City Exploring: Los Angeles and San Francisco

I find peace in my life by being present in every moment and working towards a better mindful meditation practice. That’s how I thoroughly enjoyed my summer vacation.

This year my family and I travelled to Los Angeles with a stop over in San Francisco before returning home to Toronto. Not one to want to waste a moment (and to constantly entertain a 4 year old) I jam packed our schedule in an attempt to see as much as possible.

We started with 2 nights in Anaheim at Disneyland. A smaller property than Disney World in Florida, there a lot of the same rides. My body fatigue has really affected me lately but with good planning (so you’re not running from one side of the park to the other), and a nap midday, it’s possible to see the best parts including the night time parade and fireworks.

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We headed into Los Angeles and visited their farmers market, The Grove, and the pedestrian shopping district. I thought it might also be fun to rent a powerboat and cruise the coastline. After an hour of choppy water (yup, we were sea sick) we opted to stay inland and enjoy some marina cruising. We visited the beaches including Venice Beach with their famous Muscle Beach attraction. I admittedly felt unsafe there because as a tourist trap every street performer, vendor and homeless person wanted our money, and asked in an aggressive manner. And we took in the natural phenomenon of the La Brea Tar Pits, which is as it sounds; natural tar that has risen to the surface and trapped fossils dating back hundreds of years.

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We finished our trip in LA at the Santa Monica Pier. On a bright, sunny day we peacefully strolled through the park, just enjoying each other’s company and being grateful for moments like those. I will say that the pier is not a smooth walk. With our small travel stroller, Sophie complained the ride was bumpy and the wheels occasionally got stuck in a ridge or groove. I might not recommend the entire pier to those in a wheelchair. You can still enjoy the view from the adjacent park.

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I booked San Francisco thinking I’d love to explore the city but hadn’t done my homework to know it’s quite an expensive city. Accommodations, even modest ones, can run several hundred per night. Don’t think about renting a car and parking; Even with Uber from one destination to another it is much cheaper. San Francisco has their famous Fisherman’s Wharf. A real fan of seafood and meats (protein is your friend when on a Paleo diet) I ate the largest crab in my life, cooked before me on the pier. We also spent a day visiting the Alcatraz Prison Island. I hate audio tours but this was fantastic. Wheelchair accessible with elevators on the island and the ferries, it is a sight for all to enjoy. There is a bit of walking but take breaks because you can leave on any ferry when you’re ready. Be warned about the city in general though – it’s much colder then you’d imagine and the streets are so steep cars ride their brakes often.

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I’ve always thought of myself as a beach bum or an adventure seeker but never as a city explorer until this trip. If you decide the west coast is somewhere you might want to visit, both cities and their people have so much to offer.

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Our Cruise Vacation (and the chain of horrible events)

For those who know me well it’s no secret how much I suffer from wanderlust. On days when I need a quick distraction I surf the Internet for “vacation porn”, shopping for deals, reading reviews and stalking friend’s Facebook pages for travel photos. So naturally I was thrilled our family, including my mother in law and her friend, were taking a cruise on Royal Caribbean. Now, I’m very grateful that we are fortunate enough to even get a chance to go but so many horrible things happened it was beyond comical. I don’t cry when my neuromyelitis optics (NMO) acts up but a bad vacation will actually bring me to my knees.

