Categories
Adventures in Homeschooling

10-21-21

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is one of my favorite novels. I read it years ago shortly after my first trip to Korea. I liked it because I could completely relate to Santiago, the main character. He chose to be a shepherd because he wanted to travel. I chose to teach for the same reason. Also, like Santiago, I had a dream. Whereas he had a dream that led him to Egypt in search of treasure, mine, I suppose, is a little less tangible. Coelho wrote the book as fable, a guide on how to follow your dream, how to achieve it. When I first read the book I was enthralled. And I believed that maybe the universe would conspire to help me attain my goal as well. 

But as is often the case, life intervened. I finished reading, set the book aside, and as the years passed I forgot not only the plot, but the lessons Coelho tried to impart. All I remember was the alchemist telling the boy, “Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.” I’m not sure why I never forgot that, why of everything that transpired in the novel it was the only piece that lingered. Maybe it’s because of my own luck, or lack of it. I keep thinking, I can’t get robbed of an opportunity again, but I do, and so my mind gets tossed back to the alchemist and the words of warning he spoke to Santiago.

After more than two decades, I felt the need to revisit the novel. What am I doing wrong in my own quest? Was it too late to hope for better results? Maybe a second reading, would help set me back on track. Then last year we moved, and one afternoon my son was going through all the bins of books I have down in the basement. As he was haphazardly tossing books aside and scanning titles he came across The Alchemist and said he wanted to read it. He wanted to read it. I wanted to reread it. So when my spouse and I decided we were going to keep our son home for at least one more semester of homeschooling, I immediately added it to our English curriculum. If nothing else, it would be a fun adventure, something to ease us both into the school year.

My old copy of the book was marked up with read pen. Passage after passage underlined. And what struck me was that the same words I found so powerful and meaningful eons ago still moved me. Of course, to teach the book, I underlined even more and jotted questions in the margins. I think I enjoyed the book more the second time through, though there was a heaviness about the book that was missing last time. Was it regret? The ability to identify all the times I stepped off the path that I should have followed? Santiago certainly faced a few setbacks on his journey and he grappled with doubt, but in the end battered and exhausted — but not beaten — he found his treasure. There are many days I feel battered, even more when I feel exhausted, and yet here I am, another day of setting words down on a screen because I’m not sure what else I’d do with myself. Does that mean I’m not yet beaten? Does it mean that my treasure awaits — somewhere?

Enough about me. This is supposed to be about G3. When we finished reading the novel, I asked him to write a review. There was a great deal of eye rolling and some grumbling, but he did as I asked. As always, his writing went through an extensive revision process. But after taking the summer off, I noticed how much his writing has improved from last September. He still makes grammatical mistakes and he wasn’t as expansive in places as he could have been, but he had fewer mistakes than last year, and a much stronger sense of how to construct a more academic piece. As for what he thought of the book, well, I’ll let him tell you that.

The Alchemist: A Review

The Alchemist is a novel written by Paulo Coelho about following your dreams, A.K.A. your personal legend. Santiago, the main character, is a Shepard. He meets a king after having a recurring dream in a falling down church. In the dream, a child is playing with Santiago’s sheep and then he teleports Santiago to the Egyptian pyramids. He says, if you come here you will find hidden treasure. After hearing the dream, the king tells Santiago to leave Spain and do what his dream says. Santiago sells his sixty sheep so he can have enough money to go to Africa. When he gets there, a thief steals his money. Then, Santiago is forced to work with a crystal merchant to save enough money to go home because he lost hope. He enjoys working with the crystal merchant. He has good ideas, and he learns Arabic. 

After a year of working, Santiago decides to have another go at his dream and he joins a caravan traveling east and heading toward Egypt. He meets an Englishman who wants to meet an alchemist at an oasis so he can become an alchemist too. When they reach the oasis, Santiago meets and falls in love with Fatima. In a few days, he predicts that an army will attack the oasis. Santiago warns the chief and the chief says that everyone can have their arms back for defense, but if at least one weapon is not used tomorrow, one will be used on Santiago. But for every twelve dead attackers, he will get a gold piece. After talking with the chief, Santiago meets the alchemist and the alchemist tells Santiago to meet him at his tent tomorrow — if he isn’t dead. Santiago, at the end of the next day, gets 51 pieces of gold. Then, in the days that follow, he sets out for the pyramids after having many talks with the alchemist about wether he should or should not go. When they get to the pyramids, the alchemist turns back and a bunch of thieves rob Santiago. One thief says he had a recurring dream right where Santiago was looking for treasure. In this dream, he saw a falling down church in Spain where treasure was buried. 

Now, my mom is making me say what I like and dislike about the book. I really only dislike one thing, the non-stop talk about God. I myself do not believe in God, but I love to study about different religions. I, respectfully, don’t think God is real because there is a reasonable explanation for everything. One example is the big bang which explains the creation of the world. I did like the setting of the novel. I don’t know why, it just felt appropriate. The adventure was also cool. It had the right number of set backs and all the characters had important roles. Coelho’s message, although increasingly cheesy, was put in a way that was not childish, which I liked.

Another thing Mom is making me put in this review is if I would recommend The Alchemist. I do (mostly to children so they know to follow their dreams). The reason I say so is because I love the adventure, the message, and the setting. I am sorry Mom, I can’t say any more, but that is the reason I recommend it.

Santiago’s dream is to travel the world. I can relate to this. When I grow up, I want to travel the world. The places I would most want to visit are the Great Barrier Reef because it won’t be there in 100 years. I’d like to see Russia because there is a lot of rich history. Finally, I want to go to the Black Forest because it is filled with mysteries. 

I think my personal legend includes many things. I want to be a writer since I love writing. I like creating stories because I like to be in my own world that goes the way I want it to go, instead of being in someone else’s world. Another thing I want to be is an astrophysicist. I love both the stars and physics. I love the constellations because they are fun to find and they connect me to Greek Myths which I enjoy reading. The last thing I want to do is be a glassblower because the objects glassblowers create are so beautiful. The Alchemist can help me achieve my personal legends because it says if you really want something you can achieve it. Also, it says if you want something badly enough the whole world conspires for you to get it. I also learned that achieving my personal legend won’t be easy. One example of this is that I may lose my money or get imprisoned. But I need to keep going, even if the going gets tough or I will never again be happy. 

Categories
Pandemic Diaries

Day 577

Yesterday was not a good day. Tomorrow it will be exactly 18 months since Dad died. In that time, it has become evident that I can’t seem to catch a break. It’s as if the universe has cast an unbreakable curse over me, a curse ensuring that the dark clouds hovering above are unable to part. It’s not like I was lucky before he died, but now it’s as if my bad luck has gotten worse. I am stuck. No movement at all is possible no matter how hard I try. In fact, it feels kind of like quicksand, the harder I try to extract myself — move forward, make a dent — the fiercer the quicksand sucks me in. Even focusing on the positive. Thinking happy thoughts full of gumdrops and rainbows and dreams coming true has not loosened its hold. I envision things finally going well, my life reaching a point of stability, and then the earthquake strikes. I open my eyes and reality returns. 

Okay, that was a really long roundabout way of saying, I did not get the job that I was so insanely confident would be mine. Are you surprised? I’m not. If anything I’m surprised that I had allowed myself to get to the point of actually feeling excited, of allowing my son to feed off my excitement. We were making plans for all the things we’d be able to do once I had a pay check. Well, be that a lesson to me. Being high on optimism doesn’t mean things will get better, only that the fall back to really will hurt more. A lot more.

I didn’t get the job. So I wasn’t exactly in the best of moods when I took my son to Taekwondo. During the class, he sparred a much taller — and older — boy. My son can hold his own when sparring traditionally. However, combat sparring (hitting each other with padded sticks) a taller kid has an advantage when it comes to leverage. The kid, repeatedly hit my son over the head whack-a-mole style until my son — tears in his eyes — screamed at him to stop because he was hurting him. I am not a fan of combat sparring, not since the first, or second, time I did it and one of the men in class gave me a concussion by whacking me repeatedly. When my son woke up this morning his head still hurt.

