Book Review: This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

They say that all the stars in the sky are actually made inside the earth. Then they seek out the roots of cottonwood trees and slip into the wood, where they wait, real patient. Inside the cottonwood, they’re dull and lightless, like you see here. Then, when the great spirit of the night sky decides that more stars are needed, he shakes the branches with his wind and releases the stars. They fly up and settle in the sky, where they shine and sparkle and become the luminous creations they were always meant to be…and we’re like that too. Dreams shook loose.

This tender landSomewhere on someone’s bookstagram account (I’m sorry I can’t remember whose!) I read a critique of the book Where the Crawdads Sing that it was “Barbara Kingsolver for the Wal-Mart crowd.” While I will heartily agree that this is pretty snarky (and confess that I haven’t even read Crawdads yet) it also made me laugh, as I had just bought This Tender Land to read on my trip to California. Since the cover blurb says “If you liked Where the Crawdads Sing you’ll love This Tender Land,” I had to just giggle a bit, and then spend a little bit of time thinking about book snobbery, Literature versus genre, and the importance of individual taste.

It’s all a scale, really, because while that particular bookstagrammer held up Barbara Kingsolver as an ideal writer of serious books, there are plenty of others who would say she writes liberal pablum. Or this especially witty critique, which claims that Kingsolver writes “a particular brand of woke, middle-aged white lady, serving up the novelistic equivalent of low-cal comfort food.” Zing! (Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite writers, by the way.)

My point is, everyone is a book snob in some way or another, and someone’s literary transformative novel is someone else’s literary garbage.

All of which is to say: This Tender Land was a great vacation read for me.

Picking which books I take on a trip is a vital part of trip planning for me. I don’t want something TOO complicated or difficult, but I also don’t ever enjoy reading the typical “beach read” kind of novels. (I say that without judgement…if you like them, fantastic! They are just not for me.) I want the book to be dissimilar from the place I am visiting, so no novels about Rome during my trip to Italy. (But novels about Rome before a trip to Italy would be fine!) It also has to be available in paperback.

I’m specific about what book(s) I take on a vacation because the story I’m reading becomes part of the story of the trip experience, and I want them to remain clear and separate in my mind. So, one of my favorite trip memories is lying on the beach on Kekaha Kai in Hawaii, finishing The Fifth Season and then pulling out The Obelisk Gate (both by N. K. Jemisin) and alternating between that fantasy world and looking around at the beautiful beach where my children were snorkeling. The book and the experience are intertwined, but because the story is so different from Hawaii, they are still separate.

But, you know. I make overthinking into a life skill.

ANYWAY. This Tender Land tells the story of Odie, his brother Albert, and their mute friend Mose, all orphans, who live at a school for Native Americans. Set during the 1930s, the story illustrates some of the bleakness of the Great Depression. The school where they live is pretty miserable, although they are fed, clothed, and educated; several teachers, including Mrs. Brickman, the school’s owner and superintendent, seem especially bent on breaking Odie, since he’s a kid who isn’t afraid to speak up for himself. When Odie inadvertently commits a crime while protecting himself, he, Albert, Mose, and a young girl named Emmy decide to run away. Instead of going by foot—kids who’ve run away in the past by foot have always been caught and brought back—they decide to go by river, paddling a canoe down the Gilead River to the Missouri. As they go, they figure out some of the secrets the school was keeping, encounter people who help them and some who want to hurt them, and learn a lot about themselves.

My favorite part of this story was Odie’s grappling with what he thinks God is. Albert points out that while the preacher at the Brickman School’s Sunday services talks about Jesus being a shepherd, what do shepherds do with their sheep? They eat them, one by one. Eventually Odie decides that God is a storm, an uncaring force of nature that brings destruction. Then, as he has different experiences on the river, he begins to have a more complex idea of what the truth might be. He discovers that God is in the land (“God all penned up under a roof? I don’t think so…God’s right here. In the dirt, the rain, the sky, the trees, the apples, the stars.”), the river, the bad experiences and the good ones. Mostly that God is in the people: “We are creatures of spirit…and this spirit runs through us like electricity and can be passed on to another.”

I still haven’t read Where the Crawdads Sing, so I can neither confirm nor deny the similarities. But I can say that I loved this book. It was gentle and sweet, but not cloying. The ending was a little bit too coincidental for my liking…but really, this was a great vacation book for me. When we visited Henry Cowell State Park on our trip—to wander through the redwoods—I stopped at the gift shop after, to buy a magnet (our traditional souvenir), but I also found a pretty bookmark with a watercolor painting of a redwood. When I bought it, the cashier told me that the artist who painted it, Carol L. Liddle, was sitting at the welcome table outside the shop, so I stopped to thank her for her painting. And then I read a bit, looked a bit, read a bit, looked a bit, as we drove down from the redwoods to the coast. Odie’s epic journey and my small Corona vacation are forever entwined, redwoods and fires by the river, the beach and the skeleton of a long-dead Indian child, tide pools sparkling in early-morning sun and a Hooverville north of St. Louis.

And you really can’t buy that at Wal-Mart.

PS: I am eternally grateful that I don't get carsick so I can read while roadtripping! This is from the desert on I-80. This tender land driving

Reentry to Real Life, or: How to Bring Bits of Vacation into Everyday Existence

We have a bad habit of planning trips SO CLOSE to the beginning of school. Usually this happens because of two things, my habit of procrastination and Kendell’s inability to deal with crowds. This year, we ended up in Florida during the week before school started because of, yes, crowds—that was the first week that the Orlando crowds changed from red to yellow—but also because the flight prices were the cheapest that week.

Florida 2019 reentry shell

We had a lovely, if imperfect, vacation in Florida. I didn't even take a regular bra with a wire, I just wore my sports bra and running skirts for the whole trip. I let my hair go curly in the humidity and didn't care about the frizz. I touched an alligator. I laughed with Jake and Kaleb and we shared memes on our phones and took goofy photos by the tiny hotel pool. It rained at inconvenient times and I was flabbergasted by the summer crowds, but we just went with it anyway.

One of my favorite moments came right after I calmed down after having my usual we’re-at-the-beach-I’m-terrified-someone-will-drown anxiety moment (which dissipated after Kendell went out in the water with Jake and Kaleb). I was sitting on a conveniently placed wooden lounge chair (I’m pretty sure it was only supposed to be used by the residents of the beach house behind me…but no one stopped me so I went for it) that I’d covered with my beach towel (which has flamingos on it) and I had some almond M&Ms in my bag and a book to read. I read, I looked up to check on my three boys, I read some more.

Florida 2019 reentry water

I let the feeling of relaxation steep deep down into my center, because I don’t get enough of that in my life. (I’m sure no one does.) The sun made a brief appearance (it rained the whole time we were in Florida), making the crests of waves and the bits of shell fragments and the tips of my toenails sparkle, and I could see half of my family laughing together in the water, and it was just…calmly blissful.

Florida 2019 reentry calm

Of course, all vacations end, and then you have to go back to real life, which has fewer opportunities for calmly blissful moments. After a few airport shenanigans that included sprinting through the Phoenix airport and leaving a bag on the long-term parking shuttle, we made it home at 2 in the morning.

And Kaleb had to be to school by 7:45.

So for our family, the end of summer vacation was literally the end of summer, almost down to the second.

And we re re-entering real life all at once.

Even though it’s been many decades since I was a kid, and my summer afternoons were spent lying on the back patio of my childhood home, reading by the peach tree (literally: I would read for hours and I could just enjoy it without thinking I should be cleaning the kitchen or wonder if the laundry is done washing or all of the million other things I think about when I’m reading now as an adult), summer still feels like a break, somehow. A months-long escape from reality. I sleep in way too often during the summer, and we eat out more, and, I confess: I haven’t sorted socks since June. It’s a sock free-for-all in my laundry room!

