Wednesday, July 30, 2014

when it rains


What I'd hoped to do when we got home was wrap up the trip, print off our photos, write some thank-you notes, but the universe had other plans.

First of all, we came home to a flooded house. Things could be worse. We are safe, all of the mementos we hold dear for whatever lame reasons are also fine. But seven rooms in our house are destroyed. That's right - seven, and it not like we're living in Kensington palace to start with. Seven rooms is most of the house. And while various crews and strangers come in and out, ripping up carpet, knocking down walls, sucking bacteria from the ducts, all of our extra paraphernalia has to go somewhere, which means the living room is packed to the gils and basically unlivable as well. But we've been living out a van for a month, squishing our daily lives into the kitchen and lone standing bedroom is doable, until. . .

I don't even know why I bother writing about it, because as usual, it's paralyzingly, obscure and until we know what it is, untreatable. Day two home starts with a dizzy spell for me. Dizzy as in, "holy hell, somebody from Rug Doctor must've slipped me a roofie, because I can't tell the walls from the ceiling." I figure it will be better once I get up and get a drink.


Long story short, after crawling out to the van, after repeated requests by my husband to just call the damn ambulance, I spent a day in the hospital. Why? Good question. You'd think after two MRI's, a pint of blood, a CAT scan, two EKG's and whatever else they did that day, I'd know something. But I don't. Not really.

We do know this much: I need physical therapy for something in my vertebrae, and theoretically could have some sort of adrenal fatigue. 

Oh, I also know it sucks, and that I still need to pick out carpet.

Friday, July 25, 2014


home stretch

The last day is always the worst.

We miss home, we miss our friends, we miss the dog, but there is always this sense that something monumental has slipped through our fingers, and all we have left are memories.

Hopefully they'll be enough to sustain us until the next adventure.

Our last night was spent with my good friend Sara in Detroit Lakes, MN. Yoda had a great time playing and swimming with other kids, Sara and I had a chance to catch up, and Rico and Mr. Sara had more than a few things in common as well. (Love of Korean BBQ being one of them, which is great, because I am never going again).

After several hours of driving, we are finally back home. The video is finished, but so much is left out. The laundry is piled up. The dog is over the moon excited. Things are returning to normal, whatever that means, and as always happens when we get home, I start to wonder if normal is what we really want.

north dakota

Seriously North Dakota? Seriously?!!

I expected down home cooking. 
I expected hometown hospitality. 
What I got was nine dollar nachos and an 90 second ride on the Wiggly Worm for another eight bucks. If the eight dollars for one ride on a carnie roller coaster doesn't scare you, take a look at this:

This was the lone ride that Yoda was allowed to choose at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot.  After a very long day of traveling through upper-most ND, we promised the kid a trip to the fair. We were soon sorry. A twenty dollar entry fee, nine dollar nachos, six bucks for a corn dog, seven for cheese curds, and 8 tickets (at a dollar apiece) for one kiddie ride, had Rico and I sort of disgusted by my father's home state. Throw in the fact that we'd just spent a week eating real nachos in California and ridden the worlds most glorious carousel for just 75 cents, Minot was leaving us unimpressed.

But that's OK, because the rest of North Dakota gave us some good things to hang onto.

My father was born here, so was my grandma, and her parents as well. We drove clear up to the Canadian border to visit my grandfather's grave (grandma's too, even though she isn't using it, which sort of creeped me out). We visited the site of farm where my dad was born, and the restaurant where my grandparents used to let me serve pie to the customers and raid the candy shelf behind the counter. But Northgate, a North Dakota was nearly a ghost town even then, and things have not gotten better. Nonetheless, we took a picture of Yoda standing in the field that used to be a quaint cafe', an oil pump stood in the yard where my dad used to milk cows, where he buried his dog, where became who he was. We saw the crumbled remains of the school where my grandma and her five sisters graduated, where my dad became a basketball star.

I can't say I loved spending my summers in a remote prairie, with nothing but a couple of old Reader's Digests and a stray gopher for entertainment. And I won't lie, even as a grown-up, I ran like Carrie Ingalls tumbling down the intro to Little House, just to get out of that tall grass. All phobias start somewhere, and mine was here. Some things never change.