My day couldn’t possibly get worse, right?  HA! Of course it could. From Taekowndo I drove my son to Boy Scouts. Part of being a Scout is doing volunteer work to benefit the community. One of the nice things about scouting. However, while we were waiting for all the boys to show up, one kid told my son and another boy that he was finally getting to go back to school tomorrow. He said that he had been out of school since last week because he was quarantined. What? If he couldn’t go to school because he was quarantined, then what the hell was he doing at Boy Scouts (both Monday and Tuesday)? But I didn’t say anything. I didn’t complain because my son desperately wants friends. He wants to feel as if he belongs. And in today’s society, right and wrong isn’t determined by the deed done, but by the committee of people weighing in and deciding who is right or who is wrong. It is a popularity contest. Those who are most popular can do whatever the hell they want without consequence. The rest of us pay the price. This is why my spouse and I had been so adamant about vaccinating our son. We knew society well enough to know that people were not going to do what they needed to do to keep everyone else safe. People in America operate from a position of selfishness. What is best for me, not what is best for everyone. Maybe it isn’t just America, but America is where I live so its what I can attest to best. I’m only glad my son is vaccinated, otherwise, I think I’d have been more furious at the risk this other kid presented. 

Categories
Empty Bench

Pumpkin Picking

Dear Dad,

I took G3 pumpkin picking with his friends today. Even though we went to a farm here in New Jersey, a farm you had never been to, it was impossible not to think about you all afternoon. Oh how you used to love when we visited this time of the year. I think Mattituck in the fall was a favorite for all of us. In the later years, G3 always planned the itinerary. He wanted to make sure he got to pick apples and pumpkins and drink cider and eat roasted corn on the cob. We always looked forward to it, and this year, being stuck here, knowing we can never see you again is making fall feel heavy, sad. 

While we were at lunch — we met G3’s friends for pizza before pumpkins — G3 was telling J and P all about the corn maze out in Long Island. About how it had a Sherwood Forest theme and that he got to shoot an arrow and sword fight against Robin Hood. “Grandpa always took me,” he added, “and we’d walk around and around trying to find our way out. I miss that.”

On the hay ride an older man was sitting with his grandchild on his lap. Watching him dote on the little one made me cry. I’m glad I was wearing sunglasses or G3 would have ridiculed me mercilessly. But it reminded me of you and G3 and how much the both of you always enjoyed your time together.

We stopped to see the animals. Remember when G3 was little and you used to take him to the winery to feed the goats and sheep. G3 always got excited. He couldn’t wait to fill his chubby little hands with food pellets, but oh how he hated the sliminess on his hands after the animals’ tongues licked them. I can still see you holding his hands steady in yours, your hands cupped around his making sure the pellets didn’t all fall to the ground. Over the years, I took so many picture of you and G3 together, but I never took one of your hands cupped around his. I’m not sure why this bothers me so much now.

Today, G3 greeted the animals at the farm by the names of the characters in Animal Farm. He said hello to Snowball, Squeaker, Napoleon, Boxer, Benjamin, and Muriel. We are reading Orwell’s book in school. The novel is easy to read, but more challenging, perhaps, to understand. Before starting it, I skipped ahead in G3’s history textbook to the Russian Revolution. I have to say, I’m extremely disappointed by how little information is actually given in the book. It’s not even a summary, it’s more like an extended topic sentence. The book doesn’t even mention Trotsky and I think Karl Marx had a sentence — maybe two — in total. But over the summer G3 developed an interest in Russian history so he seems to be enjoying the book thus far. When I asked him who he thought Squealer represented — Animal Farm is after all an allegory and the animals all depict a historical person or group of people — instead of saying propaganda or the Soviet press, G3 responded, “Fox News.” I laughed. Because that too seemed an appropriate answer.

I think G3’s favorite part of the day was running through the corn maze with J. They went in four times, timing themselves at each go to see if they could get through quicker than before. Their final sprint was their fastest and they were proud of themselves for breaking five minutes.

G3 picked out a pumpkin for his room and one for him to cut into a Jack-O-Lantern. Mom asked me to pick up a pumpkin for her as well. This is probably the first time in fifty years — or more — that she isn’t going to the pumpkin patch. Fall used to be her favorite season. I wonder if it still is. 

We ended the day with a snack. G3 got an apple — sliced and covered in a thick gooey layer of caramel. On his second or third bite, his tooth, which had been loose for several months, finally fell out. It shot out of his mouth and flew across the table. I’m not quite sure how he managed that, but he was really excited about it. Loosing a tooth while eating an apple makes far more sense than loosing one biting into ice cream. But, of course, he had to tell his friends about the time we were at Hollywood Studios in Disney and you bought him ice cream. He took one bite and suddenly his vanilla ice cream was pink as his blood oozed all over it. 

Last Saturday, after G3 had Taekwondo, I went caching. I asked G3 to join me but he was tired after two sparring classes and one forms class. While I was out, I discovered a paddleball court. I was really excited. Maybe someday after school — when G3 doesn’t have an activity — or on some weekend, he and I can go play. You and I had so much fun playing together. It would be nice to continue the tradition with G3.

I miss you!

Categories
Pandemic Diaries

Day 575

My neighbor, I will call her Bikini Lady, does nothing all day except lounge in her backyard blasting country music — as if everyone in the neighborhood wishes to hear it — while wearing nothing but a bikini. She lives in a bathing suit, wearing it to do all her chores including folding laundry out on her deck and mowing her lawn. I have no idea how old she is except to say she isn’t old enough to be retired, but she is old enough to have two kids in their early to mid-twenties. How is it she doesn’t work? How can she afford her day to day expenses? I wonder if it’s my tax dollars that are supporting her. I sure as hell hope not.

I don’t like her. You’ve heard me rant about her before. Her children have raging parties, blaring music, rowdy drinking games, fireworks, and shouting. They have kept my son and I up on numerous occasions. After the first party, Kati spoke to the son, telling him that his party was a great disturbance. He denied it. Maybe he’s deaf. Is it possible he doesn’t hear his own music? Regardless, it’s apparent that being neighborly isn’t a priory because the ruckus parties continue. Kati didn’t want me to call the police. She wanted to me to deal with the lack of sleep, but there is a noise ordinance and my neighbors were very evidently breaking the law. So I called the police during the second party. It took them showing up twice for the music to subside. The drinking games and rowdy behavior continued. During their last party, sometime last month, I called the police again.This time they told me there wasn’t anything they could do unless I went down to the station, filed a report, and went to court. Wait? What? I have to be further inconvenienced in order to get sleep. It is very apparent by the noise level that the law is being broken, but the police weren’t willing to do anything about it. Why do we have police if they have no interest in enforcing the law? And it’s not just the noise. It has to be apparent to any policeman that shows up that a great deal of drinking is being done. Sobriety is not the norm at these parties. So why aren’t the police patrolling the streets near where I live to pull over the revelers after they leave? If they know there is drinking, shouldn’t they be vigilant and doling out DUIs to make sure accidents don’t occur. To make sure innocent people don’t get killed? I guess police really aren’t in the business of keeping neighborhoods safe.

But it goes deeper than the police not doing their jobs to enforce laws and keep neighborhoods safe. It is increasingly apparent to me that police pick and chose to whom laws apply. They protect each other and their friends. Laws don’t apply if you’re buddies with an officer. And it turns out that Bikini Lady’s son works for the town. He picks up the trash. So they’ve lived here for ages and the son works for the borough which means he probably does know the police, at least some of them. Is that why the law — the noise ordinance — doesn’t apply to them? Is that why the cops aren’t keeping a close watch for drunk drivers on the days they have been alerted that there is a party? 

Anyway, after the last time I called the cops, Bikini Lady verbally attacked me wanting to know what my problem was. Seriously, like it wasn’t obvious. Both my room and my son’s room overlook their yard. We can’t sleep while her parties are in full swing. So I told her, “I’m sick of your kids keeping me awake at night.” And you know what her response was, “They are entitled to have fun. They are entitled to have parties.” Yep, that wonderful sense of entitlement that is plaguing our society. I responded, “That’s exactly the problem. You feel entitled. But my son and I should be able to sleep in our own beds at night. We shouldn’t be kept awake by selfish people who care only about themselves.” She then launched into a tirade about how no one else had a problem with her and that it was obviously my fault and I should just deal with it. She reiterated her right to do as she pleases — her children’s right to do as they pleased — with no regard for anyone else. 

Later that same day, Bikini Lady verbally attacked Kati saying that I was wrong to refer to her children as kids because her son was a grown man. Kati’s response, “And yet he acts like a frat boy.” Bikini Lady said that if we were going to continue harassing her (apparently calling the police is harassment) she would harass us. Yes, she said that her intent from now own was going to be harassment. I don’t think that’s legal either but I’m not a lawyer. And hell, what would it matter if it was illegal? It’s not like the police would do anything about it.

Needless to say, Bikini Lady has kept her promise and is harassing us. She plays her music during the day even louder than she used to. Even with our windows closed, and my son working on the other side of the house, her music is a major distraction when I am trying to homeschool him. As a result, when we can, we go to my friend’s house in Somerville and have classes in her Little House. Apparently, Bikini Lady’s children are entitled to loud raging parties that are rude and disrespectful to her neighbors, but my son is not entitled to a peaceful environment in which to study and learn.

