I was very surprised to see that the last time I blogged was almost a month ago! I've thought about blogging but just haven't been able to actually sit down and pound out some words on the keyboard. After the 4th of July, my summer (usually the epitome of relaxation) became very busy. My sister went to the hospital one night in excruciating pain with severe nausea and vomiting...medically speaking, it is called "intractable nausea and vomiting," which means it just doesn't stop. She was there 8 days before they decided to discharge her without a definitive diagnosis. In the meantime, her kids, ages 6 and 7, were being farmed out to various neighbors and church friends, passed back and forth based on the availability of the kind and helpful people who reached out to them. After some discussion and prayer, we felt it would be good for me to fly to Virginia to stay with the kids and hopefully help my sister through her convalescence stage. We booked my trip---a red-eye flight---for just two days later. I worked hard the next day getting my life in order and my family ready for my abscence. The next day after that I packed, and then we headed into Portland to attend a wedding rehearsal, which ended just in time for me to catch the 10 p.m. flight to Virginia.
It was just a few months ago that I flew on an all-night trip to Brazil, so I had my gear and knew the routine. I selected a window seat so I could have something to lean my pillow against (rather than my neighbor's shoulder!). I pulled out my special travel blanket with wings (ha ha!) and snuggled into it, then blew up my special curved pillow, and waited for the lights in the cabin to be lowered. Well, they were lowered but only during take-off. As soon as we reached cruising altitude, lights began popping on all over the plane. Laptops came out and iPads started playing movies. What? Why wasn't everyone going to sleep?
"This is an all-night flight, people!" I felt like saying out loud.
I had neglected to bring my mask and ear plugs because I really didn't think I would need them, since I remembered how dark and quiet the flight to Brazil was. I certainly needed them on this flight. It seemed no one was interested in sleeping but me!
Needless to say, I arrived in Charlotte at 3 a.m. my time (6 a.m. east coast time) feeling like I was in a dream as I walked the brightly lit airport corridors to catch my next flight. All I remember about Charlotte is the white wooden rocking chairs scattered throughout the airport. Charming, really. It made me wish I could see the city. Maybe I'll go back one day! I found my gate and then ducked into the restroom to wash my face, brush my teeth and reapply my make-up so I'd look and smell okay when I landed in Richmond.
Richmond was expectedly humid, but even when expected somehow it still surprises me. My brother-in-law was there to meet me and we loaded my carry-on and work bag into the car (I was so proud of myself for packing carry-on only for this trip; I've never managed to accomplish it before!). We wound through the Virginia roads lined with thick trees on either side. There are no hills, just long stretches of trees, trees, trees. It's very pretty and lush, but kind of claustrophobic as you can never see a vista. It always feels to me as if we are driving through a corn maze, only instead of corn stalks it is tall trees. We arrived at my sister's house with two very excited kids waiting for me. I haven't seen my niece and nephew since they were very small, so I was just as excited as they were. My sister met us at the door looking pale but happy, and we settled in for a visit as well as a time of show-and-tell with the kids, who couldn't wait to share with me their favorite toys, drawings, books and games. Then I had my own show-and-tell, bringing my suitcase into the family room to pull out the presents I had brought from home and from Grammy.
Our days went smoothly. I cooked and cleaned for my sister and played with the kids. Then one evening the pain and nausea returned, so off to emergency she went again. Now I was on my own. The kids were hilarious, telling me where to find things and how to do it. Everything I did seemed to be punctuated with, "Mommy doesn't do it like that." "Mommy puts that here." "Mommy says we can do this." "Mommy says..." I forgot about the days when your kids actually cared about what you thought and how you liked things done! I told them that Mommy would have to go on a treasure hunt after I left because I was going to put things in the wrong place many times while I was there!
