Monday, June 27, 2011

Tennessee Waltz to Missouri Foxtrot and Los Alamos Adios

(Yes, there's more than one post today--we've done a series of long road-days, followed by wonderful visits with friends, and while the blog-entries percolate through my brain as I drive down the road, I'd much rather visit face-to-face with people at the end of a driving day, than plop down with the laptop and start blogging.) 

So, continuing the journey from Johnson City, TN, we took all of Friday (June 24) to traverse the green, rolling hills of Tennessee, with a stop through Nashville, where my eldest child spent the first 15 months of life.  Then it was on to Memphis, stopping for the night at a hotel on the outskirts of the city, which allowed us some time in the morning to drive along the riverfront in Memphis.  We saw paddleboats, the Pyramid, and a little of Beale Street before heading on to Stillwater, OK, to "Starwood Glen" the beautiful, tree-filled (very un-Oklahoma)  ranch of my friends, Tom and Jill.   These two minister-friends of mine have spent their lives investing in people: students, young adults, colleagues, neighbors, anyone that God places in their path.  Tom's an ordained pastor, an entrepreneur, an inventor, a wood-worker, a writer, an athelete, and currently teaches at Oklahoma State.  He also makes the most amazing whole-grain, heart-healthy blueberry pancakes I've ever had.  Jill is an artist.  Watercolors, pen and ink, charcoal, oils; all of them obey her vision and become visions of landscapes, animals, people, still-lifes. She has a knack for inviting people into her life and into her ministry.  And her version of ministry often includes that magical chemistry between people and horses: how hearts seem to open when people, horses, Jill, and God meet in a pasture, a barn or a paddock.  Years ago, in my student days in Texas, when my inner life was in turmoil, Jill's invitation to "horse therapy" with her chestnut Arabian gelding, Firefrost, was literally a life-saver.   "Sometimes, the best thing for the inside of a person is the outside of the horse" a former president was quoted as saying.

On this trip, Patti, Calvin, and Rhys were privileged to get their horse-therapy with Jill's current family of horses:  D'Artagnan, a dark bay Arabian,  Scout, a nervous paint who is recovering from abuse in his former home, and a "movie-star teeth" white Missouri Foxtrotter whose "paper" name is "Doc", but who is known at Starwood Glen as Shadowfax.   Patti and Calvin immediately fell under the spell of their new equine friends in their first riding lesson with Jill, and then spent most of the rest of visit finding reasons to return to the paddock to groom and pet and talk with D'Artagnan and Shadowfax.  Both came away from those "conversations" changed.  (What is it about a horse that can bring out the very best in a kid?  I wish I could bottle it and spray it liberally around the inside of the car during some of our 9-hour road trips. )

Four year old Rhys was allowed to sit on Scout's bony back while being led around the pasture, and promptly acheived an equestrian milestone:  he fell off and dissolved in tears.   Of course, he was required to get right back on, while howling in protest and clinging to me in fear.  After Scout refused to move another step while Rhys continued his dramatic scene, Rhys was allowed to slide off and find a seat outside the pasture fence, to watch his brother and sister ride.  As the horses were led back to their barn and their evening meal, Rhys had already forgiven Scout and was claiming him as a friend.  First thing the next morning, he announced that he wanted to say good morning to "his" horse, "Spot".   After we left Stillwater, on our way to New Mexico, we found ourselves in one of several of those TickyTackyTeePeeTouristTrappee places, where Rhys searched the souvenir horse/cowboy models for "a copy of my horse", to take home with him.  We're still looking, and I'm sure that somewhere between here and home, there will be a toy section of a TTTPTT that provides just the souvenir he needs.

Last night's reservation was for a hotel room in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in hopes of spending today hiking in Bandelier Canyon.  However, after driving closer and closer to the bright red glow on the mountains outside Santa Fe, I realized I was driving my kids right into the evacuation zone for the wildfires that were the source of that red glow.  We were turned around by a local police officer and invited to stay in the local high school that was being used as an evacuation shelter.  Fortunately, a very nice hotel in Santa Fe still had a room available at 1:45 a.m. when we finally checked in, after my GPS completely quit working and we had spent a while driving aimlessly through the north side of the city.  This morning, we looked at the layer of white ash on the car, and smelled the air, and decided that two kids with asthma and their siblings and mom did not need to be hiking in the Santa Fe area today, and packed up for the next stop: Holbrook, Arizona, where we are relaxing tonight before exploring Petrified Forest / Painted Desert National Monument tomorrow.

