Sunday, December 17, 2017

Travel as a Family Ritual

With my dad and sisters, 1972. We are wearing sweatshirts bought when we traveled
to Long Beach, Washington,where we went clamming. This picture was taken in Yosemite.
My parents loved travel. They started traveling with us, their three daughters, from the time we were small. We did a lot of camping, first in a tent and eventually in our Prowler trailer. Dad taught us how to fish. We went crabbing in the cold Northern California waters, clamming in Washington. We took a car trip from California to North Carolina. From Southern California, we crossed the border into Mexico, wandering the markets of Tijuana, buying hand-painted marionettes and stenciled leather purses.

When my dad took a group of high school students on a "round the world" six-week tour one summer, Mom was jealous but didn't sit around moping. Instead, she took my sisters and me on our own adventure: a tour of the Gold Country, where we stayed in haunted hotels and went gold panning.

I loved spending time outside of the structured life of home and school. Traveling helped me experience a fresh spontaneity and freedom with my family--and to see that the world had so much to offer beyond the scope of suburban life. 

As life would have it, I never had kids. Would I be as well-traveled if I did? Hard to say, although I have been inspired by others. In many places Dave and I have been, we've met traveling families with kids of all ages. Some are on vacation. Some live abroad, others nomadically.

A few years ago at a writing retreat, I met RenĂ©e Dineen--and I was blown away to learn she has traveled to 48 countries with her family of four, starting when her kids were infants. Her son Braedon is now 12, and her daughter Raegan is now 10. As the title of her blog—Travel Moments with Kids—proclaims, traveling as a family is not only doable but immensely rewarding. As a fellow travelling writer, I wanted to feature her on my blog so I asked her a few questions. 

Renee and her family in the redwoods of Northern California
When did your love of travel first blossom?

My husband Sean and I started traveling early in our relationship. Before kids, and for a short while after our son was born, we did what we called Mystery Weekends, short holidays planned by one of us. The location was kept secret until we arrived at the airport or headed out on our drive. After our son was born, we continued to travel but slightly less spontaneously, though by the time he was two, he had clocked over twenty airplane trips across the US, a week in Paris and a five-week holiday in Italy.

In 2010 we moved to Switzerland for work, providing a whole new level access and exciting places to explore. Our time in Europe deepened our bonds as a family. Travel was no longer a hobby but a unifying custom—an established practice we knew would accompany our lives as a family forever.
Halong Bay, Viet Nam

What inspired your travel blog Travel Moments with Kids?

People often ask me how I became such an evangelist for traveling with my family, and how those experiences landed me in the blogging world.

Returning from the US in the summer of 2014, I didnt want to forget a moment, more importantly the possible meaning of those moments.  Most of these moments, imaginably all of them, were unplanned. In this way, traveling as a family has not been a means to an end but a series of spontaneous and meaningful moments that has shaped my family. It has shaped us as individuals, spouses, siblings and parents. 

So in December 2014, I began to capture what I’ve come to refer to as moments. Each moment is explored in one blog entry. A moment is not just the description of an experience but an exploration of what makes it a time of deep knowing and discovery.

The inspiration to put these writings into the world is about shedding light on the topic of family travel, a decision that undeniably opens up different doors to the world—a world that even those who don’t travel have a deep desire to understand. 

To write the blog has been a personal practice of mindfulness, a way to remember the awareness I held during each precious moment.  I also applaud myself and my family—and forgive us for our mistakes. 

Paros, Greece
You make it look easy. Is it?

Parenting is hard no matter what. Many people hold beliefs that traveling with kids makes it that much more difficult, exhausting, and not worth the time or effort—validated further by our own bad experiences with our parents or a failed first attempt with our own kids.  These reasons are often focused on concerns about safety, unpredictability and personal discomfort—all presumably resulting in more work.

For me, the "work" of parenting is not much different at home than it is elsewhere. The topics and content of the day may be, but not the heart of parenting—the harder work.

What also continues to be a motivation to travel is that while traveling, we are more focused on each other and on us as a family. Because of this we actually find that we need this time together. And so the next trip planning begins!

