DARE TO EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS

You’ll never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll find

What  if you stepped out of your ordinary? What if you determined to do something different than you’ve ever done before? What if you experienced something incredible that you would have missed if you hadn’t taken a chance?

It was a close friend that put me to the challenge.

For the most part, my life is perfectly routine, with perfect daily rituals that make me happy. I go on the same perfect vacations, even note hotel rooms I especially enjoy so I can book them once again.  When you find something you like why change?

Why don’t you do something different? Go somewhere new? Expand your horizons,” my friend interrogated me as if I had committed a social crime.

“Why….” defending my perfectly routine life, “would I do that?

“Because your life never changes,” she prodded. “Don’t you want something more?

She was right……something more. What if I decided to just go for it. Pay my bills, put some money in savings, and then stop hoarding for a rainy day, which everyone knows never does in southern California anyway.

So what was I waiting for?

I decided to go on an off road adventure in Santa Maria. My sister and I would head out first, and then the guys would follow behind hauling the motor homes and ATV’s the following day. I was excited, my expanding life had begun until I got the….

“Sorry Lisa,” my friend apologized. “Some things at work came up. I can’t go.”

“But I can’t haul a trailer,” pulling out the weaker sex card. “I’m a girl! And if you don’t go, I can’t go!”

What did I just say…I’m a girl.  Did I really just say that? Pass me some kleenex, and stop the self pity crap. I wanted to slap myself just to wake up to reality.

Just a girl!  Helen Reddy would never tolerate that.

Here was the fork in the road.  Go forward…or stay behind.

If someone else can do it..then I can do it..  In this case, even if that someone else was a man.

Dare to do it!

“Hook up the trailer,” I said in a Clint Eastwood make my day tone. “I’m leaving in the morning,” turning my back to conceal the expression on my face…am I for real? I’m really going to do this? Sure, I told myself.  You’re going to live life, figure it out, and have an adventure.

“Okay sweetheart,” I proudly told my daughter. “We are going on a road trip.”

“Hey.. mom..,” she commented as gently as possible, “are you really going to haul a trailer? Do you think you can do this?”

“No, not yet,” I had to admit. ”but do you want that to stop us? This is a ‘road trip’, remember.  That’s the whole point of it.  You never know what’s going to happen.

Some of it is going to be really bad, some things really good, but in the end, no matter which way it goes, it’s a memory you’ll never forget.  Want to go?”

“Sure,” she answered being my biggest fan, always believing the stuff that came out of my mouth, even when I secretly doubted its validity.

ROAD TRIP HERE WE COME!

Our first destination: the 5 star resort Ojai Valley Inn and Spa nestled in the enclave of Ojai, California the golfing greens. Fantastic little stop.

Still getting the hang of hauling a trailer, I found a wide open spot and parked diagonally across several spaces apologetically leaving my cell phone number. What’s a girl to do?

Regardless I made it this far.

Upon walking up to the hotel we were greeted by two uniformed bellmen offering complimentary  bottles of water and apples as a prelude warning not to be alarmed by the room charge. Not a good sign.

“Checking in?” came the cheery voice as she tapped away on the computer.

Not so fast I thought quickly interrupting her before she had a chance to annouce the room price.“I’ll take the AAA discount, econo-version room please. Just passing through on a road trip.”

“Ohhh,” she paused, then resumed typing.

Aha, I cut her off at the pass I thought to myself, yet maintaining the cool calm composed traveler on the outside.

“Yes, I can accommodate you,” she smiled as she checked me in handing me the keys.

It was a cozy room.  Nothing elaborate. But definitely a good deal.  We threw our stuff on the floor to reunite with my sister and her daughter in the much upgraded version of the hotel.


As the front door opened we were greeted by the smell of an open fire and melting s’mores. Was that a fire pit on their patio?  A jacuzzi bathtub with lavender soaps in the middle of the living room nuzzled next to the fireplace?

“Come on in,” they laughed as they handed us a plate of freshly toasted melted marshmallows and chocolate on a graham cracker crust.

“How’s your room?”

“Really similar,” I stretched the truth like a rubber band before it snapped. “Just you know…exactly like yours without the fireplace, or for that matter the outdoor fire pit, well, or the jacuzzi.  Okay, ours sucks.  But we got a really good price!”


Road trip lesson number 1: Go big or go home. If you’re going to spend the time to have an adventure then have one.  Lesson learned. 


As a charming feature, bikes were complimentary with each room allowing you to enjoy the property.
Following the bike path to downtown Ojai, we took a surprising detour discovering off beat shops,
antique stores, and of course, an old fashioned ice cream parlor. Definitely, an adventure all its own.