Aside from honing my snake-evasion skills, it was a bittersweet visit. Seeing my family's roots dissolve back into the soil is a little disconcerting. This used to be a thriving community of Nordic folks, now most of it looks like this:

After our visit to Northgate and Flaxton, we headed to the state fair in Minot, which only managed to redeem itsself by selling us chicken enchilada soup mix and a sweet hammock chair. Even the hotel in Minot managed to tick us off, by sounding a fire alarm at 5 am. We should've gone to Bismark.

But on cousin Brent's recommendation, we didn't. We bypassed the state capitol and took route 52 towards Jamestown Frontier Village, where all three of us took a real stage coach ride for less money that Minot's Wiggly Worm.
Yoda fell in love with the Shetland ponies, and we played a spirited game of go-fish in the saloon. Should've given Brent a shout out a little sooner.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Being the van bitch is hard work. That is my official title. I navigate, pass out cheeseburgers, change DVD's, rescue lost stuffed animals, google a dozen destinations an hour to make sure we're not missing anything (we are), remind kids to put retainers back in their mouths, fish stickers out of the box 'o fun, and keep Rico supplied with as much Chex mix and peppermint gum as he can handle. It's a never ending gig.

This makes it hard to blog, which of course, makes me cranky, because I want everything to sound perfect and eloquent, and summarize everything for posterity.

But it won't be. Perfect ain't gonna happen. Good enough will have to do.

This is sort of how I felt about today - Yoda's fourth birthday.  

She'd already told me how sad she would be without Punk and Kooka, so I was determined to make today "good enough" for her too. Birthdays are a big deal in our house, so when we woke up at Ruby's Inn in Missoula, we tried to start the day off right.  It went something like this:

* a call from Kooka (actually 2, which we slept through. Thankfully she is diligent, and she and Punk called back).
* presents wrapped in pink paper.
* two rides on A Carousel for Missoula - the fastest carousel in the world, built entirely by volunteers. As a carousel afficianado, Yoda was impressed. First of all, it's fast- the fastest in the world.  The horses have real tails - not wood. You can try to grab brass rings from the dragon's mouth as you ride - winner gets a free ride! Plus, for just 75 cents, you get a five minute ride. I could swig a Starbucks mocha in the same amount of time and be out an additional $3.50. The carousel was an absolute steal.
* a trip to Dragon's Hollow playground. Adjacent to the carousel, Dragon's Hollow was also built by volunteers, in just nine days! Visiting this place made Rico decide that the spirit of Missoula makes it one of the places he'd like to live. (For me, it was the six varieties of Twinkies, but the spirit was lovely as well).

* the KOA campground in Livingston, Montana, where Yoda finally got to live her lifelong dream of camping. We gathered wood, built a fire, roasted hot dogs, created candles from some twigs and old crayons, made a wish on a birthday Twinkie, went swimming, swung on the porch swing, played at the park, watched bunnies hop through the campsites, made s'mores and climbed into our sleeping bags in our kozy kabin. She said it was one of the best days of her life, which I guess makes it "good enough."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

30 miles in five hours

It's been two days, since we've checked in here. Yesterday was spent on the road from Seattle to Spokane, Washington, where we met up with Rico's high school chum, Bob. 

I love meeting Rico's friends, I love hearing the stories they share. In case you're wondering, many of them end with "man, we did some stupid, $#!+."

No arguments here.

After ice cream, a swim at the Holiday Inn in Spokane, and way too many Dateline horror stories, we fell asleep, only to be woken up at 3:00 am to wildfire smoke creeping in through the a.c. vent.  It wasn't so close that we had to evacuate, but close enough to make a package of Marlboros seem tame. So we packed up early and headed out.

We all had goals for this trip, things we'd hoped to do - conquer Tower of Terror, meet baby Cole, run in the surf, spend a day at our dream job. . . and for the most part, we did them all.

But we all have goals, even the three year-old, and since she only had one day left to make the most of her third year, we figured today was the day to make her wish come true.

