Wilder Mind

All road trips need a soundtrack.  And because this one is so long, there’s been a lot of music involved.

One of my favorites:

1. Mumford and Sons’ new album, Wilder Mind.  I’ll always remember hearing it for the first time: driving through the pitch darkness of Southwestern Colorado/ Southeastern Arizona, the music’s heated, pumping energy keeping Marc and I awake as we tried to make it the last four hours to Flagstaff.  Passing by the Four Corners at midnight.  Kids asleep in the back.  So different from their other albums, which I also loved.  Charged and wild and fabulous.  Full of emotion: angst and anger, love and celebration.  The blackness of the night aided our listening – sound and stars and a two-lane road were all that competed for our attention.  I could hear the intricate rhythms, the crackle of Marcus Mumford’s voice, the feeling busting out of the lyrics.  It was musical magic.

Some people don’t like the change in style that Mumford and Sons has played with on this album.  But I like both the old and new.  If they were lesser artists, I might wish they stayed with what they knew best, but clearly they do everything well. So I say let them be, and enjoy what they create.

We’ve listened to the album again and again at other moments: along the Pacific, among the vineyards of Napa Valley, through the redwoods on our way to Eureka (again at night – again amazing), but the first time was something set apart.

This trip will equal that album in my mind forever.


*My kids listened to Pop N Fun 1 and 2 as we drove through the redwoods, so they will equate the beauty of those majestic, ancient trees with the Mexican Hat Dance and Who Let the Dogs Out.  Awesome.


My Old Friend

We haven’t lived in Los Angeles for almost nine years.  I only lived there for eight.  So really, I should feel less at home there than I do in Lawrence, Kansas where I’ve spent the greater part of my life.  And mostly, I do.  But on this trip back to the land of my twenties, my young newly-married self, the landscape has felt surprisingly familiar.  The landmarks have seemed less like famous places to visit than old friends I haven’t seen in a while.  The magnolia trees and neatly trimmed bushes, the tropical flowers, even the bermuda grass bring nostalgia.  Not that my twenties were so great – they weren’t (marriage was hard, I felt awful, I didn’t know yet who I was).  But this place has clearly carved a place in my heart I didn’t know the depth of until this trip.

We drove north from Calabasas along the coast today.  Stopped in Santa Barbara for lunch (hello, sunshine and delicious grilled veggie sandwich), past countless rvs parked on the side of Highway 1, grabbing a slice of ocean view for themselves.  Past surfers and surf to the left, parched hills and shrubs to the right.  The drought has made the landscape different, like a friend who has gone gray and wrinkled with age, whom it takes a minute to recognize.  But as you stare you see that familiar face, beneath the wear and tear, and smile.  As we turned inland toward San Luis Obispo, our destination for the night, a rush of “Oh yeah…I know this,” hit me like the waves I had just been watching.  I remembered this exact drive from many trips to the Central Coast for wine tasting and fabulous, frivolous wandering.  The high hills that rise into mountains in the distance.  The curve of their backs lit up by the sun.  They welcomed me like a relative coming home for a family reunion.  “It’s so good to see you.”  Hug.  Kiss on the cheek.

“This could be the Flint Hills,” Marc said as we drove north of Morro Bay.  Perhaps why this place has always felt so familiar.  Like a taller version of my beloved, treeless rolling scape in Eastern Kansas.  With an ocean to one side.  Enough sameness to be instantly comforting when I first glimpsed the area at twenty-five, but different enough to be new and completely alive.  And on this July afternoon in my 40th year, happier in almost every way than when I was twenty-five, the Central Coast of California feels like a worn, nubby blanket from my youth.

The next phase of Highway 1 rises in elevation, craggy and majestic above the Pacific.  It’s a bit more foreign to me.  Grand and romantic.  Flashier and louder in it’s “look at me” popularity.  I’ll enjoy the drive along it’s cliffs, taking in the scenic views.  But my heart belongs to it’s lowly neighbor to the south.  Less dramatic, but dearer to my heart.  Quietly beautiful.  Full of air and sunlight and space.  I’m even more at home in crowded, crazy Los Angeles, where I spent a good chunk of my younger years peeling back it’s layers.  Southern California and the Central Coast are my second home, I was surprised to realize on this trip.  More a part of me than I knew.  Surely willing to welcome me back like an old friend the next time I get to visit.


Speaking of Surprises

Speaking of surprises…

Mae slipped while getting off a merry-go-round at a park in Pasadena, and that was that.  Split chin.  A trip to Urgent Care where they charged us $99 to tell us she needed stitches, but they couldn’t do them.  Since our four year old wasn’t going to sit still while the doctor stuck a needle and thread through her skin, we had to move along. (After much complaining they later reversed the charge, to their credit.) So we spent the next five hours in the Huntington Hospital Emergency Room.  Six stitches later we had a sad but mended preschooler, and headed to Hermosa Beach.

The show must go on.

Again, the unexpected is actually to be expected on a road trip.  Anything you aren’t planning is fair game.  Agendas need to be held loosely, with your sense of humor in tact, in order to brave a days-long vacation via car.  The more days, the more surprises.

