Friday, December 21, 2007

Getting Ready for Christmas

This year, getting ready for Christmas has been different. It was gradual. It just happened. Well, I guess I did panic a bit when it didn't seem like I was going to get the snow I needed for my perfect Christmas Card photo, but just a bit... Yesterday I heard on the radio that Christmas was next week, and all I could think was, really? That was quick.

We spent Wednesday night at our church with Heather and her three kids, Nathan, Christa and Jenna. There was a Little Town of Bethlehem set up, pretty much taking up the whole church and grounds. There was a living nativity, with angels, shepherds, the best behaved donkey I've ever seen, sheep and at least one goat. The wise men were there, of course. Snow was on the ground. I kept thinking the angels should be flapping their wings to stay warm. Everyone stood around the manger singing together as the story was read. 

Then we went back inside and continued to visit little shops where the children made different little things to take home with them. Our last stop was in the dining hall for a wonderful beef stew and bread dinner together. It was a wonderful night, made all the more special by the presence of the children. Also, I guess, knowing that I wasn't rushing anywhere for shopping, wrapping and mailing helped. That was all taken care of already. 

I guess living far enough away that everything has to be mailed does have its advantages. The secular part has to get done early. Now all I've been doing is listening to the Christmas music, putting up a few decorations, and thinking about Christmas dinner now and then, so it'll be special.

One funny little thing that was special. The kids' dad, Matt, couldn't come with them that night because of a weekly obligation at their own church. Christa, 6, was sitting next to me eating, and I said to her, "So, what's your dad doing tonight?" She said, "He's at Mutual." I asked, being funny, "Oh, Mutual of Omaha?" and she said, "Yes." I think Matt would have been really tickled. 

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Up and Running

The expression "easy as pie" only works for people who don't make pies. Let me just say that this new Macintosh system upgrade was much quicker and easier than making a pie. I'm up and running. I still have to reinstall my backed up files, (mostly drag and drop) but the system is on and working, and the internet popped up immediately with no problems. Wow. OK, I'm impressed. The entire process took less than two and a half hours, and nearly an hour of that was the DVD check before it started.

So feel free to email me. I'm on line and I'm happy.

Over the River and Through the Woods

We've had a couple of interesting days. Yesterday was definitely better than Thursday. Thursday we got up early and drove all the way to Broomfield to the Apple store to get some time at the Genius Bar. For some reason my computer suddenly thought I was Japanese, and many of my programs started showing off the buttons in Kanji. It was interesting. I don't read Kanji. Also, for security and backup reasons, along with some other rather powerful features, we had decided it was time to upgrade to the new System software. I was buying that during the trip as well.

Genius Bar personnel seem to know the workings of Macs like — well — geniuses. We were fixed and running really quickly. It was well worth the hour and a half to get there. Besides, we had something to get at Sharper Image, which also has their closest store at Broomfield, so it was a good trip. We also found our annual Christmas Angel ornament for our tree, so we went home safe and happy, had lunch, and were well pleased. Until...

I unpacked my laptop and discovered that the power cord had been left at the Apple Store. Laptops don't give you much time without the power cord, so we called them and they said we'd have to come back to retrieve it. So a four hour plus in store time trip turned into an all day affair. But we were safe and got everything done. We're arrived back home just as dark was closing in on us, and then spent the next day backing up the entire drive.

At four o'clock we left the computer backing up the last of my data and went to Longmont to spend a wonderful evening with friends Matt and Heather and their kids, plus Matt's brother David and his wife Heather and their kids. It was a wonderful evening, with a great turkey dinner. Best of all was being with these two wonderful families. The kids are really fun, and we've missed them since the football games ended. 

So now I'm going to sign off and reformat my drive completely and do a clean install on the new system software (yes, a lot of hassle, but really the best way to do it). After that, I'll start reinstalling things, so if you really need me quickly in the next day or so, you might want to use the telephone. Wish me luck. 

Friday, December 7, 2007

The White Stuff

We're up early, watching the white stuff fall from the skies. We've been praying for snow ever since returning from the smoky skies of California. When we returned, the forecast was for snow the next day, but it didn't happen here. We were really disappointed. Then the bad news was that we wouldn't be getting any for at least ten days. 

Just as we were preparing to travel up to Rocky Mountain National Park, 25 miles up the road, to get my photos for this year's Christmas Card, the forecast changed. Now it's coming down slowly, and has been since about one in the morning. We've only had about an inch so far, and the ground is still showing through in places, so I'm not ready to start shooting my masterpiece yet, but I'm hopeful. This storm comes with a confirmation of the one thing I've always known about God. He sure has a sense of humor.

It's supposed to snow until Sunday. The heaviest snowfall is expected from Saturday afternoon through the night. Well, guess what. I've finally been asked to sing in church at this Saturday evening's service. I've been practicing "No Reservation at the Inn," an old Statler Brothers song. In good weather it takes us 20 minutes to get to church. In bad weather? Well, it can be an interesting trip. And when do I want to take the photos? In the evening, when the light is on the front side of the house, just after the sun sets, so the lights show up really nicely against the snow and the house. We'll be gone before then, and darkness will be well and truly complete before we return. Laugh, God. And remind me to be careful of what I pray for, in case I might get it all on the same day.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Who thinks up this stuff?

Wrapping paper. I've just never questioned it before. And somehow, it's always been my job. John wrap something? Forget it. When did wrapping presents start to kill my back, anyway? I used to stay up all night on Christmas eve, wrapping presents, and I don't remember having it bother my back. I remember being tired, and worrying that I wouldn't get done. I also remember worrying that things wouldn't come out evenly between the three boys, or that I'd run out of ribbon, paper, scotch tape or bow tacks. At that point, the wrapping had to look really good, since the contents were carefully chosen but very low budget. 

Now I've been wrapping for two days, and only seem to have gotten a few gifts finished. I'm not even hand tying my own bows this year, and don't have that many people on my gift list. I should be done. I'm not, but I'm close. I think I'll quit for a week or so and work on the Christmas cards. The older I get the more quickly I lose focus, I guess.

Before I leave the Christmas gift wrapping theme behind, though, I want to share my favorite all time Christmas gift wish list. It was from Benjamin. All he wanted one year was a rock, a chicken, and something green. And that's what he got: a geode, a fluffy, chirping chick on a string, and a stuffed Kermit the Frog. And they were beautifully wrapped.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Home Again


Yes, we've been home several days, and almost all I've done is enjoy being here. I keep thinking about the Christmas cards, the blog, the laundry, downloading my photos and doing the slide show, but all I've really done is read, relax, cook, play my guitar, shop, attend church, take some photos and talk to the deer (lots of that). 

So here finally is my wrap up of a mighty fine trip...

We left home, kind of dragging our feet, because we knew a snow storm was expected two days after we left, and I really wanted to take some photos for this year's Christmas card, but since we were expected at a certain time, we went ahead and left on schedule on Saturday, November 10th. We packed up the car bright and early and headed into town to the church where the HAM club was conducting their licensing tests, and John went in for his "Extra" qualification license, which is as high as he can get. He passed, and then we hit the road to California. It sure put him in a good mood. He had studied hard for that test. I hadn't seen him (except from the backside) for a month, except when he got hungry. 

The trip to California was almost normal. John did his usual drive the speed limit routine, with most cars whizzing past him. We don't care. We're not in a rush. We have great music in the car, and now we listen to audio books as well. This trip we listened to Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Now John wants to hear all his books. (John doesn't like to read, but he likes to listen.) I need to find shorter books, because he'll drive for 16 hours if the book is long. 

Anyway, we were driving through one of the canyons in Utah when a lady waving a red jacket ran out in the road toward us and John stopped. She asked if we had OnStar (yes) and told us there was a bad truck wreck ahead. Would we please call for emergency response? So we were given all the details. A trucker in a hurry lost his load and his truck, but luckily not his life. We sat for over two hours while they scraped him onto one lane so that people could squeeze by on the other lane. So how much time did he save? I've always thought speeding was illogical. You have to go ten miles over the speed limit for a whole hour to save about ten minutes, and one single ticket takes about half an hour plus court time. That doesn't even count the expense. And this guy has lost his truck! There's a slide show link at the end and photos, so you'll see what I mean. It also cost us a lot of extra time, but luckily we had just eaten and used the restrooms a few miles back. 

We still made it to Mom's by Monday afternoon, and our visit with her and Papa was great. We played Bingo four times during the eight days were stayed with her, which sounds like a lot, but we had a lot of fun. She won a couple of times, and took us out to dinner at Applebee's on some of the winnings. We also enjoyed a turkey potluck dinner at their club house, and after dinner I played guitar for them, which I probably enjoyed more than they did. I played some of my "funny" songs, and had them really laughing. 

Another highlight of our stay was the day I stole to run around with Sherrie. John had gone to have lunch with some of his friends, so Sherrie and I tackled the triumvirate of California shopping: Trader Joe's; Smart and Final; and Sur La Table. We had lunch at Cho Cho San, which is a wonderful Japanese restaurant with food served at Teppan style tables, with the food prepared in front of you. (Hot Saki anyone?) I love it when the chef throws his knives around! John and I even got to spend an evening with Al and Becky before the week was over. 