Last week, her son’s friend — who is often at their house — showed up sporting a Trump 2020 shirt. It wasn’t surprising. The fact that they are Trumpers was obvious all along. They fit the stereotype of his base perfectly — self centered white folk who don’t give a shit about anyone else. It was evident all through Trumps presidency that his followers were (are) selfish. It was (is) especially depicted during the pandemic with their attitude of, “I don’t care if your family dies, I refused to wear a mask or get vaccinated.” Can you argue with me? Trump supporters continue to claim that their right to do as they please is of greater importance than doing what is right for the community as a whole.

This is my neighbor, and yet, this weekend she hung in her window — a window facing our bedrooms — a large sign that said, “Teachers teach love not hate.” All three of us got a good laugh at that sign. What does she think, that because Kati and I are teachers we are supposed to love people who are rude and disrespectful toward us? She herself is the one incapable of love. Seriously, does she not realize that a huge component of loving someone is respecting them. If she is going to continue to claim entitlement for her children, if she is going to continue to harass us, what is she if not a deplorable human being. Speaking of deplorable, Trump’s entire platform was hate. So, if she did indeed embrace him as her son’s friend did, then she really has no right to preach anything about love.

Categories
Adventures in Homeschooling

10-4-21

The idea of students writing essays about what they did over summer vacation has increasing fallen out of favor in schools. For years, while the assignment excited some students, allowing them to relive the more thrilling moments of their summer break and perhaps easing their return to school, it absolutely devastated other students, kids’s whose parents didn’t have the money to either send them to a real summer camp or take them on vacation. They felt left out, and not quite as important as their peers. My mother often spoke about her boring summers at home, where she couldn’t do much of anything except sit on the stoop out front to escape the oppressive heat indoors. She absolutely despised the “summer vacation” essay. So through her experience, I can relate to the students who might have nothing exhilarating to write. 

However, homeschooling my son, I don’t have to worry about appeasing an entire class of students. I need only concern myself with one, and I know he spent five weeks tent camping throughout the western states. He had plenty to write about, The biggest problem he was going to have was condensing his story into a fun and manageable length. 

For longer personal narratives, where the pieces don’t necessary fit into the traditional beginning, middle, and end arc of a story, I like breaking down the whole into micro segments. This way you don’t have to worry about the pieces fitting tightly together. In fact, they could work as stand alone pieces. The following format I embraced several years ago after attending a workshop. It’s great because, as a friend of mine observed, it reads almost like the captions of an old-school photo album. The writer gives the reader a taste of the experiences and the total length, the total number of micro essays is completely up to the writer. My son wanted only to write five. I challenged him to do eight. He grumbled a bit — personal narratives are not a favorite of his—but secretly I think he enjoyed writing this piece.

I think I am most impressed with the fact that he has very clearly found his own voice. There may be some things regarding his writing that I can take credit for after a year of working with him, but voice is not something one can teach. It’s something a wrier needs to find and develop on their own. However, while I can’t take credit for him finding it, I will give myself some credit for cultivating it. If G3 were in a real school his teachers would have expected him to write in a more standard manner. They wouldn’t have assigned as many papers, nor would they have encouraged his creativity. 

Collected Humorous Snapshots of Summer 2021

Bison

After a four mile hike in Custer State Park, we were in the the car racing to get to our Wind Cave tour on time when a traffic jam began to build. We were in the middle of the Great Plains and we all (meaning me and my moms) started to get really antsy because we were going to be late. We were inching along when we saw a speck of brown fur on the road ahead. None of us had any idea as to what it was. But when our car went around the bend, there was a brown, strong, and horned animal. It was a bison walking next to all the cars. We took a couple of photos, then drove on, and yes, we made it to our tour — barely.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore is known throughout America as a sign of… well, our selfishness. Like seriously, we carved a mountain to depict our presidents. I mean, first we say to the Latoka people, “Yah, you can have the Black Hills and we will never take them from you.” Then, we show the world that we are not trustworthy and take the Black Hills back from the Natives because we found gold. To the Lakota people, the land is not owned, just borrowed. So we broke their rule — on their land — and then we put, not their chiefs’ faces, but our presidents’ faces on their sacred mountain. On that mountain is a man who fought a war so we could take the Native American land. Another man sent two men to go sightsee so we could inhabit the Native American land. And a third man hated the Natives altogether. Alright, that was a little history of Mount Rushmore. When my family went there, we all thought about how we had always seen photos of Mount Rushmore, but now, it was right in front of us. Kati, obviously, thought this too, but she also thought, if you look at it from a certain angle, it looks like Roosevelt and Lincoln are about to kiss. So, she called them THE BISEXUAL PRESIDENTS. 

Nine Potato Feast 

To start off, we never planned to go to Idaho this summer, but we did. We got to Yellowstone National Park late in the day, but we needed someplace to sleep. My wacko moms actually thought we were going to find a campsite in one of the most popular national parks late in the day. Of course we didn’t find any sites, so we kept moving west. I fell asleep, but the next thing I knew, I woke up at 1:00 am and my moms were setting up the tent with only the lights of the car. When I asked them where we were, they said, “In the middle of stinkin’ Idaho.” They said that tomorrow we were going to go to Craters of the Moon. It is a national park with many dormant, volcanoes. 

After Craters of the Moon, which was stunning, but so bloody hot, we were all hungry. The night before, Elizebeth suggested we eat nothing but potatoes for diner because its Idaho and they are known for their potatoes. We looked at a couple of restaurants online, but I was the one who found the restaurant we ate at. On the menu was potato pancakes, potato skins, potatoes soup, mashed potatoes, potato salad, french fries, tater tots, hash browns, and a baked potato. We ordered every potato dish. Yes, we had nine kinds of potatoes for diner. The meal was very good. If only they served vodka, and I was 21. 

Yellowstone

Yellowstone is known for its beautiful geysers and grizzly bears. Well, that’s how it may have been two hundred years ago, but now it is just a mad house. People are everywhere, disrupting the beauty of the park. Traffic is miles long, and Old Faithful isn’t so faithful any more. But let’s get back to the subject of the traffic. On our last day in the park, we were heading to the famous geyser beds. But then terror struck, traffic had no end. Kati, the driver, was getting snippy with us, partly because we were annoyed by the traffic and also because she had to sit through the long traffic. To her, the only reasonable answer was for us to walk, so she kicked us out of the car. I grabbed my Powerade, and Elizabeth and I started to walk. Along the way, we talked to a few people in their cars. We made kids and dogs jealous, and even got a mile, or further, in front of Kati. We got to the geyser beds and even explored the entire 1/4 mile trail before Kati pulled into the parking lot.

Apgar

Beep, beep went the alarm clock at three o’clock in the morning. We had to prepare — for battle. The previous day, we went to Apgar campground in Glacier National Park in hopes of finding a campsite, but no cigar. A ranger told us about a campground in the southeast part of the park called Two-Medicine Campground. They usually had campsites available. Sure enough, we found a site. There was one dilemma, however, it was not in the part of the park that we wanted to be in. We wanted to be more north and more west, and there was but one campground that would be near where we wanted. APGAR. It fills up quick, like 8:00 am quick. So we needed to get there early. If we didn’t, we would be at the the back of the line, destined to never get a site. For the next sentence or two, just pretend like this is the scene from National Treasure where Natalie explains how to steal the Declaration of Independence. The strategy was: wake up early, drive two hours to the site, wait in line, then when the gates open, run as if your entire vacation depended on it, because it did.  

Two and a half hours after we got to Apgar, there was no sign of the gates opening. The rangers had put out a sign telling us what sites would be available. In front of us was a fat white guy, an Asian man, and an old obnoxious white guy. I don’t remember what we talked about. I only knew, that they were our enemies, our competition to get a site. Then the most adrenaline filled, action packed, and exciting thing of the trip happened. The rangers opened the gates. We ran. The three of us — Kati, Elizabeth, and I— ran to different sites so we would be more likely to get a spot. I sprinted past everyone and was at the head of the pack due to me being young and spry. My moms told me to go to site seven. That’s where I was headed, and everyone else was heading there too, but I got there first. 

