Thought You'd Never Ask

Just mouthing off -- because I can.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Welcome home

We are safely back home after our long road trip of fun. Now I have been doing so many batches of laundry that I dreamed about doing laundry last night. Our cat is very happy to see us materialize. She kept us up most of our first night home, howling her delight and relief as she prowled around the house. It takes her about 24 hours to shed her restlessness and relax again whenever we return from a long absence.

We discovered that one of the huge old trees in our backyard had pulled itself out by the roots and toppled over into our neighbors' back yard (all across their entire backyard) at some point. Now those neighbors are also away, so we are wondering what to do and what's been going on.... We have a tree company rep coming out to give us an estimate on removing the thing. The root structure alone is about 15 feet high. Impressive and unsettling. Nature is formidable.

Last night after dinner a huge thunderstorm rolled through our area (not uncommon in the hottest days of summer here). Lightning struck the tall tree in front of our house and it was like a bomb went off, with a huge blast of noise and falling leaves and flying chunks of wood and bark. The tree is still standing, and we still have power, and nothing caught on fire (that's the good news). But now two of our five phones don't work, and our modem got fried (our computers seem fine, but no internet access for awhile). Our TV cable box and cable seemed to work for awhile, but then by 10 p.m. was gone. Our digital bathroom scale also no longer works! (runs on batteries). Makes you frightened to think where the electrical surge went in the house and what it did to our bodies! But we all feel fine.

So I am blogging while I have the chance of free wi-fi, here at the Honda dealership, getting our trusty minivan serviced.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summer vacation family roadtrip: The end

Two weeks together. Nine people related by blood and marriage. Three generations temporarily gathered from distant reaches of the U.S. into two small adjacent lakeshore cottages one hundred years old, more or less. The people range in age from 14 to 90, and have gathered here in our alternate summer family universe for 15 to over 70 years. Three more of our clan now lie in the cemetery up the road, and they have been missed. Another living couple couldn't make it this time, and have also been missed, though in a different, less wistful way.

We've had good weather this year, and have accomplished a lot. We sport blisters, bumped heads, bumped shins, and squashed fingers, most of the injuries incurred from wrangling boats. We also wear bug bites from mosquitos, deerflies, and spiders, but have no bad burns or sunburns this time, thank goodness. Just one little cooking burn. And we've done a lot of baking and cooking and eating--also painting, laundry, shopping, kayaking, swimming, cleaning, pruning and mowing, reading, photography, computer work, and socializing with friends on the island. We've visited the old places and told and heard the old stories again. It is briefly embracing again the things and the people you will always love, but rarely see. You miss it more than you know.

I blog this morning as the last sunrise of our summer reunion creeps up to light the sky and lake, making dark silhouettes of the trees. Through the open windows I hear the light wind in the aspens and pines, and the birds: crows, gulls, and Canada geese. They are the first to call out the start of another fine-weather Michigan summer morning in their own brief lives spent here. My husband has silently gone to the other cabin to brew the coffee. In a couple of hours everyone will be packed and dashing off to catch the ferry and then we scatter to our respective far-flung corners of the country and our ordinary, expected routines again.

We four on our own have a final thousand miles to drive today and tomorrow, then we'll be home at last, after six weeks and 9,000* miles on the American road.

*Update: Final tally--we put 9,702 miles on the van with this summer vacation family roadtrip.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer vacation: Michigan

A perfect day for boating and sailing.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer vacation family roadtrip: Family cabin

Since arriving at the family cabin last Saturday, I have lost all interest in blogging. Part of it was due to finally being able to unpack our suitcases after four weeks on the road, and catch up on sleep in the same bed for several nights in a row (and being able to sleep late in the morning instead of having to hit the road). A big part of it is being around other people here at the family reunion--I would rather talk and do things with them than blog.

That's about the size of it. I guess it's time to realize I am on vacation. An old-fashioned phrase meaning being purposely relaxed and out-of-touch with normal channels of communication. Hence, not much blogging for the interim.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer vacation family roadtrip: Michigan

We spent the last two days driving due east, out of North Dakota on I-94, and on blue highways and then little U.S. 2, through Minnesota (blogging territory of James Lileks and the PowerLine boys, and the Northern Alliance), Wisconsin, and Michigan's UP (Upper Peninsula).

It is amazing to see how abruptly the country changes, from Montana on the west side of North Dakota (indisputably The West) to the "northwoods" of the east coast in Minnesota on the other side of North Dakota. North Dakota is the great plains and still has the Big Sky; Minnesota is clearly just "northwoods" and no big sky. It does, however, have thousands of big and small lakes, including Leech Lake. (No fussy, pretentious, tourist-inviting names here!). We stopped in the town of Walker for a really good lunch at the Outdoorsman Cafe on the main drag. I recommend their bacon-lettuce-tomato salad with grilled chicken, hard-boiled-eggs and blue cheese dressing from the bottle brought to your booth. These people embrace all the food groups, especially protein, and they share my avid approval of bacon. I feel right at home in the northwoods, all right.

