This summer, I took the first real vacation I’ve had since I was 17. No work, no school, no children for three weeks. More than three weeks. 26 DAYS! So I had some time for reflection. I don’t think I actually did any. I just had fun. And it’s all because of Zen.
My first night away from home was not so far away. My airline, ANA, put me up in the Narita EXCEL Tokyu for a 24-hour layover. I decided to find real sushi. I took the shuttle from the hotel to downtown Narita, got off and wandered down the streets and alleyways until I found a place that sold sushi. It wasn’t as easy as I expected it to be, but I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. First of all, the variety of sushi was amazing. I had queen crab and anemone and scallops and tuna and eel, and stuff I can’t name. I also got a lesson in how to eat it. It’s the original Japanese fast food, my sushi man, Daisuke, told me. You eat it with your hands. In the old days, the dock workers would have a roll in their pouch for lunch, and just pluck it out with their hands to eat it. Shashimi is eaten with “hashi,” or “chopsticks” for those with no real sushi experience. The queen crab took two hands. I had to pull the claw shell away from my mouth as I bit into it, to pull the meat off the ligaments. Yummy!
While I was sitting at the sushi bar two flight attendants from Singapore Airlines came in. They saw I was taking notes and asked me what I was writing.
“I don’t know,” I told them, and explained why I was there – no kids, first vacation, etc.
“You know what you should do?” the man said to me. “You should turn off the role of being a mom, and just be a real woman.”
I over-looked the implication that moms aren’t real women, and took the advice for what it was intended to be: encouragement to be myself and have my kind of fun. At the moment, the alarm on my iTouch went off. It was 8:30. Bedtime for my kids. The cricket alarm lets them know it’s pajama-time. I pulled it out of my purse, stopped the alarm, and turned it off completely.
“There,” I said to the pair. “Mom-mode is switched off.” I took a breath and felt it. It really was gone. There was no guilt. My children were safe and happy, though of course we missed each other. I felt freer than I have in decades.
When I asked the pair their names, I nearly spit my green tea out through my nose. “Josephine,” said the woman. And the man? Yes. His name was really Zen. Incidentally, I spent the next day wandering around the nearby Buddhist Temple.
Next stop was New Mexico, where I hung out mostly with my mom, as my dad went to Puerto Rico for his older brother’s wedding. We looked at old photo albums of my mothers, and I was amazed by her adventurous road trips to Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. We watched a very cool detective show called Murdoch Mysteries , from Canada. (I know! How could it be? But it’s true. It’s very cool. Check it out on Netflix.) And then my mom shocked me and said she wished she could come with me on my camping trip to the Grand Canyon. “Alright,” I said. And it was the best idea in the world! I got to spend time alone on the South Rim, hiking, painting, writing, zoning out and chumming with the Chinese tourists in Mandarin, while she hung out in the easy places to get to. We slept (well, I slept, and she fretted about bothering me) in a tent in Mather Camp Ground for two nights. The third night, she sprung for a hotel room, and convinced me, after some arm-twisting, that I should join her. (The arm-twisting worked when she said the word, “Shower.”) We ate fantastic camp food like pancakes and bacon, hot dogs and s’mores, and other stuff we avoid all year. We enjoyed our handsome Dutch pianist neighbor and his family. His wife didn’t want him hurting his hands, so his teenaged sons split the campfire wood for us. My mom was great company, and I’m so glad she came along.
A few words about the Canyon. That’s all I can write, because after four days of being at its edge, and dipping myself into it a few meters, I realize the impossibility of saying anything at all that could capture it. I could write reams about its geology, the history and diversity of its inhabitants, the variety of its visitors and the funny things they say, (One girl said, “Everybody’s trying to get some place. We’re already there.”) I could spend years trying to master the painting technique that would match the colors of the sky, the layers of rock, the green that dusts and clumps and clings to its walls, the shadows cast by clouds, or the dizzyingly spectacular sunsets. But none of it would suffice. One day, I will be an artist-in-residence there just so I can exercise some of that futility for five weeks.
After a few more days visiting family, I was off to San Francisco to help my step-daughter with her wedding. She had planned it from Munich, where she lived, together with her fiance, who lived in Manchester. They met in San Francisco, and bringing people together from all over the world for a wedding was easiest there. We had four days to pull everything together for two weddings (both a Catholic and a Baha’i ceremony) plus a reception, in what I am convinced is one of the most beautiful places in the United States. I had never been to Northern California before. I had no idea the bragging I’d heard wasn’t an exaggeration. And I was still on “Get out of Mommy-hood free” card. I had so much fun looping tulle, baking cupcakes (the bride wanted six varieties for the wedding cake she was baking, so who was I to complain?), and running around trying to keep the girl sane. On Friday, those of us present conspired to kick her out of the house, and sack her from her wedding planner position to remind her that she was the bride.
The next day was perfect. The Catholic ceremony was held at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, where we ate fabulous almond croissants from La Boulange in the bride’s room 10 minutes before the ceremony started. All I can say is, “Yum.” Wow, those were good! Plus, the wedding was beautiful, and sweet and funny. (I’ll go to my grave with the bride’s slip-of-tongue during the vows!)
Then we all trekked out to Alamo, across the Bay Bridge, up through the tunnel above the fog, and into the paradise venue that is Oak Hill Farm. The owner, Roberta Morris, doesn’t have a website, so I can’t share a link. But I have to show some pictures.
This place had beautiful rooms for guests to stay overnight, a large pool house and pool, plenty of everything a large party needs (linens, utensils, a kitchen, a pool table and Foosball table, a bar, extra chairs and tables, etc.), and the fantastic warmth and genuine hospitality that Roberta offers. I have to give her a plug because I don’t think people in the Bay Area know they have such a treasure of a venue available, and Roberta deserves all the recognition she can get.
Though the groom was admirable in his attempt at the couple’s first dance, my favorite was the Daddy-Daughter dance. My honey twirled his girl around the dance floor with grace and flair. They both look great, and the deck was perfect for dancing.
The Pool House patio had enough area for seating about 50. Another 20 guests were seated at the pool-side tables.
The pool was gorgeous. Some folks swam in the late afternoon.
And just because I can’t help but show off, I’ll show the Italian cream cake the bride made two days before the wedding, plus the carrot, red velvet, lemon, chocolate, and chocolate-hazelnut cupcakes we baked, and friends frosted the day before the wedding. The Italian cream was beautifully decorated by the groom’s mother, who carted the makings all the way from Britain, and almost had them confiscated twice by airport security.
I’m happy to report that the Mommy-switch works just fine. I was able to be in full mommy-mode each morning when I Skyped with my little doodle-bugs, and slid right into place when I returned to China, with my kids no worse for the wear.
Ok. So that’s what I did on my summer vacation. It’s no match for Olivia the Piglet‘s report, but mine is wholly and completely true, with photographic evidence to prove it. There were no earth-shaking revelations or insights. There was no explicit deep wisdom in my wanderings. Or maybe there was. Because what I found was pure, blissful joy in just having fun. What a revelation. I think I need to go and ponder that for a while. But first, I’m going to go dance with my husband!