While I waited for my parents to get back, they had a totally different experience. As they were running to another site, two kids on bikes came out of nowhere. My moms were running down one row of campsites but they needed to get to the other side. Kati cut through the bathroom, but the bikes had to go the long way. Elizabeth kept running and got a site at the end of the other row of sites. Kati kept running and got the site she really wanted. The bikers were going so fast they could not slow down, so they zoomed past the site. When they turned, and back tracked to the spot that they blew past, Kati said “I got here first,” in a voice that kind of covered her gasping and wheezing from running so far. They knew there was a site further down, but when they got to it, Elizabeth was already there. Two minutes later the old obnoxious guy and the Asian guy told Elizabeth that Kati got a spot so she should go down there. Elizabeth thought it was a trick and said no, but eventually, she realized they were telling the truth. In the end, we kept the spot Kati got because it was the nicest. The Asian guy got Elizabeth’s spot, and I was stuck at site seven for twenty minutes with no cell service waiting for this all to unfold.  

Mountain Goat 

The joke in the family is that I am a mountain goat because when we go hiking I am always ahead, climbing rocks like nothing. Kati is a turtle, always at the end having a hard time getting over rocks and fallen trees. Elizabeth is a pack mule because she carries everything, but she also makes sure I don’t get too far ahead and Kati doesn’t brake her back or a rib. Now, I had never seen a mountain goat, but we had seen pack mules and turtles. When we were in Glacier National Park, we asked a ranger where we would be most likely to see a mountain goat. She told us the trail by Logan Pass, so we went there. We saw many glaciers and snow packs on the trail that were melting due to climate change. It was increasingly depressing. As we were nearing the end of the trail I was getting sad because I hadn’t seen a mountain goat. We kept on walking and there was a beautiful view. Pine trees were everywhere surrounding a beautiful glistening lake made from glacier water. There was also a big crowd. When I shouldered my way through the group, I saw the inevitable, a mountain goat. Well, actually, we saw three mountain goats. First, we saw a father. Then, after the father had left, we saw a mother and a baby. The mother was licking the wooden fence to get the human salts left behind. The baby always kept close behind his mother. It was heart warming. 

Bleep-Bleep

You know, I think the most humorous thing that happened on my road trip was when my mom, Kati, cursed out at least five bicyclists. On our first day in Glacier National Park, we were driving back to our campsite on the Going-To-The-Sun-Road. Now, this road had no shoulder whatsoever, but it did have a herd of bicyclists, some of which drove in the middle of the road. My mother, who always hates bikes on the road, cursed — with the windows open — each and every bicyclist that came our way. Oh, and I can’t forget an example. When one bicyclist wouldn’t stay in her lane, Mom shouted out the window, “yah, yah you stay over, you stay over BIMBO.”

Drip…Drip

We were camped in Wisconsin along Lake Superior near the Apostle Islands, which, by the way, are beautiful. The first night we were there, we went to see Black Widow and it started to pour. When we got back, our tent was flooded and caved in so we had sleep in the car. The next night, we went to bed in the tent because it had dried out. In the morning, I woke up to a faint drip…drip…drip. A second later, I heard Kati say in an angry voice, “Alright, pack up and let’s move on!” I was confused because she always wanted more sleep and never ever made everyone pack up. That was Elizabeth’s job. I found out why this happened in like five minutes. Apparently, water had been dripping on her head from the top of the tent, even though it hadn’t rained. Elizabeth said it was probably due to the fog. 

That’s all folk’s 🙂

Categories
Empty Bench

Mars

Dear Dad,

You always joked that I had a limitless amount of energy, that I could keep going when everyone else was ready to drop. When G3 was born you laughed, “Now you will know what it’s like to have someone push you to the brink of exhaustion.” Well, Dad, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but even though I am getting old and my joints ache and my muscles are more easily strained, my stamina still defeats my young son. He is always ready to call it quits sooner than me. In fact, he told me that sometimes he just needs a rest day. I’ve never been a fan of those. I used to joke that there would be time enough to rest when I was dead, but lately that just doesn’t seem funny anymore.

Anyway, yesterday, I announced to my family that today I planned to go caching with a little bit of hiking thrown in. Kati had to stay home. Its October which means she will be spending every moment of her free time at her sewing machine, racing against the clock to get G3’s costume done by Halloween. G3 said he wanted to spend the day relaxing. I didn’t beg or plead for him to join me. But after breakfast, he changed his mind, saying he wanted to come. I was happy to have his company.

There is an Adventure Lab cache in Waterloo Village. I’ve been wanting to go, but we never seemed to have the time, and when we did, we always seemed to forget that it was there. It’s a restored nineteenth century village along the Morris Canal. Since it’s the off season, all the buildings were closed, but neither G3 nor I cared. We’ve been to so many historic sites, so many restored buildings. We honestly did not feel as if we were missing out. Besides, since it’s the off season parking was free — that’s a nice bonus. And the place was practically empty. That’s a huge win for me since you know how I feel about crowds.  The fact that the leaves are starting to change also added a bit of charm, making for a pleasant backdrop as we walked around the village. The buildings are all in different stages of restoration. There was one mansion that was so run down it looked haunted. G3 really liked it. There were five locations for this cache and we found the answers easily enough for all of them. G3 raced ahead, finding most of them before me then shouting the answers over his shoulder.

Once we completed the Adventure cache we set out on a short hike to find a few traditional caches. They had a pirate theme which excited G3 — remember how much he used to obsess over pirates.  But the mosquitoes were awful. They swarmed us, landing three, four, or five at a time on our legs, backs, and arms. We couldn’t swat them fast enough and I hadn’t thought to bring bug spray. They weren’t too bad while we were walking, but as soon as we stopped to hunt for a cache they couldn’t wait to suck our blood. After three caches we were done, we couldn’t take the torture any more. Our bodies were covered with bites.

Since we had to abruptly end our hike, G3 suggested we do another Adventure Lab cache and he found one only ten minutes away in Hackettstown. It home of Mars Wrigley factory. I’ve lived in New Jersey now for nearly two decades — oh dear shoot me now, I thought one year was bad — and I had no idea the factory was there. What really surprises me is that Kati and I, through the years, have done countless google searches looking for places to take G3. I would have thought Mars would have shown up in at least one of those searches. It never did. But we found it today. However, as per my glorious luck, they suspended tours due to COVID and have not yet resumed them. G3 was disappointed. He had been hoping for a sample or two. And of course Mars made us think of you. How could it not? The Milky Way was your favorite chocolate bar. And G3 knew it. Every year on Halloween, he always picked out all the mini-Milky Way bars from his trick-or-treating stash and gave them to you. Of course, he expected you to share them with him when he visited and you wouldn’t have had it any other way. When Mom and I were cleaning out the freezer in the Mattituck house, we found a ziplock bag with several bars still waiting for you. I suppose they will now have to wait an eternity.

I miss you!

Categories
Empty Bench

Closing

Dear Dad,

I struggled to get up this morning. The thought of tackling the day completely overwhelmed me. But I couldn’t figure out why my body felt heavier than usual, why my eyes refused to open, why all I wanted to do was go back to sleep. Then I reached for my phone and saw the date and tears replaced lethargy. 

Today was the closing. The house was sold. Mom no longer has to worry about it. But neither G3 nor I now have a place we can get excited about visiting. We no longer have a home to which we can escape.

And what really compounds the pain is that Mom had told me repeatedly that she would keep the house if I wanted to live there. It was tempting, more than a little appealing. But I couldn’t. My main reason was that there is no ATA Taekwondo on the East End, and Taekwondo was too important to G3. It gave him a sense of accomplishment. It built up his confidence. And he had switched to ATA because he wanted to compete. There was a time he looked forward to tournaments. However, he is now enjoying Boy Scouts so much that he said he wants to spend more time doing Scouting activities. He’s not sure he wants to commit to doing all the local tournaments because they may conflict with camping trips. This after Mom has sold the house, after it’s too late to change my mind. I stayed in New Jersey where I’ve never really been happy — where I’ve mostly encountered disappointment — so that G3 could continue doing something he had been passionate about. Boy Scouts is everywhere. I didn’t need to stay here for that. I had thought I was doing the right thing. Sacrificing something for myself so that my son could be happy. But I suppose this has taught me a valuable lesson. Never again will I ever make a decision based on what’s best for someone else. In the future, in all decision I make, my happiness will need to be a priority.

With a great deal of effort, I did pull myself out of bed. But I was in bad mood — cranky and sad — all day. Not exactly the best frame of mind to teach. The listlessness never really left me. I dragged myself through the day and made it to my desk, the few minutes I have to myself to write at the end of every day. 