Athens, Greece
What is your biggest discovery about family travel so far?

Obviously there are a lot of travel specific tips and advice we have learned: like how to research new locations, pack more efficiently, and the best websites for travel deals.  However, these are not the most important things I wish to share.

If we choose to expose our kids to a bigger world—one full of cultures, traditions and practices that differ from our own—we loosen, we expand. We see that there is not just one way to parent. There is not one best way to travel the unpredictable, ambiguous new worlds we enter. And we can’t figure out any of this alone! We learn it on the journey of connecting to people and cultures. Travel reminds me of this every time. The world has become a teacher for all of us.
Lake Lugano, Italy
What do you hope happens as a result of traveling with your kids?

I cant predict the specific impact our travels will have on my kids, and Ive come to realize that I dont need to. What I do know is that who they are, how they see the world, what they understand about Sean and me and us as a family unit will be greatly affected by each place they visit. Travel changes lives.

What else do you want your followers to know?

I hope that Travel Moments with Kids might somehow inspire  parents to expand the borders of their lives as a family and as individuals in this world—a world in which we are all ultimately striving to be happy, healthy, developing people who leave this life having lived on purpose. 

If you’d like to contact Renee, you can email her at renee@travelmomentswithkids.comHer travel moments and more about her story can be found at:

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What if Your Life Ruins Your Book?

Definition of irony:

You write a novel based on the story of how you met your wife, the first woman you ever loved.

When the novel is released, you and said wife are in the midst of a divorce after 15 years together. And not one of those civilized divorces that people claim exist, but one of the cheating-screaming-lying-Imma-lock-you-outta-the-house-Imma-sue-you-Imma-kill-myself divorces.

I can write a funny sentence about it now...but at the time it was as excruciating as it gets. And ultimately, as transformative as it gets.

Yes, I'm an example of the worst thing that ever happened to me becoming the best thing that ever happened to me...but damn that shit was painful.

And in the midst of it, my novel Complementary Colorswhich had been two years in the making, was released by a small press.

I sat like an earthquake survivor in the midst of the ruins, this novel in my hands that fictionally portrayed my destroyed relationship as an exquisite encounter between soul mates.

How could I promote this book that now felt like a big lie? Even though it was fiction, it was so close to the bone my skeleton ached. How could I stand in front of people--quivering, manic mess that I was--and read a love scene based on the woman who broke my heart?
The newer edition of this one features
a photo taken by my husband, Dave.

When my first novel, For the May Queen, was released, I did radio programs, interviews, readings--resulting in lots of sales, reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and emails from readers. I just didn't have the heart to do anything for Complementary Colors...and while it found its way into a few readers' hands, it mostly limped off into oblivion. A few years later, the small press folded and the book went out of print.

Last year when I was teaching in China, my colleague Paul and I starting meeting every week at Starbucks to share our writing. He did something no one else has done, to my knowledge: ordered my books (my memoir, both novels, my poetry collection, my book about teachers) and read them all. He loved Complementary Colors and encourage me to republish it.
Friends in China. Paul's in the back with his arms up.
At first I balked. But then I re-read it. And it felt good. It was the kind of book I like to read. It's about a transformative time in the life of a woman. It's about art and poetry and sex and love.

I don't feel anymore that the book is a lie. It is emotionally true. And emotional truth is timeless, not dependent on "the way things turned out." The book portrays a moment in the life of a woman who is and is-not me. And I'm proud of us both in our fallible humanness...and our ability to transform.

When I was in the pit of despair during that breakup, my friends and family gave me so much love and support. And such is true in the re-releasing of this novel. Jan McCutcheon of Coyote Creek Books took on the project whole-heartedly. The gorgeous new cover art is courtesy of my best friend from high school, Nancy Larrew (of Blue Five Productions). Without Paul Mullen (author of curse this blue raincoat), this novel would not have been given a second chance.

And I am deeply grateful to my husband, Dave Rhine. He never once said I should put this story behind me. Instead, he knows that without my life stories, I would not be who I am now--the woman journeying through life and the world with him.