The kids are all blissfully asleep, and the only glow in this very quiet hotel room tonight is the laptop screen.  Here's hoping that a reasonable bedtime tonight, minus smoke and ash, equals an energetic early start to our day tomorrow.

States of mind

So, are New Yorkers pushy, Mid-Westerners polite and clean, New Englanders laconic and stand-offish?  And are the folks in New Jersey actually "angry orange people"?   And what do we Californians (at least 3/5's of my current travelling party) do with the stereotype of the air-headed, arrogant, road-hogging Californian?

I think I might be getting an inkling of where some of the stereotypes come from, as we glimpse some states only on their highways and at their rest-stops.

On an uncrowded stretch of I-40 in Arkansas, my kids were giggling about a bumper sticker they'd seen that said, "Crawl faster, I hear banjos" and I was trying to debunk the stereotype of the hostile, xenophobic residents of the "Natural State" as Arkansas's state motto goes.

And then the gentleman in the SUV passed me on the right side, going about 90, holding out that gesture, as he passed;  that hand-gesture that just MIGHT indicate that he was a proctologist, offering free exams.   (I am being charitable after all.  And maybe he was a proctologist who worked for a large HMO which required him to be moving very quickly--90mph in a 65mph zone-- while offering that exam. )  Shortly after that, we passed a road sign bearing the name of a local point of interest:  "Toad Suck Park".  Was it my California license plate that prompted our fellow motorist's gesture, or  is geography destiny?

Or how about this bit of local psychology by roadsign?  On our way through the Arizona high desert, on a stretch of I-40 that was once the famous Route 66, we passed a sign announcing the exit for "Badwater" and the sign beneath it said, "No Services".   But the very next sign we passed announced "Little Lithodendron Wash".   How very modest of the folks in Badwater to assure us that there were no services there, when all along they had their very own place for washing little lithodendrons  !   I'm not sure what a lithodendron is, or how dirty they get, or whether big lithodendrons require a different kind of facility for their maintenance than little lithodendrons, but all the same, it was a fascinating peek into the ethos of the unassuming desert dwellers.

Tomorrow, we'll be spending some time at Petrified Forest National Monument, if we can keep ourselves out of another feature of the high desert landscape: the Ticky Tacky TeePee Tourist Trappee.

Can you tell I've been driving some LONG hours lately?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer "Reading"

As I stood Wednesday morning, ankle-deep in the Atlantic on Sandbridge Beach, in Virginia Beach, supervising my kids as they played in the surf, it occurred to me that my kids are doing a lot of reading on this trip, but it's not the kind I would have expected.

Sure, my kids are reading maps, road signs and the occasional local newspaper, and Rhys has become expert at spotting those blue signs along the highway that signal that fast-food and bathrooms might be available soon.  But as we spend time in unfamiliar places, with all kinds of people, my kids are doing some kinds of reading that I hadn't considered before.  They have learned to read waves on the beach--when to swim forward and catch the wave, and when to dive through the wave or scrunch down a ways and bob over the crest before the curl breaks. On Wednesday night, they learned how to "read" a formal dinner setting at the home of our friends, John and Mildred, in Spartanburg, SC. ( John has always taken great joy in putting together elegant and sumptuous meals.  Back in our college days, he was the wizard of the after-concert receptions for his fellow musicians.)  When my kids and I arrived at John and Mildred's house on Wednesday, we were greeted with an elegant table, set for 13 (our 5, plus their 8), with the Roche's best china, silver, crystal, and a white linen tablecloth--a kind of poetry they hadn't read before.

Last night, when my husband's Uncle Jimmy met us at the door in Johnson City, Tennessee, with a dazzling grin and  "Haaaaaaaaa there!",  my kids got a speed-reading class in the broad drawl of East Tennessee.  Aunt Charlotte's sweet smiling welcome made them feel right at home, too.  At some point, I'm going to have to read up on cousin-labelling so that I know how to refer to the relationship between 8-year-old Joe, the youngest child of my husband's cousin, Susan (is that a second cousin?  a third cousin?), and my kids.  They needed no such translation.  They got all the information they needed when Joe showed them his trampoline, his big backyard, and his collection of toy weaponry, and the chasing, laughter, whooping and mock-warfare began.  