On Tuesday, right after Bingo, we left for (my sister) Ellen and Johnny's house for the next stage of our trip. That gave Mom time to change the sheets, since (my brother) Pat and his wife Betty, and their son Tim and his wife Tory were coming the next day to spend Thanksgiving week with Mom. Then we all could meet up at Ellen's for the Thanksgiving feast on Thursday.

Sherrie has said that for her the most fun day was the day before Thanksgiving, and it didn't make sense to me. I'd always had to work the day before Thanksgiving. Then I'd be up half the night trying to do my part - usually pies and my Methodist Jello, maybe some bread or whatever I was bringing to Ellen's. This year I finally understood what she meant. I don't know if Ellen had as much fun as I did, but I had a ball making pie crust, setting the table, shopping, laughing, talking, eating, running stuff back and forth — just generally helping someone who really knows how to entertain 20 people in style. It was so great being there. I loved it. She's a great cook, and between the meals at Mom's, and then at Ellen's, I really came home knowing I'd been spoiled. 

Thanksgiving was as hectic and joyous as anyone could imagine. (Son) Tighe and Nicole were there, and it was so great to see them. We were lucky enough to pack some of their green bean casserole in our cooler when we left (along with a whole dinner of leftovers that gave us a feast at our next stop.) Ellen was more than generous when she helped us pack. We even got some of her famous turkey soup. 

The following day we left Johnny working at the house while John and Ellen and I went to the Reagan Presidential Library and took the tour. We really enjoyed it, but were most enthralled with Air Force One. It was fun watching John walk hunched over through the entire plane. It only looks big on the outside. We had our photo taken at the door together, and you can now see it on our Rogue's Gallery Wall. (Yes, that was another invitation to visit...)

Saturday morning we took off for Lake Isabella to get the place ready for Winter. That morning the skies were full of smoke again, as the winds had picked up and Malibu was once again burning. [The fires ended up burning down nearly 60 homes this time.] It was a short stay up at Lake Isabella before heading home. 

Once again we had a dumb trucker experience. This time we were in Colorado. It was funny that while we sat in line waiting to squeeze through the canyon where the truck had tipped over, the little pickup in front of us had a sign that read, "Let's All Drive Safely." I had to get a photo of that, of course. 

We finally did get home, and I had just walked into the kitchen, when John said, "Hey, come back here." I turned around and went back to the door just in time to see five deer finish running right up to the deck. They actually looked like they were happy to see us. They stood there and dug through the light snow covering, munching grass (it had snowed the day before we got home) and watched us unpack the car. I felt that we had been truly welcomed home. 

Our only disappointment was that the storm "scheduled to arrive" later in the week so I could get my Christmas photos taken landed everywhere but here. Roads closed down; ski resorts are thrilled. We got barely a dusting. Boo Hiss! Oh well, we're still here, and there's at least a bit of the white stuff around. If all else fails we'll drive twenty-five miles up into Rocky Mountain National Park this week and take some pictures for this year's cards. It won't be the design I have in my head now, but it'll be the new design in my head once I take the photo, right?

So now all that's left is to send you to the slide show. I hope you are getting in the Christmas Spirit, and understand that I'm never going to be politically correct and say "holiday spirit." Blessings to all... To see the very short slide show, click here

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On the Road Again

Here we are on the road again — this time heading to California to join family and friends for a visit, including Thanksgiving at my sister Ellen's home, followed by short forays to see John's sister Kay and to the house at Lake Isabella to get it ready for the colder weather. All in all we'll be home in under three weeks. Still, it was hard to leave. We're expecting snow on Monday. I considered waiting a couple of days so I wouldn't miss that, but didn't think those at the other end would appreciate having their visit shortened, and I really am looking forward to seeing them. (Hi, Sherri... )

Now realize that our first week will be with my Mom, who thinks technology is for NASA. I won't have any internet connection unless I go visit someone else's house who happens to have a computer. And then I'm rude enough to take time from our visit to sit there using their computer to sign on and write my blog. Is that rude? Depends on how long the visit is, I guess.

Under the subtitle of the best laid plans of mice and men: We were going to surprise our son Tighe by showing up at Thanksgiving dinner where he would be very amazed (and, we would hope, overjoyed) to see us. We had it all planned out. So two days before we were to leave, we got a phone call from Tighe asking if he could come join us in Colorado for Thanksgiving. Surprise! Maybe Christmas?

Monday, October 22, 2007

California Wildfires

My heart aches for the people in Southern California right now. There are over 13 wildfires raging behind winds measured up to 103 miles per hour, measured at Pt. Mugu, where John used to work. Over 98,000 acres have been destroyed or damaged so far, and around 4,900 firefighters are fighting the fires throughout six counties, with over a quarter of a million people having been evacuated today. Winds are not expected to die down for another two days. Schools are closed down, being used for shelters.

Mom and some friends in our old town have ash in their homes from the Malibu blaze, and say the skies are a bloody orange color, with the smoke a scary smell that you can't escape, a constant reminder that if the wind shifts, it might be your turn to leave your home behind and head for a shelter. It's been four years since the brush has burned. Fire season. And the pitiful fact is, they've only averaged three inches of rain all year, according to tonight's news.

Along with the feelings of a lucky escape to Colorado is a feeling of helplessness, that many of those I love may need help that I'm no longer close enough to offer. My sister and her husband had just driven to Reno on Saturday, and can't get information on their home, back in one of the canyons, being endangered by the Stevenson Ranch fire, which is approaching the back side of their canyon. Do they catch a plane home? If they do, will they be allowed back in their area? No one can answer their questions. The situation is changing too rapidly.

Those of us who no longer search the skies for the ominous dark clouds when the Santa Ana winds blow feel fortunate, if somewhat guilty, as we watch CNN for the latest developments. We just sit tight, and we pray.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Hidden Box Under the Christmas Tree

There's that little kid in all of us, sitting under the Christmas tree. Everybody has opened up all their presents, and the one thing you wanted the most wasn't there. You really expected it. You were led to believe that it would be there. You look and look, but nothing seems to be left under the tree. You keep looking. Nobody else is watching anymore. The living room is quiet except for the TV, telling about everyone else getting what they wanted.

This morning was like that. The weatherman promised snow. I left the outside deck lights on all night long, and periodically I'd get up and look to see if it had started yet. No snow. I'd go out on the deck and peek. No snow under the trees. I'd glance up into the branches. Nope. Nothing. First thing this morning I checked the digital readout on the temperature gauge:  32°.  I turned the news on and started watching all the happy people in Colorado out playing in the snow. Newscasters were doing their man in the street interviews, and people were smiling, big fat snow flakes swirling around. I felt that inner child sitting under my emotional tree, struggling to be happy with what I'd gotten, and not grieve for what I had wanted.

Dressing in my snow coat and hat, but sockless and in my sandals, since there was, after all, no snow, I wandered out to enjoy the view from my deck. That was, after all, what I do have every day. I was just really starting to cheer up, breathing deeply and feeling that inner peace that always seems to find me in my woods, when the first flakes started drifting down. I went from peaceful to joyful faster than a child finding that one last present with their name on it, lost behind the far branches of the Christmas tree, and discovering the much desired gift inside. Thank you, Lord.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I'm Cooking With Gas

Actually I've been cooking with gas for several days now, and enjoying it immensely. I had this wonderful idea, that for our first meal cooked on the new range, I'd make things like sausages and sauerkraut, served with baked beans and broccoli. John would enjoy a meal that would not only be cooked with gas, but would leave a "memory of gas." Then I realized who would be the one to suffer the most from that particular type of humor, and so I christened the new gas range by making shepherd pie. 

This morning I used the built in griddle for the first time, doing apple pancakes. It worked great. It's the first time I've used the new oval burner, and the built in griddle is a great size for us. This range was worth waiting for. 

I'll admit I'm getting spoiled. The cost of living is so much lower here that we're living a lot better on a lot less money than we ever could in So Cal. I don't know how anyone manages to retire in Southern California and maintain their lifestyle while taking a 40-60% salary decrease. Our life style has actually improved, and things will be even better once we finish the remodeling projects, which should be pretty soon. There are only a few things left that we hope to accomplish. Luckily we're in no rush. 

I guess life has always been good in many ways, but it hasn't always been this easy or this filled with beauty and nature. OK. I'm happy. Find out why. Meet us at the Denver airport, and we'll drive you up here....

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Baseball and Misspoken Words

From the time I was a little kid, I used to get laughed at for messing up words. I remember how long people laughed when I referred to the basketball players crawling around the court looking for one of the player's "contract eyeballs" that had gotten knocked out. Of course it was a contact lens, and I got the words messed up. Then there was the day that I came rushing home from school, still too young to read very well myself, excitedly telling my mother that my wonderful teacher was going to be reading to us every day from two wonderful books called "The Idiot" and "The Oddity." (Of course it was the Iliad and the Odyssey.) They still tease me about that one.

Baseball lends itself to this type of error. So many players have strange names. I just had  to finally write this one down for posterity. Not only do I find it really funny, but it wasn't my verbal error this time. This one belongs to John, and happened early in the season. If I don't write it down, who will remember to tease him when I'm old and forgetful? (OK, maybe I'm already old and forgetful.)