But then school starts and it’s time to reenter real life. Up with an alarm, and the annoying line at the drop-off zone, and making sure Kaleb is on top of his homework again.

I’ve been cooking much more since we got home. The laundry is done and put away and I even sorted the socks. Our mornings are going smoothly and I’ve started working the post-drop-off run into my routine again. Honestly, reentry is much easier when you only have one kid in school, and he doesn’t hate it this year, and he’s functional in the mornings.

But I keep going back to that moment at the beach, that feeling of calmness that filled me on that stolen chair.

Why can’t I have that calmness in my regular life, too?

Is it like the freedom of reading on summer afternoons as a child, something you just can never get back as an adult because how do you really put down the to-do list, how do you silence the voices reminding you of what you should be doing as a responsible grown up instead of relaxing and doing nothing? Is it just that I need to be more organized and work harder when I am being a responsible adult, and then I could justify relaxing like that?

Or is it that I need to figure out how to allow myself to relax anyway, somehow? That I need to learn that while yes, I am an imperfect adult who doesn’t get everything done or everything right, I still get to find and fully appreciate my moments of calm?

And how do I figure that out?

As we dip now, at the end of summer (on the school calendar if not the actual weather) into the start of fall, that is what I want to take with me, from our vacation into real life: permission. Permission from myself to let go more, to relax when I have the chance, to give myself credit instead of criticism.

Florida 2019 reentry

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

The older I get, the stronger my urge to travel grows. There are so many places in the world I want to see: the fjords of Scandinavia, Antrim Island in Ireland (and, frankly, all of Ireland), more of Italy and England and the Netherlands. I want to hike to Machu Picchu and the peaks of the Alps and the crags of the Cairngorms. I want to wander the New Zealand landscape, see Mayan ruins, walk along the Great Wall, go running on a trail in South Africa. Closer to home, there’s still a huge list of places in the states I haven’t seen: Sequoia, Acadia, Glacier, (honestly, I would like to visit every national park), Mount Rushmore, the monuments and museums of Washington D.C., the Midwest, the great plains, the Montana mountains, the Knife Edge Trail on Katahdin. The Appalachians.

The list of places I’ve been is relatively small, as I’ve only really traveled very much over the past ten years or so. I’ve got to see Rome, Venice, and entirely too little of Florence, Italy. Bits of London, Paris, and Amsterdam. Niagara Falls and some of Ohio and Pennsylvania. 20170525_145141 green sands beach amy
A few beaches in Mexico, the Green Sands beach in Hawaii, the grey coast of South Carolina. A few cities: New York, San Francisco, Seattle. A few national parks: Yosemite (where I hiked Half Dome), Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Congaree, Rocky Mountain. All of Utah’s, of course.

And it’s there that my favorite place in the world is. Yep, right in the state I’ve lived my entire life: Bryce National Park.

In May, I had some unexpected time off of work, so Kendell managed his schedule so that he and I could go hiking. Southern Utah in May sounds perfect, right? Warm-ish, definitely not too hot (Bryce is at 8000 feet, so it is never as hot as the other parks anyway), blue skies, maybe some wildflowers. We planned on hiking our favorite trail, the Fairyland Loop.

As we drove east from the interstate on the smaller winding roads that lead to Bryce, we felt the wind pick up and could see clouds gathering. It started raining, small off-and-on bursts of fast water and bits of hail. When we stopped to stretch our legs, we opened the car door to chilly air. It was undeniable: we were arriving at Bryce at the same time as a late-spring storm. In fact, just as we pulled into the entrance later that afternoon (after a rainy hike at Kodachrome state park), it started snowing. We just wanted to drive to the top of the canyon that afternoon, stopping at overlooks here and there, but there was so much snow we decided our little Corolla might not be the safest.

But we were there. We had our gear—the spikes were still in our packs from our winter hiking, we both had brought long sleeves just in case, and our hiking boots are waterproof. So the next morning we hit the trail.

Hit the trail in another snow storm.

20190523_095250 bryce in snow 6x8

My favorite way to hike the Fairyland Loop trail is to start at the Fairyland parking trail and hike counterclockwise. This way, you get the rim part of the trail out of the way first. Not that the rim trail is bad. If that is all you hiked in Bryce, its rolling hills and amazing views would cause you to fall in love with Bryce yourself. But the thrilliest thrill (at least, for me) is being down in the actual canyon. Hiking along the rim trail first gives you an overlook of the beauty you’re about to descend into. (And it also gives you one last bathroom stop, at Sunset Point before you start down into the canyon.)

Well, usually you get an overlook. For us on that snowy day in May, we couldn’t see much into the canyon because it was snowing so hard. This made Kendell grumble, as mud is one of his least favorite things. So I picked up my pace a bit and hiked where I couldn’t hear him. Because for me the mud—and it was super muddy mud, sticky and orange and sucking at my feet where ever I couldn’t walk on snow—didn’t matter.

It was so beautiful.

The pearly-white mist of the storm filling the canyon, the orange cliffs at my left and the deep-green pine trees and manzanita bushes at my right, all topped with white, white snow. It was silent, the storm muffling the sound of traffic you can sometimes hear on the rim trail, the snow a cushion under my feet. It was cold, but not bitterly, and my jacket and gloves were enough. 20190523_102131 snowy bryce 6x8

Then, about half a mile before the turn into the canyon, the snow abruptly stopped falling. The clouds thinned into white bunches so there were wide expanses of clean blue sky. The snow in the sudden sunlight glimmered, and the addition of blue to the color scheme nature was making was just perfect: orange-pink stone, green trees, blue sky, white snow.

“Beautiful” hardly describes it.

20190523_103918 bryce in snow 6x8

Kendell was hopeful that the trail conditions would be better once we got down off the rim and into the canyon. His hopes were woefully misplaced, however. Unlike on the rim, not much snow had built up on the trail inside the canyon. It was all just sticky mud. More grumbling on his part, but again, I chose to not care about the mud, because really: I was right there. The air was perfectly cool and fresh, utterly clean, and the canyon was dripping, the snow melting off of trees and dropping from the tops of hoodoos, filling the space with a dreamy sort of rhythm. The sun came and went around the clouds, and when I trailed my fingers against the canyon walls they came back wet.

The descent into the canyon here is fairly gentle, the trail winding around the cliffs and spires. At the bottom, you get to hike through trees again, the twisted forms that heat and drought and wind make a sort of echoing repetition of the shapes of the stones. A few purple wildflowers were blooming, and the usually-dry places were like tiny little meadows, lush for a moment with the plants that grow so quickly when the desert gets water. After a while, you come to a wash that clearly sometimes has water in it, but which I’ve never witnessed. This was my fifth time hiking this trail, but the redundancy hardly mattered because when we got to the wash we discovered not just the evidence of water, but actual water, rushing down it. We got to cross the wash several times and had to pick our way through the water with rocks and balance, trying to keep our feet dry.

At one spot, as I was crossing the water again, I stopped and just listened. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard a…a waterfall? In Bryce Canyon? So instead of finding the trail, I walked along the side of the wash, following the sound, until I found it. A very small waterfall, yes, but, in fact: a waterfall. In Bryce!

20190523_120508 bryce canyon waterfall amy 6x8

I know I’m prone to over exaggeration. Of gushing about the beauty of nature. But that moment of finding the little waterfall was one of my life’s most magical. The sun was glimmering on the moisture still in the air, little yellow flowers waved in the breeze, and the water gurgled over stone that when wet turns from orange to a glowing, deep pink. Words like “beautiful” or “amazing” or “unforgettable” can’t quite capture that feeling of a dry place suddenly given water.