This morning, Patti has been invited to "study" the sumptuous jacuzzi tub in Cousin Susan's room, and have a bubble bath while watching cartoons, before we head off again down the road to Memphis, via Nashville.  As the Johnston household heads off to work and day-camp, I'm thinking that my kids need to try biscuits and gravy, Johnson City style in a local eatery, and I'll grab some coffee to fortify me for the road miles ahead.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tales of the Cities

Greetings from Virginia Beach, (and apologies to Armistead Maupin for a bit of brazen title-stealing). What fun it's been tonight, to turn my herd loose, to play with Cathy and Jay's herd, and to have some grown-up chat time.  I had forgotten that one of the marks of relaxed East-Coast friendship is the ability to sit and chat while absently scratching mosquito-bites.  Old school-friend, Cathy and I have been catching up on kids, family, and tales of my travels, over dinner, some wine, and the ritual dabbing-on of the benedryl gel. 

So, picking up the travelogue from the last entry:  After coffee and glorious music on Sunday, we explored NYC with our expert native guides and dear friends, Marc, Seth, and Sam: a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, lunch at a friendly Irish pub in lower Manhattan, complete with a hilarious Irish bartender who crowned 4-year-old Rhys "King of the Table" and asked his permission to bring his mama a beer with her lunch.  Then, we took a walk to Ground Zero and Saint Paul's church.  Thank Heaven for old friends who can read a "moment" and put an arm around my shoulder.  Even all these years later, it was un-nervingly sobering to stand in that place and think about what went on there, and what New Yorkers went through on 9/11, and the weeks and months that followed. 

We balanced the sobriety of Ground Zero with a subway trip uptown to Times Square, where we met the "Naked Cowboy" (not actually naked, nor a cowboy, but rather a pale-skinned, ordinary-ish fellow in a cowboy hat, boots, white briefs, and a pencilled-on mustache, singing "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Naked Cowboys..."  Good advice, I think, considering how that scenario has turned out for him...New Yorkers can be so helpful, can't they?).  Calvin did a bit of mugging and babbling for two folks with TV cameras who claimed to be working for a Dutch TV station, and Rhys had a meltdown over wanting a large, overpriced souvenir of the Statue of Liberty.   Then it was back to Brooklyn for dinner and famous cheesecake from Junior's Restaurant.

We left our NYC pals, Marc, Seth, and Sam, on Monday morning, with promises of a reunion soon, and spent the next 45 minutes trying to find our way out of Brooklyn without a map, while our newly-installed GPS had a session of electronic senility.  Yes, I could have asked for directions, but where's the adventure in that?  Besides, it was our pathetically obvious lost-ness that probably bought me sympathy a few minutes later, with the NYC Police Officer who used her loudspeaker to stop me from making an illegal U-turn on Flatbush Avenue AND then ran a traffic block so that I could complete the illegal U-turn and pull over.  The Jedi mind-trick of seizing control of a traffic-stop with, "Ok, so HOW do I find I-278 from here?", complete with a flustered flourishing of the atlas, and some waving of the sunglasses, as if the officer had really pulled us over to give us directions, rather than a ticket, actually worked.  She tried to scold me about what kind of a car-seat my youngest child was using, and told me about the "really, really big sign up there" regarding the illegality of U-turns at that particular intersection, but seemed to lose her ticket-writing resolve, and simply gave me directions to I-278.  I love those helpful New Yorkers!

With our GPS still demonstrating only a tentative grasp of actual geography, my kids and I found our way, via baroque curlicue loops through Baltimore's Camden Yard neighborhood, and then back to the interstate, to the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, on Monday afternoon, followed by more street-minuets all the way back to the Baltimore home of Martha and Bill, our hosts for Monday night.  For today's journey back into DC, to see the National Air and Space Museum, we relied on a combination of Martha's clear directions and a tolerant glance at our struggling GPS from time to time.  Then, it was on to our hosts here in Virginia Beach.  This trip was only a "sample" of DC, so that we can plan a more leisurely trip to explore all of the charms of our nation's capitol.

