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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Spur of the Moment Trips, Part 1... and Lush Cosmetics

Can YOU imagine taking
THIS on vacation?
I wasn't sure whether to post this article on Dapper and Dreamy or The Wide World of Jake.  I try to keep D&D, well, dapper and dreamy.  On TWWoJ, I can be a little more wide-ranging.  However, there were enough dapper and dreamy elements to post here, so off I go!

For our family of ten (yes, ten...  all human, two parents, eight children...  all ours...), taking a trip can be quite an experience.  An experience in chaos!  And fun... of course.  But, planning for a trip is absolute murder.  It goes something like this...

"What about a trip to Disneyland next month, or sometime this year?"  I say jauntily, to my wife, in the privacy of our bedroom.

"Do you remember how I wanted to jump out of the car several times between Weed and San Francisco?" she responds doubtfully.

"Hmmm, I forgot about that.  You didn't really feel like jumping, did you?

"I had my hand on the door handle all the way."

Now, what you don't know, and I didn't know, is that my ten year old son, Teddy, heard the first sentence in this brief discussion and, actually, only the first six words at that.  He has since run around the house telling his sister and brothers that, "Dad says we're going to Disneyland!"  Now seven very opinionated children throng our bedroom (Max can't walk or talk...  thank goodness.).

Our daughter who, at seventeen, believes that missing any school whatsoever will disqualify her from every scholarship, grant or academic award for the rest of her life if she misses school, absolutely refuses to go.  There is no way she is missing school for family time.  School is important...  having fun and enjoying life is not.

Jack, our eldest son who has travelled to Washington D.C., New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, various California destinations, Canada and Taiwan in the past two years (this kid knows how to network), would rather stay at home.  Not because of school, but all those little brothers...  dude.

The rest of the kids are beside themselves.  They've done the Disney thing before and, rather than being jaded, are ready to leave NOW.  All I can hear is a jumble of words like, "Grizzly River Run", "Mulholland Madness", "Splash Mountain" and "churros"!  I should note that Nick, a very laid back twelve year old, does chime in with memories of car sickness and throbbing toothaches somewhere on the road in the Central Valley, but this is somehow forgotten by the others.

Imagine now how difficult it is to explain that, no, Dad did not say we were going to Disneyland, just that someday, somehow we might.  Maybe.  Fortunately, in my present state of freelancing poverty, we needn't have this discussion at all.   You see, planning trips just doesn't work at our house.  In fact, the two most successful vacations ever have been those with virtually no planning.  They were also among the most memorable.

Several years ago, when we only had six children, we heard about an exhibition on Mr. Rogers at the Children's Museum in Portland.  Only two hours from our home, we jumped in the car around 1:00 in the afternoon and thought two hours with the man in the zip-up cardigan and denim Keds would be plenty.

Somewhere, about half way through the Land of Make-Believe, I mentioned to my wife that we'd never been to Victoria, B.C. before and wouldn't that be fun.  She agreed, we talked a little more, and as soon as we'd said goodbye to Mr. McFeely (I think this is a completely inappropriate name for a character in a children't program, but I suppose they were more innocent times), we headed to Victoria.

Of course, Victoria was another seven hour drive along a dark, winding road, plus another hour on a ferry...  the next day.  We had no luggage, not enough coats for everyone and it was rush hour in Portland.  Oh well, why not?!

We made it to Port Angeles...  much, much later.  The final hour on the road was punctuated with songs like, "Voulez-Vous Couchez Avec Mois"... crackling from the radio...  Anything to keep me awake.  Personally, I was so tired I would have stayed anywhere, but we chose a moderately priced, and very dull, Red Lion.  As is our normal practice (if you are a hotel employee, please skip this part), I checked in, leaving the family hiding in the car, and then surreptitiously snuck the seven children into a hotel room with a fire marshall-approved capacity of five...  not five children, five people in total.  It's best to find hotels with entrances other than the one that passes by the front desk...

As we were about to tuck in for the night, my wife had a sudden realization...  She had forgotten her purse.  This also meant that she did not have her driver's license or any form of useful identification.  This can be a problem when trying to cross international borders.

The next morning dawned wet and gloomy, but we were determined.  Port Angeles itself is hardly worth a perilous, eight hour drive, and we wanted to go to Canada.  A call to the ferry company didn't prove encouraging.  We could sail with them, but they weren't guaranteeing we'd see more of Victoria than the dock at which they berthed.