When Luke was not quite a year old we drove from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon to spend Thanksgiving with my brother and sister-in-law.  It was a long, exhausting trek with a not-yet-walking-but-desperate-to-crawl baby.  His hands and knees were perpetually blackened from scooting along brewery floors as we made our way up the coast.  I nursed in the car, in gas station parking lots, tucked back into restaurant booths.  We shoved Luke’s pack-n-play in the bathroom at each hotel – fan on to provide white noise –   and shuffled to the lobby to brush our teeth each night.  But all of that, however tiring, was par for the course.  The usual for people traveling with an infant.  What wasn’t on our radar was the flu.  Just after our Thanksgiving meal it was clear Luke was ill.  He slept for days in my brother’s dark basement, waking only long enough to nurse and get an affirmative flu test at the doctor’s office.  We left nearly a week later than we had planned, Luke only somewhat better, with the entire length of the United States before us.  Poor baby.  Poor us.

Not the trip we had envisioned.

So said every person who ever traveled anywhere.  We lost our Shinkansen train tickets in Japan, got separated from one another at the largest outdoor market in the world in Bangkok, left Marc’s glasses at the bottom of an inverted trail in Hawaii, only realizing the mistake, of course, when we reached the top.  The unexpected is our constant travel companion.  At times because we’re dopey, but at other times because life is jam packed with twists and turns, and why should vacations be any different?  We make an itinerary, do our best to schedule only fun, but life sneaks in and throws us of course.  It’s bound to happen.  So be it.  Open hands and a sense of humor.  The most important things to pack.

Luckily, we brought two suitcases.


Vacation Expectation

Our expectations were low, but as per usual on vacation, expectations have little to do with actual outcomes.  I suppose if we had been determined to have a bad day, we would have had a bad day.  But we only assumed we would.  For our second day of travel we braced ourselves for bickering, for one billion potty stops, for three meltdowns, minimum.  It was our longest planned travel day – 10 hours without kids, 12+ with.  And none of us had slept well, including the one who had already had a massive fit our first night in.  We were girding our loins.  But we underestimated the power of beauty.

The Flint Hills of Kansas are lovely – one of my favorite places in fact – but they are the normal for us.  We’ve seen them a lot.  And further west is just hot and flat.  Not awe-inspiring, unless there’s a storm brewing or you travel at night and witness the expanse of sky bursting with stars.  But mountains?  “Ooooh,” and “Wow” aren’t uncommon to hear on a drive through them.  Their blue hue and sheer size invite deep thoughts.  A good soundtrack.  Frequent stops to enjoy the view.  And all of this brings down the crabby quotient.  At least it did on this day, which was such a pleasant surprise.

Here’s to the plethora of surprises to come on this trip.  There will be the opposite kind – the ones that make me sprout another patch of gray hair and curse under my breath.  So goes a family road trip.  But I’ll take today’s unexpected joy.  Road Trip 2015, Day 2, is in the books.  And I’m so thankful it didn’t go as planned.

* Update: the only meltdown that occurred was my own.  Realizing we still had four hours to go, the unexpected, unplanned part of our day didn’t look so fun anymore.  It looked stupid.  We rolled in to Flagstaff at 2:00 AM and woke up to little girls making a fort out of the hotel pull-out couch four and a half hours later.  I’m leaving my expectations wide open for Day 3.


We decided a year ago to make a pilgrimage.  A grand expedition for a family of five whose members only recently all pee on the potty.  A road trip that would last over a month, that would span Kansas to California, nearly the entire West Coast, and Oregon back to Kansas.  That would allow our children to witness the beauty we experienced pre-kids, when we had the time and freedom to periodically head north from our one-bedroom apartment in L.A. for an adventure.  We’d create a family adventure this time.  And now, that pilgrimage has begun.

I have hardly written at all since summer began.  Because I’ve been taxiing kids to activities, volunteering at camps, and soaking up vitamin D in the deep end of the public pool with a four year old jumping in, splashing me in the face one hundred times in a row.  It’s been awesome.

It has.  Not all the details – the lugging of beach towels, the bathroom breaks at girl scout camp, the mosquitos.  But the general summary is wonderful summer-ness.  Bike rides.  Fireflies.  Inappropriate amounts of ice cream.  Just too much summer to get anything like writing a blog accomplished.  But now.  My hope is to write.  To record our road trip in words.  Anecdotes, lists, an occasional essay.  For your sake if you’re interested, but long-term, for ours.  To help us remember this summer when we hit the road for a month, before Luke the teenager hated our presence, before Lily was too cool for princess books, before Mae lost her lisp.  This golden summer when gas was only $2.50 a gallon and Team Havener headed West.

It’s going to be epic, as Luke would say.  If you want to read about our adventure, stay tuned.  There will be much to say.


Day One:


lessons on peeing outdoors for the girls: squat, feet far apart, note the direction of the wind

prairie grass – undulating, shiny and green

big sky

windmills, old-school wood and metal; modern, white and mammoth

The Flint Hills, one of the loves of my life

“What does ‘X-rated’ mean?” from the 10-year-old in the back of the car.

Startup podcast

Vance Joy on Spotify from Limon to Colorado Springs.  Perfect.

Enormous meltdown by the seven-year-old over sleeping arrangements.

Subsequent mother exhaustion.


One day down, thirty-five plus to go.