The days were long, and I wanted to keep the kids busy. My inclination was to head outside and go to the playground or on a walk through the beautiful trail system surrounding my sister's subdivision. But it was so darn hot and humid! We started each day early...breakfast and then out the door, trying to beat the heat, but the heat always won. It just never seemed to cool down there, not even at night. And the humidity made it almost unbearable. But we had fun tromping through the woods down to the reservoir, catching frogs and climbing over logs and taking lots of pictures (after spraying ourselves against the ticks and mosquitoes that were thick in that subtropical climate). We always arrived home exhausted and very sweaty. So a long drink of a water and splashing in the kiddie pool were next on the agenda. Then lunch, then a project to work on for the afternoon or an excursion, like the library, Wal-Mart, and frozen yogurt. Then it was dinner and some TV time, and finally my favorite part of the day...reading before bed. I did this with all of my kids for years and enjoyed it just as much as they did. I was sad when those days were over, but here I was years later with two kids tucked cozily into bed while I sat in the comfy chair beside them and read out loud by the soft evening light.
One night as I read, I just kept sweating. I wondered why it seemed as though I had never cooled down after our long walk that morning. Then my nephew complained, "Auntie Karyn, I am so hot!" "Really?" I said. "So am I. We'd better check the air conditioning." Sure enough, it was 79 degrees in the house. We figured out how to "re-boot" the air conditioning system and that was good enough to cool us to sleep, but I woke around 5 a.m. sweating in my bed and I knew we were in trouble. My brother-in-law came home later that day and worked on it for over an hour to no avail. By now the house was really cooking after another full day without air conditioning in 100-degree weather. So my brother-in-law told us to pack up because we were going to a hotel. We stopped at the hospital on our way to visit my sister, and she was looking so much better! It was good to see her with color in her cheeks. Then the kids and I got settled in our beautiful hotel room while my brother-in-law returned to the hospital to sleep in the recliner in my sister's room. He promised me he found it quite comfortable, but I felt a little twinge of guilt in our spacious hotel room with all the amenities!
The next day we had breakfast in the lobby and then walked next door to Starbucks for two kids' hot chocolates and a latte for me, then went to the pool where we hung out for the next few hours, splashing away the hot day and having a wonderful time. I honestly don't remember the last time I "played" in the pool! How fun to dive for items on the bottom and do handstands in the water. I even tried a backflip underwater, which I accomplished, but felt incredibly dizzy and disoriented doing it! Too old!
When we returned from the hotel, my sister arrived home shortly after. She was so much better! They'd had found the cause of her pain, which was what they called "a rare and severe allergic reaction" to a new medication she had just started. They took her off the offending drug and started her on a different one, and she quickly returned to near normal by the time I left.
We squeezed in some quality time in our last 24 hours together before I was to leave. We drove out to the country to Jimer's frozen custard stand, a little red-and-white striped stand that served up sweet and delicious Georgia Peach frozen custard, the perfect southern treat! Then we went to this fun district called Carytown and shopped and had treats and ate lunch and toured beautiful Monument Street and had a wonderful time laughing and enjoying each other.
And then it was airport time. The best part about leaving was that I could say, "See you next month!" because they had already planned a trip to see us in Oregon before all this had taken place.
Once the good-bye hugs and kisses were over and I was through security, all I wanted then was just to be home. The first part of the trip to Dallas was uneventful, but when we landed my whole weekend changed. Apparently, we had just missed some very violent storms that had caused the airport to close for a few hours. You'd never guess it by looking outside...the sun was shining fiercely and it was 105 degrees! But there were 70 planes sitting on the tarmac waiting to unload their passengers, and we were one of them. We waited for an hour in the plane that grew increasingly hot and stuffy, until finally we were able to get off...and then I found out that my connecting flight to Portland had been cancelled. Thus began the l-o-n-g night.