Maybe “joy” is the right word. Not mine, mind you, but the canyon’s. It was joyful with all that water.

When we were on the uphill part of the trail, hiking out of the canyon, we met a park ranger who was hiking down. She talked to us for a minute, asking if this was our first time at Bryce. I said “this is my fifth time hiking this trail and I don’t think I have ever loved it quite so much as with the snow.”

“I’ve probably hiked this trail fifty times,” she said, “and I think you are right. The snow and the water make it magical.”

And so, while I haven’t seen all of the world, Bryce Canyon continues to be my favorite place on this globe we call home.

20190523_131959 bryce canyon amy

Hike to Sky Pond (sort of) or, The Story of My Knee Crackle

The story of how I messed up my knees in Colorado begins in the redwood forests near San Francisco.

I prefer every trip I take to include a hike of some sort, if possible. (I haven’t managed this yet when we’ve got to New York, but I think if we go again I will make it happen.) So when we went to San Francisco for my marathon, I found a trail for us to hike. I made sure that we hiked a couple of days before the race, to give my body a little time to rest between hiking all day and then running all morning. The trail I chose was Berry Falls in Big Basin State Park. I chose this ten-mile loop hike instead of going to Muir Woods because I wanted a little bit of solitude, and we found it there. We saw only about six or seven other people during our hike, and it was beautiful: not too steep, the perfect distance, three waterfalls, and glades of redwood trees lit by filtered sunlight.

It was perfect.

Big basin hike

Except, once we got back to our hotel in San Francisco, I got out of the car and discovered that something was weird with my knees. They didn’t hurt, really. They just felt…strange. Wobbly and irritated, as if the spaces inside the joint were full of the wrong level of tension. I iced them that night and the next morning, and did some extra quad, hamstring, and popliteus stretches throughout the next day. I also slathered them in Deep Blue. And tried not to be frightened: could I run my race if my knees were weird?

When I woke up the morning of the marathon, they seemed fine. A little stiff, but the strangeness was gone. I ran my race and only thought about my knees a couple of times; it probably didn’t hurt that there were several aid stations with Biofreeze, and I had the volunteers spray both the front and back of my knees.

I didn’t really think about the knee weirdness again. Over the next month, I gave myself some good rest days, and then I started running again. I planned a little weekend get-away for Kendell and me, to dovetail with a trip he had to take to Denver for his job. I walked with friends and I did a few hikes and I started eyeing the possibilities for a late-fall half marathon.

For our trip to Denver, I decided to have some mountain adventures. I went running the first morning we were there, a beautiful little run around Broomfield. Then we hit the road. There was quite a bit of driving on the first two days—we went on the Mount Evans scenic byway (my first 14er!) and drove the whole length of Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, stopping here and there for the small hikes that are near the road (the Tundra Communities trail was my favorite). And every time I got out of the car to take pictures or to hike, I discovered that my knees had that same feeling I’d had in California: wobbly but stiff, not really painful but just…wrong, somehow.

Our last full day in Colorado was our long hike day. I choose the trail to Sky Pond for several reasons, but mostly because it was the one that the most people recommended. I was especially intrigued after reading this blog post by Kate, one of my fellow Skirt Sports ambassadors. I took a bunch of Advil the morning before we hiked, and had Kendell rub my legs, and then we took the shuttle bus to the trail head.

Trail to sky pond

I love hiking on trails in national parks. They are always beautifully maintained, with steps and bridges and cairns. This trail follows that idea and is absolutely beautiful. It includes a waterfall, the stunning Alberta Falls. One thing I noticed hiking this trail is just how different these mountains feel from mine in Utah. Even though technically the Wasatch Front is a part of the Rocky Mountains (the very furthest western part, in fact), there is a different spirit in each mountain range. I don’t exactly have a word for how it is different; the light, and the air, and the smells. More it is just that each mountain has its own personality, and I confess: I fell pretty hard for those mountains, too. A creek runs beside part of the trail, and there are mansion-sized stones scattered around. Despite the knee worries, we were doing just fine; in fact, if it doesn’t sound too strange, I felt like the mountains were glad I was there and lending me some of their strength.

Alberta falls

The trail is consistently steep but not excruciatingly so. It leads first to Loch Lake, and, wow. If we’d just hiked that far, I would’ve been OK. It was so beautiful. The mountains I usually hike don’t have lakes and ponds like this, and it makes the experience feel entirely different. I wanted to find a spot to dip my feet in (as I did when we hiked Half Dome) but I we wanted to get to our destination first, and then be a little bit more leisurely on the way back.

Past Lock Lake, the trail gets much steeper. There is a long stretch of steps carved into the mountain, and then you get to the spot I had been both dreading and anticipating. To get to the next lake, there is a scramble, a spot where you have to climb rocks. Climb rocks next to a waterfall—not exactly ON the waterfall itself, but close enough that there is still some water coming down the stones.

I’m not afraid of heights. I can stand on the edge of a cliff and feel nothing but exhilaration. But I was a little bit nervous to tackle that scramble. It’s not something I’ve done very often, and I feel like all of this year’s illness has negatively affected my body’s strength. But I wanted to get to Sky Pond, so I put on my Big Girl Pants and started scrambling.

20180826_122201 scramble to sky pond 4x6

Going up was actually really fun. There was one little spot where I felt like my legs weren’t long enough to manage, but Kendell was behind me and he helped heave me up. When we were about halfway up the scramble, though, the weather changed abruptly. It had been a little bit cool but sunny, but then all of a sudden some clouds rushed in and it started to hail. (Look how blue the sky is in that picture...and just after Kendell took it, the clouds came out of nowhere.) I just kept going, though, and finally made it to the top.

To Sky Pond! (Actually, this isn’t even Sky Pond. Because I was overwhelmed with adrenaline or just because I’m an idiot, I didn’t realize that this is Glass Pond. I didn’t realize until we finished hiking and I could look at the map on Strava that we didn’t even go all the way to the pond we set out to see. %#&*(&@^^@*[email protected]! This makes me annoyed at myself! But it also is a reason to go back to RMNP.)

View of glass lake

OK, Glass Pond! It was SO COLD. The clouds kept moving across the sun and then pulling back, but the hail didn't stop. We sat on a rock that sheltered us a little bit from the pelting hail, but eventually decided to go back down. When I stood up to go, my knee wobbled…and then I FELL. I fell face-first into the piney bushes I had been sitting by. I caught myself and didn’t bang anything, just scratched my hands and my face, but somehow, somehow…that fall made me freak out. Maybe because I was thinking about that spot on the scramble where my legs had been too short. How would I get down that spot? And the wind kept blowing and the hail was biting my skin and I just said “OK! LET’S GO NOW!” so we headed back toward the cliffs.

I was really in full-blown panic when I started scrambling down. My breaths were raspy and my heart was pounding, my hands shaking. There were probably 15 people also going down, so I waited in the line (and this, of course, is the drawback of hiking in a national park: it’s beautiful, but don’t expect any solitude as everyone else wants to see the beauty too) until it was my turn. Kendell went first, just in case, and then I started down.

I scrambled down backwards, with my chest and arms towards the rocks, and despite the hail and the panic, the wind and the slick rocks (they were considerably more wet than when we had scrambled up), I was doing OK—until I got to that spot, the one made for people with lovely long legs. Kendell made it down just fine, and he was standing on the cliffs below me, his hand trying to guide my foot to the next spot. My right leg was bent literally as far as it could bend, and then my left leg was reaching down, and my legs were just not long enough.

Kendell wanted me to just drop, but I couldn’t. The panic rose up in me again and I said “I can’t, I can’t!” in a really panicked voice. Then the guy who was above me said, in a very calm, deep, manly voice, “Excuse me, ma’am, can you use a hand?”