We were listening to a Dodger game on XM radio, and I left him to listen alone while I went into the kitchen to prepare our dinner.  John came in about fifteen minutes later and said (I swear this is accurate): "Psycho's been hurt, and they put Tonto in to pitch in his place." 

It took me awhile to stop what I was doing and figure out what was really happening. Saito had been pitching, so that part was fairly easy. But Tonto? Oh, he must mean Thomko. I went in and listened. Sure enough, that's who the pitchers were. I think that's got to be as funny as the Idiot and the Oddity. Well, almost. 

By the way, how about those Rockies?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Gift of an Amazing Night

Music makes the world go 'round. OK. Maybe it doesn't really, but it must at least make it spin faster or something. I've always felt that a gift of music is one of those things that just keeps on giving. This week we were given third row tickets to see the Coasters and the Platters in concert. That concert was last night, and we had a ball. 

I'd like to say something about the giver of those tickets before I hit the highlights of the concert itself. You buy a house and never see your realtor again unless you have a friend you want to refer, right? Not if you buy a house from Wynn Washle. In the year and a half since he sold us our home, we've received a beautiful "Colorado ~ The Good Life" plaque, a gift card for a restaurant for our one year anniversary of buying the house, and were included in a group theatre party when Wynn and his family rented out one entire screening of Harry Potter's most recent film when it opened. That included popcorn and soda for everyone. Wynn wore his wizard garb. He's one of a kind, and a kind one at that. We got lucky when we found him.

Now, on to the concert. Knowing all the words to almost all the songs did, of course, contribute to making this such a special night, but couldn't have made it so perfect all by itself. I've been to so many concerts. Sometimes I've felt a little jaded. I've seen big stars who were a real disappointment. These guys had the voices that rocked the 50's and 60's. The backup band was incredible, even though they looked young enough to be my children. Oh, my. 

One of the things that was really great was sitting in the third row, off to the side, with nobody in front of us. It actually contributed to something very special happening. All during the show, especially with The Coasters (since I have every song they've ever recorded, as far as I know) I was quietly singing along. This one singer, since he had such a clear view of me through the empty seats, would look over often, like he was checking to see if I was still singing along. Lots of people were, but I'm not sure too many people really know all the verses — just the choruses. He'd smile. I was smiling the whole time, so obviously I was having a ball. I really didn't want their segment to end, since they're my favorites.

As luck would have it, they got called back for an encore. Someone behind me said "Charlie Brown" fairly quietly, but I heard him. I said, "Little Egypt" about the same level, but the lead singer on stage was looking right at me and said, "What? Little Egypt? You want me to sing Little Egypt for you?" And they walked right over toward me and did it a cappella. I was so stunned I didn't sing along, but I didn't stop grinning, either. If I'd had the nerve, I would have asked them to follow it up with D. W. Washburn, my all time favorite, but I'd already gotten more than I could believe. 

If anyone can follow The Coasters, it's The Platters. The words to Only You have to be among the most amazing love songs ever written. I think it's the sort of love all mothers want for the children... and for themselves, of course. Sitting with John and listening to these wonderful ballads from the 50's and 60's was, to use an old expression, simply dreamy. And suddenly we were young again.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Crash, Bang, Tickle, Tinkle

I didn't do it, but I'll admit I'm glad it happened. Let's back up and take this from the beginning.

When we moved in, the one thing I said I couldn't live with was the electric range. So we were going to change to gas from the beginning, but other things needed to happen first. We also knew we had to get the roof replaced or completely re-shingled before Winter hits again because of some damage done last Winter due to ice damming. It was the original roof. We already had the damage (to the fascia boards) corrected. It was not cheap, either. So if we're putting in a roof, this is the best time to install the vent for the gas range, which must be done to comply with building and safety codes. The hole for the vent fan has to be cut through the kitchen ceiling and comes out through the roof. So we got our roofing bids, and found we could actually afford to do the range at the same time time as the roof. Whoopee. 

We did the Consumer Reports research on ranges, then did our in-town cost comparison, and wound up ordering a wonderful oven at a good price. It will come in two weeks, and I'll put a photo up then, but we were able to bring home the over-the-oven range hood (fan, lighting and vent). 

Here's where it gets interesting. All the appliances in the kitchen are black or silver except for the dishwasher and the over the stove microwave, which John had to remove to replace with the hood vent. He was going to move the old white microwave monstrosity across the room and mount it next to my beautiful platinum LG fridge. I agreed to this. It was the best solution. After all, it wouldn't have been right to just throw it down the stairs. It still worked, after all. It wasn't great, but it did still work. 

Well, praise the Lord! He dropped it! Today we found a great new one for $150. It's an LG, smaller on the outside, bigger on the inside, loaded with new features, ten years newer, and it looks great next to the fridge. I couldn't have scripted it better. And I think I was happy enough that John no longer feels so bad about dropping the old one. So — crash, bang, tinkle, tinkle, grin!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Trial Run for Grandpa's Camp



Growing up, we were nomads due to my dad's military career. A nuclear power plant would be built, and Dad's team would be shipped in to set up and train. Then we'd be on our way again. It wasn't conducive to making and keeping friends. I was always the new kid on the block. Things like music and schoolwork were the constants in my life. But there was always one place where we would go, where (like Cheers) everybody knew your name. You could be yourself. It always seemed like everyone loved us, and life was beautiful. The pine trees were tall, and the lake sparkled. Whether the sun was hot or the snow covered the ground, it was a happy place to be. It was Grandpa's Camp, in Northern Michigan. 

When we found our place here, we also found out we were expecting our first grandchild, who is now nine months old. We've had a sign made that reads Grandpa's Camp, and we hope to have the same feeling here for our family that I had growing up whenever we visited my Grandpa's Camp. Last night we had a trial run.

Two of our daughter-in-law Ruth's brothers have moved to a nearby town, and last night they came over for a spaghetti dinner, bringing their wives and seven kids. It was fabulous, and I got to see what a wonderful place this will be when having our own grandchildren visit. We just had fun. We did the s'mores in the yard around the campfire, of course, since it's one of my favorite things to do, and we ate a lot, since it's one of my favorite things to do. I guess that's what we always seem to do here — the things I like best. That works for me. It was almost like being an honorary grandma last night, and the kids couldn't have been better behaved or more fun. I think I had more fun than anybody else. I certainly wasn't ready for the evening to end, but we'll have many more. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Autumn in the Foothills

One of the big reasons we wanted to live here was to celebrate four seasons each year. Our least favorite is summer. We got enough summer living on the West Coast. There was so much summer that the ground would bake so hard that when the rains finally came, it would run off, not able to soak in properly, and then the national news would have a field day reporting on which hillsides had slipped and taken their payloads of expensive homes sliding down with them. 

Summer here got a little hotter than we wanted. When we returned from our month long road trip, we stopped in town for gas on our way home and it was 99° in town. I wasn't amused. We climbed a thousand feet into the foothills to our home, and it was 86° up here. That was nice. So we picked a good spot to retire. Often in the winter it works the other way, with our area being protected from the harshest winds and weather by those same foothills.

Autumn has just begun, and we've had some growling, rumbling thunderstorms, and a couple inches of really good rain. Usually our rains come in the afternoon and last an hour at most, traveling across the foothills leaving a good soaking and passing on through. This time we got a couple of days of steady rain, not hard, but enough to make music on the roof and lull a body to sleep. The sun is shining today, and the cloud formations are beautiful. The earth is drying, but the tree bark is saturated and looks like someone touched it up with new colored markers. The wet forest smell is remarkable. The deer come down in larger groups, enjoying the cooler weather, I imagine. Their coats are starting to turn a darker brown, thickening up for winter, and they're looking regal. Last year's male fawns have their first little horns, which look sort of like chop sticks, but they wear them proudly.

One of the things I like best about Autumn, though, is knowing that Winter is next. I love the snow — the clean purity and the look of the deer tracks threading through it. It's not the same in town, though, so if you're a city dweller, don't blame me for the hassle that snow causes. We have to go to town for our groceries and doctor's appointments, and it isn't pleasant. It's a gray mess, piled up and dirty, sometimes taking up half of a parking lot, causing accidents and flares of temper. But up here in the foothills, it's beautiful. The silence of the winter woods calms the spirit, and the regal beauty of the elk and deer wandering through, along with the ever present romping of the bunnies just makes me happy. 

Autumn is a feast for the senses. Not only is it a wonder of sight and smell, and and the feel of springy mosses and vegetation beneath damp sneakers as you walk the woods, it's a wonder of sound, as the elk enjoy sunset with their haunting calls, males bellowing their challenges to each other as they entice their females in the ancient mating rituals that guarantee another year of babes to protect and prolong the herds. Also, Autum offers us our final opportunities of the year for sitting around the campfire in the yard, grilling outside, enjoying afternoons in the high 70's, and sitting around talking with our neighbors outside. We wish you were here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Vacation at home


Our week with Jeremy and Elisha was like living in that Dr. Seuss book, "Oh, The Places You'll Go." In just a week, and without ever venturing further than about 30 miles from our home, we went to Estes Park, The Rocky Mountain National Park, and our own Benson Sculpture Park in Loveland. We also went to the Ringling Brothers Circus, which just happened to be in town, and then on to the tour at the Budweiser Plant. On another day we drove into Boulder and went to the Celestial Seasonings Tour, where the men were subjected to hair and beard nets, and then on to the Leaning Tree Museum. I guarantee you that John was not amused with the hair net. I'll probably never get him back in that building.

In between all those wonderful little excursions, we did a lot of cooking and eating, sat on the decks watching the deer, laughed, talked, played cribbage and "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader," a game they so nicely brought with them and left here for future guests. We all turned out to be smarter than 5th graders at times, and Jeremy and I ended up about dead even by the end of the week on cribbage. I kept looking at the board today and wondering when I'll get my next game. I'll bet he could get work locally really easily...

When night fell, the fire pit beckoned, and we enjoyed the campfire experience without having to blow up air mattresses or sleep on rocks. Usually the quiet house is a good thing, a place of joy and blessings, but today it was kind of sad and empty with them gone. But now I'll look at the photos and smile, remembering all the things that happened between the pictures. To paraphrase a pillow I gave my sister, "I smile because you are my son; I laugh because there's nothing you can do about it."

To see the slide show, please click here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Food and more

We've had a couple of days of fun so far. We've been through a small part of Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park. We've run wild in our own sculpture park in Loveland. There have probably never been more irreverently posed photos taken with some of those statues — and we're not even going to discuss the sheep sculpture. Jeremy is irrepressible and delightful. 

Last night's menu planning session turned into a major grocery trip for Jeremy and me. He was very impressed with our grocery story, the variety and quality of produce, meats and sea foods available. We're spoiled. I'll admit it. It's amazing that the cost of living is so low when the pampering factor is so high. We ended the trip by picking up a ready to bake pizza from Papa Murphy's, and put it in the oven at home while we started the prep work for tomorrow's dinner party. We'll have to run back into town tomorrow to pick up the lobster, but everything else is on track. 

He's teaching me some new techniques and recipes for special meals. We'll be making lobster bisque, beef wellington, eclairs, and some other things like beignets and crab cakes over the next couple of days. I'll be adding a fruits of the forest pie (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, rhubarb, apples, all baked in a double crust... ) and of course Jeremy's birthday is on Thursday, so there's going to be a Bacardi Cake to celebrate that, and maybe either cottage pie or pork pie (both meat pies). 

The whole day wasn't dedicated to food, although it seemed like it. Jeremy and I played cribbage, and then we went out to the fire pit and lit some sparklers, laughed and talked around the fire while we made our s'mores. Oh, yeah, I guess that's food, too. Jeremy grilled himself a banana to add to his. I wouldn't have thought of that, but we all tasted it and declared it really a great idea. Then after some more sparklers the four of us trooped back inside to play "Smarter than a 5th Grader" (none of us are). 

After everyone trooped off to bed I called Sherrie and she walked me through the mending of my link in the last blog, so if you haven't seen the outhouse tour, it's now fixed - thank you, thank you, thank you, Sherrie. Now I understand how it's done, and will be able to do it again. I think. One thing that would make tomorrow night's dinner even better would be your smiling face at the table with us, my friend. Good night. Sweet dreams, and wake up happy.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

I give up


I'd like to start by inviting you to watch another slide show. What I'd really like to do is have another photo that you can click on, like I did when Ben helped me last time, but the new slide show's been up for three days, and I finally give up. It's there, but I can't get the link to work. The photo won't go in the right spot on the page. Then the slide show won't open up when you click on it. I can't ask Ben to fix it every time I do a slide show, so I'm just going to give you the link until I figure out how to do this. I may never figure it out, but that doesn't sound like me. I think eventually it will click into place. It should. So for now, if you want to see my cousin Joe's semi-famous outhouse tour, please visit (click here).

Now for the really good stuff...

Jeremy and Elisha arrived in Denver today, and we brought them home for the week. It's just been a wonderful day, full of laughter and talking, sharing our excitement in our home and life here in Colorado. It's so good to have them here. Tomorrow we'll start showing them our life here in Colorado with a trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Life is good. Family is good. Being together is great.

A little Post Script here. I didn't end up posting this last night because I realized when previewing that the click here button did absolutely nothing. It still does nothing this morning. Too bad. I'll work on it in edit mode later, or I'll once again beg Ben to help. Maybe this time he'll explain what he did. Once in awhile I feel dumber than dirt. I guess I must have prayed for humility this week without realizing it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Time To Let the Secret Out

Now that Labor Day is over, I can finally tell the secret I've been keeping. My Wisconsin cousins were having a reunion during the Labor Day weekend holiday. While we were there at Aunt Cookie's cabin, two of the brothers came to prepare a particularly crazy prank. They brought along some "wolf eyeballs" to be hammered into some of the tree trunks. They were also setting out remote speakers in the woods, and had brought along a CD of wolves howling. When the howling starts, someone in on the prank says, "Listen to that! It sounds like wolves!" and shines a flashlight into the woods. Then everybody sees the eyes glowing in the dark among the trees — really close, and not moving. You're surrounded by the looks of things.

Add in the campfires, children to be protected, and all those not used to roughing it, and you can well imagine the chaos that must have followed. I'm really sorry we weren't able to stick around for that. Apparently they had pulled a similar stunt at deer camp one year, which finally ended with Joe trotting into the woods with his gun (rifle, I think) saying he'd get it. A couple of shots later, he came back in carrying the CD player. Some of the guys had nearly wet their pants.

My cousins like to pull pranks.

Eureka!

I don't know if that means I found it, but I think it does. I found the download cord for my digital camera, and made my first slide show for the family Phanfare site, so it's on the same site as Ben and Ruth use for our granddaughter Ashley. To see the photos click on the image below


I'd really like to thank Ben for helping me actually link to the slide show once I got it done. I seem to be more retarded than retired. Once upon a time I was the one teaching him. Oh, how things do change...

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Another Grand Week

Actually I didn't do much of anything except cook today. I read, reorganized my music files on the computer, and enjoyed the front deck for awhile. Then I read some more and moved to the back deck. We watched the deer in the yard. Whatever I might have been thinking about doing today — I didn't do it. But it sure was a wonderful day. 

In fact, it's been a really good week. We visited with neighbors, and just enjoyed being here. On Friday we met Ruth's folks in town and showed them the winding roads to our place in the foothills. We gave them the tour, and sat around awhile, and then piled in the cars and went to a neighboring town to see their grandson play in his first Freshman football game. It was the type of game you would call a character builder. There were more of his relatives there than any other player on either team could claim, and that's a sure bet. I'd imagine that at a conservative count there were at least fifteen of us there, many of whom we'd not seen in over a year.

The highlight of the weekend, though, would have to be our restraint in not allowing ourselves to be drawn into a hair-raising budget dispute after church. (How fast can you get out of a parking lot?)

Friday, August 31, 2007

Today and Tomorrow

Today I've earned tomorrow. Doesn't that sound nice? Today the mail carrier delivered all the mail that's been saved for us during our trip. We weren't sure of our exact return date, so we decided that August 30th was a good delivery date, just in case we were a little late getting back. We knew we wanted to be home for our anniversary, but delays happen, so we built in a cushion. We didn't want a month's worth of mail sitting on our deck waiting for us to return. It's a nasty job, sorting through five weeks worth of mail, but I managed. Everything has to be opened and sorted into things that need to be handled, shredded, recycled, or trashed, and things that need to be read, like magazines, or filed, like crochet pattern and recipe booklets. 

It's not fun, and I always used to procrastinate. Actually, I used to stuff it in bags and stick it out of sight. When we moved from California, there were bags of old mail that had never made it past the "I'll sort it later" stage. I don't live that way anymore. Suitcases were emptied (by me) when John brought them into the house, nested together and stored away. Laundry was done the next day. We're having visitors tomorrow, and I'll be able to enjoy them, because I won't have to go crazy stuffing things in closets and trying to figure out where the vacuum cleaner is. What a concept. Part of it is just sticking to it; part of it is having a house large enough to actually be able to put everything away; part of it is having learned how to do it; but I think the biggest part is being happy where we are, so I can enjoy being here enough to actually take care of things.

So what have I earned tomorrow? My daughter-in-law Ruth's parents, visiting from California, and two of Ruth's brothers and their wives and children will be coming to visit, and then we'll all be heading into a nearby city to attend a Freshman football game that one of the older kids will be playing in. I'm really looking forward to the fun and chaos that comes from a big group. None of them have seen our home yet. I'm trying to remember how many kids they have between them, and what the ages are. We're not exactly kid-proofed here. I don't want anybody falling down our circular staircase. Alright, everybody, grab a small hand and hang on...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Driving Around Omaha

One of the interesting things on our road trip that we'll love to remember is driving around Omaha, Nebraska. The speed limit is 75 and there are three lanes in each direction. People were doing either 50 or 85-90. You couldn't really drive comfortably if you wanted to go the speed limit. You could either go 50 or under, in the slow lane, or you could have someone crawling up your tail pipe in one of the other two lanes. It was the most nervous I've ever seen John as a driver. He would rather do stop and go on a busy freeway than that. Actually, so would I. You just can't regulate your speed properly when the cars around you are all trying to be Farmer John or Mario Andretti.