Driving off property, we stumbled upon a ranch house with horse stables with the familiar smell of saddle soap and leather. It was nearing dusk, so we happened to have the last ride of the day witnessing the sun slowly set on the horizon, turning yellow, then gold, until at last we rode by moonlight.

Eventually returning to the resort, we had dinner on the veranda overlooking  the greens, spectacular  sycamore trees with hanging lit lanterns. It was the perfect end to an amazing day.


We received the news the following morning. The off road trip was canceled. The brakes went out in the motorhome, and my sister was driving back.  After all this, go back home? I just drove 31/2 hours in traffic to get here. And the trip hadn’t even really begun. It was a time for a pow wow with my daughter.

“Okay, we aren’t going ATV riding, Aunt Melanie’s driving back today.  what do we do? I say we keep gong and trailer the quads behind. Not ideal. But we don’t have a choice.”

“Where are we going to stay?” was her honest reply.

“Anywhere that we can park,” was my am-I-getting-over-my-head response. Freeway driving was one thing, but driving around town was another.”

“Well then, we’re off! Santa Barbara here we come,” applying the road trip rules:

It may not work out, it may be a disaster, but it will always be a good memory.


Travel tip: American express black card. Free upgraded room. Late 4 o’clock check out. $100 credit/complimentary breakfast.  A definite travel must.


SANTA BARBARA

Driving up State street, we arrived in Santa Barbara a few hours later, and asked Siri for local hotels. Perfect… the Hilton. Let’s call.

“Hi, any room available for tonight? And do you accommodate  very large oversized vehicles?” holding the phone away silently snickering with my daughter.

“Yes, there is oversized parking in the back.”

“Score! Move over Hilton we’re coming through,” I chuckled breaking out in a Willie Nelson on the road again solo.

The twist was, the only clothes we brought were for camping. Translation: the ugliest warmest clothes you have. Brown clothes that you will probably throw away because the dirt never fully comes out, Ugg boots for comfort, and ragged beanie hats for warmth. Needless to say, pulling up to the Hilton in this attire with muddy ATV’s attached to a trailer was a little awkward, but we were desperate.

“Okay, here goes. Act like nothing is wrong. When I pull up you get out as fast as you can, I’ll meet you in the lobby,” I whispered to my daughter like we are planning an escape route to a crime.

I had my condescending confidence on as a strategy to confuse my opponent into thinking nothing was wrong, and any form of questioning would be highly offensive.

As my daughter opened the door and ran out, I gracefully emerged from the Jeep with  mud and horse manure from the stables at Ojai, with an albatross of a trailer attached. With an air of expectancy I simply handed over the keys, “Valet Please..” and walked away.

After checking into a non discount room, we decided to go into town for dinner.  Yet, knowing we had to ask the same bellman who just valeted our slightly oversized vehicle to call us a cab was at the least a little embarrassing, but a road trip experience we just had to overcome.

“Hey, aren’t you the off road girls with all the toys,” they chimed in admiration. “Nice jeep.”

Simultaneously turning to each other, my teenage daughter and I burst out laughing. “Yeah, that’s us.”  I nudged her, “See, guys like girls in dirt, not girls wearing diamonds.”  Just then the taxi came, and we left the hotel with a completely new respect then when we arrived.


Chit-chatting with the cab drivers is always a road trip must.  Where did they come from? Why are they here? Ron, our driver happened to be a male model in Italy years ago and ended up on the streets of Santa Barbara. Though it was only a 7 minute bond, it is one of our travel rituals. The rules: whatever language they speak, you speak. It doesn’t matter if no real communication is happening, that’s the rules. Bridge the language barrier. In Mexico, the novice introduction: Como se llama? Then move up to an intermediate level: Que Hora es? Ending with proficiency Te gusta cerveza?

Knowing this in every language is the ultimate to foreign bonding: What’s your name, what time is it, do you like beer? Even if it is 8 o’clock in the morning. It works every time. But for Ron, we spoke simple english, and asked him to drop us off at his favorite outdoor cafe, and we’d call him when we were finished.

CADIZ RESTAURANT AND LOUNGE was Ron’s first choice. Italian, seafood cuisine. The food was fantastic, ambiance quaint with indoor couches and pillows. Cozying back sipping a Syrah from Spain, I gazed at all the hussle and bustle of downtown State street as I leisurely awaited my first course: ARANCINI fried risotto ball, with garlic, grana padana, cured lemon and a basil/ meyer-lemon aioli sauce, followed by the main entre: SEAFOOD CIOPPINO mixed seafood in a bisque of absolute perfection.