Tomorrow, perhaps we can sneak in a little beach time before setting off for Spartanburg, SC, and yet another old-friends-too-long-separated reunion, with Mildred and John and their six (!) beautiful kids.  Yes, this is a fascinating tour through the varied sights of our country, but it's the people who are making the greatest impression on me.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Coffee, Bach, Schumann...

Greetings from Brooklyn, NY, where I am about 6 feet away from a Steinway that is filling the summer morning air with the most wonderful music !  We arrived at the Park Slope apartment of my dear old music-school friend, Marc, his partner, Seth, and their luminously lovely daughter, Samantha yesterday afternoon after a quick swing through my old hometown, Darien, CT, and lunch at my old school-days hang-out, Post Corner Pizza.

In Darien, my kids got a quick tour, pointing out the church where I first sang in choir, my old elementary school, the childhood home of my longtime friend, Nancy, and finally a loop around the cul-de-sac that was the street where I grew up.  My old house has not changed much, but I was struck by how much smaller everything seemed.  My driveway seemed much longer when my brothers and I used to spend afternoons devising all kinds of wheeled ways to coast down the hill toward the garage.  The route I walked to school seemed much longer when I was happily kicking leaf piles all the way to school back in the 70's.

After arriving here, we walked a part of this wonderful old neighborhood: the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, past Grand Army Plaza, up to Prospect Park to allow my kids to run, wrestle, and flop on the broad green lawn with my friends, and quite a number of New Yorkers who use the park as their own backyard.  Today, we'll be walking across the Brooklyn Bridge for some great views of Manhattan and New York Harbor.  Seth is busy looking up subway and bus routes for our explorations while Sam entertains my kids and Marc fills the air with music and the occasional "inside" comment like, "this sounds like Faure", or "here comes that thematic material again"

But once again, for me,  it seems that the some of my favorite episodes on this journey involve the people: family, strangers, new friends, and old friends whose endearing qualities only seem to intensify with time.  After a delightful evening of talking, eating, and laughing with Marc, Seth, and Sam, my kids and I are spending a relaxed waking-up time this morning listening to Marc, a professional concert pianist and music professor, share his music with us.  He's playing something right now that is by a 20th century Colombian composer, Mejia... poignant, rhythmic, and probably fiendishly difficult to play, but Marc makes it sound like the kind of thing one tosses off right after morning coffee.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


These past few days have been full of promises: the promises made to my little nephew, Nolan, at his baptism last Sunday -- hence the photo--and the promises to reunited old friends to "see you soon", and the promise to my children, that "as soon as we get some good weather, we'll go back to the beach for real".

Today, I got to make good on that promise. We went back to that wonderful unspoiled beach, equipped with swimsuits and boogie boards, sand-toys and beach towels, and the one piece of equipment that EVERY child should have:  a youthful, athletic Uncle with a wet suit and a kid-like tolerance for VERY cold ocean water.  It was a marvelous day.  With a Dad who can teach you to spot the mathematical sequence for the increasing strength of waves, an Uncle who is willing to get in the water and show you how to line up the board with the curl of the wave, and a Mom who knows how to whoop and yell "Cowabunga!" as you slide up to the sand on the bubbling foam after the wave breaks, how could a kid NOT have a great day?

And mid-June in Maine is full of the promise of summer itself.  It's not yet high tourist season, so the crowds are not here yet.  But the ice-cream places are open, and the lilacs are in full bloom.  Along the road to the beach, the summer "camps" (cottages) are starting to show signs of life:  a pile of freshly-delivered firewood in a driveway, the winter storm shutters removed, chairs and tables arranged on the screenporches.  Soon, those places with be full of the cheerful disarray of families on vacation: beach towels and swimsuits hung on strings between the trees, the smell of woodsmoke mixing with the sweet fern, pine-needles, and honeysuckle that is carried on the salty breeze.   Meanwhile, we're collecting on another of the promises of summer in New England--the promise that two sunny days in a row here will more than compensate for all the less-inspiring weather we've had lately.  I'm typing this while seated under an awning on the front porch at Mom's house, watching the boats enter the mouth of the Piscataqua River, and listening to a crows' conversation, the redwing blackbirds' answer, the hum of the occasional passing car, and the clink of lemonade glasses in Mom's kitchen.  Rain? What rain?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Simple Joys