(Complementary Colors is available here.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Snug Harbor

Housesitting nirvana.
Yesterday morning, a storm with a severe wind advisory descended on Washington. Winds made the windows shriek. We jumped from bed. Time to feed the dog, pack, and clean the house. Our two-week Seaview, Washington house sit was over. The owners were returning in a few hours.

Our next house sit, in Seattle, wouldn't start for a few days. We planned to drive up the Olympic Peninsula, exploring beaches, trails, little towns. But no way, not with this storm. We'd hunker down for a few days, probably at a hotel or BnB in nearby Astoria.

Cape Disappointment State Park...not a disappointing nearby hike.
I stuffed the sheets in the washing machine and cleaned up the kitchen while Dave vacuumed every nook and cranny of the sweet Victorian. It's fun to know homeowners will return to a super clean house, the animals fed and happy. Bill and Sherry--a doctor and a nurse--had been in Nigeria on a medical mission. They'd worked long days in 100-plus heat. They were likely to appreciate a comfortable return.

The good news was that we hadn't burned down the house. One afternoon, a neighbor had alerted us to weird, white smoke shooting out of the chimney. A chimney fire. For a few tense hours we monitored it. Fortunately, it self-extinguished without the help of the fire department, whom we had on speed dial. By email, Bill had been apologetic. I said don't worry about it. There were other sources of heat. And we loved being here.

Willapa National Refuge
Why? Let me count the ways. Near the beach. Incredible nature hikes. A great bakery (not to be understated after more than a year in S.E. Asia, where we craved American baked goods). Amazing seafood. There's a little cannery a few blocks away where we bought a case of smoked tuna, infused with pepper and lemon.

Seriously delicious fish-and-chips, tuna melt, fish tacos.
During our stay, I got together with an old high school buddy who lives nearby. And my friend Anne (who lives in Portland) visited for a couple of days. I always like to ask the owners if they are okay with visitors, and they usually are. In fact, Bill had been quite enthusiastic about it, saying he hoped we'd enjoy the area.

With poet/artist Anne Paris Jennings. It had been 9 years!

And now it was time to go. While Dave packed the car, I took Freckles for a walk to the nearby beach. The wind was whipping but the sky was blue. Rain wouldn't roll in for an hour or two.

pure love
Ah, Freckles. Rescued from a puppy mill and so full of love. Our last walk. There are lots of firsts and lasts in nomadic life. Everything changes, and nomads don't suffer the illusion of stasis.

The waves were massive. This storm meant business. We didn't know where we'd be spending the night. And our Subaru had developed a bit of a leak in the back, not a big problem unless you were driving through a downpour with your car packed.

You can drive on the beaches here.
I ached a little for the cozy sweetness of the house. And a small part of me was excited, as always, about the unknown of the "next thing."

Bill and Sherry arrived on time. Freckles and Robbie were happy to see them, which always makes leaving the animals easier.

Robbie, a Scottish fold
As we talked, they told us they've been to more than 90 countries! So often the people we housesit for are part of our traveling tribe. When they asked where we were headed next, we explained how the storm had put a kink in our plans.

"Well, why don't you stay here a few more days?" They said. In unison! They didn't need to consult in private. They spontaneously, simultaneously offered up their generosity. Turned out, they had come only to pick up the animals then head back to their main residence, a few hours north.

Dave and I looked at each other. He held the car key in his hand. Our packed Subaru was snug in the dry garage.


"Sure," they said. "Stay as long as you want. We won't be back here until the end of next week."

A run to the grocery store later, we pulled our stuff out of the car and reinstalled it in the house. That was a first. So here we are for a few more days while the storm blows through, snug in the generosity of people who quickly transform from strangers into friends.

Willapa National Refuge

Friday, November 10, 2017

Time Travel

Seaview, Washington

Back in the U.S. after more than a year, it's like we've stepped off a time machine. The more we live this nomadic life, the more all travel feels like time travel. Life doesn't feel linear; it's like something I'm swimming in, a dreamy substance that infuses me.