Next stop… dessert. Strolling over to HOLDREN’S STEAK HOUSE, we sat curbside requesting menus. Surprisingly my stomach had room to spare, so I thought, why waste the space?  Which brought me to my second life motto: if you don’t gain weight on vacation why did you bother to go?


Reading over the menu, everything looked good. Baked apple crisp with a side of vanilla bean ice cream.  Mudd pie with a chocolate crust.  Homemade pumpkin pie.

Lemon Tart with fresh meringue.  Allie, now what do we do?  The decision seemingly as challenging as all the others thus far.

What are you getting? I asked for some type of reassurance.

I think the apple pie ala mode, or the mud pie? I don’t know.

Okay, I started negotiating, you get the apple pie, I get the mudd pie, we split. Deal?

But what if the lemon tart is really good? Whose is getting that? was her brilliant logic.

I felt stressed out. Why did I always have to make these decisions, somehow it wasn’t fair. The waiter starting heading over to the table, as if in slow motion, He’s coming!…I felt the pressure rising as I was still in a state of indecision.

Okay ladies, are you ready? What will you be having?  He spoke with a cool tone as if to challenge my decision should I make a mistake.

Everything in me rose up. This discount girl, saving money on cheap hotel rooms, not enjoying my life to the fullest was finito.

“Oh yes, we’re quite ready,” I spoke with dignity. “We’ll have the apple crisp with vanilla bean ice-cream on the side, and the Mudd pie. I would also like to try the lemon tart.”

“Oh okay,” he politely stammered, “I think that will be more enough for two.”

“No, no, wait,” unashamedly looking at him in the eyes, “and bring one slice of cheesecake too.”



I had arrived. A new girl emerged. Why not dessert sample? Why not try them all? Why not spend an extra $16 on two more desserts. Why not live extravagantly? Who said you have to be limited, the restaurant police? We tried all four. The Apple pie, all that it promised; Mudd pie, just what you expected; Lemon tart perfect balance. The cheesecake was a last date, would not come back for more. It was time to call Ron, the ex-Italian model turned taxicab driver to go home.

THE RED PIANO

Nonchalantly walking back to our original drop off location for our cab ride home, we sauntered pass the Red Piano. I stopped in my tracks. “Did you hear that,” I whispered astonishingly as I strained to hear more of the bellowing piano music.  And who was that singing?

“Allie, wait. We have to go back. That’s some good stuff.” There are somethings in life you know you just can’t pass up. This was definitely one.

The Red Piano bar, was just that… a bar.  Standing outside with my 15 year old daughter I hesitated on what to do. On one hand I am the mom, for goodness sake, trying to teach my daughter good moral values. Yet, on the other hand, this is just really, really good music.

I started with the disclaimer, “you know, you’re not exactly 21 years old, and probably aren’t allowed to go into a bar,”  geez, the rubber band is going to snap any second now, “But honey, this music is incredible. I think I might have to sneak you in a bit.”

A bit?-Did that make it sound less illegal? Maybe? I justified my behavior.This is a road trip, this is the part that might not be so good, sneaking my underage daughter into a bar, but I had to do it.

“Okay, here’s the plan. Do you see the doorman? He’s texting. The one thing I do know about texting, is that the next time he starts he’ll zone out. He’ll go into texting  zombie land, still breathing but not really there. When that happens bow your head, walk really fast past him just like you did while escaping from the car at the Hilton, but this time go to the piano as fast as you can.” Somehow, someday, I knew this anti-mom advice would come back to haunt me.  But not today, this was our road trip.

She made it in. It must have been karaoke night of some sort as the singer was reading off lyrics from his iPhone. It was a small crowd, and I couldn’t figure out all the photos and videos being taken. Probably a dare from friends to get up and sing? But this guy was really good. Good enough to have gone far should a different fate allowed.

Regardless, I was sharing my long ago high school music with my daughter.

Celebrate me home, Whenever I call you friend, Danger Zone. Every time a new song played I questioned her, “Recognize this one? How about this one?”  She shook her head, “No”.

After reminiscing with al my favorites, I had my fill, I could go now.

“Who is that?” questioned a newly arrived patron as I was leaving, “the one everyone’s taking pictures of? Is that Kenny Loggins!”

“Kenny Loggins? I don’t really know.” Just then remembering Ron waiting for me at the corner, I Immediately called apologizing, “Ron, sorry, I forgot, I am at the Red Piano, and I think Kenny Loggins is singing?”

“I’m parking the car, I’m coming in. He lives here you know,” he replied forgetting about the ticking meter, now excited just to find out. By the time Ron finally arrived the room was buzzing. “Yep, that’s definatley him.” Kenny was confirmed.

I laughed thinking to myself that I had once gone to a Kenny Loggins concert saving up for months just to see him, and here I was sitting at the piano, inches away reminiscing with my newfound friend Ron.

“How about footloose? Can you do that?” yelled out a starstruck fan.

The famous intro started. “Mom, I know this song! We sing this all the time!” My daughter now-turned fan joined the picture taking, video shooting crowd dancing as the vocals kicked in. Great, now its documented. A video with my daughter dancing in a bar. What the heck, why not take a picture at this point?  We shot a selfie with us in the foreground, vodka martinis in the background and Kenny Loggins singing on the piano.

After finishing the set, appreciating fans swarmed in for pictures and autographs. Once the hoopla settled down Kenny eventually took a seat next to us enjoying his cocktail on ice.

It was my chance to get my one on one close-up picture for instant Facebook fame.

I pondered with what to do, just like I had with the desserts.

Sometimes, you go for it, but sometimes you walk away.

This time I laughed and walked away, thinking to myself, what are the odds of that?

Ron played Kenny Loggins all the way home on youtube, and forgot to put the meter on.

“Goodnight girls! That was on me,” and waved goodbye. It was a night to remember.


SANTA MARIA

Waking up early the next morning, we were on to our next stop…Santa Maria, two hours north of
Santa Barbara, our original off road destination before the fiasco of the broken down motorhome. My
brother had purchased3,000 acres of property surrounding the old highway 166 and essentially turned it into an off road track. Crazy… outrageously brilliant.

Greetedby my nephew who had been working on site remodeling an old
abandoned farmhouse, he opened the cattle gate into what seemed like another world, eerily uninhibited, yet breathtakingly beautiful. My nephew Jordan jumped in the jeep, peeled the top back, and took us on tour.

Climbing up a dirt paved path, we finally reached the top of the
crest. “Get out, you have to see this,” not knowing how to put it in words, he just stopped the car, walked out and stood there in awe. It was breathtaking. Sky-scraping rock cliffs majestically framed the lime green moss covered basin, as if a scene from Jurassic
Park.

 

Standing in silence while taking in this most magnificent panoramic view, was a feeling of powerlessness, yet surrendered freedom – an inexplicable experience of the Almighty Creator.

It was indeed a moment of reverence, yet the perfect photo-op could not be denied.  Turning up the sound track from Jarassic Park, we posed on top of the roof, while echoes blarred from the canyon walls like an orchestrated symphony with front row seats. Our only option was a series of over dramatic poses capturing instagram snapshots before we moved on.The day was fantastic, nevertheless it was time to leave while there was still enough light to make it down the windy road with the trailer.


As we packed up to head back to the Hilton Hotel in Santa Barbara, Jordan returned to work hanging doors. Struggling alone I questioned, “Where’s the crew?”

“They left,” Jordan said solemnly. “And I promised to have these doors on by tomorrow.’

“How can you hang these alone?” I wondered

“I’ll just have to figure it out,” he responded all of the sudden realizing his helplessness.

“Allie….change of plans,” I called out with such admiration for my determined nephew.

“We’re going to stay awhile, and help.”

With each door we hung, the sun continued to go further and further down until I knew it was going to be too late to make it down the hill.

I pulled my daughter aside, “Honey, what do you say…if we stay any longer  we’re going to have to stay the night in back of the jeep, but if you want to leave we’re going to have to do it now.” I could barely pull the trailer in daylight, let alone at night through twist and turns down a mountain road. Yet, I wanted this to be her decision.

“Mom, Jordan needs us. We have to stay,” she replied without hesitation. My sweet little adorable girl. How did she get this heart of gold?  “Okay, then we’ll stay.”

The last door was hung. The sun had set long ago. There was no turning back now.


With nothing to eat for dinner, I salvaged any food I originally brought for camping I could find in the jeep. Rummaging through the back seat, I pulled out one Costco pumpkin pie, glazed walnuts, and a squished orange. Last but not least, a great bottle of red wine. Jordan contributed two beers, and a package of tuna lunchables. Defying all health rules, it was a vegan’s nightmare, but for us, it was our dinner that…that night we were actually thankful to have.

After making an impromptu bed of sweaters and blankets in the back of the jeep, I laughed thinking about the nice cozy king bed with down pillows awaiting me at the Hilton Hotel, and laughed harder still at the fact that I was paying for it. Yet, huddled up next to me was my daughter willing to sacrifice for her cousin. Priceless, I thought, simply priceless. “Honey,” I whispered. “Do you know how proud I am of you.”

“Why? What did I do?’ was her innocent response. That she was unaware of her sacrifice made it even more precious. “There are just not enough words to explain. Maybe one day when you have a daughter of our own you’ll understand.” With that I kissed her goodnight, and dismissed the king mattress with the 700 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets at the Hilton.


PISMO BEACH

Waking up to pumpkin pie for breakfast, we were back on the road again.

“Okay. We have another choice today. We’re only one hour to Pismo Beach, where we could ATV on the beach? Keep heading north or turn back?” She replied just like I knew she would;

“This is a road trip. An adventure. Let’s keep going,”

“Call the Hilton. Tell them we can’t check out today, because we’re about 3 hours away. Tell them we want to extend our stay.”

“I am sorry,” answered the sweet voice from the front desk, dropping a bomb,”we are sold out tonight, and your check out is 11 a.m.”

We just entered the road trip risk zone, where nothing turns out as planned. However, in this case, I couldn’t conveniently find just any place to stay that could accommodate my trailer. I desperately needed a room.

“No, I am sorry, we are not actually in Santa Barbara, so we can’t check out. Can you extend the room for one more night?” I retorted trying to stay afloat on the fastly sinking ship.

‘I am very sorry, but we are sold out for this evening,’ she said diplomatically holding to her guns.

Wow, she is not budging, I frantically thought. This is going to be a war of nicey-nice.

“ I am also so very sorry, honestly super sorry, but I left all of my camping clothes on the floor and I have no way of packing up for you.  Can you check, just one more time, if you have anything for us? Again, I am ever so extremely sorry to inconvenience you,” I responded hopefully sorrying her to death.  I had to admit she had some real stamina. How many polite sorrys could she take before I wore her out? And then I prayed the universal road trip prayer,“God help!”


Roadtrip rule #2: always take God on your road trip, especially in emergency situations.


It’s when God shows up in the little miracles of life that makes Him so real, forgetting that He knows every hair on our head, and how many rooms are actually available in the hotel.

“ Yes, we can extend your stay Ms. Hamilton. So happy to be able to assist you.”

“Thank-you,’ I blurted out simultaneously to both her and God, “I am so very happy you could,” I said upping the happy ante, yet meaning every word of it.


Effortlessly pulling into a parking spot, Starbucks was the next obvious stop. Jumping back into the jeep, I paused. How do I back out? Pulling a trailer is one thing, backing up is another. Problem was I couldn’t just back up into the street with oncoming cars.

I needed a simple 3 point turn to exit.

“Guide me back,” I persuaded my daughter, taking a sip of my cafe latte knowing it might be the last.

“Stop, mom! You’re going to hit the other car,” she warned me.

“Okay, how about now?” I desperately asked knowing I had gotten myself in an impossible situation.  As I turned one way, the trailer responded the opposite. How am I ever going to back-up in a small space I can’t see, I can’t maneuver and not hit another car?

The endless cycle of up/ back/ wrong/ stop, mom! went on for another 45 minutes until I remembered the emergency road trip rules; God help!

I paused. Suddenly everything made sense. It was the exact opposite of a car. Everything was in reverse. Click. I got it. I pulled forward for the last time, gently backed up finishing my 3 point turn,18 points later, and headed out. Picking up my now lukewarm cafe latte, I was as proud of myself as I had ever been. “Cheers,” I chuckled to my daughter raising up latte “don’t forget to put that on my mother’s day card….my mom’s a rock star.”


ON THE BEACH

Excitedly arriving at the sand dunes at Pismo Beach we hopped out to see off road vehicles notoriously buzzing up and over sand dunes, speeding down the beach next to the crashing break of waves. Incredible. The only place in Central

California where riding on the beach is legal. Ironically, after hauling my own 250 Can Am quads all the way from southern California, I was now going to rent. The thought of unloading and reloading my own quads seemed too much. I was still recovering from PTS syndrome from the Starbucks parking lot. Sometimes, it’s just easier to wave the white flag and call it a day.


Travel tip:Turning up Pier Avenue we spotted Arnie’s ATV rentals. It was simple/ easy/ and relatively inexpensive. Most of all hassle-free. $73/ hour for the 250’s which adults need.  Anything less does not give you the power you need to ride the dunes.  For children there are Suzuki 80’s and 125’s. 


We were on the beach in no time, racing up and down the shoreline. A definite road trip destination. An experience everyone has to do at least once. The best part, when I was finished I handed them the keys and drove away.  Sometimes renting is just worth the ease.

We headed back like true road trip travelers that had, in the last few days experienced the good the bad and the ugly. Personally, I was ready for my long deserved bed at the Hilton.


THE STREETS OF SANTA BARBARA

It was our last day. So on that note, what would any self respecting girl do. Shop!

Decidedly, we needed a game plan: to start on 1000 State Street and work our way all the way down to the bridge before Cabrillo Street. We were each allowed $250 to spend however we wanted. Though first, we needed a big breakfast, it was going to be a long day.

 

We choose an outdoor cafe right at the 1000 block. It was quaint; the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, and hot chocolate croissants; cobblestone pavers, umbrellas, a splashing fountain surrounded by people reading papers and drinking espresso, dogs at owners feet, and morning chit-chat amongst strangers…as if transported to Portofino in a scene from Under the Tuscan Sun.

We ordered the benedict with hollandaise, and eggs florentine. Yet, because we were on a road trip, the new rules were: be extravagant, try everything, go big or go home! Therefore, we also ordered a side of lemon pancakes with coconut syrup, and blueberry waffles with pecans as well. It was a sea of endless food spread across the table, undoubtedly a great start to the day……

 SHOPPING SPREE

Immediately, we were approached by a homeless entrepreneur selling a bouquet of weeds, albeit colorfully arranged, tied with purple ribbon. Being an entrepreneur myself, I was not only impressed but filled with compassion for this young man. We agreed this most definitely should be our first purchase. God bless you, he proudly smiled as we exchanged weeds for three dollars. God bless you, I replied feeling a wink from God…it’s all in the little things we do that really matter.

There is nothing like boutique shopping. Just like searching out great works of art in a gallery, shopping is like a treasure hunt. You look. You assess. You contemplate value juxtaposed to price. But with one turn in the mirror, nothing matters. Desire always trumps judgment. And once you hear, girl, get it! the deal is sealed.

Our first boutique Heavenly Couture was having a 60% sale which added fear of loss to every item in the store. Items that would have been normally bypassed, took on a new appeal once another would-be buyer approached. Indeed, there were many last-one-left items that promoted panic, and in the shopping world, this was a real threat.

Seeing a jean jacket displayed on the wall, I quickly grabbed a salesgirl to retrieve it.

“Allie, look at this….” I whispered undercover, “this was marked down from $89 to A$39. Then other 50% off! It’s only $19 dollars!”  She instantly tried it on. After passing the strut test, and the hands-in-the-pocket poise, it was an obvious,Yes!

“Mom, hold this. Do not put it down!” she commanded knowing that a bystander could swoop it up if not guarded. “I have to try some more clothes on.”

“Got it,” was my instinctive response, as these were strict orders not requests. In becoming the human cart, I struggled to try on jackets of my own, peering through a mound of draped clothing around my neck.  Back and forth, we went. Discover, strut test, drape on mom until final purchase. At last, mission complete. We proceeded to the register.

Next stop Fashion Eyes. Every jean jacket needs a chic pair of shades. That was obvious. Fashion is not an item, it’s an ensemble. And we needed to complete ours.

We tried them all- Ray-ban, Oakley, Persol, Maui Jim. It was a simple, Nope, Yeah, maybe, narrowing down the perfect pair. Unanimously, the aviator frame won. Just then, sparkling from a distance, beckoned the Michael Kors aviators like a rare piece of jewelry with a blue saphire, emerald green fusion lens. Seizing them from the shelf, I placed them on turning dramatically to face my daughter. “These are it,” I spoke with total mesmerizing confidence. She dropped the now second rate glasses in her hands instantly coming over and tried on a pair of her own. We stared at each other with a knowing look of we found what we came looking for. Glancing up I spotted the sign, Buy one, get $40 off second pair. We resumed eye contact, shaking our heads, no words necessary and went directly to the counter.

After successfully spending the allotted $250, I needed a coffee break. We stopped at Sandbar a charming restaurant with outdoor seating and pillows. “Wow, that didn’t go very far,” I pondered. We had only gone half way, and there were still so many boutiques to go.

“Okay, I have a deal. I am going to play you a game of cards (which I always carry in my purse). If I win you can have the rest of my $150 I didn’t spend, plus another $100.”
“Deal,” she excitedly responded, as she wins more often than not.

“What game? You choose.” I challenged.

“Speedy….” she smiled confidently knowing that she wasalways faster than me.

“Okay, shuffle,” I laughed secretly hoping she would win. We rarely clothes shopped, as it seemed that homework and weekend sports were all consuming. Going to a private school with required uniforms, lessened the importance of having a wardrobe anyway.

Most of her closet was filled with pullover sweatshirts and running pants, and now that she was a sophomore in high school, she wanted something other than uniforms and PE clothes.  I was probably more excited than she, that she was buying things outside of her comfort zone. Allie was never materialistic. Though, I always wanted to buy her more of anything she ever wanted, instinctually grateful, she always accepted less. Somehow, she never wanted more if it meant somehow, somewhere someone would have less. That she was in receiving mode, made my mother’s heart thrilled.

“Ready?” she questioned. “Ready,” I answered. “Okay, go!”

Flipping cards one on top of the other, the game whirled by, until she discarded her last card. Winner! she announced. I could not have been more happy to lose.

Resuming our shopping spree we continued on for two more blocks. Until…”mom, I don’t want to shop anymore. I feel like I would rather give this to someone else who needs it.”

“Are you sure? We’re here now. You’re done?” I pressed, somehow wanting her to change her mind.

‘I am sure,” she said with conviction. “I’m done.” she sighed happily content.

THE GIRL BENEATH THE BRIDGE

It was our last meal of the trip. Completely shopping saturated,, we decided to walk over to Santa Barbara Inn, to Convino, a newly opened restaurant overlooking the ocean, rather than go into town. Sitting by the outdoor fireplace, I sipped my glass of cabaret sauvignon while we played one more game of cards by the fire. Life was beautiful. Simple. How could a game of cards with my daughter at this moment seem so meaningful.

Another memory I knew one day I would never forget.

Walking back from the Inn, Allie noticed the huge archway bridge to the entrance of the hotel, spectacularly lit up with the colors of the rainbow. “Mom, can we walk to it and take pictures? “

Aah, I was so tired of walking. It was clear across the grass field, opposite direction of the lobby. As I looked at it, it seemed to stretch even further and further away. Aaah, I did not want to do this. It was freezing cold. I just wanted to go back and take a hot shower.

“You really want to walk all the way over there,” trying to dissuade her

“C’mon mom. We can take pictures,” trying to persuade me.

Plodding across the wet grass, every step was miserably cold. Eventually what seemed like an endless trek was over. We arrived. Granted, the lights were beautiful as theyglistened off the stone archway.

“Mom, take a picture.” Allie laughed full of excitement, as she entered the rays of light casting shadows. As I was shooting different angles, I rounded the corner and was taken by surprise encountering a young woman huddled against the wall.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I almost stepped on you,” I sympathetically confessed, “I didn’t see you.
“No worries,” was her quiet response before going back to her drawing.

I was freezing. This poor girl. How long had she been out here? What was she doing?

She was homeless no doubt, yet, had peacefully accepted her plight admiring the same rainbow of lights that we were.

“Aren’t you cold!” I questioned wondering how she could possibly be out here alone.

Without hesitation, she replied,“yes….”

Somehow, I felt ashamed. How could I have ever complained about anything when I had everything?  I didn’t even know where to begin.“Do you want some blankets?”

“Yes….,” she answered in all sincerity.

“I’ll be right back. We were suppose to go camping, but never did. I have blankets, and gloves and hats. Do you want them?”

“Yes.,” she answered again in all humility as if to say, I will take anything.

“We’ll be right back,” I reassured her, stay here. “Allie, let’s go.”


Funny, I wasn’t cold anymore. I wasn’t even tired anymore. Funny how perspective changes everything. I knew it was only God that had orchestrated the encounter, persuading my daughter to take me to the bridge, to find this hidden treasure. A scripture came to mind…Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me. It is true, that God never leaves us or forsakes us. Wherever we are, there He is too. And tonight He was sitting beside this girl, though she did not know it.

In helping her, I held the highest privilege of serving God Himself.

Quickly gathering blankets from the jeep, and clothes from the room, I hoped she would still be there when we returned.

“Allie,” I reminded her, “do you remember when you wanted to give the rest of the money away to someone who needs it? Do you think she needs it?”

“Yes,” she instantly responded.

“You have $100 left. Do you want to give it to her?” I needed for her to decide.

“Yes, mom, I really do!” she responded meaning every word of it. Convinced, I handed her the hundred dollar bill.


Her eyes lit up upon seeing us. I didn’t think she would still be there, she didn’t think we would return. Carrying a pile of clothes, we dropped it at her feet uncovering what we had brought. “Here’s two blankets,” holding them up, thinking the smaller one could serve as a pillow. “How about some fleece socks? A wool beanie? Gloves? A scarf? A jacket?”

As I held up another piece of clothing, her icy hand reached out and appreciatively took it out of mine. At that moment, I wished I had more to give. I wished I could do something to rescue her. But it was all I had.

We talked. She showed us her drawing, and before parting we asked it we could pray together. “Yes, please,” she responded now trusting us, “I was praying tonight, asking God for help”

“He heard you, and sent us,” I, too, was amazed how God put us together. Yet, I also knew that had I refused and gone back to the lobby, God would have called someone else; called throughout the night on her behalf until someone came. I was in awe, that a God so big cares so much. His love was endless. Huddling together, I put my hand on her arm. “What’s your name,” I asked.

“Raven,” she replied.

“Is that your given name,” I questioned.

“”It’s the name I use on the streets. No one uses their real name. In case there’s trouble.’

The name Raven, was undoubtedly a name that reflected all that she had been through. A scavenger, a loner, a black bird that lives to survive. “I think God wants to give you a new name tonight,” I spoke feeling the love of the Holy Spirit for her. Instantly, the name Grace came to me. “How about..” as I opened my mouth, “Gracie Rose.’

Her eyes opened as if she already received her new identity. “Tonight while I was praying, I heard God say to me, that He was giving me grace. Grace to be with me,” she whispered tearing up.

Touched by this beautiful encounter, we were all experiencing the presence of God right in our midst. I continued praying, “God, how real you are! How real your love is. Tonight we change her name from Raven to Grace, because you  said in Isaiah 43…”

She interrupted me, “your’re doing a new thing. I will be the Streams in the desert, and the Way in the wastelands, she finished the scripture.

“Yes, that’s it,” I whispered, amazed at the strength and faith of this girl before me.

Allie hugged her goodnight, offering her a folded bill purposely hiding the amount, that she would not discover until the light of morning.

Ripping the picture from her journal that she had been drawing, she handed it to my daughter, “Thank-you.”

Though we were strangers, somehow we become sisters that night, and as  we embraced each other in parting, there were even bigger Arms embracing us as well.

“Good-bye,” Allie waved innocently.

“Good-bye,” as she pressed her hands together in prayer and bowed her head in gratitude.

I knew God had touched her that night. And I also knew that in the morning unfolding the $100 bill, that Grace was walking with her. She had been changed. Yet, more importantly, so were we.


 RIDE HOME

The alarm was set for 5:00 a.m. Leaving in the dark, was something my dad always did for us so we could sleep while he was driving. Once awake we had already arrived. So now that I was the parent, I always did this for my daughter.

I went downstairs getting the Venti coffee at the lobby Starbucks, dragging two huge bags behind me. “Let me help you,” offered the bellman.

I laughed, “This is the easy part. I need help trying to get my daughter in the car.”

By now, the jeep with the trailer was notorious, and they instantly went to fetch it without a voucher. Successfully, I led my daughter downstairs, who was really still asleep, propped up a pillow, and the last remaining blanket, and laid her down in the front seat.

Saying our individual good-byes, we all knew we would never see each other again, but grateful that somehow we became friends.

The sun was barely rising. Yet,  in these earliest hours of the morning you can feel the presence of God the strongest, as if in this silence you can hear Him speak, revealing the hidden things and coincidences that were not happenstance at all…

witnessing the Hand of God orchestrating events, putting the puzzle pieces together into the tapestry of life.

What a crazy, unexpected, full of surprises trip that was. Not all easy, not all glamorous, but a fantastic trip just the same.

We had only been gone a week, yet it felt like a lifetime. A whirlwind adventure that taught me more than I even realized:


Always choose the unknown, rather than return to your comfort zone.

Don’t be afraid to spend money if you have it to spend. Hoarding never makes a great adventure, I laughed. Go big or go home!

Let life lead, instead of navigating your own course. If there is an open door, go through it, it is there for a reason.

Allow yourself to fail and fail again, until you figure it out.

Don’t worry about the whispers behind your back, do it anyway. Ridicule is worth the reward.

Allow yourself to cross paths with strangers in need, knowing that they are your teachers too.

Know that a road trip is filed with the good, the bad, and the ugly, but that what makes it an adventure. That’s the stuff memories are made of.

Finally pulling up to my home, I almost regretted  that the drive was over. Looking at my sweet daughter still asleep, I turned around backing up the trailer, perfectly paralleling on the side of the curb. I smiled, “Imagine that.”

Indeed, it was a road trip to remember…….