We spent the morning at Walter's Orchard just north of Spokane in Green Bluff, Washington, so Yoda could live the dream of picking fruit off of a tree (NOT a bush) all by herself. She needed a boost to reach some of the rich, red lapin cherries, but the golden ranier trees held enough sweet fruit to weigh the branches down just enough to allow her to pick as much as she'd like.

We picked and ate, and picked and ate some more, finally heading home with bags of ranier and lapin cherries, nectarines, raspberries, blueberries, and some sort of plumpricot hybrid. 

A few miles later, we and our stained fingers landed in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. We spent 90 minutes, playing in free splash pad, fabulous park, and gazing at the lake, which is crystal clear up to at least 5 feet deep (we stood on the shore, so that's all we could see). The city is adorable, and Rico decided that his next vacation may just be two weeks in the panhandle of Idaho.

Two hours later, we couldn't resist the plethora of signs for huckleberry everything, and stopped on the edge of Motana for a fresh huckleberry shake - $6.13, but completely worth it. 

We are headed to Missoula, where we will put our three-year-old to bed for the very last time. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

just the three of us

I wanted to find an eloquent way to say how hard it was to put Punk and Kooka on a plane today. But I can't. Hugging them goodbye at the airport sucked. Driving them to the airport sucked. Watching Yoda wave goodbye to their plane sucked. Coming back to a half-empty hotel room sucked. Not hearing anyone laughing at reruns of Friends and Big Bang Theory sucked.

I hate being without them, I hate not hearing them laugh, I hate not seeing this in the backseat:

But, true to form, we did try to cram as much as possible into our last few hours in Seattle.

We started the day at the EMP museum, a nonprofit museum dedicated to contemporary pop culture. The museum was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (which you'll notice as you start reading the labels on almost everything. Aside from the Wizard of Oz costumes it seems like it's all from the Allen Family's private collection). 

Personally, I found the giant hallway of Kurt Cobian's used napkins and 8th grade drawings a bit gratuitous, but the rest of the place was like a tribute to my childhood - and don't think for a second that I didn't shove all of that glorious 80's culture down Punk and Kooka's throats. Thankfully, my children are cool enough to recognize the sketches from A-ha's Take On Me video all on their own. 

They also marveled at the Thriller Costumes, Yoda's Cane, the guns from Men In Black, the bikes and jackets from the Thrift Shop video, Sirius Black's coat, The Terminator's skull, Darth Vader's original light saber, Jason Vorhees' mask, the monster maker shadow screen (which magically transforms your shadow into a tentacled monster), the special effects green-screen, and the scream booth, complete with vintage photos.

After three hours, we were all slightly starving, so we made our way to Pike's Market. If you've never been, the first thing you'll notice is the huge bouquets of fresh flowers for five dollars. The second thing you'll be thinking is "Thank you florists for for providing something for me to smell besides the gargantuan, still twitching salmon, crab, and manta-ray looking things that fishmongers are pedaling.

One of our children had a harder time with this than the others.

"Seriously? This is where we're eating lunch?"
"No. This is like dining in the streets of Agrabah. I can't eat with this stuff staring at me."
"You'll find something."
(To his sister), "Come on Abu, let's see if we can find some sugared dates and dried figs."

Eventually, we all found something (ironically, he had the shrimp), a burger for Kooka, crab salad for Rico, a tamale for me, and garlic fries all around. If there is one thing Seattle does better than anywhere else in the world, it's fries. Skin-on, slightly limpy, piled high in little paper cartons. I really can't understand why, with all of the music coming out of a Seattle, that nobody ever mentioned these freaking FRIES!!!!

Then again, without a bit of research, we'd never had heard of Kukuruza Popcorn either. 

With 30 varieties of deliciousness, we found ourselves sampling so much we got full before we bought any. We tasted cookies and cream popcorn, cheddar cheese, black raspberry with vanilla cream, cinnamon bun, Hawaiian salted caramel, truffle formage, piƱa colada, kettle corn, bacon, mint chocolate chip, and it was all fantastic. We finally settled on salted caramel, cookies and cream, and cheddar, before heading back towards Pike's Market, for just one last Seattle icon.