Eighteen months (and two day) ago I drove you to the hospital. I hoped and prayed you would live, but the universe had other plans. For the last year and half I’ve been living an awful nightmare. And it seems to be getting worse. (A friend of mine even told me that if my life were fiction, if it were a novel, she would have stopped reading, because no one could really believe so much misery could happen to one person.) Will it ever get better? It’s bad enough you died, but I had no idea how far reaching the effects of your death would be. The loss of this house is just too much. I feel crushed beneath the weight of it. And the fact that I’m now completely trapped in New Jersey is awful. It’s not like I’m suddenly going to start liking it here.

I miss you!

Categories
Empty Bench

Block Island

Dear Dad,

Last weekend, G3 went on his first camping trip with the Boy Scouts. Oh how I wish you were here because you would have been really excited to hear him talk about it. You always enjoyed his enthusiasm about scouting.

This trip wasn’t just a plain old camping experience. They went to Block Island with their bicycles. G3 took the bicycle you bought him — the very last birthday present you ever gave him. He rides that bike and he thinks of you — always.

The boys bunked two to a tent. G3 made plans prior to departing to share a tent with his best Scout friend. But the day before they were due to leave his friend’s father emailed me to say his son wouldn’t be able to make it. He had been exposed to someone with COVID, and he was waiting on a negative test result which could take up to three days. Your grandson went from super fueled I-can’t-wait-to-get-there to extremely mopey. It was devastating to watch the joy drain out of him. 

The morning of the trip his stomach was killing him. Nerves devoured him because he didn’t really know anyone else going. He didn’t know how he could have fun without a friend to bunk with. Then, an hour before we left, his friend’s father texted to say the negative test result just came in and they were scrambling to pack. I told G3. He clasped his hands together, fell to his knees, looked toward the sky, and said,  “Thank you Grandpa.” (You still get all the credit. But maybe you did have a hand in speed of that test result because you always hated to see your grandson disappointed or sad.) The mood shift was instantaneous. Excitement once again claimed him. 

G3 was excited about the ferry ride there. He said it was getting dark and the sky had a haunting look about it. Plus the water was rough and since he was standing out front he got splashed in the face.

On Saturday, the boys biked around the island — somewhere in the ballpark of 20 miles. G3 said it was beautiful — more scenic than the Badlands and Glacier National Park combined.  “It was also very gay,” he informed us, telling us he never saw so many gay flags, not even in P-Town. Then he added, “P-town, Fire Island, and Block Island. I guess gay people really like areas that are remote.”

He loved being away from me and Kati. How great it was for him to do something without us. We asked him what his favorite part of the trip was and he answered, “The ice cream.” Apparently, one ice cream place makes delicious Oreo coffee milkshakes. One of the fathers who went on the trip told me G3 was very independent and did well being on his own. Another father said that G3 was well behaved and that his knowledge of literature and his interest in Classic Rock were impressive. I guess you’d be proud.

This morning, G3 FaceTimed Nona to tell her all about his adventure. I couldn’t sit at the table. All I could think about was you and how G3 always enjoyed his breakfast chats with you before school. And you always loved to hear all about what was going on in G3’s life. Your absence this morning was especially heavy. I had to keep busy to prevent myself from crying. This was such a big moment in G3’s life and you missed it.

While G3 was away, Kati and I drove up to Massachusetts to have lunch with Kati’s cousin and her cousin’s daughter whom we haven’t seen in nearly ten years. Our lunch stretched out over five hours — I guess we had a lot to catch-up on. And the conversation was pleasant. 

On Sunday, I went biking around our neighborhood and picked up a few Adventure Lab caches. I can never get G3 to take a long bike ride with me. Every time I wanted to get the near-by bike trail cache, he never had any interest. Of course, when he asked me what I did this weekend and I told him, he was mad at me. “I told you not to have any fun without me.” Hmmmmm…no, that’s not exactly how this works.

Tonight, we were driving home from his Boy Scout meeting and he talked the entire way home. He never talks that much, but he was really excited about all he had learned. The boys in his patrol have almost all earned the rank of Scout. They are now beginning to work on requirements for Tenderfoot. Today, they learned First Aid and G3 couldn’t wait to share all he head learned about the Heimlich maneuver, burns, and sprains. You would have loved listening to him. His chatter would have made you smile.

I miss you!

Categories
Empty Bench

50th Wedding Anniversary

Dear Dad,

Yesterday was your 50th wedding anniversary. You and Mom were supposed to be on a cruise touring Europe and celebrating. Instead, Mom was with me in Mattituck doing last minute cleaning and packing so that she can sell the house. It’s happening. There is no hope that she will change her mind. All is lost. As we were driving, she said, “This isn’t at all how I imagined things would go. Your father and I always talked about how when we died you’d get the house.” And you had even told G3 that someday the house would be his. But after three decades, the house is no longer my home.

In the late afternoon, after Mom and I finished packing, I took one last walk down to the sound. I walked on the rocks and beach where G3 and I spent so much time last year when I was homeschooling him. After all these years, it’s hard to believe that beach will no longer be part of my life.

Twice during the day, once while in the backyard and once while walking, a large group of small (maybe medium) sized birds took off from the surrounding trees, swarmed overhead, and then flew off. I am not sure what type of blackbird, my bird identification skills are poor, but I had never seen them here before. The fact that there were so many, that they flew so close, and appeared twice made me feel as if they were trying to tell me something— an omen I couldn’t quite read properly. Or maybe, I am losing my mind. That seems quite likely.

The movers came this morning. Mom is leaving most of the furniture behind but Kati and I need dressers and G3 really wants the couch. We are also taking the chest so G3 can store things in it. As soon as the movers arrived my stoicism completely dissolved and tears ran uncontrollably. I can’t believe this is my last day here. My last morning to wake up in my bed, to take a walk, to smell the salty air. I am in pieces. Packing up the car, I feel crushed by the weight of memories. I keep seeing G3 as a toddler, calling excitedly to you out the open car window for you to come and carry him into the house. I see you hurrying down the stairs, opening the door and pulling G3 into your arm. I keep replaying those happy mornings when we arrived for a long weekend or a week and I can’t believe those happy days are gone — forever.

The movers couldn’t take the couch. They couldn’t get it through the door and they couldn’t disassemble it because of all the electrical wiring. I have no idea how they got it in the house to begin with. Mom said you were here when it was delivered and would therefore know how they got it through the doorway. One more important piece of information you took to the grave. Mom had been outside working in the garden so she didn’t have a clue. G3 is distraught. He wanted the couch because of all the movies you and him watched while sitting on the couch together. The couch reminds him of you. I wanted it because it is practically new. You bought it relatively recently because you had no idea you would die so soon, no idea the house would get sold. 

The house is practically empty, the cabinets are bare. Whenever we came out you always made sure to have whatever food G3 and I liked best. The cabinets were always full, we never wanted for anything. You made sure of that. Now, all we want is you. One more day. One more hour. One more moment.

It is a beautiful late summer day. There is a soft gentle breeze that feels like fall. I am sitting out back on the deck listening to the leaves rustle and the birds chirp. And all I can do is cry because you are dead and Mom has sold the house. It’s too much loss, too much sorrow. I don’t know how to absorb it all. 

Mom even sold the kayaks. She sold them to the real estate agent because I don’t have room to store them at my place. We had so many fun excursions in the kayaks, exploring the inlets in Peconic. I begged her to keep them, to store them in the garage until I could move and had room for them, but she fears another flood, and the damage they might cause. But I still remember the day you bought the first kayak. You were so excited, like a little kid who finally got the toy they always wanted. And now that toy belongs to someone else.

The closing isn’t until the end of the month, but for all intents and purposes this is the end. What a contrast to last time movers showed up. I was ecstatic to get rid of the condo, euphoric to leave Bedminster. But today, getting ready to leave Mattituck for the last time I feel like my world is ending. How many times did I leave with G3? And each time, I didn’t even reach the end of the dirt road before he sighed heavily, “I miss Nona and Grandpa.” We could still see you in the rear view mirror but he couldn’t wait till we came back. Each time I promised him he’d see you again. Until we couldn’t. And now, when I leave it will be for good.

Thank you for all the good times we had and for all the wonderful memories. If you hadn’t made it so much fun, such a paradise for me and G3, leaving wouldn’t hurt this much.

I’m sure it was my imagination, but when I got in my car and shifted into reverse, I glanced back at the house and I swear I saw you sitting on the stoop hunched over and crying.

I miss you!