There is no doubt that Michigan (especially in the UP) is northwoods (as well as the land of the Great Lakes). Michigan is also The Lawn Decoration State. Preferred adornments for Michiganders include flowers in various containers: wishing wells, miniature lighthouses, wheelbarrows and wagons, buckets, cauldrons, hanging baskets and pots. There are more flowers (especially the omnipresent petunias, marigolds, and geraniums) in garden plots, rock gardens, planters, and beds. You'll see a fine panoply of statuary, too: fish, dogs, seagulls, geese, ducks, deer, moose, loons, gnomes, and saints. You'll see all kinds of wind-catchers of various construction and colors. Many are the yards that sport decorative rocks (polished, whitewashed, or natural). Birdhouses, bird feeders, lawn chairs, picnic tables, rustic signs (hand-painted), and "wood art" including chainsaw creations (mostly eagles and bears) round out the picture. American flags. Basketball standards. There is a poem in there somewhere, about how Michiganders celebrate their brief but intensely-felt summer by decorating their lawns. At any rate, I feel right at home here.

Gotta go catch a ferry to our final destination, an island in Lake Huron, for our family reunion.

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Summer vacation family roadtrip: North Dakota

...where the sky is the major feature.

Also, it smells of hay.

We saw ten or twelve of these wind turbine blades heading west on I-94 yesterday.

We have now traveled over 7,000 miles on our trip.

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Summer vacation family roadtrip: I-90 East

I always feel vaguely depressed when I have to turn my back to the American West and travel east. Yesterday we crossed through three states, literally from "amber waves of grain" (wheat fields in Adams County, Washington) to "purple mountain majesties" (Butte to Bozeman to Billings, Montana) "above the fruited plain"--only in this part of the country the plain is not exactly fruited, but studded with green fields with crop irrigators misting or spraying crescents of white water over the furrows. It is indeed a land of "spacious skies" and also of fragrant sage and yellow and purple wildflowers and fine horses, "where the deer and the antelope play" (they really do!) among the cattle and the occasional sheep and llama.

Do schoolchildren even know the words to these American lovesongs anymore? I want to see the Rasmussen poll on that.

So we are saying goodbye to Big Sky country and the dramatic geological evidences of plate tectonics along the Pacific Rim. Its been a wonderful three weeks. The scenery is too big to capture with my camera as we speed along I-90. You have to be there. These are the most beautiful of the American states. And in Montana, there is no sales tax!

High-speed long-distance driving for me is an enjoyable job to be done with workmanlike attention. It is like sewing, or copyediting or proofreading a long technical document, or mowing a lawn--or plowing acres of land, I imagine, as I have swept by many such neatly finished acres yesterday, and admired the work. There is both art and craft to this kind of driving as you calculate the speed at which you can stay legal and take the curves and flow with and around traffic as smoothly and gracefully as possible, always signaling your moves, even when nobody's around. I keep right except to pass. It is a pleasure to follow the rules of such a road and drive a good car in Montana, where the speed limit is 75 mph and the scenery is a constantly changing reward. I seem to have been born with an affinity for the details and the satisfactions of this kind of solitary enterprise.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Summer vacation family roadtrip: Goodbye to the Pacific

Yesterday we continued north up Highway 101 to complete our tour of the Oregon coast. The scenery and local culture, both overlooking the water and inland, continued to be fascinating to us oldsters (the kids in the back also enjoy it, but also watch DVDs to pass the time). One city that stood out was Lincoln City, Oregon, for being a complete bottleneck with near-gridlocked post-holiday traffic. It is also a place where you can buy Birkenstocks, tie-dyed t-shirts, and other such accouterments you might pine for. My husband said the town motto should be: "Still recovering from the Sixties." There seems to be a lot of that vibe (or commercial schtick) in coastal Oregon. In fact, it does call itself "The People's Coast," according to one brochure we saw (speaking of all the land there belonging to the government). At any rate, it's a beautiful setting. And often the cafe food is really good and comes with lots of local color. (General note to all waitresses: Not everyone wishes to be introduced up-close to the sight of your exposed bra at 8:00 in the morning.)

Outside Tillamook we saw the mother of all quonset huts housing the Tillamook Air Museum, and a high school stadium belonging to the fighting "Cheesemakers." Sweet! The air in Tillamook smells of dairy farms--no big surprise, and an honest smell, since Tillamook is surrounded by dairy farms. They are picturesque and the cattle look nice.

At 2 p.m. we turned right and started wending our way back eastward for good, having logged over 5,000 miles on this trip thus far. All safely and smoothly thanks to our Honda Odyssey.

The next few hours found us ogling the spectacular Columbia River Gorge (filled with waterfalls, river views that rival those of the Rhine, stately dams and locks, windfarms, trains, and other spectacular engineering feats (including the road itself), kitesurfers, and volcanic-formed mountains and brown furry hills of grandeur that make you want to pet their flanks with love.

We also were amazed to discover "artificial forests" of genetically engineered poplars. What will they think of next?