One of the great things that keeps happening on this trip are those unplanned moments of "this is the best trip ever!"  from my kids.  This photo was taken yesterday morning, on a nearly-empty, unspoiled beach in Kittery, Maine.  As you can tell from Patti's beach attire, we hadn't planned on staying at the beach because the day had started chilly and cloudy.  But, once there, with the sun emerging from the clouds, the kids found the powdery sand, the shells, the seaweed, the gentle waves, and the possibility of getting totally muddy and wet to be irresistible.  This particular beach is a residents-only, undeveloped beach:  no bathroom/showers, no snack bar, and a tiny parking area on the end of a winding, tree-lined road.  So, I found the most inviting driftwood log-seat I could find, and took several hours to play hide-and-seek with the sunshine and watch my happy crew dig, splash, shiver, jump waves, and collect treasures.

We have spent a number of very busy, people-filled days with extended family, big meals to prepare, and the daily tasks of maintaining our various "campsites" in my Mom's house, so it was pure bliss to do nothing but sit and simply inhale deeply that potpourri of seaweed and salt marsh and the air of the ocean itself.  For a few breaths, I was once again that happily soggy little girl with sand and seaweed in her wind-tangled hair, chasing my brothers down the beach, or quietly exploring the silky-gritty texture of powder-fine sand mixed with seawater.  

At one point, Patti found a large kelp "tail" that she decided was a huge paintbrush, and she spent quite a while exploring the artistic effects of dragging it along the low-tide sand in swirling patterns.  What artist would not be delighted with a canvas as wide as the seashore?  Eventually, she felt her work was "done" and signed her name, in letters at least 7-feet high.   I'd like to think that someday when my "work" is done, I'd be proud to sign it in 7-foot-high letters.

Today, I got to savor another simple joy. While my husband, my mom, and my brothers entertained my kids and their cousins,  I visited two very dear friends, Brett and his husband, Dave.  Brett has been my friend since our college days (yes, that was a long, long time ago), and is the most gifted voice teacher I know.  After receiving the precious gift of a voice lesson with Brett,  I sat at a delicious lunch (thanks, guys !) with these two loving, generous men and witnessed the grace with which they are facing some of life's most daunting challenges: cancer, aging parents, more cancer, and job uncertainty.  My friends are a couple of incredible Life-gardeners.  A lot of "stuff" has landed in the garden that is their life, and they are "composting" it for the blooming of their quiet and kindly souls into new life.  They are turning their lives into the kind of art that they will be proud to sign their names to, in 7-foot-high letters.

We've got a couple more days here in Maine, which includes another visit with an old friend (Nancy, whom I've known since elementary school, and her terrific husband, Jeff), and a few more meals of great New England seafood in my mom's favorite local restaurants.   And then, it's back to road adventures, and more visits with dear friends along the way.

But for now, it's time for a glass of wine with my brothers, and Andre, while we wait for my Mom's dinner masterpiece to come out of the oven.  To Life!  Salut!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

 Saturday, June 10 – Kittery Point, Maine  
 Find pictures from the beginning of the trip to this point at
(Sorry for the long delay between posts.  It's been a series of long days on the road with no time to blog. )

On Wednesday, we said, “See ya Friday” to our Chicago Wall-Family: Larry, Lauren, Nolan, and Aiko, the affection-sponge who is otherwise known as a golden retriever, and navigated (with maps, no gps) our way out of Chicago on our way to Gettysburg, PA. (That, in itself, would make a good episode of a reality tv show.)   The “nine hour drive” predicted by the AAA triptik took us about 4 hours longer than that, and even though we woke up the night manager to check-in at our hotel, he was sharp enough to follow us to our room, to bring me the bag that I had left at the front desk, in my bleary-eyed state. 
The Visitors’ Center at Gettysburg was impressive, with its vivid,stirring film presentation, about the battle, the collection of artifacts, and as the 19th-century oil-painting "cyclorama"  that depicted the disaster of Pickett’s Charge.  As we walked the Gettysburg National Cemetery in the steamy mid-day heat, an energetic WWII vet (with his ribbons, medals, and various insignia on his cap, his vest, and shirt), who was also touring Gettysburg, gave the kids a history mini-quiz and was quite pleased with their answers.  We were honored to thank him for his service to America and to listen to his story of being wounded in Germany during the war.  (As usual, we seem to make our “tours” more like visits with people.) After we’d had enough steaming and baking ourselves in Gettysburg, we headed for Connecticut and the enthusiastic welcome of some of my old school friends from Darien High School, gathered at the home of Kris (Clarke) Bruno and her husband, Tom.  My kids were anticipating “just a bunch of old people sitting around” and had been warned to make themselves unobtrusive.  So, naturally, they rushed into Kris’ house, cap-guns blazing, and the raging imaginary gun-battle with a couple of Kris’ adult children lasted several hours, with the help of three large, excited dogs, and lots of yelling and laughing. During a break in the action, Jimmy Leary (one of the “kids” from my old neighborhood who might be called “Jim” or “James” by the other people in his world), took my kids to see some 4-legged kids in Kris’ barn: goats, rabbits, and horses.  I’m hoping that one of the “old people sitting around” will post those silly pictures of our “totally boring” (HA!) time. 
Calvin was invited by Tom to make free use of his BB gun to hunt the elusive aluminum can on their lush 5 acres of ancient Connecticut woods, "if it's Ok with your Mom."  
Of course I consented.  I'm that bad a mom. 