Categories
Pandemic Diaries

Day 542

I dreamed about Dad last night. It was the first time in ages. I was in Queens cleaning up after the flood, but instead of helping Mom, I was helping Dad. He was wearing black rubber rain boots, boots he never owned, boots that didn’t seem odd until I woke up and realized they didn’t suit his personality, not at all. In the dream, we were in the laundry room when suddenly I heard rain beating against the house. The sewer backed up again and water started pouring out of the bathroom. Dad ran to his car so he could drive it around to the front of the house to avoid it being damaged in another flood. I followed him, and when we returned, he and I stood outside, staring at my car which had been flipped by the rising water. The front tires were torn off and it was apparent the car was totaled. I panicked. What was going to do? How was I going to afford a new car? How could this have happened? I had been so focused on staying with Dad, not wanting to leave him, that my own car got destroyed. If only I had taken my car to safety. But I hadn’t even thought of it until it was too late. Together, Dad and I stood staring at the wreck. He shook his head and opened his mouth to talk, but he disappeared before he could speak. I woke up feeling completely disoriented and lost. It took me a couple of minutes to realize I was home in my own bed. 

This morning was rough. I didn’t want to get up. I was severely lacking in energy and I felt overwhelming depressed. It was the start of another school year and in a few days I’ll be yet another year older with absolutely nothing to show for it. Another year and still no job. True, this year it was by choice so that I could homeschool my son again, but that doesn’t really make me feel all that much better. Each year I keep hoping that something good will happen. But it never does. I never seem to move forward. And as I sat in bed, immobile, I couldn’t help but think of all the things that have been taken from me in the last eighteen months. There seemed little point in actually getting up. The world would tick on as it always had even if I didn’t respond, if I just closed my eyes and pretended to disappear. But I couldn’t because it was the first day of school.

We decided to homeschool our son for at least another semester. We didn’t make this decision lightly, but several factors influenced our decision: 1) We aren’t exactly happy where we are and at the end of our lease we hope to move. Why start G3 in a school only to pull him out and start somewhere new all over again. That seemed like too much angst for a kid. 2) Middlesex schools don’t exactly have a very high rating and we didn’t want him to be bored. 3) There is still a Pandemic going on and this time it is affecting kids. G3 would be the only kid in his class vaccinated and there are many parents in the district (as I see on social media) who are against masks. I didn’t want him getting into fights with other kids who might not be diligent about mask wearing. If a kid near him got COVID then he could end up at home quarantined and then what would he do since he refuses to get on camera and learn remotely. The school he is zoned to attend has poor ventilation. And well, most importantly, we don’t want him getting sick. 

Of course the downside to me homeschooling is that he will have very limited peer interaction. But that’s what Taekwondo and Boy Scouts are for. He won’t go more than a day without seeing someone his own age. Also, there is science, which I’m not exactly equipped to teach, but the textbook this year is soooooooo much better than the one we had last year. I won’t feel like a complete imbecile trying to convey information. Although, to be perfectly frank, today we read the first lesson together and G3 absorbed it far more quickly than I did. I guess if he could explain the physics to me that’s proof that he understood it at least a little — right?

G3 was not happy to start a new school year. My spouse wanted him to take a couple of diagnostic tests online to make sure he was on grade level — proof, she said, of where he is so that we can get him appropriately placed when he returns to real school. I wasn’t happy about the idea of testing. I hate tests. No, hate is far too gentle of a word. The only thing testing ever taught me was that I was stupid. I’m still scarred by all the tests I never quite did well enough on. In fact, if it’s possible to suffer PTSD from taking tests, then I definitely do. Reluctantly, I gave in, but only after stating that if G3 didn’t do well I was quitting. Kati laughed — apparently she had more faith in me and G3 than I did. Or maybe she just isn’t as jaded by the whole testing process. G3 did okay in Math. Overall, he’s on grade level. But in English he surprised me. His scores made me feel that my time was well spent last year. For years, some of the teachers and all the administrators in Bedminster told me that they knew better than me, that G3 wasn’t above grade level. They refused to put him in any advanced reading classes. G3’s scores today proved to me that he was wasting his time in that school — at least when it came to reading and writing.

After school, we went for a bike ride — I’ll call it gym class. Everywhere we went the curb was lined with garbage, property destroyed by flooding. It’s depressing how much needed to be thrown away. For some people, based on the size and the condition of their houses, they lost, if not everything, then nearly everything. We got lucky. I can’t imagine how much rougher it would have been if I had to clean up in both New York and New Jersey.

Categories
Empty Bench

Flood Continued

Dear Dad,

How many Labor Day weekends did I spend at the Mattituck House? How many did G3 spend there? I think — except for the year you were in France, and the first year you were dead — he spent every Labor Day weekend of his young life with you. And what used to made Labor Day weekend extra special was that you always took me out for an early birthday dinner. It was our last bit of fun before the school year began, our last dance with summer before reality set in. This year, G3 and I were supposed to spend our last weekend ever in Mattituck, but God, Mother Nature, Fate, whatever you wish to call that alleged divine force, refused to allow it. Instead, I spent Labor Day weekend laboring. 

On Saturday morning, after a painful goodbye out in Long Island, G3 and I returned to Glendale so that I could continue helping Mom clean up from the flood. She had accomplished a great deal in my absence. Neighbors helped her carry the couch and Poppy’s sewing table outside. She also got rid of my horse, your desk chair, and your suitcases — all things that were damaged or destroyed. If it had only been water, some of it might have been salvaged, but sewer water made it all too gross to save. I feel bad. Mom had said G3 could have your smaller suitcase. He feels he’s outgrown the R2-D2 one you bought him for our second trip to Disney. But I kept forgetting to put it in my car to take home. I thought I’d have time. I’m beginning to think I really gotta stop thinking that. Every time I think I have time, it turns out I don’t. 

I got to work immediately. G3 helped me carry Poppy’s antique Singer sewing machine out of the house. As we set it down at the curb, my mind raced backwards and I could see myself sitting in Poppy’s basement watching him sew. As a kid, I thought he could make anything, and he did make me dresses and jackets. Girl clothes because that’s what I was supposed to wear. Do you remember when Poppy made my brother a brown robe so that he could be St. Joseph for some pageant at Sacred Heart? He was young, maybe kindergarten or first grade. Then G3 inherited it years ago when it was big enough that the hem nearly touched his toes. Well, he still wears it. Obviously it’s much smaller on him, and he only wears it as a nightshirt to bed, but I don’t think he’ll actually let me retire it from his dresser until he can’t get it on at all. 

The TV stand was cracked and leaning worse than that tower in Pisa. The books on the shelf were saturated, and holding the damn thing up. Without the books, I’m certain the stand would have fallen over and the TV would have splashed into the flood water. I carried the TV upstairs and then broke apart the stand with my hands. The water had so bloated the wood that I could easily pull the pieces apart. 

Mom managed to save many of the pictures that got wet. She rinsed them off — one at a time —in clean water and then pinned them up on the clothesline to dry. Some she put on a towel in front of a fan — the many faces of me stretching from when I was a baby up through college. The pictures of you and her parents she worked the hardest to try and save. I guess, when the people you love are no longer alive, suddenly their pictures and anything else that reminds you of them suddenly become much more valuable.

I scrubbed the baseboards which were black from the shitty remnants left behind when the water receded. I scrubbed under the bathroom sink, behind the toilet, and under your desk, all the hard to reach places so that Mom wouldn’t have to get down on her knees. The mess in the cabinet beneath the sink in the laundry room was disgusting. Behind one of the doors it looked like several people had defecated and the smell seemed to support it. Cleaning that out was perhaps the grossest thing I’ve ever had to do. The cabinet will need to be replaced. The water damage is extensive. The wood is buckling and peeling. The shit is caked in the wood — all the scrubbing in the world isn’t going to remove all of it. And in some places the wood is gaping.

Your pin collection got wet. We had taken the three picture frames holding your pins off the walls in Mattituck and taken them to Queens. They were in a bin that should have been high enough off the ground to stay safe — but it wasn’t. Not this time around. The back of the frames were spongy and wet. G3 and I broke them apart and pulled all the pins off the soiled backing. We then soaked them in bleach and soap and I scrubbed each of them. I know how important they were to you. At some point, we will get new frames. G3 is adamant about it. He has already claimed them as part of his inheritance. 

My old trophies were sitting in water — another bin that got flooded. As I unwrapped each of them — Mom had gone to great lengths to pad and protect them with bubble wrap and paper — it was impossible not to remember the high I felt when I earned them. They were for MVP and high scorer in basketball, high average in bowling, batting average for softball, and participation trophies for dance (those I just threw away). I remembered walking out of various award ceremonies and you beaming at me, pride evident in your eyes. But sadly, all those awards never amounted to anything. I never got as far as I had hoped. I told mom she didn’t have to save the trophies any more. They meant a lot more to a kid with big dreams than to an adult who has watched each of her dreams turn to dust. But mom started to cry, and so I cleaned them with beach and soap so that she could store them once more.

For three days we cleaned and purged. We filled many garbage bags and we’d load them into Mom’s hand cart and G3 would push them around to the front to deposit on the curb. All laws regarding garbage pick-up were suspended. One sanitation worker told us to just keep putting things out and the garbage trucks would keep coming around. No one would be ticketed for putting trash out on the wrong day. The irony of the climate crisis. We’ve warmed our planet to the point that storms are more severe, the flooding more intense. As a result, there is far more trash, so much more plastic being poured into landfills. Let’s destroy our planet even more. And most people will go out and buy more stuff. It makes me wonder, do they really need it? Do any of us really need half the things that clutter our houses? My guess is no. 

As for Mom, I don’t think she’ll be replacing anything. I’m trying to convince her that she needs to move. That house it too big for one person. She doesn’t need to tax herself cleaning so much space. Plus, she doesn’t need to be doing yard work. This Glendale house is the one she should sell. I’ve advised her to think about moving into a retirement community. She’s been resistant. All of her memories of you are bound up in that house. It’s where she raised her children. But this flood might be what she needed to see reason. She can’t keep cleaning up like this. It’s just too much for her. Yes, I was able to help her this weekend, but who know if I’ll be able to next time — and there will be a next time. 

I worked until late Monday afternoon and then I returned to New Jersey. G3 starts school on Wednesday and he had plans to meet up with a friend today. I didn’t want to cancel because he won’t be in real school, surrounded by peers. Time with friends is important at his age. My brother said he would come up and spend some time helping Mom. She will need help getting people in to repair the damage and she’ll need help placing her insurance claims. President Biden declared parts of NYC a disaster area and we are hoping that Mom will be able to get some help from FEMA. But what Mom really needs most is you. If you were here you’d be able to handle everything as you always did. You’d know who to call. You’d be familiar with placing insurance claims. But mostly, you’d be able to calm Mom and put her at ease. Without you, everything to her always seems so much worse, so much more overwhelming. She misses you, and at times like this, your absence is suffocating.

This morning, I called Mom, as I always do. She told me she found a box full of  souvenirs she had gotten on the many family vacations we took when I was younger. The box, like everything else, was wet. There are a few souvenirs Mom thinks she’ll be able to salvage, but the others are ruined. She cried as she told me about them. More memories that will be tossed into the garbage. Some things can be replaced, memories and mementoes can’t.

You will be happy to know that, today, one of Mom’s former classmates from St. Pancras went to her house to help her with some more cleaning. He brought along his power washer to clean the basement, the basement bathroom, and the garage. When I spoke to Mom a little while ago I could hear the relief in her voice. There was less anxiety and she could breathe a little more easily. Her former classmate knew about the flood and the damage because of my initial posting about it. Another one of Mom’s former classmates — I think you knew him too, I think you went to high school together — reads my blog and he notified their graduating class. He too offered to help, but Mom told him she was okay, that she and I had already done the bulk of the cleaning. It is, however, nice to know that there are still kind people in the world, people willing to help those who need it. 

I miss you!

Categories
Empty Bench

Goodbye

Dear Dad,

Despite the horrible flood, Mom wanted G3 to have one final day at the beach in Mattituck. So, while she stayed in Glendale to continue cleaning the basement, I took G3 back out to Long Island for a day. Since it was going to be his last and he wanted it to be perfect, he planned it out making sure he got to go everywhere and do everything he wanted. It turned out to be one of those days where I didn’t say no, not at all, not once. I couldn’t, and I know you wouldn’t have wanted me to. And everywhere we went, he asked me to take his picture, in case at some point his future his memory failed. Although, I can’t imagine how he could possibly forget anything related to Mattituck — his once upon a time favorite place on the planet.

Early in the day, it became apparent that he wasn’t only saying goodbye to Mattituck, he was saying goodbye to you. I’m not sure he realized it, but every place we visited he shared a memory that almost always began with, “Do you remember the time Grandpa…” Or, “Grandpa always took me…” He never did get to say goodbye to you, and I know it bothers him, though he rarely speaks of it. Maybe saying goodbye in this way will bring him a bit of closure. Although a house, a town, can’t hug him the way you once did.

First on his list was a trip to the library. I know you’re not surprised. We spent so many hours there in the last eleven years it would have been wrong not to visit one last time. Before going, we stopped to pick up some flowers for the children’s librarian. She’s been so good to us that it would have been wrong not to give her a parting gift. It was Mom’s idea and she felt bad she couldn’t come with us, but there was the basement in Queens to deal with. The librarian seemed sorry to see us go. She said she’ll miss us and the us included you. But we’ve all been missing you for more than a year now. She reminisced about your visits, how you were always so cheerful, so talkative, so engaging. Everyone who knew you, will remember you. G3 wandered over to the “Elephant and Piggie” books and wanted me to take his picture with them. He recalled when he was younger and all the times he would take out a stack of those books to read with you. No one could ever match your enthusiasm or the emotion in your voice when you read Elephant’s lines. You really brought those books alive.

There was no question where we were eating lunch. How many time did you take G3’s to McDonalds? We went together as a family, and sometimes, when G3 got older, just the two of you would go for your boys’ outings. I’m not sure what he liked more, the hamburgers or spending time with you. I don’t eat McDonals, so I brought pretzels and hummus, but he didn’t seem to care. As always, part of me kept waiting for you to arrive, to pull into the parking lot and join us. But of course you didn’t. You couldn’t.

The beach hasn’t been the same since you died, but still we had fun. It was chilly, barely seventy degrees, but G3 told me I had to go in the water. It was, after all, our last day there, and he didn’t want to hear any excuses. I didn’t want to disappoint him and so I went in and we had a few swimming races. He’d throw a tennis ball as far as he could, and as soon as it landed with a splash, he’d shout, “Go.” I beat him almost every time, but he’s nearly as fast as me. It won’t be long until he can beat me every time. Then, for old times sake, he asked me to throw him. Remember when he was a year old and the Patch reporter saw me tossing him up in the air. She asked if she could take our picture, and she published it. I used to be able to get some serious height, not so much any more. Now, it’s more like pushing a shot put and I never was very good at that. But G3 didn’t seem to mind too much. He laughed each time I struggled to launch.

The moment G3 heard the ice cream truck, he sprinted off the beach and to the parking lot. I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised to learn he was first on line. We each got an ice cream cone, and for reasons I’m not exactly sure about, G3 bit the bottom of his cone. Chocolate ice cream immediately dribbled onto his arm and dripped onto his leg and as he tried to clean it off he announced, “I didn’t expect that.”  Yeah, he’s a smart kid — most of the time.

G3 said he really wanted to watch one more sunset at the sound. I’ll never forget the sunset he insisted on watching with you two years ago. With his arms around your neck posing for photo, he looked so happy. You both did. If that night someone had told me I’d never again watch another sunset with you I wouldn’t have believed them. How could I? You were healthy and COVID wasn’t even around yet. I thought we’d still have many more summers together in Mattituck. At least you left us with many happy memories.

For dinner, I promised G3 banana splits from Magic Fountain. He also wanted to watch a Marvel movie in memory of you. One last movie in his favorite house, one last cuddle in your reclining chair, but since you weren’t there, he cuddled with me instead. We watched Captain America: The  Winter Soldier because he knows I like Black Widow and she’s one of the main characters. And when the movie ended, he didn’t want to go to bed because it was his last night in the house. The last time he would ever go to bed in the place that always made him happiest.

In the morning, he woke up with tears in his eyes. He didn’t want to get out of bed. I wrapped my arms around him and we cried together. “I had a dream last night,” he told me. “Grandpa walked into my room and told me not to leave. He told me I had to stay.” And that only made me cry harder. It took us forever to leave because G3 didn’t want to go. I had to take his picture in every room, and when he sat on your dresser and stared at the bed where the two of you used to read together the pain on his face was heartbreaking. Leaving that house with him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. And when I pulled out of the driveway we were both still crying. “Do you remember,” G3 asked, “whenever we left Grandpa always waved and made funny faces. I miss him waving.” Of course I remember, and every time we left, we’d go only about ten meters when G3 was already complaining that he missed you and Nona. And every time I told him not to be sad because we’d see you again. But now, you’re dead and he’ll never go back to your house. The house will be sold. The chapter, the long and happy chapter, has come to an end.

G3 wouldn’t let me leave without one last trip to the beach. I stopped at McDonalds, bought him breakfast, and he ate at the beach. When he finished eating, he took an empty water bottle and filled it with sand. In the car, he requested that we listen to Billy Joel — your favorite singer — and as we pulled onto the highway he said, “It’s not fair. It’s just not fair. I want more time. I want Grandpa.”