He reached his hand out for me and I totally trusted that this stranger, who I could only identify by his boots and his red jacket, would be strong enough to haul my fat self back up. But: he was! I thanked him and hugged him (which I’m sure embarrassed him), and the woman hiking with him said “it’s OK, sweetie, you just take your time” like I wasn’t old enough to be her mother.

I still had to get down that cliff though.

So this time, I attempted it going forward, with my back towards the rocks, and that was easier. I could sort of see where to put my feet, and I could see Kendell right there to catch me if I fell, and I made it.

I made it off the cliff.

The crowd above me and the one below me started cheering and I totally burst into tears, those post-panic tears that are cathartic and get rid of all the rush of chemicals your panic caused.

Then I had a snack and we started back down.

We still had one other lake we wanted to hike to, Mill Pond, and despite the rain (the hail had blessedly stopped), wind, and panic, I was feeling happy. I took about three steps down the trail, and then—something crackled.

It didn’t really hurt.

It was just utterly wrong. Something deep in my right knee, something horribly crackly. I froze mid-step. Carefully shifted my weight. Thought about that impossible way I’d just bent my knee on the cliff. Was afraid to take the next step.

But it was fine.

Nothing else crackled, so I just kept going. I mean…what choice do you have other than helicopter extraction?

We finished the hike. We stopped at Lock Lake for a while, and then took the spur trail to Mill Pond, and they were beautiful. I’m not even sure I could say which one I loved more. On the way back to the parking lot, we saw a female elk, right next to the trail, and I stood and watched her for a good five minutes before she very peacefully walked across the trail right in front of me, so close I could’ve touched her (I didn’t try to touch her).

It was a challenging, beautiful, magical hike and I’m so glad we decided to do it (even if we’ll have to go back again to get to Sky Pond).

We had to wait for about twenty minutes before the shuttle bus came, and it was another twenty minutes before we got back to our car. When I stood up at the parking lot, I realized: that crackle? Well, I’m not sure why I wasn’t hobbling the whole way down, because now, after sitting for so long, my knees were useless. The left one was stiff and swollen, and the right one—the one that crackled—wouldn’t bend at all.

And that, dear reader, is how I injured my knee. No dramatic fall or twist, just a gradual building-up of tension and stiffness and then the mysterious crackle. I’m not yet sure where my story goes from here…only time will tell.

Loch lake

Summary Summary: 14 Adventures

As the autumn equinox is today, I want to squeeze in some summer details before I forget. . It was a strange summer…I was busy recuperating from whooping cough, so I didn’t feel awesome, but I still took several trips, did a bunch of running, went hiking almost every Sunday morning with Kendell, tried and failed to plan a trip to California with my boys. Ate a lot of watermelon, grilled quite a few burgers, totally ignored my yard. So here is my list of my 14 favorite action and adventure (ish) experiences this summer:

  1. My first trip to Colorado.
    Flatirons 3x2
    One of the fun things about the retreat was being surrounded by other women who also get my Skirt Sports obsession. I wore this purple tank and the Sidewinder skirt because it is one of my favorite combos and because I knew I'd feel a bit intimidated and the purple would help me cope. (Silly but true!)
    It’s crazy that I only live one state to the west but have never been to Colorado. I fell in love a little bit, especially with Boulder. This trip was for the Skirt Sports ambassador retreat. I met and traveled with a new friend, had some pretty cool experiences on the retreat day, hiked in the Flatirons, and ran a half marathon. (My very, very slowest half I’ve ever done, because I was still really just recuperating from that damn whooping cough!)
  2. Marathon training. When my doctor told me I had whooping cough and would be sick for at least three months, I said “but I’m training for a marathon” and he said, very gently, “I’m sorry, but you won’t be able to run a marathon.” But, you know how runners are, yes? Tell us we can’t do it and we’ll do it just to prove you wrong. My training was absolutely nowhere near enough miles; I didn’t do many of the mid-distance runs, and several of my long runs ended in me feeling awful, and my longest run was 18 miles, not 20. But that 18 miler? It was my favorite long run. I did it in a 1/3+2/3 division; I parked my car and ran 6 miles, stopped at the car for water, and then ran 12 more miles. The last miles were slower than the first ones, but I never felt awful. In fact, I felt that happy running feeling for all 18 miles. That one positive training run helped me conquer my marathon jitters; every time I started feeling a bit anxious during the race, I’d think about it and know I’d be OK.
    18 miles 3x4
    I realized as I put this blog post together that I wore my Holiday print Lotta Breeze skirt a LOTTA times this summer. I love it because it doesn't move at all. And pockets!
  3. Chacos. On Memorial Day I stopped by a sale at one of our local sporting goods stores (Al’s), and they had both Chacos and Keen sandals on sale. I’d been looking for a summer shoe that would be supportive for my toe issues. I really, really wanted the Keen sandals, but they just didn’t work with my bunions. So I reluctantly bought the Chacos. I didn’t think I’d love them or wear them very often. Boy was I wrong! I have worn them literally ALL SUMMER. Which means I’ve only worn my inserts for running and hiking, and my toes have been OK. I have a beautiful Chaco tan line on my feet now. I love them!
  4. Girls’ weekend in southern Utah. My friend Jamie’s parents have a cabin in southern Utah, and she proposed that she and I and our friend Wendy have a weekend away. It ended up not being as long as I wanted (life makes everything complicated, doesn’t it?), but it was so lovely. The cabin is tucked into the woods, and the first night we got there it rained, so I fell asleep with the loft window open, listening to rain on a tin roof. We hiked in Bryce Canyon, on my favorite trail (the Fairyland Loop) and then…the next day we went to some rock shops! I fell in love with rock shops when I was in seventh grade and I got to be in an advanced geology class. We took tons of field trips, and we’d almost always stop at a rock shop on the way home. Our teacher would teach us some more random rock stuff and then we’d just look for awhile. But, alas, my husband is not so enamored of rock shops, so it’s been years since I’ve stopped at one. So I was delighted to discover that my friends also love rock shops. It was blissful! (I might’ve bought some stone jewelry…)
    20180803_150400 amy wendy jamie bryce canyon 4x6
    Purple tank again! This is the Free Me tank and I wear it almost every time I hike, because it's a tank top but the back is covered so my pack can't chafe. The stranger who took this photo for us talked to us for about 15 minutes about his adventures around the world and how much he loves Bryce despite seeing so many other cool places. My thoughts exactly!
  5. The drive to San Francisco. The drive home from San Fran was a nightmare about which I do not like to speak. But the drive there was so much fun. Even though it took most of a day, it didn’t ever feel long, and the desert was greener than I expected, and we stopped at several interesting rest stops and scenic views along the way. We laughed and talked and listened to music. It was just…a perfect road-trip kind of day.
    20180724_145535 emigrant gap scenic view 4x6
    I bought these capris at the Ambassador retreat. I'd admired them for awhile but wasn't sure if they would work with my thighs. But they do, and I love them, and I wore them ALL SUMMER. (Kendell, on the other hand, thinks they're obnoxious.) Purple+aqua is my current obsession so I couldn't love these any more than I do.
  6. Pine Hollow Overlook hike. This was one of our Sunday morning hikes. Kendell and I hiked a ton this summer (to make up for last summer, when he was still recovering from heart surgery and was starting to have some pretty intense knee pain and so we didn’t hike much), but this one was my favorite. (I already wrote about it here.) When I am stressed I find myself thinking about that hike, the wild beauty of the meadows overlooking the craggy mountains, the wildflowers, the hawk that circled high overhead when we were at the peak. Last week, Kendell and Nathan went to hike it, and I literally cried when they left, because I want to see it in its autumn colors, too. And isn’t it crazy that I’ve lived here my whole life and there are still so many trails I haven’t hiked?
    Pine hollow overlook 4x6
    Holiday Lotta Breeze again! Becky pointed out that I post a lot of pics like this one in from the back, looking at a mountain. Perhaps it is my signature style?
  7. Buffalo Peak Hike with Nathan. Nathan decided he wanted to join Kendell and me, so one August Sunday morning, we hiked Buffalo Peak together. Kendell and I had hiked this trail earlier in the summer, when the wildflowers were perfect. This time with Nathan, the flowers were mostly gone, but it was so much fun to hike with him. I decided his trail name is definitely Legolas, because those long legs make him move so quickly and gracefully! This gave us a chance to talk together about some of his recent experiences. And to laugh. And to admire the mountains. It was a beautiful experience, one I am even more grateful to have now, since I’m injured and can’t hike at all.
    20180819_123943 hiking with nathan
    And...Holiday AGAIN! Plus a different color of Free Flow tank. The mountains behind us are clearly showing how hazy and smoky the air has been here all summer.
  8. The San Francisco Marathon. Despite my doctor’s dire warning, I did run the marathon. I even accomplished the two goals I set for myself: finish, and finish before the sweep trucks. (I finished in 5 hours 47 minutes, which is 13 minutes in front of the sweeps!) I learned so much about myself from this race, both during the training and the race itself. I think one thing that will stick with me is how doing difficult things helps prepare you for other difficult things. And how being patient and kind with your body when it is experiencing weakness requires a sort of strength of character I need to continue to develop. Also how delicious a Frappuccino can taste after 26.2 miles!
    Sf marathon finish line
    I wore my FAVORITE new skirt for my race, the Jaguar skirt (which is a little bit longer and has ruffles on the side and perfectly compressive shorties) in the Temper Tantrum print. But, alas, I have NO GOOD RACE PHOTOS. If there's not a photo of it, did I really wear it? (Well...yes. I didn't run naked.)
  9. A second trip to Colorado. Isn’t that strange…I haven’t been to Colorado ever in my life, and then I went twice in a summer? The second trip was because Kendell had to go to some work training, so I decided to come out at the end of the week. I brought Kaleb with me, and he stayed with Haley. Which means I got to see Haley! We visited her at her work and when I saw her in a hospital setting, in her scrubs and her booties, I totally lost it. Like, ugly cry when I hugged her, because really…she’s grown up. Anyway. Another trip to Colorado meant another chance to run in Colorado! It was a little bit smoky, but not bad enough to stop me. This run confirmed what I had sort-of guessed during my first trip: Colorado seems designed to make it easy to be a runner. There are paved paths and flower-lined sidewalks everywhere!
  10. A weekend in Rocky Mountain National Park. During our weekend in Colorado, Kendell and I drove to the top of Mount Evans and hiked to the St. Mary glacier.
     mount evans chicago lakes
    This is a spot on the Mount Evans highway. There's a lake behind us and one in front of us, too. And a trail! I soooo wanted to go on the trail, but we only came prepared for a drive. This was my first experience of being above the treeline. I was glad I had my Wonder Wool jacket because it was chilly up there!