And just so you know — when I find my download chord for my digital camera, you'll see some photos...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

31 Years Together

Happy Anniversary to us. We celebrated with all those days on the road, and today we had a very happy day together at home. We had one of our favorite meals, my Bison Chili and homemade garlic cheese bread. 

We talked about the trip, looked over the maps a bit and realized that we came about fifteen miles from Vermont without realizing it. If we had made that little jog onto another road, we would have gone through a total of nineteen states on the trip instead of eighteen, but who's counting? We logged a total of 6,695 miles, saw a son, daughter-in-law, granddaughter, three aunts, one uncle, and more cousins than I can count. It was a fantastic journey, and the memories continue to warm us — far more memories than I'll ever put on the blog pages. 

There was one point at which I thought I wouldn't be writing any more blogs, and that's probably a good thing to write down. It happened the morning after I had written that we were leaving Michigan and I'd be out of touch for awhile, back in the woods of Wisconsin. No cell service, no internet. I wanted to make sure no one would worry that they couldn't contact us. John was driving slower than usual, since the fog had settled over the Upper Peninsula. Periodically he would pull over on the small strip next to the woods to let the idiots pass, and at the time I'm talking about there were about four cars behind us — nearly time to do that again — when out of the fog directly in front of us, and in our lane, comes a car passing another line of cars. 

It's strange how the brain can think multiple things at different speeds. I've never experienced this before, but at high speed, I thought, "Gee, no more blogs to write, and how long will it take everyone to know we're dead, since I told them I'd be out of reach for a few days?" At the same moment, and very slowly it seemed, my brain clearly thought, "This is going to hurt!" John barely had time to react when the car hit the ditch next to us, and he corrected to stay in our lane. The cars behind us all screeched on their brakes, but it was reactionary. Out loud, but not very, I said, "Thank you, God; thank you, John. I guess I don't need clean pants." If John had been driving even a mile faster than he was, we would have been hit head on. There was no more room than that. That was our only close call, but it was close enough to be grateful for the prayers we say on the road and the care with which my John drives.

Just for the record, here are the States we visited on this trip: Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wyoming.
Now our big plan is to stay here and let people come and visit us. 

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Road Trip, Day 32, Honey, I'm Home

Soon I will fill in the missing days, mostly spent in the woods where there was no internet available, and give an overview of the trip as a whole, like how many States we actually visited. For now, I'll just briefly recap the road home and go reconnect with my own bed - ah, bliss.

We made it home from Wisconsin in two days, one of which was quite long. The first day we made it all the way to Minden, Nebraska, home of the Pioneer Village that we really wanted to see. We hadn't eaten since breakfast, so I was really anxious to remedy my growly stomach, but we first went to the Pioneer Village Motel and checked in. That's when we found out they didn't have internet available. Or shampoo, etc. Oh, well. Too bad I packed like I was going to a normal hotel and so couldn't get to our own amenities. We just love to camp out at hotels. 

At least the Pioneer Village Restaurant was right next door. Please do yourselves a favor and never eat there. The service was the worst I've ever had, and the food was (at best) inadequately prepared. In other words, don't ruin a perfectly good empty stomach at this place. There are worse things than hunger. 

The Pioneer Village itself was really great, though, when we finally got there the next morning. The only problem was our refusal to eat at the restaurant again, and the fact that there was nowhere else nearby, so we only stayed a couple of hours and then hit the road with some great photos and some mixed memories.

The last thing I'm going to mention tonight is a recap of my license plate insanity. Over the duration of the trip, I found all of the States except Hawaii. The penultimate find was Montana, which I didn't spot until driving through Wyoming today on our way home. I consider that a pretty good score. The only other extra plate I really wanted to find but didn't was Washington D.C. I almost never get that one. I find Hawaii more than that — usually around military bases. I also found eight different Canadian Provinces. That's a new record for me.

It was a wonderful trip, but it feels so good to be home. Now if I can just get the laundry done, and the photos downloaded and get them linked to my web site... I'm sure I can figure out how to do that, right?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Road Trip, Day 27, Gwinn to Marquette & Negaunee

These Yooper names may seem strange to people who didn't grow up hearing them, but when I asked John, "What's the name of that town where we got the pork pies and Fin Toast and he said, "Uh, Ishmish?" I really cracked up. It was so strange sounding that suddenly I realized how ridiculous the correct answer actually was, as I remembered the right answer was Ishpeming. My spell checker would really be going nuts here if this program had one. (Oh, what's a Yooper? It's someone or something from the U.P., the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)

Today we harassed more relatives, arriving unannounced at the hardware store and lumber yard where cousin Dennis works and trying to rent a cousin. He figured out who I was pretty quickly, and we managed to have a nice visit between customers and phone calls. Then John and I headed up North even further to Marquette County, first stopping at Marquette itself, where we visited St. Peter's Cathedral, with its beautiful spires and turrets. Then we crossed the street and walked down a couple of blocks to the Marquette County Courthouse, another amazing structure, infamous as the site of Teddy Roosevelt being put on trial for being a drunk. Yes, it's true. Google it if you don't believe me. Or watch the old movie, Anatomy of a Murder, filmed in this same courthouse.

After that we went over to Big Bay, on Lake Superior, a few blocks over, and visited the Maritime Museum and filmed the lighthouse there. Then followed a string a "hug and run" hour long visits with a bunch of relatives we hadn't seen in a couple of years. Aunt Dorothy looked great, and her home is still museum quality. Her daughter, my cousin Clare, we managed to track down at work. She's the manager of the large Peter White public library. It's huge, and another historic building, with grand architecture. After that we got lost looking for Uncle Peter. We finally found him in Negaunee - or at least on the road leading to Negaunee. He lives in Negaunee like we live in Loveland. Our mailing address says Loveland, but we're a thousand feet above it and 20 minutes outside it. He's about five miles before Negaunee. We just didn't start looking soon enough.

Then we traveled through Negaunee and Ishpeming to the other side of the area to the little shop that makes pork pies and Fin toast to take a treat back to Aunt Cookie tomorrow when we head back to Wisconsin. We're also bringing back some breakfast pasties. Okay, I've mentioned pasties a couple of times here. They're meat pies. Picture a pie crust, stuffed with cubed steak, potatoes, onions and rutabagas. They're folded over and baked, and they're wonderful. (Pronounced pass-tees.) A breakfast pasty has eggs, potatoes, cheese and onions; just what you'd expect. What we bought was all frozen for travel.

So we'll do a little sight seeing on our way back to Wisconsin tomorrow, but we're basically winding our trip down now. Blogs will get shorter. Sleep will get longer - we can hope. Tomorrow there will be no internet, and no cell phone. Try not to need me.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Day 26, Road Trip, Big Families, Big Memories

One thing I've discovered as I touch base again with so many family members that I so seldom get to enjoy is that they all remember different things. My mom was one of fourteen kids, two of whom were twins. Aunt Cookie had eleven of her own, including two sets of twins. None of us can sit down without the memories starting to pour out. It's so hard not to whip out the journal and start taking notes, but it would destroy the moment, and so I don't, but it always amazes me that everyone has their own favorite memories, and they're always different. I guess it's not so strange that they often seem to show us kids in our goofiest moments.

My favorite from today's visit with Aunt Louise was her retelling of the long awaited visit of my mom when she brought little Pat, just a small boy, for a visit. While the two sisters sat by the wood stove in the kitchen to catch up on old times, Pat went up the stars to use the bathroom. As they sat there, the sudden sound of sizzling on the stove got their immediate attention, and they looked up to see "something" dripping from the bathroom register onto the stove. When Pat came downstairs again, Aunt Louise said that she asked him what he had done upstairs, and he told her that he had gone to make pee.
"Where?" she asked.
"In the toy-o-let."
"Then why did it sizzle on my stove?"
She said he looked at her very solemnly and said, "I had a little left over."

Those registers played a big part in my memory, too. When I was little, if we were very good for Grandma while visiting, the doll would dance in Grandma's kitchen. I didn't realize it then, but Grandpa would be up in the bathroom above their kitchen (different house) with fishing line attached to the rag doll, who was collapsed on the floor below. Grandma would say we were very good, and the doll would jump up and dance. It was one of the miracles of my childhood, how that doll knew if I'd been good or not. If I had done anything that wasn't very nice, then that doll would just lay there, and never more than twitched. I always knew if she was going to dance for me. Another one of those things that I didn't figure out until much later was that Grandma never really had eyes in the back of her head. She had a very small mirror over the sink.

Why do we travel so many miles? Yes, the woods are glorious, and the many beautiful new places we visit are treats and treasures to take out and examine on quiet days of reflection. They are all blessings in their own rites. But the real gold is in the smiles and memories we make today and call up from all those yesterdays.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Day 25, Road Trip, From Wisconsin to Upper Michigan

Tonight we're bedded down in a hotel in Upper Michigan, my birth State. (It appears to have recovered.) We'll be seeing more cousins, aunts and hopefully an uncle here, but the last week will be hard to beat. What a time we had in the wilds of Wisconsin.

