend: I’m not yet a mom, my mom and mom-in-law are very far away, and too many of my friends have become moms or expectant moms since we started down our never-ending road to parenthood. But I tried to find something that would be fun and have little to do with being surrounded by hoards of kids and their moms, and I came up with a mini-road trip to highlight some Pacific Northwest history.

I am many things, including an unapologetic history nerd. Thankfully I have a husband who is a nerd about other things and lets me indulge from time to time.

We fought through Friday rain and traffic to spend the night in Vancouver, Washington (a three-hour trek that grew into five when including said rain and traffic, plus a yummy Mexican dinner south of Tacoma). Our hotel wasn’t the fanciest we’ve stayed in, but it was far from the worst, and we got a good night’s sleep and free breakfast. This also enabled us to arrive at Fort Vancouver at 9:30 a.m., when we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

Fort Vancouver has long been on my Northwest must-see list. One of the things that irks me most about living here is how new so much of it is when compared to other parts of the country (and let’s not even start comparing it to Europe). This seems to lead to a desire for the latest and greatest everything, large-scale and small, with little appreciation for history unless you happen to have Native American heritage (which we don’t, though we’ve enjoyed learning about the native cultures here and in Alaska). Fort Vancouver is one of the great exceptions to this, along with Lewis and Clark’s journey. The fort was established in the early 1800’s to be the “Columbia region” headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The “Columbia region,” so named for the Columbia River that runs near the fort, was an impossibly large territory for just one little fort, but it did become a major trade center for fur traders, Native Americans, and Hawaiians who worked through the HBC outpost in Honolulu.

But then, of course, the Oregon Trail opened up, and settlers came west (and spawned a computer game that occupied hours of my elementary years…). The fort transitioned into a military outpost to defend these new settlers against Native Americans who might actually want to keep their ancestral land, and it also helped establish the area as American territory rather than British. The fort burned down in the 1860s, but it has been reconstructed based on photos, documents, and excavated foundations, and it continued to be a military base in some form or fashion until 2012.

We toured the reconstructed buildings of the fort on our own, including a “big house” for the Chief Factor, a defense tower, and a counting house for the running of the businesses in the fort. Then we got to go on a special once-a-month tour of the archives, where a curator talked about some pottery, costumes, and toys that have been found in the area (it was Mother’s Day-themed, though not overly so). We also enjoyed a relatively sunny day walking the grounds, thankful that the rain that had been forecasted earlier in the week didn’t materialize.

Fort Vancouver "Big House"

Fort Vancouver Defense Tower

He's clearly used to people poking around his home.

He’s clearly used to people poking around his home.

On our way home, we detoured slightly to the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center. It was a lot cloudier there and so we didn’t actually see the notorious mountain itself, but the center itself had a video and some wonderful displays that taught us what happened in spring 1980 to the mountain and the surrounding communities. Very sobering bit of Northwest history, and also recent compared to Fort Vancouver. But the mile-long trail from the center provided us a good chance to stretch our legs and primed the pump for us to come back and explore the area more thoroughly.

We came home tired but in a good way, having spent a pleasant twenty-four hours gallivanting up and down Interstate 5 together. We learned some things, ate some good food, finished listening to Harry Potter 7 on CD, and generally enjoyed ourselves. Not bad for a weekend that was supposed to suck.

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Charleston Getaway

As we were planning our Thanksgiving trip to visit Mike’s family in South Carolina, it occurred to us that when Mike’s parents have visited us, they’ve used our house as a jumping-off point to explore nearby points of interest.  (Sometimes nearby is relative–one year they went fly fishing in Medicine Hat, Alberta!). If they can do that, why can’t we?  So we planned a getaway to Charleston for the Monday and Tuesday after Thanksgiving, borrowing one of their cars to make the drive from the northern end of the state.  Though I got sick in the night and we cut our second day short, we did get to see a famously charming city and a major historical attraction I’ve wanted to see since I started dating a native South Carolinian more than eight years ago.