    But we spent most of the time in Rocky Mountain National Park. This was our first time there and we loved it. We drove the entire length (and back) of Trail Ridge Road, stopping here and there for short hikes along the way. The next day, we hiked to Sky Pond and Miller Pond. This is the day my knee injury happened, but I feel like it was worth it. The mountains are both similar and entirely different to my little bit of the Rockies (the Wasatch front is the most western edge of the Rockies). I haven’t ever been to that high of elevation nor really understood how striking the alpine tundra is. I am still having dreams about these mountains and I want to go back.
    20180826_123515 (1) sky pond 4x6
    Literally two seconds after Kendell took this photo, the sky was BLACK and it was hailing. I couldn't believe how fast the weather changed. The last photo of me before I messed up my knee! And yeah, I DID wear my purple tank again. I told makes me happy!
  11. My favorite run this summer: down South Fork canyon. This spring I joined the local chapter of Moms Run This Town on Facebook. I was hoping to perhaps find a few running buddies, but I immediately felt like I didn’t really fit in. Most of them are from the Lehi/Highland/Cedar Hills/Alpine areas, so they seem both younger than me and wealthier. (This triggers my insecurities, deeply.) Plus, all the runs they scheduled were on the north side of the valley. So I hadn’t really tried running with them, until someone posted about wanting to run down South Fork canyon and then to the bottom of Provo Canyon. I didn’t need that many miles that day, and I needed to work on both uphill and downhill, so I went knowing I would just run down South Fork with them, and then turn around. But I was excited to at least try to make some new running friends.

It didn’t really work out that way. At the start of the run, I stood still for a bit to start my watch and my Strava app, and when I looked up from this I realized they’d already started running. They were faster than me (whooping cough makes you so slow) so I never caught up. This really bugged me, as on the group messages they are ALWAYS writing about how Provo Canyon seems like a scary place to run and they would never run there alone…but they left me to run alone without a second backward glance.

Which is a weird way to start writing about my favorite run. But the point is that the group got me out and running early in the morning, in a spot I haven’t run in for awhile. In fact, as I was running down the canyon I remembered that my very first long race started in this canyon, a ten-mile run in 2003, and I think that’s the last time I’ve run there. It was so beautiful that morning! Right in the middle of July but the elevation was high enough that it was literally chilly when I started—goosebump-raising chilliness. The flowers were blooming and the light was perfect. I loved the downhill and I loved the uphill as well, and I finished with just enough energy left to push myself at the end. Starting the way I did reminded me that I will likely always be a solitary runner, because really: I was so happy that morning on my own in the canyon.

South fork stretch 4x6
I took a whole series of photos this summer like this...half moon yoga pose. I think I will put them all on a scrapbook layout. I'm still sad I forgot to do one in RMNP!


  1. Hike to Bells Canyon waterfall with my friend Lucy. Lucy and I became friends because of blogging, but she was also Becky’s friend through other people. So maybe I would’ve been friends with her even without blogging. She and I have very different opinions about the church and our life philosophies, but we get along so well and have the best discussions. When she was visiting this June, we went on a hike together and it was fantastic. I had never hiked to this waterfall, and I was still pretty iffy with my lungs; it was a steep hike, and while I didn’t tell her this, I struggled to hike the steepness and to talk at the same time. But we made it to the fall and back again, talking the whole time. Amy and lucy 4x4We stopped in a meadow on the way down for a selfie and disturbed a rattlesnake; it rattled its rattle at us and we jumped up on a rock to get away from it! Unlike running, hiking is something I usually do with someone else, and it was great to be with an old friend on a beautiful trail. (She thought I was insane to be excited about the rattlesnake, but as it’s supposed to be there, I was, yes, really excited to see a rattlesnake.)
  2. Hiking in Big Basin State Park. I had so many people tell me that when we were in San Francisco we should go to Muir Woods. But every time I read about it, I just didn’t want to. A “nature” experience with that many people just isn’t my thing. (I’m sure if I could have Muir Woods mostly to myself I’d love it.) But you can’t go to northern California without seeing redwoods, right? So instead we hiked the Berry Falls loop in Big Basin. The drive there was beautiful. The hike was beautiful. The parking lot was beautiful! I loved it, Kendell loved it, and while yes, we’d still like to see Muir Woods one day…this hike was perfect for us. I think we saw about 10 other people on the trail (and it was a 10+ mile loop, including me taking a wrong turn), so the solitude and the trees and the running water? Amazing.
    Big basin hike
    Kind of blurry...but the blur makes me smile because it reminds me we were moving! Pink Jaguar skirt and one of my first hikes with my new Camelback
  3. Miscellaneous summer 2018 memories: Running with Becky on the Jordan River trail before we took the boys to the trampoline park. Those wildfires everywhere and how unbearably smoky it was, and how sad it made me to see our mountains burning. A family party in July that almost everyone came to, even the family that lives in Texas now. Jake moved back home. Haley moved to Fort Collins. Nathan got back together with his girlfriend and then they broke up again (while we were in San Francisco). Kaleb fell in love with fish (fish as pets, not food) over the summer. A totally unremarkable 4th of July (like, really, I don’t even know what we did) that made me realize I need to actively create some new traditions for our family. Several Saturdays spent looking at different model homes before we decided that nowhere right now is the right place for us to move. Suzette got to meet Elliott and I got to have breakfast with him while he was visiting Utah.

