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 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.