After a morning in the kid-paradise that is the Bruno home: trampoline, zipline, rope-swing, pool, animals to play with, woods to explore, more target-practice with the BB gun, my kids were wondering if Kris’ paralegal expertise might extend to adoption papers… 

A huge THANK YOU and much love to Kris, Tom, Alex, Sara, Cassidy, and Eden for their wonderful hospitality, and to my “old people” friends from back in the day: Matt (and Ray—you are a TREASURE), Debra, Jimmy, and Dagmar, for coming out on a worknight, in the pouring rain, to welcome the Hedrick Herd back to New England.  Calvin asked me, as we drove off, headed for Gramma’s house in Kittery, Maine on Friday afternoon, “Are all your friends this cool?  Are there more like this that we’ll get to meet?”  

My answer was an emphatic “Absolutely!” 

We’re now happily settled here at my Mom’s house in Kittery Point.  Andre has joined us for the week, and the Chicago family is here as well.  The Connecticut branch of the Wall family is due in very soon.  Tomorrow, we’ll all go to Mom’s church and celebrate the baptism/dedication of little Nolan Robert Wall.  

Was it worth the 4,000-something miles of road so far?  Absolutely !

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Auntie Val and the Wild Bunch Hit Chicago

...and only half a day off schedule.  On Monday, we all got up on the wrong side of the bed.  I know this because, when I came down to the breakfast area, to find that my older kids were not eating breakfast, but publicly fighting over internet games on the business-center computer, I blew my stack.  A cowboy-boots-wearing, bald-pated gentleman turned around from his place at the front desk and drawled "Aw, Mama, why do ya hafta be so mean?" More than an hour later, as we were finally loading the car, or rather, I was un-loading the stash-and-dash mess that would not allow the the rear hatch to close, while simultaneously scolding all four kids, while they ignored me and continued insulting each other by arguing about who was truly the ... archaic feminine hygiene product... that is the epithet of choice among the pre-teen set, the same parenting expert drove past in his pick-up, and asked, "Didn't you get them young'uns straightened out yet, Lady?"

Yup.  I think he's already written his letter of recommendation for that Mother of the Year award for me.

So, nearly two hours behind schedule, we began what was supposed to be a 13-hour run to Chicago, with what I had planned to be a "quick" stop at the famous Wall Drug in Wall, SD (most of you know that my maiden name is "Wall", so I just had to at least pick up a bumper sticker). Alas, I had not read-up on the amazing invention they have there, the one that somehow turns 15 minutes into an hour and a half, plus cap-pistols, photo-ops, donuts, and whining.  Silly me.