Since my last post, we hooked up with my brother Pat's son Tim and his family in Ohio, had a fine breakfast at the Cracker Barrel, and an even better visit, then got on the road about 8 a.m. - at least two hours later than we usually get going. That put us into Wisconsin after dark. We stopped for groceries before trying to find the cabin. Have you ever tried to find a cabin in Wisconsin in the dark? First off, it's on 40 acres of woods, in the middle of a whole bunch of other acres... of woods and farms and more woods. We did find it, but when we got there we couldn't find the key. No problem. We'll call cousin Joe. Oops. Cell phone doesn't work out here in the woods. So we sat there and looked at each other. Then John calmly reached over and tried the OnStar phone in the car. I wouldn't have thought of that, as tired as I was. It worked. Joe came over with his key, some great hugs and (very welcome indeed) food from his wife Wendy. As often happens, we had neglected to stop for lunch. Have you ever seen a horse with the bit between its teeth? John can get that way sometimes when he drives. He's got the wheel and he's got his bag of beef jerky, and nothing's going to stop him. (We have over a 400 mile driving radius with our Tahoe.)

Anyway, the next morning we were up at first light, showered and dressed and ready to go spring Aunt Cookie from the assisted living facility. Of course, they wouldn't let her go until after the 8:30 end of breakfast, so we dragged our feet a little, and then went to get her. We had so much fun this week it would be impossible to list it all. A few highlights would have to be included, though.

There was the squeaky shoe incident at the hospital. Cookie needed a blood test before we could take her to the cabin, so we drove her to the hospital in Portage, about 30 miles away, and after the blood test we were walking out, and laughing about something. As we passed this tough looking 40 something guy in a Harley Davidson tee shirt, this squeaking sound escaped her. She looked at the guy and said, "My shoe squeaks." We both started laughing so hard that we stopped walking. The squeak didn't stop when we did, however, and pretty soon there was a distinctive fragrance emanating right in front of this poor guy. Then Cookie says between laughs, "I need a bathroom NOW!" I dragged her out of there and we found one. I told her that next time we went anywhere I was going to follow her with the fireplace bellows, humming the graduation march. It seems that we spent the entire time I was there laughing about something or nothing. And we did actually do the bellows thing later in front of two of her boys. It worked really well, getting a great laugh. She was really proud of herself.

Cousin Suze came and took us on a field trip one afternoon to a broom squire and basket maker (husband and wife) and it was really a nice afternoon. She wore Aunt Cookie and me out, but it was well worth it. She was telling us about a conversation she had with one of her hillbilly neighbors, and I was practically rolling on the floor. She's quite a mimic. I had already cut everything up to make pasties that night, so we enjoyed a late dinner and then practically fell in bed afterwards.

We saw cousin Andy and his wife Sally on Saturday, along with their two boys Eli and Riley. Sally brought a wonderful lunch, and even did the dishes afterwards. Then cousin Jim showed up. That was great. I was hoping to see as many of the cousins as possible. Labor Day weekend they'll all be at the cabin, but that wasn't going to work for us, so we've really been pleased we've gotten to see as many as we have. We actually left the cabin before they did, as Joe and Wendy had invited us to join them for dinner. Their son PJ was there, and when we arrived, they sat down for drinks while Joe took me out for the grand outhouse tour. It was raining, and the woods were lush and wonderful. I've always loved the rain. We even went a few miles back to where the deer stand is on his property, and I got some wonderful photos. Once we get home I'll be adding some photos, and also putting up a link to my photo site. Won't that be special?

After church this morning we had to return Aunt Cookie to the Care Facility and head up North, but we'll return for a few more days with her later this week. She gave me the most wonderful compliment, saying that I had taught her to really laugh again. I don't know if that's true, as she was already laughing before we even left the breakfast table at Mill Pond, the Care Facility, but it did make me feel good to hear that, anyway. And I know that we had as good a visit as we've ever had together. But then, we've always had great fun together, my Aunt Cookie and me. I do love that lady.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Road Trip, Day 19, New Haven to Akron, Ohio

We were on the road at 5:30 this morning, with a slight adjustment to our route, leaving Interstate 80 to go to Akron, Ohio, so we can meet my nephew Tim for breakfast in the morning at the Cracker Barrel here. We were hoping to arrange it for dinner tonight, but his wife just got out of the hospital, and they couldn't quite make it in time for dinner. Getting on the road early was a good thing, though, because we missed a lot of the commuter traffic.

We stopped for breakfast at an IHOP in New Jersey around 8 a.m. We've made other mistakes. We noticed a funny smell and ignored it. An hour later, miles down the road, we pulled off quickly, desperately seeking a public restroom. It was a quick but reckless choice of off-ramps, as we wound up on a four mile one way road through the woods, controlled by a light that let you know if anyone was coming the other way. (If anyone was, you waited for them to pass, then the light would change.) There was no where to turn around. The speed limit was 15. John was doing 35. You have to understand. John NEVER speeds. 35 was not safe on that road. It was a desperate situation. After four miles, we found a state campground with a nice ranger who allowed us free use of their non-flushing facilities. We made it — just barely in time, too. Next time a place smells funny, we're out of there. 

Fortunately, we felt better afterwards, and a few hours later enjoyed a truly wonderful lunch. Ruth had packed us chicken salad sandwiches. I tried to convince her to come up with a better name for them, but she said it wasn't her recipe, so she couldn't. Well, I can (and will) when I start making them at home. Maybe Heavenly Chicken Salad? She puts in grapes, apples, almonds and celery. Try it; you'll love it!

It was a great day to be heading West. We made great time, with minimal traffic, while passing several areas where the opposing traffic, heading East, was at a dead stop because of horrific crashes. Patrol cars, fire and ambulance vehicles crowded around, while the lines of cars often stretched for miles at a complete stop. People often laugh at John for driving the speed limit and being overly defensive. Okay, maybe he overdoes it in some ways, but his one and only accident was at the tender age of 18, and he's never had a traffic ticket. So I'm not laughing. 

Nearing Akron, our ending point tonight, we passed Kent State, which brought back some pretty grim memories, and then almost immediately passed the Goodyear World Headquarters, and saw a huge blimp in the air. That really looked nice. It was a much better memory to take from Ohio. It was also in Ohio that we found the best price on gasoline so far this trip. It was at a Flying J in Hubbard, at $2.559 per gallon. (I remember gas under a quarter a gallon for premium, so I guess I should be more shocked that this seemed cheap. I'm more shocked at the price of milk.)

There is a growing joy and a lingering sadness as we finish our first day of heading West. The sadness comes, of course, from leaving Ben, Ruth, and Ashley behind, and not knowing when we'll see them next. How much will Ashley have changed and grown? Now she's crawling. In fact, in search of her Mommy, she went all the way from living room to the kitchen, quite a distance on hands and knees for a little girl, especially when crying all the way. I know. I was crawling right next to her, and felt like crying too, since she wouldn't let me console her. The next time we see her, she'll be walking and talking, and she'll have to get to know us all over again. (I'll definitely be the one crying over that!)

The joy comes from knowing that in a couple of days we'll be seeing Aunt Cookie and the thundering herd of cousins in Wisconsin; then going to the U.P. (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) to see more cousins and Aunts Louise and Dorothy and Uncle Peter; then back for another visit with Cookie. After that, we'll be on the road home, to our own slice of heaven on earth. We do love to travel, but now, finally, we also live somewhere that we love to go home to...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Road Trip, Day 18, Goodbye and Load 'Em Up

Today we followed a winding road (actually a pothole with street signs) through the woods to the most beautiful little church we've seen in ages. It was called the Old Rock Hill 1st United Methodist Church, and we were greeted like welcome old friends, treated to beautiful music, a wonderful sermon, and the sort of warmth and courtesy you always hope your home congregation will give visitors. What a beautiful morning. Now we know where to go when we're in this neck of the woods.

Ruth marinated chicken (she called it coconut chicken, and I really need that recipe, too). Ben did the honors over wood chips on his barbeque grill, with John supervising. It was an awesome meal, once again.

Unfortunately, we'll be leaving first thing in the morning - actually getting a 4:45 a.m. wake up call - so we left way too early for me. Ashley was still asleep from her dinner nap (a rare thing this week, which meant Ruth got to eat in peace.) It also meant we didn't get to say goodbye to her, and we didn't get to play any games, which we were all ready for except for John, who has the responsibility of loading the Tahoe. Oh, well. It would have been worse if he'd played the games and then asked me to load up. I guess if we'd stayed another week, I still wouldn't have been ready to leave.

Ben gave us some alternate routes that might or might not help us mitigate some of the rush hour traffic through New York, although he admits that all bets are off once we hit New Jersey. Also, I guess it's time to get those dollars out for the turnpikes again. Next time we'll get one of those EZ Pass things like we have for Colorado. No stopping at the toll booths. That would be good. They no longer nickle and dime you to death. Now they five- and ten-dollar you. It's a lot faster than Route 66, though.

