Upon leaving Thailand, Zoe and I had a layover in the USA. For three weeks! What started off as “Let’s go to Alaska for Nanna’s 80th birthday” turned into “Let’s go to 4 places in 3 states and try to see everything and everyone and eat at Red Robin every day”. We did not fully succeed in this endeavor but we did have a blast. Here are some of our favorite parts of the trip.
Our first stop was Oregon. My sister, Margaret, lives there, along with her two daughters, Zoe’s cousins. This was an important first stop because we miss them terribly! Margaret understands our needs and within 10 minutes of picking us up at the airport, we were seated at Red Robin. We spent a few days in Salem, stocking up on winter clothes, petting Margaret’s ginormous cat and delivering all kinds of gifts and items to be saved for us for our eventual return. I was banking on the luggage space used for gifts would be enough for the new winter clothes. It worked out, but barely.
My sister Margaret is a Worldschooler at heart and she has met up with us 3 times on our travels. But she’s also good at finding great learning opportunities at home. She arranged for a tour of the air traffic control tower at the Portland Airport. A private tour, no less! This was super cool for us and the girls. Our guide repeatedly said, “You guys are the most enthusiastic tour we’ve ever had.” That’s how we roll! We were told that we could simply observe the controllers working and talk quietly in the middle of the tower while they worked all around us, but when we arrived one of the young workers saw Zoe and Ellie and immediately started telling them all about his work, the machines he used and the process for directing the pilots. The conversation went something like this:
“This machine here is for guiding the planes – Tango One Bravo make a left at runway 8 and proceed to takeoff – so they don’t run into each other.” He was directing all these planes while he talked to us! This guy was the best multi-tasker in the world. He had a lot of great info for us and even let the girls listen in on both sides of the conversation as long as they promised to be quiet. This was an excellent tour.
After a few days in Salem we headed to Central Oregon to catch up with our BFFs – the King Family. Danna and I have been BFFs since working together at Fred Meyer shoes in 1990. Our youngest kids, Zoe and Jared, were born 16 hours apart and have been best friends their entire lives. This is a very important family to us! Older King Child, Emily, was disappointed that her counterpart Haley was not in attendance. But we got to hang out at the Kingdom and relax and participate in suburban life. We went to volleyball practice, we did errands, we stocked up on MORE winter clothes in preparation for Alaska, we had pizza and we did the Escape Room. There was a movie in there somewhere too. And Red Robin.
We reluctantly said goodbye to the Kings when it was time to head north to Alaska for The Big Birthday Party.
One of the best parts about traveling to Alaska is that we traveled with my sister and her youngest daughter, Ellie. Despite 2 years of age difference between Zoe and Ellie, there was no difference in their compatibility. After a somewhat lonely 4 months in Thailand, Zoe loved having some peers again!
Our purpose in going to Alaska was to attend the birthday party for my mother’s 80th birthday and my step father’s 90th. We were able to help with the food prep, play a slideshow of hundreds of pictures of the couple, and Zoe gave a great ukulele and singing performance. It was wonderful to meet some of my mom’s friends and see distant friends and relatives again.
I’m not going to lie: Alaska is not my favorite place. I spent 15 years there growing up and since that time have migrated south to spend more of my time in the sun. The long dark nights and cold and snowy environment is definitely not my favorite kind of thing. That cold car was miserable! Zoe fell on the snow within 1 hour of arriving. During our visit Ellie also fell and my mom fell. I’m partial to places that don’t make you fall. That’s just me! But no offense to my Alaskan peeps/readers. You know you’re a special breed up there! (In a good way!!)
Anyway, we loved hanging out with mom for lots of quality time, some early Christmas shopping and wonderful chats over coffee.
A week in Alaska was definitely enough. We said a teary goodbye to Margaret, Ellie and Nanna, gave away all our newly acquired winter clothes (this is a traveler’s life: you carry only the clothes you need for your current climate) and headed for the sun. Arizona did not disappoint. It was gorgeous and I remembered why we lived there before leaving on this journey. We stayed at an awesome Airbnb right in our old neighborhood. My brain played tricks on me, forgetting the life we now lead. At one point when I arrived at the Airbnb after doing errands, I had an automatic thought of, “Oh I should take Phinny for a walk now.” I just about cried, missing that old life, or mostly just missing that doggie. But alas, life moves on and we are in a different phase now. And he’s happy with his new family, so I brought myself back to reality quickly.
Arizona was just what Zoe needed: time with her besties. She had a 28-hour sleepover with her 3 best friends from the school she attended 3 years ago, we saw 2 movies (the amount of butter we put on our popcorn was borderline illegal), we did some warm-weather shopping, ate more Red Robin and squeezed in some very fast visits with a few old friends. If you didn’t see us, please accept my apologies. Most people who did see us saw us for 5 minutes. Our time was short.
Overall Impressions of ‘Merica
It was strange being back in our homeland after so much travel. I noticed things that I did not remember, or notice, before. Here are just a few of the impressions we had:
- Everyone looks so different from one another. So many different hair colors, body shapes, fashion choices! We clearly have been spending a lot of time in somewhat homogeneous cultures. It was fascinating how many different types of people we saw.
- Signs! There are signs everywhere! Whether it was signs on the road directing us to the right exit or signs in the airport, it was blissfully easy to get around. No one does proper and useful signage like the USA.
- I was able to pay for a cup of coffee with a $100 bill at 10 a.m. and they could break it! This never happens in Thailand (or anywhere we’ve been I don’t think!)
- There were a lot of places to sit, either at the airport or the mall or on the street. This is not our experience outside of the USA.
- Many of the airports we went to, and a few of the malls, had water bottle fillers next to the water fountains. I loved this!
- There was always toilet paper in the bathrooms. The emergency stash in my purse went unused.
- The malls had ample parking. Even when there was no more parking in the regular paved lot, they opened up an extra lot for the overflow. Malls are so welcoming like that.
- Prices… yeah, those prices were not so cheap. Back to $30 dinners for 2. Ugh. Even fast food was not as cheap as many places we’ve been.
- Oh the variety! Especially the gluten-free section in the supermarkets (and Walgreens, no less!). It’s a great time to be gluten-free in the USA.
- SIM cards for your phone are neither cheap nor easy to find. In Cambodia, we got 4 SIMs for $30 (with several GB on each) before we even went through immigration at the airport. In ‘Merica? It was $105 EACH at the airport for a 30 day prepaid plan. Or you had to hunt down a cell phone carrier store near the airport, which is what Dan and Haley did. Zoe and I had pre-ordered 21-day prepaid SIM cards from T-Mobile and they were waiting for us at my sister’s house. This is not our first rodeo.
Suffice to say, we had a great time. We missed the other half of our family desperately and would send lots and lots of “remember this?” pictures. But we are not ready to park ourselves back in the land of the free and home of the brave just yet (well, Zoe would if she had the choice). We still have more traveling to do before we can rest. So after 3 weeks, we packed up for the 8th time in 21 days and headed further south to Colombia. Dan and Haley followed us 3 days later, after their own mini layover in the USA (they only had 3 days, sucks to be them!).
New adventures await us, but we are boosted by our brief visits with friends and family. And Red Robin.