We loved the Badlands ( I need to read up and try to understand why they are called that.), and it was a delight when we got into western Minnesota,  to finally see the real-life version of the farm pictured in advertising, and immortalized by Fisher-Price: the red barn, silo, white farm house, nestled among trees, with the contented black and white Holsteins grazing on the rolling green hills.  And then  there were more of those, and more of those, and more green pastures, and more green... and... not much else for the entire length of I-90 through the rest of the state. By the time we reached the Wisconsin Dells, it was nearly 11p.m. and I was not fit to drive anymore, so we found a hotel and made a morning start for our destination here in Chicago: the Rogers Park home of my younger brother, Larry, his wife, Lauren, and their almost-3-month-old son, Nolan.  After a a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza lunch, we had little tour of the city, some time on the beach at Lake Michigan, and came back to the apartment to babysit little Nolan for the evening.  (I'm glad my sister-in-law did not witness the lovely parenting scene in Rapid City before she entrusted her precious firstborn to me and the Hedrick Herd.)  Seriously, though, as much as I have loved the scenery on this trip, tonight's quiet evening in, with my kids watching old  80's TV shows on Hulu, and taking turns cuddling their little cousin, singing to him, learning how to warm-up a bottle and change a diaper, was a very, very beautiful sight.  Wherever I may wander... there's no place like home, even if it's someone else's home.  Family is irreplaceable: and that cuts both ways.

Tomorrow, a long-ish haul to Gettysburg, PA.   We'll be listening to Civil War history on the way.  My kids are getting a broad education: from poopy diapers to Pickett's Charge.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

If I say I've fallen in love with the Black Hills National Forest, does that make me unfaithful?

I sure hope not, because I have.  Fallen in love with the Black Hills, that is.  They are softer and greener than the Sierra, and the sky seems more generous somehow. My kids are getting mighty tired of my rhapsodies of delight over birches and aspens just coming into pale, leafy sparkle.  OK, I'll stop talking about "clean" after today, but  I wonder if it's the influence of all those Scanda-who-vian immigrants in pioneer days who have preserved their neatnik ways down through the generations.  I mean, we pulled into Keystone, home of dozens of ticky-tacky tee-shirt shops and those uniquely tourist-town eateries emitting oily vapors, at around 9:30 a.m., and every shop keeper was sweeping, window-washing, and one guy was even pressure-washing the boardwalk area in front of his restaurant. (I know, it does sound like I've been standing in the Mount Rushmore sunshine too long, doesn't it? )

(I've despaired of adding photos directly to this blog, but here's a link to a shutterfly site with the slideshow so far:  

Today began with Rhys entertaining an older gentleman in the breakfast area of the hotel with a discussion of the merits of the different colors of Froot Loops (foodies, look away!) and when we could break up that party, we started out on an exploration of Keystone, Rushmore Cavern, Mount Rushmore, and Hill City.  As usual, Calvin and Mark both found the various park rangers, tour guides, and docents to be fascinating buffets of knowledge, and proceeded to pig-out on all the info the experts could offer.  Patti and Calvin both decided to do the Junior Ranger program at Mt. Rushmore, earning their badges after completing a knowledge-quest of various info, and submitting to a short quiz. The examining ranger told Patti that her answers were full of "stuff that I never hear from the kids who do this program"... I hope that means it was good. 

 Meanwhile, Mark, who bought his very first pocketknife at a souvenir stand in Keystone, spent some very happy whittling time while listening to the park rangers, and managed to teach himself one of those small, absolutely necessary lessons about working with a pocket-knife.  Fortunately, the ranger popped off her hat, and produced an antiseptic wipe and a band-aid.  We'll call that a different kind of "badge" for Mark.  Skinned knuckle or not, I'd rather Mark work on his fine-motor dexterity with whittling than have him zone-out with one of those two-thumbed electronic pacifiers that I've some kids carry around.  (And, no, Gramma, I'm not letting the boys whittle in the car.  The knives go into my purse for safe keeping.) 

And at the moment, I'm watching my kids play with half a dozen other travelling kids in the hotel pool... my poor, unsocialized, homeschooled kids, tee-hee.  Tomorrow, we embark on a VERY long one-day run to Chicago.  Yes, I'm crazy.  Prayers would be appreciated.  

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Late night laundry room thoughts

Greetings from another day on this trail of friendly folks, clean gas-station restrooms, periodic announcements of farts (I am travelling with three boys, after all), and spontaneous fun.  On a fuel-stop in the vast open spaces of Eastern Wyoming, we had a water-gun fight at a gas-station stop in Sundance, kind of our own version of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  As we passed by the town of Spearfish, Calvin suggested that we check out what looked like a really cool waterpark.  It turned out to be part of the city-owned rec. center in Spearfish, and it was an excellent water park:  clean, new, well-run, full of friendly folks, and really cheap.  I will post some photos on this blog eventually, but I won't be posting the photo that Patti took of Calvin and me, on an inflateable raft, zooming down a waterslide, unless I'm sure that I'm mostly hidden by splash.  Also spontaneous, but not quite so fun was the hour or so we spent visiting with the friendly folks at the local ER, after a teen-age gal fell off the "water-climbing" wall and landed on Patti's face.  Patti was bruised and bloodied enough that we needed to verify that her nose wasn't broken.  It isn't.  She'll be fine in a day or so when the swelling goes down.  And the little owie was not enough to stop her from deciding to play with her brothers at the pool here at our hotel, after we checked in this evening.  Kids... an afternoon at the water park, and they still want to play in the pool.  I was like that once.