Tomorrow night will be our last night of internet access for anywhere from three nights to a week. We just don't know if we'll run into a computer anywhere while we're in Wisconsin or Upper Michigan, but if we do, I'll squeak on and update. Otherwise, tomorrow will do it for awhile. So Sunday night blessings to all, from two people who got more than our share today...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Road Trip, Day 17, The Best Laid Plans

Blame it on the weatherman. We were going to swim at the hotel on either Friday or Saturday after Ben got home from work or school. So Friday it was raining and cold. Saturday the weatherman promised hot and clear for the evening hours - 85 degrees at 8 p.m. He lied. By the time we ate dinner, it was already cooling down rapidly. And, of course, there was a slight emergency.

Has anybody seen Ben's feet? Well, they started coming out of the bottom of his shoes on the way home from work today. That necessitated an emergency run to those stores that might sell cruise ship sized (thank you for the term, Jeremy) dress shoes. By the time they accepted defeat and arrived at the hotel, it was too cold to drag a baby into the pool. We had a lot of fun sitting around the room playing with the baby and looking at Ben's feet. Ben spent too much time apologizing for messing up the plans, but I'm not sure what he could have done about it. Change the weather? Skip school? Either not possible or not a good idea. Shall we sing together, "There's some shoes for me - somewhere, some shoes for me. Space for toes and some solid soles wait for me somewhere."

It's hard to believe that tomorrow is our last day together for this trip. Who knows when we'll next get out here? Hopefully they'll get the chance to visit Colorado. Now that Ruth has two brothers in our area, it will come sooner than if we were the only family in the area. It's kind of a shame that I'll get to see her folks and her brothers in a couple of weeks, and she'll have to wait awhile longer. They're good people, and quite possibly almost as busy as the kids. At least that's what I've been told, but after living on the fringes of the Benjamin and Ruth lifestyle for a week, it's hard to believe anyone could be that busy for long if they're not young. I also understand why God gives children to young women, not us oldies but goodies.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Road Trip, Day 16, Time Flies When You're Having Fun

Ashley has great taste in men. After ignoring Grandpa all week, today when she saw him covered in sawdust after a hard day's work, with whisker stubble long enough to be really good and soft, she smiled and held out both arms to him. He reached out with a melted-smile look on his face and she patted him and rubbed his cheeks, cooing and grinning. This is a good grandpa. What a smart kid. We both had a lot of fun with that little girl today. Once you have a grandchild, you understand even more than when you have your own children why they're referred to as "bundles of joy."

Ben's new classes start tomorrow, and then we'll have Sunday together. It's hard to believe how quickly eight days goes when you're having fun and seeing people you rarely get to see. They've been here two plus years now, I think, and this is our fourth trip out. I counted. It doesn't seem like enough, but since it's been the best we could do, I guess it is enough. I always told the boys to do your best. If you've done your best, and it's not good enough for someone, then that's their problem, not yours. Now it's time to take my own advice, even though four times in two years doesn't seem good enough to me.

Monday morning we'll again hit the road, on our way to Wisconsin, where we'll spring Aunt Cookie from the assisted living home and take her back to her log cabin nestled in her 40 acre woods. We have everything we need for a good time there, I think... guitar, flask, cooler, cheese... anything else important (like her medications) we can pick up from the nurses or buy as needed. One of the cousins sent a letter saying she'd just had a psych evaluation and was deemed "competent." I wrote back saying it was really great knowing that someone competent would be at the cabin with us. Do you suppose they got it? A couple of the cousins emailed back to ask who was going to be here with us. Oh, well. I guess I have to be more specific with my humor.

Guess I'd better go call Ellen. I hear there was another earthquake under her house, and I want to make sure her decanter lived through another shaker.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Road Trip Day 15, Life in New Haven

Benjamin and Ruth have a really good life here in New Haven with Ashley. Perhaps it's not the life they dream of for their future, but they've made a very fine life for themselves here. This is what we've seen so far. Today is Thursday, so we've seen nearly one work week. Ben leaves for the train station around 6:30 a.m. By then Ruth must be up and have Ashley ready to go so they can drive him to the train station for his daily commute. He spends around an hour on the train (each direction) and at least eight hours at work. This week we've been able to take over the driving duties for her. It's been our pleasure, as it gives us that few extra minutes to talk with Ben. (The downside of that might be that we fall asleep earlier and don't stay up as late at night, so we have less time with them at night.)

During the day, Ruth cares for Little Britches, cooks, cleans, does laundry, deals with play groups, shopping, getting vehicles serviced, and whatever else comes along. Evening brings the return trip to pick Ben up at the train station, and Ben spends time with Ashley while Ruth puts the final touches on the meal. The family then sits together for a wonderful meal. Ruth is not only a good cook, she's a creative cook. I'm pretty sure we've ruined their food budget for the month. When they finish, Ben helps with the dishes and clean up, then takes care of his class studies, as needed (or plays with Ashley and visits with us, this week). But at least they know that Friday is the end of the week, and they can look forward to Saturday, where all they have to do is... uh, get up, drive Ben to the railroad station so he can commute even further, into New York City, to do his Masters Degree work at NYU. At least Sunday is a day of rest. Home from church by 2:30, and it's truly a day of family togetherness, with no work that can be avoided.

Well, kids, this too shall pass - at least some of it will. The togetherness won't. The habits of thrift and consulting each other on important decisions, the good feelings you get from working together will last a lifetime and pay great dividends. Much better than stocks and bonds.

While all of this has been going on, other than unloading a few dishes and helping John find his way around, shopping a bit and chopping a few veggies, about all I've done is get to know my granddaughter and make comments on the blog. John has been doing chores Ben just doesn't have time to attend to; Ruth doesn't have time to scratch without an appointment. So I guess Ashley and I get to be Queen and Princess this week. Good job, though temporary.

A few comments on driving in New Haven. Never stop on a yellow light unless (as Ben warned) you want to be rear ended. Never go when the light first turns green. Wait for 2-3 cars to run the red from the other direction first (yes, every time). And remember: every road has its potholes.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Road Trip, Day 14, Progress is Beautiful

Ashley probably didn't realize how honored Grandpa and Grandma felt today when she allowed us to join her on the floor with her and her toys. We played. We sang. We even got close enough to touch a few times. She's still cautions, and wanted to make sure that Mom wasn't too far away, but it was progress nonetheless, and made us all very hopeful about the possibility of having a photo taken together before we leave.

Before we left the hotel this morning, an early rain storm felt so good after the sweltering humidity yesterday that I went out for a walk in it before we picked up Ben for the early commuter train. Some good things last. This one didn't. When it was gone, the humidity was higher than ever, and the heat was greater than yesterday. The possible good news is that tomorrow (or soon) there's supposed to be a break in both the temperature and humidity. With any luck, it'll be before we leave.

In case anyone is missing the photos I should be putting into these blogs, I promise that when I get home, there will be some editing done to add photos where I would be placing them if I wasn't running on a shortage of energy. I haven't downloaded any photos during this whole trip so far, and I'm working on John's laptop, which really doesn't have anywhere for me to start downloading my photos. His drive has important Engineer stuff on it. I guess. He's nice enough to let me use it, though, which is what counts. So I'll add in photos when I get home.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Road Trip, Day 13, Long-Distance Grandparents

It's very interesting being long-distance grandparents. Ashley Jane doesn't know us, and still doesn't particularly want to know us. She's very happy watching us from a distance, kind of like a zoo or an aquarium exhibit. We're interesting, but not something she wants to have up close and personal. Don't feed the bears. Don't let the bears feed you.

I have every confidence that she'll outgrow this. I doubt it's going to happen in the next five days. We're sure enjoying Ruth and Ben, though, and it's a lot of fun to watch Ashley as she crawls around. That's a new skill we're privileged to see. Our great desire, of course, is to hold and cuddle and spoil her, which she won't allow. There are times in all our lives when we find ourselves on the outside looking in, and in those times we have other blessings to count - many of them. I'm counting as fast as I can, and looking ahead to the many milestones that lie ahead.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Road Trip, Day 12, Visit With Ben, Ruth and Ashley

Last night we spent with Ben, Ruth and Ashley, and most of today Ben worked while we enjoyed being with his family. That granddaughter of ours is still not sure if she wants us around, but at least she tolerates us from a distance while she's making up her mind. She's very free with her smiles, so it's fun to sit on the couch, sing and laugh and make her smile. If you get too close? That's when the trouble starts. Ruth is endlessly patient, and still whips up a delicious meal for everyone while looking at least as good as ever. Maturity suits her. I was proud to see Ben really pitching in with the dishes and chores as well as the daddy duties when he gets home from LONG days at work. With all that's going on, he's still managed a great big bond with that tiny little girl. It does a mama's/grandma's heart good.

Now, before I crash on this absolutely wonderful bed, let's discuss hotels again. I've finally come up with a fair analogy to the hotel search while traveling: finding a great hotel is similar to kissing frogs while looking for Prince Charming. It takes a lot of frogs. Right now we're staying for eight nights at the Fairfield Inn in Wallingford, Connecticut, close to New Haven. This is a hotel I'd be proud to put my own name on. The rooms are spacious, the furnishings inviting and well arranged, and the mattress and bedding are the best for quality and comfort we've had to date (sorry, Hyatt, you got edged out by a hair.)