Fueled on maple bars and orange juice, a rather distasteful combination, we took courage and decided to give it a try.  What's the worst that could happen?  Spending eight hours in the ferry terminal in Victoria?  On reflection, that does sound pretty dismal...

The Coho in Victoria, BC, Canada

The passage over was calm and everyone seemed to enjoy the boat.  No seasickness and no complaining or wondering if we were, indeed, there yet.  At last, we sailed into the lovely Inner Harbour, welcomed by the floral greeting, picked out in yellow primroses on the side of a slight slope, "Welcome to Victoria".

Victoria's lovely Inner Harbor, watched over
by the Empress Hotel.

As we left the ferry and approached customs, I could see that some of the ship's staff were looking at us, probably watching to see what would happen.  The smartly dressed Canadian customs agent also looked at us, somewhat surprised at the size of our group, and asked our reason for visiting Canada.  We answered, went through a few more questions, and he finally asked for identification.  We told him the whole story of our spur of the moment decision to take a trip and my wife's purse.  He looked at our trail of children again, and decided that it was unlikely that anyone would travel with so many small people unless they absolutely had too, therefore none seemed to have been kidnapped by us.  I also think that an image of all of these kids, and their grouchy parents, sitting in his ferry terminal for eight, long hours went some way in persuading him to let us in.

It was a lovely day, and here's where the dapper and dreamy part starts to appear...

Victoria, B.C., is a marvelous place.  It is, they say, more English than England, and every experience I've had there seems to bear this out.  There is a civility that is evident everywhere, from the fabulous Empress Hotel to the Taco Time in the city's mall.  You know that you are no longer in the United States.  Everything is immaculately kept - the streets, the endless pots and hanging baskets filled with flowers, the gracious tea rooms and some really delightful little shops selling everything from chocolates (you have to buy Victoria Toffee at the Empress) to needlework to a year round bonanza of Christmas decorations.

Victoria's Provincial Parliament Buildings
illuminated at night.

At the same time, civility isn't friendliness, and it was here that we received more disapproving looks than anywhere else we've visited.  Generally, there are people who will ask about our family: "Are they all yours?", "They are so well-behaved!" (my favorite) and, "Do you know what causes that, yet?"...  (You can find more of these reactions on TWWoJ!)  But, not in Victoria.  Shopkeepers seemed concerned and fellow tourists seemed somewhat put out.  Even so, everyone was in good humor and we had a thoroughly enjoyable day.

We also discovered Lush.  If you haven't heard of Lush, you have been missing out on the most fabulous bath and body products you could ever imagine.  While there are only a few things for men, this store, and their online division, provides me with absolute, no-fail gifts for my wife and daughter.  Fizzing bath bombs, massage bars, meltingly creamy bath bars, shampoo, hennas...  The whimsical, and sometimes risque, names (Sex Bomb, Rock Star, Christmas Pud'...) only make you want to buy more and more.  I don't think my wife and daughter are ever happier with a present than when they open something from Lush

Inside a typical, and very fragrant, Lush store.

The shops are great fun.  We've visited the Victoria, Portland and Carmel locations, maybe a couple of others as well, and each time the people are friendly and the prices reasonable.  Frankly, even if they weren't, it would still be worth it! My own favorite product is a shower gel introduced at Christmas called "Glogg", after the Scandinavian holiday tipple of the same name.  Although it is purported to smell of sugar and spice, to me and my sons, it smells exactly like Pepsi!  Loving Pepsi, I also love Glogg in all it's foamy cleanliness.

And now, back to the trip... 

At the end of our day, the real test came.  While the Canadians were likely to let us in, we were told that it was the Americans that were trickier.  My children and I had no trouble, but when it came to my ID-less wife, things got a little sketchy.  Deciding to quiz her on her knowledge of American history and geography, Melissa did quite well until they asked her to name several southern states.  Her answers of Arizona and New Mexico weren't wrong, exactly, but I think they were expecting the more traditional Georgia's and Louisiana's that all normal (sorry, honey) Americans  would have chosen.  My children still like to needle her about this when the subject comes up.

Our trip to Victoria was not our most expensive vacation, nor our longest.  It was not punctuated with thrilling rides or fabulous food.  But, it lives in our memories because of the little mishaps, the adventure of deciding to do something without preparation, and because we all had such a great time together.  I suppose that, really, I think that spending happy times with my wife and children is about as dapper and dreamy as can be!

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