Thurs prior to leaving – Sophie comes home with yet another sinus infection.
Friday prior to leaving – I catch her infection…again.
Saturday 9am – Mike checks us into our Air Canada flight for Sunday 9:30am flight.
Noon – news reports poor IT shuts all computers down at our airport.
5pm – we double check flight status for the morning. Website states flight is cancelled.
5:01pm – Air Canada site won’t allow rebook, reservation line is busy, travel agent didn’t even get alert it was cancelled. Advised by travel agent to “just get to the airport”. Alert those travelling with us to hurry.
5:15pm – rush out door. Arrange cousin to meet off highway for dog hand off.
6:30pm – Mike begs counter for last flight to Florida, to Ft. Lauderdale, 3 hours from port of call. No room on any flights to Florida tomorrow.
10:15pm – after several delays, flight finally leaves. Sinus infection feels like my head will explode with flight pressure.
Sunday 1:30am – Ft. Lauderdale at car rental. Their computer system is down too! Wait in short line for long time.
2:30am – leave for hotel.
3:30am – Sophie finally settled for the night. I must send work emails, research baby store since we left the stroller in our hurry.
9am – leave hotel for breakfast, buy new stroller, hit drugstore for cold meds, drive 3 hrs to port and return car rental.
Monday (day 2 of cruise) – Sophie projectile vomits at dinner. Super sick. People give mean stares.
Tuesday (day 3) – I am projectile vomiting from both ends.
Wednesday (day 4) – it is obvious we have a virus. Push through St. Maarten port.
Thursday (day 5) – quietly sick in public stall onboard overhear 2 women speaking that their husbands and son have virus with similar symptoms to Sophie and me.
Friday (day 6) – 3rd port of call, Cococay, is cancelled due to rough waters. Sophie is a nightmare as she is clearly miserable.
Sunday 7:30am – get through US customs faster than anticipated disembarking. Car service to airport I ordered not there yet. We stand in cold.
8:50am – car service finally arrives. We are frozen.
10am – we just miss earlier flight to Toronto. Our 1:15pm flight delayed by 1/2 hr.
2:40pm – flight delayed several times before finally leaving Orlando.
Late evening – Mike now sick. It is definitely obvious a virus was onboard.
Monday next morning – all 3 of us are still sick. I work from home. Find out best friend’s Grandpa passed away and other friend’s Dad had heart attack while away.

Despite all that (and more that just isn’t appropriate for a public blog) we did take some nice photos that offer a perception that we had a lovely time. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be travelling any time soon as we’re happy to sleep in our own beds.

This is us on formal night…right before Sophie became horribly ill all over our formal wear.

 We’re both horribly ill here but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the sun and surf.  

Sophie on a nature conservation tour in St. Thomas.

Niagara Falls 2013

Recently we spent quality family time at Niagara Falls (the Canadian side in Ontario). My Dad just turned 65 years old and it was also my Mom’s birthday so we thought to do something special.

Dad won’t admit it but he found turning 65 difficult. Although it has been years of failing health (he was a lifelong smoker who was finally able to quit last year), being labelled a “senior” forces one to really evaluate what one can do better.

Living with Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) has forced me to make that evaluation sooner. I’ve read countless dietary books, blogs and medical articles and have tried various meal plans. I push myself that extra 5 minutes on the elliptical machine or just another 25 crunches. If I had a choice, I’d live in denial of the inevitable aging and go eat a juicy burger.

But I want more moments like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

(That’s my Mom, Ellen, and my sister, Debra, with Sophie and I.)

The majestic beauty of the Falls reminds me to take a moment and appreciate that life is bigger than me and definitely bigger than this disease.

Whistler 2013

We just returned from our trip to Whistler, BC and this year we made it a family event, bringing along my mother and brother in laws, one of my best friends and Mike’s aunt and uncle were able to meet us. And of course, my Sophie goes where we go. Many people were skeptical that I would be on my snowboard 6 months after giving birth so in true rebellious fashion I needed to prove them wrong. I like the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so”. Snowboarding is my representation of dusting myself off and getting back up – from NMO (Neuromyelitis Optica) and now having a baby.

I don’t know how it happened but somehow I’m a worse boarder than I was before. Why you ask? A couple of days every other year isn’t enough to get good at anything plus I still feel like an alien carrying these few extra pounds from child bearing. I pray that I’ll be good at the sport one day but the biggest barrier to my success is my ability to trust myself. As I stood at the top of each run I just couldn’t find my inner peace. I used to love the thrill of thrusting myself down the mountain yet this time I couldn’t find my excitement. I plugged my iPod in for motivational music and tried for inspiration from the snow covered trees and still nothing.

On my second day I spent the morning by myself cruising down each run, completing turns and only falling once. I still could not find my inner peace but I had a glimpse of it. I love being someone’s mom and someone’s wife but along the way I have been forgetting to be me. I don’t trust myself that I will find me again but I’ll keep forcing myself in situations like snowboarding till I do. Just like recovering from an NMO attack, maybe if I keep piecing together each of these fragments I’ll emerge a revised and improved version. I want to be the best me so I’m a good role model for my daughter.

Now that we’re home I’m planning to hit the hills again here in Ontario. They say practise makes perfect. Until then, I have prayer and laughter.

Here’s a sample of a song I use to stay motivated on the mountain: