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Smiling about rocks in Portland

14203305_10155274339786632_312131353204661656_nTravel is at its best when it’s serendipitous—when magical coincidences make seemingly ordinary happenings feel extraordinary.

Such was the case this weekend when I traveled to Portland with my biggest girl, L.

We were in town for a number of reasons: 1) To attend the bar mitzvah of a cousin, 2) To see one of my closest pals, 4) To report a story in Washington Park, and 4) To poke around one of the weirdest and coolest cities in the West. But the best part of our trip happened when both of us least expected it.

It was mere hours after we landed. L and I had checked into our room at the Hotel Lucia downtown and were on our way to find a place to eat lunch. L spotted some steps and sat down so I could take her picture. After the snap, she looked to her left and spotted a silver dollar-sized white rock painted with a cute design. The rest is a part of history we’ll remember forever.

There on the rock was a cartoon drawing of a kitty cat. Normally this would be just another detail. But for L, who is cat-obsessed, it was a HUGE DEAL. Immediately I started thinking of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca waxing poetic about how there were all the public steps in the city, and we had to find a cat rock on that one. Even L was skeptical at the serendipity of it all. She kept asking me if I had put the rock there. She kept wondering aloud whether “somebody” knew how much she loved cats. At one point I think she convinced herself SAR was her grandmother.

Of course the artist had no idea who’d be finding the rock after he or she put it there. We found an Instagram address on the back of the rock, and three minutes on that page made it clear that the artist—a person who goes by the name Smiling About Rocks, or SAR—painted dozens of these rocks and placed them all over the city. (FWIW, our rock had the number 221 on it, which probably meant the artist has made at least 221 of these things.)

Instructions on the Instagram page were simple: “If you found a rock, take a picture of it and send it direct to me. I will post it on my feed.”

So we did. I had L pose holding the rock and snapped the shot you see atop this page. We sent it to SAR. SAR reposted our image the following day with full caption (and note that spoke directly to my kid). For my daughter, this only made the experience seem more serendipitous. Upon seeing the repost she exclaimed: “It’s like a fairy tale!”

Would we have had fun in Portland without our run-in with SAR? Of course. But this run-in made the trip even richer, and provided us with an instant memory I’m sure we both will have for many years to come.

The experience also served as an inspiration. When we got back to our hometown L reached out to a friend about doing a similar project here. The two have been talking about painting rocks all week. To be honest, I hope they follow-through. It’d be nice to pay the serendipity forward for a change.

What is the most serendipitous experience you’ve had on the road?

An Ode to Solo-Parent Family Travelers

Happy times, with a tree llama.

Happy times, with a tree llama.

After two-thirds of a mommy-free, 3-day road-trip with my girls, I can tell you this: Solo-parent family travel is a LOT harder than I ever thought it would be.

In my abbreviated experience, challenges generally come in two main flavors: Kid-time and alone-time.

The ones during kid time should come as no surprise. Meals are tough because you’ve got no help to feed or discipline or disrobe crayons or put together a puzzle or cut grilled cheese or chase down that piece of fried fish one of the children just threw across the room. Bedtimes can be rough when the kids are on different schedules and there’s only one parent to wipe butts and brush teeth and read books and sing songs and snuggle.

Alone time presents its own obstacles. Because there’s nobody else to watch the kids for even a moment, you find yourself Instagramming and scribbling story notes while adjudicating a game of “Go Fish,” eating dinner (of unclaimed pasta with butter sauce, natch) at 5 p.m., and engaging in training “runs” of four miles (in circles) around the living room of your rental cabin.

(Yes, I really did that last one. I know: I am a complete and total freak.)

Months from now, I’ll look back on this experience with my girls as difficult but fun. Heck, next week I plan to write about some of the amazing stuff we have done over the last 48 hours.

Right now, however, crashed out on a couch while the gals snooze away in the other room, I see the takeaway as more visceral: nobody—I mean, nobody—deserves more credit in the world of parenting than single moms and dads who vacation with multiple children multiple times a year.

For these parents, solo-parent vacations aren’t a choice.  For these parents, help rarely is even an option. For these parents, this rigmarole is reality, on every single trip.

In my book—especially tonight—that makes them rock stars; parents from whom I’ve got a ton to learn.