Dallas is a huge airport, so I boarded the sky train and rode to the other side of the terminal. There I stood in line until 11 p.m. waiting to get a new flight home. Well, that one didn't leave until the next day and wouldn't arrive in Portland until 11 the next night, after a 6-hour lay-over in Houston! I took it only because I had to, then wearily pulled my luggage behind me as I headed back to the sky train, because my new gate was on the other side of the airport where I had first arrived. By the time I arrived at my gate it was close to midnight. They were handing out red blankets and cots because there were literally thousands of people stranded there for the night. Later my mom told me the news said 200 flights were cancelled and 140,000 people were stranded or delayed. That is the population of a good-size city! I spent the next hour trying to nab myself a cot. First they were over at that gate, then over at that gate...no, that gate! I ended up back at the original gate and saw a stack of them loaded onto an airport motorized cart with people swarming it. I was just about to lift one off when someone called, "Don't take those! They are going to another part of the terminal." I wanted to shout, "But I need one here!!" But I kept my cool and asked, "Well, could you bring me one because I have been looking everywhere for one." Others weren't so cool. People were hot, tired and frustrated...and desperate for those cots! I felt like I was at a refugee camp! Everywhere you looked were bodies....in chairs, on the floor, on cots, wrapped in red blankets, trying to sleep in that very bright and noisy airport. I picked the least-lit corner I could find and set up my cot. Then I wrapped myself in my travel blanket, blew up my travel pillow, tucked my luggage between my cot and the window, put my blanket over my eyes and tried to fall asleep. I couldn't. That cot was nothing more than a piece of mesh stretched tightly across a metal frame that kept me off the dirty floor but did nothing for comfort. It was hard and unyielding and the bars pressed into my knees. Then the air conditioning finally kicked in as darkness helped cool the building, and I froze as the the chilly air circulated through the mesh, surrounding me on all sides. All I could hear was the TV to my right blaring on and on and on through the night the grim news of the Colorado massacre. I curled up in the fetal position and wrapped my whole head in my blanket and tried to get warm enough to fall asleep, but it never happened. Finally, dawn came. I was never so glad to see a pink sky before. I folded up my cot and stumbled to the bathroom to make myself presentable. I was so thankful that I had packed in a carry-on, otherwise I'd have no access to my luggage and therefore no clean clothes or toiletries. Looking brighter and better (other than red eyes), I walked down to Starbucks and ordered a Perfect Oatmeal and a latte, and then plunked myself down in the chair nearest the counter at my gate, plugged in my laptop, and ate my breakfast while reading the news, waiting for the first sign of an attendant at my gate so I could check out my chances of flying stand-by on a direct flight to Portland at 10. Every attendant I talked to had no hope to offer me, but I kept my seat and asked over and over. Well, that plane was also delayed. We waited and waited and waited, getting to know each other as everyone had a story to tell and wanted to share it (or vent it!). Finally at noon they boarded the plane. I was way down the stand-by list...of course. There were only 200 of us displaced and all wanting on that flight! I texted my family and told them to pray. Texts came flying back..."Praying!" My name bumped up to 7. I texted "7" to everyone and they texted back, "Praying!" My name jumped to 4. I texted, "4!" and they texted, "Praying!" My name jumped to #1! But then they stopped calling names. Instead they finished the long boarding process. I kept saying, "Please let me on that plane, Lord. Please!" The flight was done boarding. The group of stand-bys stood there forlornly, attempting to cheer each other up. Then, "Karyn Wells" was called from the desk! I was on!! I almost ran onto that plane! How exciting to text everyone that I had made it! Then I settled in for a wonderful 3-1/2-hour flight...wonderful because I was flying and not stuck for another 11 hours in the airport. I arrived home exhausted but giddy with relief at being in beautiful Oregon where the air is sweet and the breeze is fresh and fruit grows freely right in my neighborhood. My shower never felt so luxurious...and my bed, well, you know how incredible it is to sleep in your own bed when you have been gone a long time! I had texted Jeff to put clean sheets on before I arrived, and he had, so I snuggled deep into crisp, cool sheets and pulled my fluffy duvet right up under my chin and drifted into a sweet and restful sleep...
...and awoke the next morning just in time for church, a 6-mile hike to waterfalls, and company arriving from Canada!