Add to that the amenities. Hyatt had shampoo and soap. Here? You name it, they have it. Our room doesn't have a fridge, but they offered to bring one in for us if we'd like at no charge. Hyatt would have charged us $9.95 per day to use the internet, so we just didn't use it. Here, it's free. Hyatt would have charged an outrageous amount for a "half carafe" of coffee so we went out to breakfast. You get the picture. In this life, it seems, service is the one thing you can't buy. You either get it as a gift, or you don't get it. Obviously Fairfield Inn knows how service makes the clients feel. I feel great!

The rooms were so quiet that we were rather surprised to see all the guests at breakfast. And the breakfast was also the best and most imaginative courtesy breakfast we've ever had in any hotel anywhere. Bravo, Fairfield Inn! (And booking through priceline.com means this was also a smart move, as it was the least expensive room per night for our whole trip. I'm sure glad this is our longest stay. I wish we could take the room with us...

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Days 9-11, Cape Cod to New Haven, CT

I want to add few comments here about Boston before I continue on to the stay at Cape Cod and arriving in New Haven. We only saw Boston from the highway, and I've always thought I'd like to really explore Boston because of the historical aspects (and, of course, Fenway Park). After driving through it, however, I'll admit that they would either need to empty it of the majority of its population first, or arm me with a prescription for a really strong sedative. It was like Los Angeles on a really bad traffic day if you didn't know where you were or where you were going.

Now let's fast forward to the prettiest lobby of any hotel we'd stayed in since our train trip to Glacier National Park way back when the boys were teens. This place was sumptuous, with solid cherry wood walls leading to an indoor pool and sauna, beautifully showcased beyond a magnificent lobby desk, lovely paintings unlike the usual hotel variety, and beautiful decorator art pieces. I actually had some fun with my camera in there, imagining myself recommending this place to brother Patrick. However (and a big however it was) the walls and floors were paper thin, and pets were allowed. At eleven p.m. I called the front desk to ask if a call could be made to the people above me to suggest that perhaps it might be time to end the calisthenics hour. Five minutes of silence was followed by about fifteen of retaliation stomping, and then blissful silence.

It must have been around midnight that the people next door decided that doggie dear was really sleeping deeply and wouldn't notice if they indulged in a little night life. Apparently the slamming of their room door woke him up, because he spent the next two hours barking steadily. No, I didn't call the desk again. I figure one complaint a night is more than my usual quota, and mentally crossed off recommending this lovely hotel. So sorry. It looked so wonderful, too. I was left feeling like the proverbial dyslexic agnostic insomniac who sits up into the wee hours of the night wondering if there really is a dog. And yes, John slept through it all.

The next two days were devoted to the wedding, and although we were understandably tired, everything was really wonderful. Our three sons grew up as friends with the bride and her sister and brother. Now the kids are young adults, four of the six married, and all wonderful people. It was so great to see Kelley (the bride) surrounded by such a warm and loving family. Marty (the groom) is great. It was just the sort of situation you want to see someone you love find.

We didn't end up doing any sightseeing, but that's not a problem. The main thing I wanted to see was the Cape Cod General Store. It's been open since 1800. Still, I understand it's changed hands several times, and I was also told that the prices have gone way up too, so I'm not too disappointed. We had also talked about visiting Fall River, birth place of my old pal Jeanne (mother of the bride) and Lizzie Borden (famous suspected hatchet murderess). Strong women, both, but I prefer Jeanne. She's a nurse, not a fighter.

Our day ended at Ben and Ruth's home, being enchanted by our 7 month old granddaughter, who wasn't too sure yet if we were scary or funny. I hope she makes up her mind in time to have a photo made with us before we leave. Ben got lucky. Ruth sure can cook, and she's a real sweetheart and a great mom.


Thursday, August 2, 2007

Day 8, Maine to Cape Cod, Mass.

I learned a very important lesson today. I will never again leave my mother a message on her answer phone saying that we had lobster and blueberries. She was not amused to learn that we'd had her "two favorite foods" without her. At least she pretended to be mad, but underneath it all, she really sounded delighted that we were having such a great trip. I know she was just playing with me (or at least I hope she was — with Mom, you can never tell for sure). I just can't imagine my life without her.

We drove down the coast of Maine, and were sad that we weren't hungry yet when we again had to pass Pedro O'Hara's Mexican Irish Cuisine. I really wanted to eat there, but ten in the morning is no time to be adventurous in the food department, especially after one of those wonderful free hard boiled egg and hockey puck donut breakfasts they include with your hotel room.

We did, however, manage to find the Nubbel lighthouse that had been fogged in on our way up, and I took some video footage and lots of still photos, and then also took a few group shots of some other people - only seven this time - in matching shirts who were vacationing together. This was a four generation group, and they were having a ball together.

Before we left Maine we had an unexpected pleasure when a car passed us, honking and waiving. Then we noticed something we hadn't seen in days, except on our own car: Colorado license plates! Let me say something here that Ruth deserves to have me put in writing. California is beautiful. It has such diversity of landscape that there is truly something for everyone. From Shasta's snowcapped peaks to Yosemite's granite half-dome; the giant redwood forests and the wonderful cliffs overlooking Route 1 along Northern California's rugged coastline; from Muir Woods to Disneyland, and spectacular vistas of wall to wall golden poppies exploding from the desert floor in the spring where nobody would expect a flower to be able to prosper, California is a land of contrast and beauty.

So why did I never feel at home? It's too crowded. People are in such a hurry that most of them fail to recognize the humanity of those living right next door. Beautiful hills are being terraced for McMansions that have no breathing space, and the schools are beyond crowded in most areas. Every road in most communities is overwhelmed by the number of vehicles, and it's only getting worse.

We had some wonderful times in California, met some people I will treasure for a lifetime, and raised three wonderful sons there, who (I would imagine) feel like Californians. I never did. I came from a more natural setting, not the suburbs. We always returned to nature; even when we had to spend time in a suburban setting it was never for long. So even though we spent thirty years in that same little house, it just never felt like it was where I belonged. I don't try to slam California — I understand the draw for people who like the fast paced lifestyle. It's just not my lifestyle. (It's also very expensive to live there, and — at least in Southern California — the weather is not at all to my taste. I love Winter.)

Now I'll get off the soap box and back to the trip in progress...

When we finished driving through Boston (wow, what a traffic jam that is!) and entered the long curve of Cape Cod) we discovered that we were heading right for Plymouth Rock. Well, we didn't get to see that, but we did get to see the National Monument for our Founding Fathers, which is an impressive statue. I'll put up some photos when we get to Ben and Ruth's home Sunday or soon thereafter.

If the rest of this trip is as much fun as this first week has been, then this is truly the trip of a lifetime. I think I've said that before. I'm sure I'll say it again. John and I always do seem to have such a great time when we take road trips.
The next two days will be devoted to Kelley's wedding, and I doubt that there will be internet access, so if I'm offline for a few days, such is life.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Day 7, Acadia National Park

We've been to Maine. We've eaten lobster and blueberries (pie and ice cream). We've sailed. We've talked to locals, and now we've walked in the woods. Today in Acadia National Park, we were really touched by nature. No, I didn't fall down.

Just inside Acadia is a sign that has a John Muir quote: "Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in... where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul." That set the mood perfectly for the four hours of woods and mountain vistas we slowly traveled. We stopped at the visitor's center and bought the CD with the self-guided tour, and each time it guided us to a stopping point, we'd pull over and hop out. About half way through, John decided I could just hop out by myself.

By the time I got to Jordon Pond, I was having images of myself writing a book and calling it "On Jordon Pond," and including the phrase 'you old poop' in there somewhere. If you haven't read the book or seen the movie On Golden Pond, then just forget I said that, okay?

While walking around the peak of Cadillac Mountain, I ran into a trio of people, seniors all, carrying cameras. One was about to take a photo of the other two, and I offered to take a photo of them all together. They were thrilled. "There are more of us!" they said. Soon there were fourteen people gathered together. It was a family reunion from six states ranging from Texas, the furthest, to Massachusetts, the closest, and this was their last day together, the end of ten days. During all that time, nobody had offered to take their photo together. They piled into three cars while I climbed back into our trusty Tahoe to drive back down from the highest point on the East Coast of the United States. One of the things I like best about traveling is the people I just happen to meet. I know I'll never see them again, but they still touch me in unexpected ways.

Before I leave Acadia, there's a really great tale about the Acadians who emigrated to Louisiana to become the Cajuns there. It seems they left behind some mighty lonely lobsters. The lobsters waited for them to return, and they mourned for their Acadian friends. When they finally decided they weren't coming back, the lobsters followed them down the coast, crawling slowly and painfully, looking for any trace of their old friends. It was a hard, painful trip, and those poor lobsters lost a lot of weight. When they arrived in Louisiana and found their old friends, the Acadians, now known as Cajuns, had trouble recognizing them, because of their smaller size, and gave them a new name: crawfish.