I confess: I've been feeling pretty sorry for myself with my current injury. I want to be OUT THERE experiencing the world! But writing this blog post helped me to remember that I did a lot of cool stuff this summer, and one day I'll be out there again. In cute clothes!

If you want something cute to wear on your fall and winter adventures, the new lines are starting to come out at Use my discount code, 842Sore, for 15% off! 


The British Library: a Mecca for Book Nerds

When I went to London, one of the places I most wanted to visit was the British Library. It was less than a mile from our hotel, so on the second day it was the first place we visited.

I actually was fairly giddy to step onto the grounds. As a librarian, I always love passing by other cities’ libraries, but to have the time to explore this one was a really good moment for me.

IMG_8831 amy near entrance of british library

The library has an exhibition space, with exhibits that change often. I had no idea what might be there, so I was surprised & excited to discover it was a display about the history of punk rock. (Me: former goth girl, lover of books, and current librarian, in the British Library, wandering through a punk rock display: I might have clicked my heels together. “Excited” is hardly the word.) There was a wall of 45s and display cases full of fanzines, catalogs, concert flyers and tickets. Handwritten notes from the Sex Pistols and other punk rock icons…album sleeves…photographs.

20160621_133351 british museum punk exhibit

That might just have been the highlight of my days in London.

Except after the security guard got miffed at Haley for taking pictures of the album display, we wandered into the library’s Treasures gallery, where they have their rare books on display. And yes—that punk rock exhibition struck a chord. But those old books…they were so moving to me. It is the old thing I have tried to write about many times, how an old object can be a sort of time-travelling device. The world’s oldest known book, which was found preserved in a grave…A Gutenberg Bible…the Magna Carta…a handwritten version of Beowulf. These are the famous pieces, and it was incredible to see these ancient pieces of world-changing documents. DaVinci’s notebooks, some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, a letter by King Henry VIII. (There is something so intimately real about another person’s handwriting, especially someone historically famous; it makes you realize that they didn’t just live in history books but in this very world.) There are also newer cool things to see, like Jane Austen’s writing desk, handwritten lyrics by the Beatles, and Orwell’s revisions.

But the best, for me, was the display of prayer books. They were my favorite because they felt personal, and because they seemed like they would be owned by women. (Both Lady Anne Grey’s and Anne Boleyn’s were in the case.) They are beautiful in their own right, but when I thought of them being used, of the thumbing-through and the reading and the comfort they might have brought, well. I embarrassed Haley again by crying right there on the display case. For me, the prayer books are achingly sad, little bits of flotsam left in time, a place where the owner’s sorrows and hopes gathered between pages.

IMG_8837 british library books

(There is no photography allowed in the British Library Treasures Collection, but I loved this one huge wall of old books that was also at the library.)

I confess: I had desperately hoped that the gift shop would have a tiny replica of one of the prayer books, made into a piece of jewelry. I probably wouldn’t have cared how expensive it was. Alas, they did not, but the gift shop did not disappoint me. I bought a T-shirt (with a quote from one of the punk rock fanzines, an illustration drawn by one of the Sex Pistols), a book (The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O’Brien) (go on—click through and read that poem and then tell me it isn’t gorgeous and amazing and heartbreaking), and a few postcards. Also stamps, and then Haley and I stood at one of the tables and wrote our postcards, stuck our stamps on, and found the post box (it’s on the wall in the basement near the cloak check).

We really only had a couple of hours to spend here; I would have liked two more to explore everything, but as our time was limited we hurried. But I think it is the first place I will go to when I get back to London.

The British Library is definitely a mecca for book and history nerds.

20160621_204558 british library

The British Museum: How Ancient Artifacts are Like Time Travel Devices

Our first stop in London (after getting breakfast and checking in to our hotel) was the British Museum. I was excited to see the Elgin Marbles, but before I write about what I loved about the museum itself, I must write about walking there. We stayed at the Swinton Hotel, which was about half a mile from St. Pancras and Kings Cross train stations; I suppose we could have taken the Tube to the museum but I wanted to walk so as to see this part of London. It was raining, so I didn't take any pictures, but I have a perfect image in my head of Haley and I walking down the rainy streets, both umbrellas up. We walked (following the Google Maps instructions) and talked and laughed. I don't even know what we talked about, although Virginia Woolf was in the mix. The cityscape—Bloomsbury—seemed made of parks and tree-lined streets and elegant buildings. My feet were wet and I was a little bit dizzy with exhaustion but that walk: it was one of my very favorite experiences of our trip, the rain and the feel of being in a city, my first glimpse of London with my daughter.
The British Museum building is enormous. It sort of reminded me of the Pantheon in Rome, in the sense that the feeling you get from the outside is very different from the feeling inside. _MG_8704 british museum
Outside, it is all old stone and columns and a Greek pediment; it looked old, but inside it felt...not exactly modern, but contemporary, with an inner courtyard and a circular staircase that winds around the reading room and a glass-and-steel ceiling that seemed to curve (it might...I'm not sure if the arching bands just give the illusion of a curve). We stopped to admire the statues, lighting, and just generally awe-inspiring beauty of the courtyard, and then we wandered in to the Egyptian wing.
Here we saw all sorts of things: statues of Egyptian kings, sarcophagi, an enormous granite scarab beetle, mummified cats, the figures of the Goddess Sekhmet, and a fragment of the enormous Great Sphinx. I cannot say that I am a dedicated scholar of Egypt; I know a little bit about its mythology but it is not a country I am enamored of. But I was several times brought to tears at the objects in this room. There is something about an ancient piece of man-made something that is so moving to me. That it survives when its creator is long-gone is part of it. But there is also an element of suspension of disbelief involved in learning about history; we have stories and accounts of what happened, but we can't experience it. Ancient pieces like this are, for me, a way of coming closer to experiencing them, because they exist in this world while their long histories lead back to a world I'll never see.
_MG_8695 library of ashurbanipal british museum
(Objects from the Library of Ashurbanipal; Ashurbanipal was the last great king of Assyria, and this library, located in Ninevah, is where the tablets with the Epic of Gilgamesh were held. This was a fairly swoony spot for me, as these ancient tablets—from 7th century BC—are simply pieces of ancient books. Who held them when they were still functional? Who carved them? Books are an inherit part of humanity just as stories and history and written records are.)
We did see the Rosetta Stone, but it was fairly difficult to have any sort of Moment with it, as at least 100 people were gathered around it. I explained to Haley what it was—a translation tool—and what I knew of how it works, and she didn't know much about it, which sparked a conversation about how I think colleges are failing to teach students all of the General Information about The World that they should know. The flimsy art & culture class required for graduation is a joke.
Ranting over, we wandered toward the space I had wanted to see so badly, the Parthenon gallery. More than two centuries ago, the British gathered up about half of the broken statues and friezes that had fallen from the Parthenon in Athens and brought them to the British Museum. (Most of the rest of the statuary is in Athens.) There is quite a bit of tension now about this, as Greece would like to possess the statuary it should own. The British maintain that the museum is a collection of historical pieces from across the globe and as such, the pieces already there should remain so that more people can see them.
(I'm torn as to which side is right; part of me thinks it's Greece's own fault for not valuing its antiquities in the first place, but maybe that is my long line of British DNA speaking?)
_MG_8687 elgin marbles demeter and persephone british museum
(The plaque beneath this section said that perhaps these two figures are Demeter and Persephone.)
But I felt lucky to be able to see them. When we went to Italy, one of my biggest disappointments was how Christian everything was. Yes, Rome is the capitol of Christianity and yes, I am a Christian. But Italy is stripped of its pagan history. I was hoping for statues of Venus and Minerva and Proserpine, but all of that is gone, replaced by Christian icons and relics. My psyche is so connected with the Greco-Roman mythology that the lack of it in the place it should be was just...depressing. So seeing the Elgin Marbles was fairly thrilling for me.
But my absolute favorite thing in the British Museum was a surprise.
I think somewhere I had read that this display was there, but I hadn't remembered until I wandered through room 41, which is full of artifacts from Britain during the Anglo-Saxon period. And there it was: the Sutton Hoo display. Sutton Hoo is a place in England that is covered with burial mounds. Most of them have been robbed, but in the 1930s the land's owner had one of them excavated. There they found a "ghost" ship (imprints in the sand of a wooden ship) where someone of wealth and power was buried. Many of the artifacts are still at Sutton Hoo (which is now on my list of places to visit when I return to England), but most of them are at the British Museum.
If my psyche is tied to Greek mythology, a large chunk of my ancestral longing is tied to the history of Britain. Seeing the pieces in the display—dishes, weapons, that haunting helmet with its flying bird—gave me literal chills and I had to catch my breath. ("Hysterical in museums": I didn't know until this trip that that is one of my personality traits.) Bits from a thousand tales and novels and history and ideas were in that display. 
And the display itself! Everything is in glass, of course, but in cases with varying widths, so it feels interactive and modern. But the best thing is that, on the glass, are some lines from Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf. Swoon. (I adore Heaney, and his translation of Beowulf​ is...well, it's testament that people read such things outside of being forced to in their Ancient British Lit university courses.)
I loved that display.
(So much that I only thought to snap a few photographs, none of which turned out. I didn't want to photograph it, though. I wanted to look at it.)
I could've stayed in room 41 for the rest of the day, honestly. But Haley was feeling antsy, and we still had other things on our itinerary, so reluctantly I left the British Museum. But I left with a feeling of being better connected, both to a larger sense of history and to myself. There is something powerful and perhaps even magical in viewing ancient artifacts. Someone else in history touched that object, made it and used it and then left it behind when he or she died, but here I am, sometimes thousands of years later, looking at the same object. (I wish I could touch them, too! In another life I would like to be a museum docent.) It is almost a sort of time travel, a way of being in the presence of so much time all in one moment, as if, if I could just know how, I could flick away the layers of time to see and know and understand the person for whom that object was significant.
I don't really have a name for that feeling. But I am filled with it in history museums. It is the reason I love going to museums. I only got a small taste of the British Museum, just enough to know how much I want to go back again one day.