When we left China, we traveled in Thailand and Indonesia for three months. Was that yesterday? Last year? Ten years ago? Or is it still happening?

time and space blend...
When I look at Dave's pictures and write about the oraguntans and komodo dragons, the Gili islands and Amed,  Anais Nin's words come to me:

Writers taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.

Visceral recollections sweep through me: My arms wrapped around Dave on a motorbike, up hills with blue sea vistas, gliding past palm trees, winding through traffic.

My job is to hold on and loosen up. Alert relaxation, like a meditation. At times I close my eyes, feel the tropical air touching my skin, my heart pressed to Dave's back.

Phuket, Thailand
In Ubud, I walk morning streets, incense and flowers perfuming the air, dogs sniffing at offerings placed on the streets, kites and birds floating in the sky, swaths of green rice fields glowing in the sun, ancient temples wedged between stores.

Stairs to yoga.
Intuitive doing yoga in a tree house.

There are so many incredible women everywhere: in yoga, in a goddess workshop, in cafes. We talk: Not what do you do? But who are you, what matters to you, what is your life? I'm giddy. I'm in awe. How is it that we collided here on the planet at this place and time?

Marilyn, in her 70s, has lived in Ubud many years with her Balinese "family."

Coco Wayan...we greet each other every day, and I buy coconuts from her.
Eliska and Christie, getting in touch with our inner goddesses.

The young women at the hotel in Flores call me "Mama Kate."
Embraced by friendship: Nancy (center) and Cynthia who met up with us at the writing retreat.
Music plays in my mind, the vibration that runs through the body, the heart, as our friends Paul (from Liverpool) and Daria (from Russia) play. They have come from China to meet up with us in Nusa Dua, Bali. We are together again, connected through rhythms and voices...

Throughout Indonesia, we experience music, dance, bodies telling stories.

Uluwatu, Bali
Ubud Jazz Festival

Jimbaran, Bali

Two months in Indonesia and we're off to Thailand. Did I really co-host a writing retreat on the island of Koh Phangan? Something I'd dreamed about doing for long time...and after all the months of planning and prepping and there we were, writers together, having journeyed on airplanes, trains, boats to converge in this rarefied little corner of the world.

Although I risk cliche, I will say it: we laughed, we cried, we wrote our hearts out.

Writers at work... 

...and play.

And all the water, the body floats there now.
Flores, Indonesia with Fran and Paul

Koh Phangan, Thailand writers

Nai Harn Beach in Phuket, where we spent our last 2 weeks.

Leaving Southeast Asia after more than a year, we travel for 24 hours and land in the dream of Hawaii. When we arrive at the waterfront home of our friend Candis, we throw off our clothes and jump naked into the warm Pacific.

We're on the other side of the world. And again we're in the ocean, in our most natural state, afloat in the Earth's amniotic fluid.

Lanikai, Oahu

Everywhere go, it seems, I am sent messages.

Found in Thailand

Found in Ubud.
Life, I am listening.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Indonesia Part 2: Orangutans and Komodo Dragons

soulful eyes in Borneo (all photos by Dave Rhine)
In our 7 years together, Dave has turned me on to the allure of the wild animal encounter.

Sea turtles, kangaroos,  platypuses, an echidna, mongooses, water buffalo, jackals, monkeys, wild horses, elephants, peacocks, monitor lizards, macaques, crocodiles...and an amazing 40 minutes with a leopard, just to name a few.

When we decided to travel to Indonesia, he said we must see:

a) orangutans and
b) komodo dragons

Komodo dragons? I'd never heard of them. And I hadn't known that one of the last places in the wild orangutans live is Borneo.

I also soon learned that Borneo--the third largest island in the world--is divided into four regions: Kalimantan (part of Indonesia), Sabah and Sarawak (Malaysia) and Brunei (an independent sultanate).

Our trip took us from Amed, Bali to Kalimantan by way of Jakarta, where we met up with our friends Paul and Fran, who'd taught with me in China.

with Paul and Fran on the klotok
From Jakarta, we flew to Kalimantan, where we were taken to a dock to board a klotok that would be our home on the river for the next three days. We spent hours drifting down the river, watching the humid jungle float by, enjoying the boat-produced breeze.

At times the captain slowed for us to watch creatures in the trees. Especially fascinating were the proboscis monkeys with their Jimmy Durante noses.

There isn't much human population, but we saw a few homes on stilts whose inhabitants fish for a living.
We hung out on the top of the boat, while the cook crouched in the tiny, low-ceilinged kitchen below, preparing meals. It was incredible that such an array of good food poured out of the cramped space.

We spent one night on the boat shrouded in mosquito nets. What I'd imagined would be a romantic night cocooned in jungle sounds turned out to be virtually sleepless. The bedding was uncomfortable, and the hot, humid night was stifling. Although I am someone who generally doesn't equate comfort with happiness, I was thrilled that the next night we'd sleep in a hotel bed with A/C and warm showers.

Well...the hotel had no hot water. (And that was the start of almost two weeks without a warm shower, which will be explained in the next blog.) And no A/C. But a fan kept the air tolerably circulating, and the bed was big and comfy. I admit it; there is part of me that's a spoiled softie.

Yet it was all worth it. Any unease was abated when each day we hiked into the forest and came eye-to-eye with these amazing creatures:

According to our guide, this was a 7-year-old female, recently independent from her mother. I wondered if she was as delighted in us as we were in her? Curiosity and fascination surged through me. I hope it was mutual.

Our treks took us to orangutan feeding stations.
In spite of this warning, the young, male Indonesian guides bathed in the river.
At the stations, the workers dump out passels of small bananas. Soon, orangutans come swinging from the trees to drop down to the platforms. The big ones eat what must have been close to a hundred in steady succession. Afterward, a worker sweeps the peels off the platform for a patiently waiting warthog to dive in.

The mothers smashed a bunch of banana in their mouths and then pulled out the wad to feed the babies.

On our last day, at the final platform, we waited and waited after the banana distribution, wondering if the orangutans would ever show up. Then, suddenly, high in the trees: movement. There! And there! And there! Dozens of these red-furred humanesque creatures scurried over on the treetops, more than we'd seen in one place. A few large females dropped to the platforms, while tangles of children played high in the trees. Some plunged in death-defying drops from limb to limb. It was like we were watching play-date for the kids while the moms went "shopping." It was incredible to be able to view this community in action.

Fast forward a couple of weeks...and we were ready for our next wild animal adventure. From Flores, we took a day trip to Komodo National Park on Rinca (pronounced Rin-cha) island.
Kalimantan in the north: orangutans. Rinca in the south: komodo dragons.
The 90-minute ride was peaceful and spectacularly blue.

The little I learned about komodo dragons in advance of the trip included that they can grow up to almost nine feet long, they can move quickly, and their prey doesn't die from their vicious bites but from the komodo gift of deadly bacteria. Needless to say, it made me a little nervous when I saw that our guide was not carrying a gun or a machete...but a forked stick. I was skeptical that a nudge could keep these creatures at bay.

The stick is long...but how fast is the guide?
I did what I used to do when flying made me nervous: watch the guides (flight attendants) who do this kind of thing every day, and note that there are dozens of other people (passengers) going along nonchalantly for the ride.
Time for a manicure?
Our first glimpse of these dragon-y creatures occurred at the ranger station, where they casually hang out. A taxi driver (prompted by Paul) had told us a Halloween-like story about a ranger, who neglected to shut the door, being attacked in his office. When we passed the station and walked along a forested path, my skin crawled. Terror laced with thrill. It wasn't a horrible feeling.

Our guide pointed out a mound of dirt, a komodo egg nest. As he spoke, I saw a bit of dirt fly out of the nest. "I think there's one in there!" I said. Startled, everyone turned to look. Sure enough, a large female lifted her head out and eyed us. My heart skidded. Then she opened her mouth and hissed...a moment Dave, steady as always, caught on camera.

He also snapped this incredible shot of a swarm of bees we'd walked right past. Komodo National Park ain't no Disneyland. And for that, it's pretty amazing.

On the boat back, I thought how how, like the U.S.'s national parks, many people are involved in protecting these parts of the world. I'm grateful to them all.

leaving Komodo National Park