And now I'm doing laundry.  Plus ca change, eh?

But seriously, we are having a WONDERFUL time.  The scenery has been glorious, and the logistics of our travelling routine are getting easier and easier with repetition.  The kids have decided not to rotate their "jobs" for the trip, so Mark is keeping our accounts, and helping the other kids to understand that this travelling thing is NOT free.  Calvin is getting more and more skilled at map-reading and noticing exits and mileage, as well as helping me to not freak out when the computer-generated driving directions do not correspond to the road signage.  Patti is our food-service coordinator par excellence.  She can slap together lunch from cooler while travelling at 80 mph, and can tell you how many bags of baby carrots we have left, and how many yogurts.  Today's turkey-and-cheese with horseradish sandwich, with a side of cherry tomatoes and ranch dip was better than many, many in-flight meals I've had.

Well, the clothes are almost dried and I need to get some rest.  Tomorrow, we explore the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and... who knows?  from our temporary base here in Rapid City.

The only thing I'm missing on this trip is adult company.  I guess that's where you all come in.

Friday, June 3, 2011

When in Casper, order Chinese food

...unless you actually like Chinese food.  In which case, you might go for Mexican or steaks or something.  Oh well, at least it wasn't Burger King again.  Greetings from Casper, Wyoming, where everything has a silouette of a cowboy on it, and Ming House on historic 2nd Street plays country music to accompany your dinner.  The drive today was SPECTACULAR, and not nearly as long as yesterday's run.  We are going to have to do some remedial geology study when we get back.  There were just SO many different land formations and types of rock in the road cuts between Salt Lake City and Casper that none of us, not even Mr. Encyclopedia, Calvin, could identify.  We also stopped at one of those "wildlife viewing areas" where the wildlife actually obliged.  After taking a posed shot in front of a sign titled "Wyoming Wildlife", we then spotted a Pronghorn antelope mother and baby (awwwww...).  Unfortunately, the camera battery died, so you'll just have to believe me on that one.  We've been in phone contact with Andre, when cell-service permits, and he informs us that our dog, Cricket, spent ALL of yesterday perched on a bench in front of the living room window, waiting for the rest of her pack to return.  I think we may have to set up a doggy-skype for her and the kids.

Salt Lake City via SNOW in June

Good morning from Salt Lake City!  We pulled in here around 1 a.m. local time, but had a memorable, and mostly easy drive all day.  We marvelled at the deep snow on the mountainsides in the Sierra, coming over Donner Summit, but were very grateful that the roads were clear and dry.  My knuckles got kinda stiff from gripping the steering wheel a little too tightly as we navigated a mix of sleet/snow near the summit, but that will pass.  Sunset lit the snow-capped peaks of the ? Sawtooth? Wasatch? amazing shades of rose and orange, which we watched from the kids' playscape at Burger King in Elko, Nevada.  (Foodies, just close your eyes to the fast-food references.  There may be several.)

We've been listening to a biography of Crazy Horse, and having great discussions about what happens when cultures collide.  It's fascinating to hear what an 8 year old would have done if he'd been in charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the 1850's.  The kids are doing a great job of sharing, helping me, and helping each other.  I'm sure there will be days when they are ready to kill each other, but for now, I'm grateful.

Another thing to be grateful for:  when the kids went down to the car this morning, to retrieve our breakfast box, they found one door standing open.  (I'm not sure how that happened, as I KNOW I pushed the "door close" button.) There was really nothing to steal, except a few dirty socks, and the iPods.  The iPods were under some dirty kleenexes and I guess the would-be thieves were not allergy sufferers?  The iPods were both still there. Unfortunately, so were the dirty socks.

ONWARD toward Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument !