Posted in Travel

Travels with Toots

toilet training with Toots (and a book!)

Toots is the teddy bear I’ve had since I was a year old. Well, we’ve always called him a teddy bear, though his actual shape is sort of open to interpretation…

He’s had several face-lifts in that time (in fact, he had a whole “body-lift” a couple years ago after a dog got to him and left only his head and one arm… Thank goodness my mother is an expert seamstress, and dedicated to the cause of beloved bears!)…

Toots has been with me on a lot of travels. When I was ten, my family drove around Europe for six months and eighteen countries (including behind the Iron Curtain, and through countries that don’t exist on today’s maps)—Toots was with me for the whole trip. He has earned a lot of passport-stamps.


He’s been present for my adult milestones too. Yes, that’s a photo of me with Toots on my [first] wedding-day. He has comforted me in hospitals and rehab (and I missed him in jail)…

In short, Toots has been a fixed point through the journey of my life… although until this year, he has often been relegated to closet-shelves while I was married.

Yup, until this year. My hubby, Jon, however, celebrates the kid in me (probably recognizes it because his own is near the surface!) and he has brought Toots back out of the closet with a flourish.

Salmon River, Idaho (Toots in the saddlebag!)

We started with a motorcycle trip to see my parents over Memorial Weekend, Toots riding along for 600 miles in a saddlebag. And when we stopped to visit my grandma for what would turn out to be the last time, I wasn’t sure she recognized me… but she definitely knew Toots! I was glad we’d brought him along.


Last summer Jon & I took our first vacation together, a camping road-trip to the Oregon Coast… and Jon not only made sure that Toots came along, he made a game of posing with him in as many places as we could think of. Toots cooked biscuits and gravy over our camp stove. Toots flew a kite on the beach. Toots enjoyed a bowl of clam chowder. Toots climbed the lighthouse tower…


Oregon CoastI got such a kick out of texting Toots-pictures to my mother the entire week… But I wasn’t only seeing the road through “Toots-eyes.” Truth be told, it had been nearly a decade since I’d even been out of state, let alone enjoyed the luxury of a vacation. For a number of years now, I’d either been tied up with restaurant-ownership or tied down with strapped finances; when I’d had time to travel, I didn’t have the funds

Truth be told, I had tears in my eyes when the ocean first came into view.

We checked ourselves into a little seaside motel and then headed straight up the coastal highway to Jon’s favorite clam-chowder joint, the Sea Hag. (I’ve been a fan of Mo’s since I was a teenager, but I’ve got to say I’ve never had a clam-chowder to beat the Sea Hag’s bread-bowl!)

After dinner we picked our way down to the surf and tide pools, and I really did cry with happiness, though I might have blamed the whipping wind in my eyes…  Next morning we checked in at our campground and we Toots set up camp, just a few minutes’ walk from the beach.

Yaquina Head lighthouse Newport Oregon
Yaquina Head lighthouse

Newport Oregon is where I happened to be when realized my “thing for the ocean” was more than a vacation whim. It’s where I determined to learn sailing and scuba diving, where I knew I would study marine biology. At fifteen or sixteen, I vividly remember standing in the tide pools below the lighthouse and promising myself I’d do those things. And though life has led me back to land-locked Idaho for the time being, I have done those things. I’m a sailboat skipper, and a research diver, and my University of Idaho zoology degree has a University of Hawai’i marine-bio minor tacked on.

tide pool with sea urchins
sea urchins

Probably because of that tidepool moment-of-determination, the Yaquina Head lighthouse there in Newport has remained symbolically important to me. When I decided on a lighthouse-tattoo to represent my daughter (“Elena” means “shining light”), there was never any question: my arm would sport this lighthouse with her name.

With all that emotional history, you can maybe imagine how excited I got upon hearing that the lighthouse is now open to visitors! I’d been visiting Newport since I was a kid, taken dozens of photos of the outside, but never been inside. It’s amazing in there–original lenses, stairs, furniture…

(After we climbed all the way to the top , we sent my mom a photo of Toots sporting his “I Survived the Climb” button. She said SHE never got one. I said he got special consideration for short legs. She said SHE has short legs. Toots mailed her his button after the trip.)

kite flying on the beachWe’d brought our tanks and Scuba gear (Jon’s a Rescue Diver) but I ended up with the worst head-cold of my adult life, so we stayed top-side, not wanting to blow out an eardrum. Luckily, we’re happy enough dabbling in tide pools, walking beaches, flying a kite, strolling along the waterfront and peering into shops and galleries…. And of course a trip back to the Sea Hag for another bowl of that clam chowder.

I spent at least an hour reclining on an outcrop of rock, just breathing along with the waves. I can still replay that hour’s worth of water movement when I want a peaceful smile on my face.

img_1329With some vacation-days left and diving off the table, we thought we’d explore in a different direction, heading back inland to camp at a natural hot spring near a wildlife reserve in central Oregon, and then some riverside hot springs in Idaho mountains.

Toots is not much of a swimmer (he’s not even robust enough to withstand the washing machine these days) but he perched beside hot pools while we swam and goofed around and chatted with other heat-seeking pilgrims. At the Kirkham springs in Idaho, we watched an intense thunder storm roll in across the mountain tops, and we took shelter in front of our tarp-draped tent to drink camp coffee and listen to the rain.

On paper, there’s probably nothing spectacular about this trip, but I’ve got to tell you, being ABLE to travel again is transformative in its own right.  I’m all for recognizing the “sacred” in any day, regardless of where I am…  But I’ll admit I’m a real sucker for wandering farther afield!

Toots is not the only one who has recently been freed from a dusty shelf for a new life!

sandaled feet on the sandy beach.


I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

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