A Book Lover's First Trip to London or, In Which I Have to Work to Find My Chill

When I was in Europe in June, Haley and I visited four cities: London, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Paris. "Which was your favorite?" people asked me once I got home, and even though I loved and adored Amsterdam, I'm not sure I could have loved and adored anywhere else more than London.

In fact, when I arrived in London, just as we walked off the plane, before I had actually seen any part of London save a white cement hall in the Heathrow Airport, I started crying. Haley was all sorts of embarrassed and requested that I just please chill.

But I couldn't.

Because for this English Geek, London is a sort of mecca. Don't get me wrong: the pull of London (or even England in general) has absolutely nothing to do with the royal family. I don't care a whit how many babies Kate has or what dress she wore three hours after giving birth. I'm not obsessed with British royalty in the least. (Although we did walk to Buckingham Palace. When in London...)

No, for me, the pull of London has everything to do with history and books.

I hail from a line of people who lived in London (sure...during the 17th and 18th centuries, but still).

am​ fascinated by British history, especially the ancient, pre-Roman part and the stories of the wives of Henry VIII.

How many novels set in London have I read?

How many poets and writers who have influenced me (as a writer and a reader and a human being) have lived in London?

Arriving in London felt to me nearly as magical as arriving in Narnia or Middle Earth might. A place I have imagined and wanted to see but wasn't sure how to get to. Well, OK, London is a little less magical than a made-up place, but look: C. S. Lewis and Tolkien both were British.

Loving London (and England) is part, for me, of being a lover of books and literature and so is fairly inherent part of my identity.

IMG_8806 buckingham palace

(The statues in the courtyard outside Buckingham Palace.)

When Haley and I came out of the Underground at St. Pancras station (which is right across from Kings Cross Station where, you know, platform 9 3/4 is) it was pouring. And I had forgotten my umbrella! So I was pulling my suitcase and carrying my bag and holding my cell phone so I could follow the Google Maps directions (I could not have managed this trip without Google Maps!) and getting soaked. So at the second shop I saw that had umbrellas (the first one had some for £50), I tucked into and bought one.

Looking back a month later, the memories of my first foray into London are so sharp. The rain, and trying to find a way to balance everything, and how odd it felt to look right-left-right before we crossed a road. The undeniably British feel of the buildings. The bubbling up of excitement: I was in London.

After we found our hotel—we stayed at the Swinton Hotel, which felt dowdy and comfortable in a British way, like the sort of place the Fossil sisters would stay—we headed round the corner to a tiny...I don't think it was a pub, but it wasn't a restaurant. A cafe? It was called Nivens, and they made us breakfast, and I still was pinching myself (and Haley was still telling me to chill!)

IMG_8794 river thames

(Walking by the Thames. I sort of have A Thing for Walking by European Rivers.)

That was the beginning of our London adventure. Here's a list of the things we managed to cram into our two days:

The British Museum

The National Gallery

Walk through Trafalgar Square

Walk down Charing Cross Road (because books)

Buy a used copy of something from a book store on Charing Cross Road

Visit Liberty of London and buy some fabric

Sightsee: The London Eye, Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London (These were places we walked past but didn't have time to go inside of)

Eat: Fish & chips (Haley had both, I just had the chips)

The British Library (quite possibly my favorite place in London)

St. Paul's Cathedral (Although, alas, we got there after it was closing, so I only got to do a quick walk through)

Shop at the Top Shop (Haley spotted this and wanted to stop, I'm definitely not cool enough to know this is a Thing)

Find the original place where the Globe Theater used to be (one bit of the circle can be seen in a parking lot between two apartment buildings

Visit the rebuilt Globe Theater

Cross as many bridges as possible (we did Tower, Southwark, Millennium, Westminster, and Golden Jubilee)

 The list of things we didn't do is fairly long, obviously; I am saddest about not being able to tour St. Paul's or enter the Tate Modern. We got a late start on our second day—we got up and ate breakfast, but when we got back to our room we all crashed—and I didn't time things quite right (I should have left Haley shopping at the Top Shop while I went into St. Paul's because churches weren't her thing). But I think we fit in almost everything we could in the time we had.

(I will write more detailed posts about several of my London experiences.) 

IMG_8862 haley amy tower bridge

(The Tower Bridge in the background.)

Two days in London was definitely not enough for this English Geek. It was just enough to give me a taste and to let me know that I need to plan another trip, my fabled one: a grand tour of the British Isles, with hiking and museuming and architecture gazing and castle exploring and maybe even driving on the left side of the road.

IMG_8895 globe 4x4

(Outside of the Globe Theater.)


Home from Europe: A Snapshot of a Vacation

I’ve been home from Europe for a week now. The jet lag is finally worn off; I am down to waking up only two or three times a night wondering how I fell asleep in my hotel room with the door open and panicked because certainly someone’s stolen my suitcase and don’t I need to catch a train? I’ve made a cursory pass through my photographs and I’ve sorted out my souvenirs (mostly post cards of my favorite paintings from the many museums we went to) and put away all of my travel gear—except for my suitcase which is still by my bedroom door.

(Maybe I should put it away and then I could sleep through the night.)

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(Outside the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. Yes, I totally wore trail runners and skirts.)

People keep asking me how the trip went, and I have to be honest: I have some conflicted feelings about it. There were some really, really good moments: when Haley and I first saw our hotel room in London, and it felt like the very best kind of shabby British establishment. Braiding Haley’s hair for her before we left for the day, and the next day when I tried to fishtail it and it was a big fat mess. Eating fish & chips (for Haley) and chips (for me) in our room on the second night, thoroughly exhausted from all our walking. The moment it stopped raining and the sun came out in London. Walking across so many bridges. Belgian waffles (more than one!) in Brussels, shopping for souvenirs in little shops, a cruise of the river Seine, a meal in the late Paris twilight. There were tears of many sorts, and wet shoes, many wrong turns and not a few wrong buses. There were three distinct miracles—four, really—and one near disaster.

I learned many things, about myself and about Haley and about our relationship. I learned how to get around on a metro. I learned I don’t only get anxious about missing air plans, but about missing trains, too. I learned there are bathrooms that are dirtier than the filthiest Ragnar honeybucket. I learned that the keyboard on French computers are different from English ones, and then I laughed to realize I’d never thought about keyboards in other languages. I learned that even with wrong turns, stops closed because of construction, and a language barrier, I can figure out how to get around in an unfamiliar city. I learned I can survive for quite a while without eating anything much at all. I learned you should always bring a back-up credit card, photograph your passport, and print your boarding passes from home.

I learned I am quite the museum crier.

The museums! The art. That was my favorite part. Not seeing a painting in a book, or a print on someone’s wall, but the real, actual painting touched by the person who created it: that is, to me, an amazing thing. It’s sort of a time travel mechanism; the artist is gone but his (usually!) art is still here, a way to sort of experience the artist, except in some sense you know more about his (or, rarely, her) life than he did. I adored visiting the museums.

But it was hard to be the tour guide. It’s different to experience a city in real life, as opposed to plotting out your route on Google maps. Well, obviously, and of course I knew that, but I felt overwhelmed the entire time, and like I had to hide my overwhelmed feeling so the trip could feel smooth for my traveling companions. I had a moment at Heathrow, when we’d gotten our luggage and it was real: I had to get us from the airport to our hotel, which was luckily a straight trip from Heathrow to St. Pancras station on the tube. I wasn’t ready for transferring trains yet. I almost panicked right there, but then I took a deep breath, tried to remember what I learned from all the guide books I read, and followed the signs to the Tube station. Our Oyster cards worked, we could only go one way on the train, and we made it to the hotel (eventually…I had forgotten my umbrella and it was pouring rain, so I stopped at a random shop and bought one, but then I was trying to pull my suitcase, keep my carry-on bag on my shoulder, hold my umbrella up, and follow the navigation app on my phone).

And needing to be on time for four different trains really did give me a constant, low-level anxiety that ran underneath everything.

It was difficult for me to decide where to eat, between trying to keep a reasonable budget and feeding vegetarians.

And I think I was thirsty 90% of the time.

Still, it was a week in Europe with my daughter and her friend. I got to see a Van Gogh almost every day. I got to go running in Amsterdam and Paris. I walked all over London and sat in underappreciated churches in Brussels and walked through the red light district in Amsterdam. I got brave asking “parlez-vous anglais?” in Paris. I saw priceless, ancient statues in the Louvre and the British Museum; I bought fabric at Liberty of London and a used book at a bookshop on Charing Cross Road. I recounted British history and I bought a small (and likely not authentic) piece of Delft pottery and I wandered around the Grand Place in Brussels.

How was my trip? It’s hard to sum up. I keep thinking about how to blog about it, and I think I will have to break it down into very small parts. It wasn’t a relaxing trip by any means. But it was an adventure, one I will think about a remember for my entire life; one that made me hope for other European experiences (hopefully not so rushed next time); one that I was glad to share with my daughter.

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on Traveling to Europe

​​When you read this, I will be in Europe. (You can follow along on my adventures on Instagram; follow me @amylsorensen.)

Amy in Europe

(My first time in Europe...wandering a street in Florence, my favorite Italian city.)

In January Haley decided to do a semester abroad in Spain this summer, and then in April she had the idea of going a week early, to see some of the sights in Europe. I decided to come with her because I was worried about her traveling around Europe on her own. (And because I wanted to see some of the sights in Europe too!)

I was talking to a neighbor about this trip, and she said "I can't believe you're brave enough to travel to Europe without your husband. Or even at all! I would be so afraid."

"What would you be afraid of?" I asked her, sincerely curious.

"Getting lost. Or mugged. The airplane crashing. All of those terrorist attacks in Europe!" 

I thought about what she was saying. It reminded me of my mornings spent running up Squaw Peak Road, which is a steep, twisting, narrow mountain road near where I live, with narrow shoulders, and how whenever I start to run it, I am overcome with "what ifs." What if I got hit by a car? What if I accidentally fell down the mountain? What if I stumbled on the road and got injured? What if someone from the shooting range shot so wildly that he shot me? What if a mountain lion followed me?

Usually, before I start, I have to take a deep breath. I have to remind myself of my precautions: I only run with one earbud in, and the volume on my music extra low so that I can hear the traffic. I stick to the shoulder. I run with my cell phone so if anything But when I get started running up that road, I leave the "what ifs" behind. What I find instead is a running bliss that is unique to that place, inspired by the steep uphill, by being on a mountain, by the view around me (three different mountains I have hiked, and trees so close i can touch them if I want to, and wildflowers and the blue blue sky). It is a hard run, but it is beautiful, and if I let my "what ifs" stop me, I would never feel that feeling.

I listened to my neighbor and her litany of fears, and why she would never travel without her husband or, likely, with her husband, and I found words tumbling out of me. I hope I was gentle and not judgmental. "I decided a long time ago," I told her, "to not be limited by fear. To not let fear stop me from doing what I want to do. If I let myself be afraid, I would never do anything."

If I'm honest, I can tell you: I am afraid. I'm afraid that we will miss our carefully-scheduled trains. I'm afraid of getting lost and of losing Haley. I'm afraid of not knowing how to navigate the Tube or the Metro and of ending up somewhere dicey. I'm afraid our hotel in Amsterdam—right in the middle of the Red Light district—will be dodgy. I'm afraid of pick pockets. I wasn't afraid of airplane crashes, muggings, or terrorist attacks, but I am, a little bit, now.

But still—when you read this, I will be in Europe. Because you know what else I am afraid of? Never experiencing anything beyond the small confines of my everyday life. Never sitting at a street cafe in Paris while French is spoken around me and I don't understand anything but I am there. Not having any more museum moments, when you go to a specific museum to see a specific piece of art which is, yes, amazing, but you also find your​ piece there, the one that everyone else might overlook but that is a piece that changes something for you. The prospect that I will never see the great architecture of the world, or wander down ancient streets I don't know the name of, or stand on a bridge over the Thames or a canal or the Seine.

I want to be amazed by what is around an unknown corner, humbled by history, astounded by churches. 

I want to run down cobbled streets or on a path through a garden or past storied monuments. (Yes...I am packing my running shoes!)

I want to go, and see, and experience what the world wants to show me. 

I am afraid of the bad things that could happen. But I won't let my fears stop me from experiencing the good things that can be found only by stretching. By going out into the world anyway.