Mike’s brother and sister-in-law got married at this fountain in Waterfront Park about a year before we did, and we were thrilled to find it on such a sunny, pleasant day.  We had a great walk through the historic part of town before reaching the park, noticing a peculiarity on many houses with porches:

porch door

I had never seen doors that led to porches and not inside the house like this, but they were everywhere among the older homes in Charleston.  Some of the homes had clearly been maintained better than others, but all were charming, including our B&B on George Street.

But the highlight of the trip, at least for me, was a long-awaited trip to Fort Sumter, ground zero of the Civil War:

Fort Sumter Visitor's Center

Waiting for the Fort Sumter Ferry

Fort Sumter

Inside the fort

Visiting here is a sobering, humbling reminder to not throw around things like secession or personal attacks against politicians like they are no big deal.  I doubt the people who voted for secession here in 1861 envisioned the loss of life that would come from their decision.  Injustices must be fought, of course, but there are ways to fight without paying such a high price.

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Ridiculously Beautiful

That was my summation of my Alaskan cruise on Facebook the day we got home and got internet access back.  It’s really the only way I can describe the breath-taking, pristine beauty that we were treated to.  We spent seven days on the ship with four ports of call (Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria, BC) plus a day of “scenic cruising” in Glacier Bay National Park.  It was our first time cruising, our longest vacation with Mike’s parents not counting visits to our house or theirs (the previous record was four days, three nights), and our first time visiting any of these places other than Victoria.  It was not, however, our first exposure to glaciers or amazing Pacific Northwest scenery.  Being Seattle-area residents for seven years and thoroughly enjoying a road trip to Glacier National Park in Montana two years ago both served as good primers for this trip.  But it couldn’t prepare us for everything:

Our first view of Mendenhall Glacier, where we visited on a bus tour from Juneau.

Our first view of Mendenhall Glacier, where we visited on a bus tour from Juneau.

The second part of our bus tour, in which we saw a garden on a mountainside comprised largely of upside down trees that doubled as planters for flowers.

The second part of our bus tour, in which we saw a garden on a mountainside comprised largely of upside down trees that doubled as planters for flowers.

Warming myself with a Holland America tradition--Dutch pea soup--as we cruised past Glacier Bay National Park.

Warming myself with a Holland America tradition–Dutch pea soup–as we cruised past Glacier Bay National Park.

St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Church in Sitka, the former capital of Russian America (and my favorite port of call).

St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church in Sitka, the former capital of Russian America (and my favorite port of call).

New Eddystone Rock, which we passed on a boat tour from Ketchikan through Misty Fjords National Monument.

New Eddystone Rock, which we passed on a boat tour from Ketchikan through Misty Fjords National Monument.

Fisherman's Wharf, between the cruise terminal and Inner Harbour of Victoria, BC.

Fisherman’s Wharf, between the cruise terminal and Inner Harbour of Victoria, BC.

These are, of course, a fraction of our pictures.  In every port of call, we felt like we didn’t get enough time.  We did organized tours in Juneau and Ketchikan, which got us out of town and allowed us to see natural wonders we would have otherwise missed, but by doing so we mostly missed the towns themselves.  We wandered Sitka and Victoria on our own, both good choices, but all too soon we had to get back on our ship and head somewhere else.  We learned much about the history of the native Alaskan tribes and the Russians who colonized Alaska in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.  Though we couldn’t get photographic evidence, we saw whales alongside our ship on two different occasions, along with a cluster of sea lions (boy, what a smell that was!).  And, if you’ve noticed our pictures feature bright blue skies, we were indeed blessed with beautiful, “inauthentic” weather while on shore.

Such amazing beauty, along with clean, crisp air and nearby wildlife had me wondering if this was part of what God had in mind when He set about creating the world.  It certainly made my heart hurt, and I imagine mine isn’t the only one.

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Two years ago, I got the grand idea that my dear friend and pastor Danna and I should head to Whidbey Island for a day trip of good food, specialty shopping, and gorgeous scenery.  It was early July, she was on an eight-week sabbatical from our church, I had the day off–what could go wrong?  The high of that day was about fifty-five degrees, that’s what!  We watched movies and lunched near my house, and it was fun, but it wasn’t Whidbey Island.  So we tried again in September, this time overnight since Mike was out of town, only to have an all-hands-on-deck church emergency consume her so much that we ended up, again, hanging out closer to home.

Ditto the following August.  A beautiful day dawned with a plethora of church emergencies and, being the understanding friend of three dedicated pastors, I let her handle those and then take a well-deserved nap instead of a ferry ride.  Can’t say I wasn’t disappointed, but what can you do?

You can look forward to the summer after that on pins and needles, make a hotel reservation that’s non-refundable but right on the water (a sure way to make you both prioritize the trip), and text a countdown each day beginning at twenty just to build up anticipation.

And then you sit back and enjoy the view.  And the shopping for things you don’t need but really, really want.  And the pie at Greenbank Farm’s cafe.  And the wine from the shop next door.  And watching someone you love watch Downton Abbey for the first time and fall under its spell.

And, most of all, enjoy all the laughing and gabbing and hugging that so often gets set aside in favor of all the busy-ness of life.  It’s been a good year for solid girlfriend quality time, and this was no exception.

Danna and Emilie, Whidbey Island

May our next thirty-hour feast of salt-scented time together not take two years!

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I don’t mean to be so gloomy on this blog lately.  Yes, there have been lots of hard emotional stuff going on with this whacked-out journey to parenthood that we’re on, but that’s not the sum total of my life.  Well, plenty often it feels like it is, but it’s not.

As I’ve said here before, one of the things that keeps me sane through all this is planning vacations.  They stress me out, but both Mike and I so love to travel that they’re a good way of reminding me that there’s more out there than our lack of babies.  There’s a whole big world that our heavenly Father made, and we’ve only seen a tiny fraction of it.  So while our intention was to see a tiny fraction of the Oregon coast at the end of August, the other day I got to thinking.  One thing led to another, and I proposed something that felt so spontaneous it made this decided Myers-Briggs J a little nervous.

A week later, we gave in to the spontaneous thought, went to AAA, and booked a cruise to Alaska.

At our invitation, Mike’s parents are coming too.

Out with a drive to Cannon Beach, in with setting sail from Seattle’s Pier 91 to see some of the most spectacular scenery in North America.  Out with a quaint B&B, in with a verandah state room (on sale) and ridiculous amounts of food.  Out with Lewis and Clark history, in with the history of Alaska’s native peoples and its former Russian colonists.  Out with a trip to ourselves, in with family time–yet family time where we will feel free to split up, do our own thing, then pass the cameras over dinner.  My in-laws love Alaskan cruises–this will be their fourth–and they’ve been begging us to go on one with them since 2010.  So with my father-in-law still recovering from multiple surgeries last year and my mother-in-law longing to give in to her own travel bug, we thought this was the best way for us to all do something fun together.

We’re not a terribly spontaneous lot as a rule, but we eventually got tired of saying no to this:

Glacier Bay National Park and cruise ship

Is it August 24 yet?!?!?!?!?

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No, alas, we didn’t take one of these, but it isn’t for lack of wanting to.  Ever since watching Ken Burns’ documentary about the national parks, I’ve wanted to visit Utah.  Arches National Park would be worth the trek by itself, but there are so many other parks in the state, plus cool things to see between here and there: Whitman Mission, Minidoka, where Japanese-Americans were interned during WWII, Craters of the Moon National Monument.  Not to mention Golden Spike just north of Salt Lake City, commemorating the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Here’s the route I’ve plotted out for getting us from our home in Kenmore to Salt Lake City:

Road Trip map


What is spiking my interest all of a sudden?  Well, there’s a teenage couple in Utah who want to make an adoption plan with the help of our adoption agency.  There isn’t a branch of our agency in Utah, but since they are nation-wide, this pair have been routed through the Pacific Northwest offices.  They’re expecting a baby girl in mid-September, which would make this trip the most perfect seventh anniversary present imaginable.

Another big trip, a baby we actually get to experience raising.  My heart is already aching at the thought of this couple choosing someone else.  All I ask of my Heavenly Father is that if He has chosen another family for this sweet girl, may they see the journey to bring her home as one final hurrah before parenthood (or a final hurrah with their older children before the baby sister arrives).  May the trip to a beautiful part of the country be part of the blessing for whoever is to be this girl’s parents.  If it’s us, we would certainly fit that bill.

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