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Sunday, July 04, 2010

Summer vacation family roadtrip: 4th of July in Yachats, Oregon

We did find room at the inn in a little town called Yachats on the Oregon coast. My husband and son went hiking on spectacular Cape Perpetua, while my daughter and I studied mussels and wildflowers and cute dogs near the crashing waves and outcroppings along the pebble-and-shell beach. We all celebrated our country's birthday at Yachat's "La de da Parade" (favorites were the Umbrella Drill Team, the belly dancers, the marching Tai Chi corps and the string ensemble in a wagon playing the "Star Spangled Banner"). The Yachats Ladies Club Annual Pie & Ice Cream Social fueled our enthusiasm. Dinner was supplied by the Yachats Volunteer Fire Department (grilled meat and potato salad).

Mobile band in Yachats' Fourth of July parade, 2010

Yachats Ladies' pies!

I love celebrating the Fourth in the small towns of America. You'll always see plenty of kids, dogs, humor, costumes, commercialism, boosterism, and patriotism. And a lot of moms and sometimes even apple pie.

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Summer vacation family roadtrip: Oregon coast

View looking south from Cape Sebastian

We have reached the Pacific (after a brief dip into California, Bookworm's territory), and are now touring north along Highway 101, enjoying the majestic (and windy) Oregon coast. Our next big adventure is to discover if we will find a place to stay tonight and tomorrow night (the Fourth of July)--or will all motels be filled for the holiday weekend?

My son was quite intellectually agitated to discover that in Oregon you can legally commit suicide but you can't legally pump your own gas. I was not surprised to discover that the latter law seems to promote dirty, yukky restrooms at the gas stations. The locals tell you to instead use the restrooms in the grocery stores. Free the free market!

UPDATE: Seen along the trail:

Oregon Dunes trail


Friday, July 02, 2010

Summer vacation family roadtrip: Crater Lake

After spending the night in Eugene, Oregon near the University, we arrived at Crater Lake National Park yesterday afternoon. There was a lot of snow on the ground at the higher altitudes, and a large part of the Rim Road was still closed due to snow.

Oddly enough, the mosquitos had hatched nevertheless; the air was full of them. A stiff cold wind kept them partially at bay. The lake in the crater where the volcano's former top once was (now the deepest lake in the U.S.) is eerie and a blue color that can only be described as (according to my son) "Technicolor." It really looks like this:

We would have stayed longer except that there was no room at the Lodge and the Visitors Center closed at 5:00. So we drove down into civilization and spent the night in Medford, Oregon, which I can't think of without being reminded of Mr. Jackson from Double Indemnity ("Mr. Keyes, I'm a Medford man - Medford, Oregon. Up in Medford, we take our time making up our minds.")

On next: the Oregon coast.

Today's Question: Where, if at all, to put the apostrophe in "Visitors Center?"


Thursday, July 01, 2010

Summer vacation family roadtrip: Mt. Rainier National Park

View of Mt. Rainier from the Paradise Visitor Center

We've just come out of three days and two nights spent in Mt. Rainier National Park, where there was still lots of snow at the higher elevations, and no cellphone coverage or internet access.

For our first night in the Park we stayed at the historic National Park Inn at Longmire:

From the front porch the next morning we could see hikers and deer stroll by along the Trail of the Shadows. We spent that day and the next going on several hikes. The next night we stayed at the Paradise Inn, a lodge what is a lodge:

Rustic-style lobby of the Paradise Inn Lodge, Mt. Rainier National Park

I would rate this lodge in the top five of this list of 10 (all but one of which--Phantom Ranch--I have visited). The lobby came with amazing log furniture and hand-painted hanging lampshades, and a pianist in the evenings who knew all the right old Cole Porter, Gershwin, and show tunes--also some Chopin and Beethovan. In our book, he was the perfect touch. Heavenly indeed. The lobby was excellent for lounging, reading, writing postcards, resting, and people-watching (there were many fascinating foreigners and natives there). Our rooms at the Inn were spacious and serviceable. Plus the food in the lovely dining room stood up to the price: it was tasty and satisfying.

We enjoyed the visitor centers and profited from talking with the knowledgeable park rangers. We hiked along many easy trails, including Trail of the Shadows, the West Side Road (did not see any mountain goats), the Carter and Madcap Falls overlook and the Nisqually River, the Christine Falls overlook, the Box Canyon of the Cowlitz overlook, and the Grove of the Patriarchs trail, including a cool swinging bridge over the river. My daughter was finally getting cheerful and more hardy about hiking, crossing log bridges, and utilizing pit toilets. We saw countless deer, a rabbit, a weasel, a silver fox, a black bear, a pika, and a marmot. We also saw lots of mosses, wildflowers, and glaciated rock, innumerable cascades, creeks, rivers, and waterfalls and, on the bridge over the Box Canyon, a circular rainbow surrounding the sun. The scenery, from tiny wildflowers to glaciers and vast mountainous panoramas, was stellar. Mt. Rainier is an extraordinary place, and our experience there was first-rate.