We wouldn't want our kids to say we never showed them any culture, so of course our last stop before the airport was the famous Gum Wall.  There is no history, no background, just an ally where thousands - maybe millions of people leave their gum on the wall. The WTF look on our children's faces was pretty much how we'd hoped to wrap up our tour of the mainland.

There is not much to say about putting your unaccompanied minors on an airplane. If you've never done it - don't. It's miserable, especially when they're leaving in the middle of a grand adventure. I suppose if they were leaving to make their Broadway debut, or accept that full-ride to Harvard, I might feel differently, but I doubt it.  Even Yoda was noticeably bummed. She waved goodbye to the plane, and proceeded to drown her sorrows in a sippy cup of Apple juice and a carton of a Trader Joe's ABC cookies.

Rico and I attempted to continue the adventure, by stopping at Shing Song Korean Barbecue across from our hotel. It didn't work. Aside from thinking about how much Kooka would have loved it, we both found ourselves slightly sickened at the vast amounts of unidentifyable raw meat served to us. Nobody in the restaurant spoke English, so the best we could gather, was that we were being served "shoulder of delicious". Since that could translate to damn near anything, including the belligerent drunk guy who disputed his bill on the way in, I stuck to what I believed to be chicken. 

In case you're wondering, we both ended up sick. Yoda, who ate nothing but sticky rice, was absolutely fine.

So we're Punk and Kooka, who landed safely back in Midwestern farm country - no cliffs, no jellyfish, no earthquakes. It still sucks.

Friday, July 18, 2014



So far we love it. There are several big cities that are on my "never need to see that again" list, (at the risk of offending anyone, I won't post them here), but Seattle is not one of them. 

We could live here, and I'd be totally down with that. The people are genuine - not hipster, not cooler than everyone else, just real. The city is bustling, but not overcrowded. It's not overpriced, it's just sort of wonderful.

At least so far.

We spent three hours traveling and the rest of our day at the Pacific Science Center creating optical illusions with mirrors, petting the starfish, holding butterflies, and loving the interactive exhibits. 

We ate dinner at Dick's Drive-In, a Seattle icon, where the food is cheap, super fast, and the fries are to die for.

Punk and Kooka leave us tomorrow, so I'm going to spend less time writing and more time laughing.  I'm sure there will be no love lost between me and the Seattle airport tomorrow. I can feel the tears welling up already.

oregon take 2

You can see from the thumbs up that we felt prepared for our adventure at Frontier Dunes in Florence.

You can see from the following photos that we had a great time cruising around Oregon's coastal sand dunes:

Looks great huh?

What you can't see, is that the fun lasted all of five minutes - if that. With Rico, Yoda and I in a four-seater buggy, and the two big kids on quad ATV's, we were mired half-a-tire deep within seconds of being set loose by the rental company. They were great about coming to rescue the quads (thankfully, because they had to do it at least five times for Kooka and twice for Punk, which isn't counting the several times we did it ourselves). Eventually we gave up and asked for an escort back to the lot (whereupon we managed to get both quads stuck three more times). 

Most of the adventure looked more like this:

Oddly enough, we paid about six times as much to drive ourselves around than we would have hopping on a group buggy and letting somebody else take us baja-ing over the sand. We spent 55 of our 60 minutes lifting 500 pound vehicles out of the sand so many times that we all left limping (and some of us crying). Next time we'll pay the chauffeur.

But aside from that fiasco, Oregon is awesome. We could stop at every single rocky outcropping and still feel like we've missed something.

We had to make one last stop on the coast before we headed inland. The water was Titanic icy, but the warm D River flowed right into it, which made a lovely little spot for wading, collecting seaweed, watching little brown jellyfish and flying our dollar store kite.

Dinner was at a little Italian joint that Rico found. Punk had a shrimp Alfredo sandwich, Kooka and Rico split a giant, football-sized calzone, I had lasagne and Yoda had spaghetti.

We cruised through Portland much faster than we'd have liked. All 22 hotels we called were completely sold out, for what we can only imagine must be a giant Squatch convention. So we headed to Vancouver, Washington, which technically means we've finished our tour of the continental United States. But one filthy pool in a Comfort Inn cannot possibly constitute our Washington experience, so we're not counting it yet.

Seattle here we come.