Nordic bowling & old and new adventures

Tuesday, February 19th



The last time Gary and I had a vacation – just the two of us, alone, for more than one night, not just someplace nearby – was 1998. We had both just finished long stints of field work in West Kalimantan, and we needed hot sand and sun to dry up the mold that had grown on our skin and our clothes while we were in the wet, green forest. Gary planned the trip. Well, “planned” is really too strong a word. “Loosely sketched” might be more appropriate. We would hire a car to drive us to a port north of Pontianak, take a klotok (putt-putt) boat to a small island in the South China Sea, and spend three nights at a resort, relaxing and drying out. Gary, always thinking ahead, bought two 1.5-liter plastic bottles of water and some crackers in case we needed a snack along the way.

The three-hour boat ride was pleasant enough, but things started going pear-shaped when the pier of the small island, Pulau Randayan, came into view. Rickety and missing more than a few piles, it appeared to have been out of use for a while. The boat captain double-checked with us on our pick-up date and encouraged us to put on our backpacks. We’d have to leap onto the rickety pier from the moving boat, he explained. I guess there wasn’t really anything for him to tie onto. “Sampai hari Selasa!”, or See you Tuesday!, the captain shouted as he waved goodbye. Gary and I hopscotched our way up the remaining planks of the pier and walked onto the sand. The place was strangely quiet for a resort; not a soul was in sight. We crossed the beach to a small building that looked like it might be the resort lobby. Indeed, it had ONCE been the lobby, and, when we pressed our foreheads against the shaded glass of the doors, we could see a dusty glass counter that displayed a few snorkel masks. The door was locked. We settled down at a picnic table to contemplate our options, which were precisely none. Some coastal equivalent of tumbleweed blew across the hot sand, and the leaves of coconut palms rustled in the breeze. We each ate two crackers, figuring we’d need to ration the package.

Eventually, after long enough that Gary and I had begun to wonder…worry…about what we’d do, a lone fisherman rounded the curve of the beach. We nearly scared him to death, but once we’d greeted him in Bahasa, chatted a bit, and established that we were two morons who had arrived without food or arrangements for accommodation, he took pity on us. The kind man led us to the other side of the tiny island, where it turned out there was a seasonal community of fishermen. They gave us an empty shack to stay in, where we slept on our sarongs, and they fed us rice and fish and coffee for three days. We taught them how to throw a frisbee, and we listened to the musical chimes of bleached coral skeletons rolling on the beach with the waves. On Tuesday, now sufficiently dried out and each a few pounds lighter, we teetered to the end of the wobbly pier and leapt onto the same moving boat that had dropped us.

I don’t think I was mad at Gary for his crummy planning – our three days on Pulau Randayan were truly a magical adventure – but I was hungry, and these days I want a bed, and really good food, and internet, so this time I planned the vacation. And here we are, in a small town called Sayulita, less than an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. It’s not fancy – there are potholes in the streets and the faint smell of sewage hangs in the air – but just enough to remind us fondly of Indonesia. Tomas has school, and is staying with his Aunt Tina in Eureka, while Tristan and Phoebe explore San Francisco (so far Cal Academy and the de Young Museum) with Oma.


We are on the second full day of four full days here, five nights total! We have a bungalow on the beach, great food in every direction, internet, and a web of winding, cobbled streets lined by colorful art galleries and bright murals. Yesterday, on Day One, I had a morning jog on the beach and then Gary and I hit the Playa de los Muertos (where we did not run into any dead people) in the afternoon. Gary is deep into Sapiens by Harari, and I’m into a Jack Reacher book. (God I love that guy. Not the Tom Cruise version, but the one in the book. The real one.) Today, Day Two, is a bit cloudy, so I had a morning run through the twisting streets and now we’re taking things slow. We may go to the beach again later for a swim if the sun comes out.



Being here is, I think, made twice as good by the fact that the week leading up to this trip was really rough and actually getting here was an uncertainty. Gary was in Helsinki for work. I mean, why wouldn’t Finnish biofuels company Neste choose the dead of winter for its annual planning meeting with its sustainability consultants? Makes sense to me. Our good friend and neighbor, Lindsay, whose husband went to high school with Gary, now works with Gary, and she attends the meeting every year with him. Most years they find time during their trip to go bowling together. In Helsinki. In the dead of winter. So, I like to say that Gary and his friend’s wife go to Finland together every February to bowl. Somehow that just doesn’t sound right, does it? Well, this year, while Gary and Lindsay were on their annual Nordic bowling trip, it snowed and snowed and snowed on Kneeland Mountain. On top of that, trees and wires came down, and the mountain, as well as a bunch of other parts of Humboldt County, lost power for several days. Tomas’ ride down the hill for school couldn’t get up its driveway, and I twice got my car stuck on our driveway. At this point, none of this should be a surprise to you – does disaster ever NOT strike when Gary is gone?




For two days the kids and I were in the house. Tomas helped me haul up wood from the woodshed to keep the fire going, and the kids played card games and chess. I dug out my car (twice) with the help of neighbors, and eventually parked it in the drive of a near(ish) neighbor who lives close to the county road. Tomas helped again, this time to lug groceries down our almost half-mile long driveway. We recharged computers and cellphones in the stable, which my father rigged with a USB port and socket when he set it up with solar power. Tomas, bless ‘im, helped again, hotspotting his phone so we could watch Netflix movies in the evening. On the morning that we (minus Tomas) were due to head down to San Francisco, the kids and I hiked up the driveway to the neighbor’s house through new snow, in a shower of half rain-half snow, all of us carrying big backpacks and Tomas clutching his Science Fair poster, which I had wrapped and taped in garbage bags. I dropped Tomas at a friend’s where he would spend the weekend before moving down to his aunt’s house in town, and the little kids and I continued to San Francisco to meet up with Gary and deliver the kids to Oma. When we got below the snow line on the mountain, I breathed a big sigh of relief. I mean, Pulau Randayan was a great adventure and all, but it’s high time, after 21 years, for a new one.


Old adventures, new vacations, and snowstorms aside, the last few weeks have been filled with goats and kids and dogs. Of note:

One night Phoebe and Tristan made a fabulous dinner for the whole family, complete with table-setting, a menu, pizza, and salad. It was wonderful!


Phoebe is learning to knit. Her first project is to make leg warmers for the baby goat. Seems like a perfectly reasonable place to start, if you ask me.


Also, Phoebe celebrated her ninth birthday with a birthday party and sleepover. She asked for a goat picture on her cake, and, short of finding a goat pinata, we smacked around a paper Fortnight llama filled with candy. Baby Girl and Pip the puppy were present for much of the party.



Tomas seems to be in a great place, mentally and physically. He’s doing great in school, had a fun season of indoor winter soccer, and doesn’t seem to be longing for anything. He just seems happy! A good phase.

Tristan’s blood counts continue to be good, and he looks strong and healthy. Because this is the way things always happen, he did get a cold and terrible cough right before we drove down to San Francisco, and he was running a fever by the time we got there, and we did end up having to visit the ER at the UCSF Children’s Hospital to do a pneumonia check on the evening of our arrival in SF. After we were shown into our ER room, Tristan curled up on the bed next to me, we turned on Guardians of the Galaxy, and he sighed, “Oh mom, we haven’t gotten to do this together in so long.” In some weird, twisted way, it did feel warm and comfortable and familiar. Ugh that’s weird. I really wasn’t sure Gary and I would be able to leave the following morning, but Tristan’s lungs sounded good and the wise doctor gave us an antibiotic prescription to fill in case the fever and cough worsened. They didn’t, and Tristan is just fine.


It’s almost time to visit the bar down the street for a passion fruit margarita, so I’m going to sign off here. I do have photos back home of that absurd and wonderful Pulau Randayan trip, so I’ll update this post with some of those after we get back. Much love to you all, and, jeez, sorry about the weather to those of you back in the Kneeland snow.


And, of course, some more photos…





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