I know how he feels. He’s not the only one who misses you. And he’s not the only one who will miss the Mattituck house.

Categories
Empty Bench

Flood

Dear Dad,

Mom is hurting — physically and emotionally. She is getting hit by too much. This was supposed to be our last weekend in Long Island — our last Labor Day at the beach house. I knew it was going to be hard, but now it’s not even going to happen. Yesterday morning, G3 and I drove out to Mattituck. Mom had been here a week by herself and I know she was terribly lonely.  She was really looking forward to our company. There were still several things we needed to do in order to get the house ready to sell, but mostly we were going to go to the beach a few more times and visit some of G3’s favorite places. But yesterday it rained so we couldn’t go to the beach. Then last night the rain came down with a vengeance. It battered the house and smashed against the windows. The forecast had called for rain, but no one predicted the wrath of what remained of Hurricane Ida. Before bed, I checked Facebook and found my New Jersey friends posting disturbing videos and messages of water reaching their doors, streams raging like rivers, and cars being carried away. One friend messaged me to ask if we had flooded and she told me that there was water in her basement. I texted Kati to ask if water had gotten into our house — it hadn’t. I thought we were lucky. I was wrong.

This morning, while I was out walking Debby called Mom to tell her there was water in her basement. She never used to flood.  If water had gotten into her house, the city house most certainly was underwater. So much for a quiet, peaceful, and relaxing day at the beach. There was no question, we had to go back to Queens to assess the damage. But first, I had to take Mom to meet with the lawyer so she could sign papers for the closing. I didn’t want to go, because I don’t want her to go through with selling the house, but there’s nothing I can do to stop her. I took her and looked on with tears in my eyes as she signed the necessary paperwork.

Oh Dad, I wish you were here. I wish Mom wasn’t alone in the house because the damage was so much worse than we expected. In the forty-three years Mom has lived there, the house had never flooded as badly as it did last night. The water level on the back of the house reached fifty inches. Inside, it hit twenty-eight inches. A neighbor showed me a video of the flood last night, and the community drive looked like a white water river. The violence of it must have been intense because it broke the garage. The garage door was raised a foot off the ground and the track it rides on was busted. Mom will have to call to get a new garage door.

Most of the water inside the house had receded. But there was brown gunk all over the floor. It was gross. But considering it came from the toilet and the overflowing sewers out back it wasn’t surprising. What made the damage completely devastating was the fact that we — Mom and I — have been cleaning out the Mattituck house. The things Mom most wanted to keep, the things that most reminded her of you, she had asked me to take to the Queens house as I drove back and forth across state lines. The things that were in plastic bins she told me to put on the floor. They would be fine, she thought, if she flooded because the water never reached that high. Other things she had asked me to put on the table or the couch. Again, they were off the floor and she expected they would be safe. They weren’t. The water sloshed through the basement knocking over the bins and cresting over the table, saturating pictures and destroying electronics. The waffle iron that is older than me, the waffle iron you used to make waffles in all the time, had to be thrown away. I cried. We can get another waffle iron, but it won’t be the same. It won’t be yours. And the picture of you and Mom and Fireball that used to be on the Mattituck fireplace mantle was floating in water. All the wine corks that you saved for so many years had fallen into the sewage water. Mom had wanted to save the corks because that made her think of you but now she has to throw them away.

Because there was still enough water to cause us to slip and slide, Mom asked me to go to Home Depot to pick up a water vac and a dehumidifier. Of course, by the time I got there, they were all sold out. My brother ordered a dehumidifier online but it won’t arrive until Saturday. The water we pushed out of the house with a broom and a mop. While I was out, I stopped at Trader Joes. I knew Mom didn’t have much food in the house because she had been in Long Island. I also knew that she’d be so exhausted from cleaning that she wouldn’t want to cook, so I picked up some ready made meals. Food that would be easy and quick to heat up. 

All of the files you kept in the basement, the files that Mom updated, got soaked. Mom asked me to take them out of their folders and hang them on the clothes line. I hung them up and they dripped onto me and the floor. Nothing like having poop water drip into your hair and down your shirt — yuck!

The sewing table and the sewing machine that used to belong to Poppy were also ruined. Mom held on to them for all these years because they were her father’s and they brought back memories of him, but now they too will need to be thrown away. And the toys that my brother and I once played with, toys that became G3’s are now in the trash. Water even got into the horse. The horse I got so many years ago for Christmas, the horse Libby used to love to ride even when we were in high school, the horse that G3 used to jump on for a quick wild ride before going home is now history.

Last year, shortly after you died, the hot water heater stopped working. Mom had to replace it. At the time she felt as if her entire world were falling apart and the little things like the broken hot water heater only made it worse. The flood damaged it beyond repair and so she will have to replace it yet again. 

What hurt Mom the most was the fact that water seeped into the plastic bin in the closet that held all of her keepsakes: pictures I drew as a child, her diplomas from elementary school and high school, your baby book, souvenirs from cruises you took together, and so much more. The water was still in the bin. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to salvage much of it. It’s hard enough that Mom lost you, now she lost things that remind her of you. Even your suitcases, the suitcases the two of you took on so many adventures are ruined. Mom never expected the water to get so high, she never expected the water to breach the plastic. If only I had been there. If only we had been in Glendale instead of Mattituck, we’d have been able to race some things upstairs out of harm’s way. But by the time we got there it was too late. Mom can’t stop crying about all she lost.

We spent all afternoon and the early evening dragging things out of the house and cleaning up, but we barely made a dent. There is still water in several more bins in the closets. The bathroom is black and disgusting. But we could do no more today. Mom was exhausted and I had to get back to Mattituck. There are still things I need to take care of here. And Mom really wants me to take G3 to the beach tomorrow. She’s feeling guilty about the house as it is and she wants him to have at least one more day at the bay. I know I should be there helping her, but I can’t be in two places at once. I have lost count over how many times, since you died, that I’ve wished I could split myself in half. But there is only one of me, there is only so much I can do. So tomorrow will be all about G3. I will take him to the beach and to wherever else he wishes to go. Then on Saturday morning we’ll get up early and I’ll return to the city for three intense days of cleaning. I texted my brother to let him know how bad things are. He promised he’ll come up next week to help Mom since school will start and I’ll have to be in New Jersey with G3. Since my brother doesn’t have children, he doesn’t need to split himself in half like me. I’m glad he will be here. He’ll be able to help Mom with all the things you used to do, like contacting the insurance company.

Driving back to Mattituck, G3 cried. I have never seen or heard him cry that much, not even when you died. Through the tears he said, “I remember being so excited when you used to wake me up early in the morning to drive out to Mattituck. You’d take me out of bed and carry me to the car. And when we got out there Grandpa always gave me a hug. He’d make cinnamon buns and they’d always be ready for me. And then Grandpa would make waffles the next day. And he’d get me ice cream. I’d give anything for one more hug from Grandpa, just one. All I want is to say goodbye. I never got to say good-bye.” So it’s not just the selling of the house. The house and you are so tightly intertwined in his mind that in losing the house he’s losing you all over again. And he didn’t stop. He continued, “I’m going to miss the Easter egg hunts. And all the times Grandpa took me to the corn maze. I miss him so much. I’m going to miss the house. I can’t believe tomorrow will be my last day there. My very last day. It’s not fair.” All I could do was cry with him because I feel as crushed as he does. I too wish I had gotten to say goodbye. 

G3 is now sleeping. I’m sitting up writing on Mom’s computer because I left mine at home. I didn’t plan to do any writing this weekend. My ankle is swollen and pain is surging through my foot. It’s an old injury. Or should I say injuries. How many times did I sprain my ankle through the years playing sports? It had been bothering me for a while, but slipping and sliding and trying to regain my balance over and over again today put too much strain on it. And walking in flip-flops to carry garbage bags around to the front of the house didn’t help either. I feel like G3, how can I have just two nights left in this house? How come I still expect you to walk through the door and announce that everything will be okay?

Like Mom, I am physically and emotionally exhausted. I’m practically numb.

I miss you!

Categories
Empty Bench

Second Degree Black Belt

Dear Dad,

You would be so proud of your grandson. Yesterday, he tested for and earned his second degree black belt. I wish you could have been there to watch him, you would have been in awe over how well he did. Two years ago, on Father’s Day weekend, when he tested for his first degree belt you missed it. You were very disappointed you couldn’t be there, but you had booked a cruised on the Nile and you and Mom were flying home from Egypt when G3 tested. He was sad you couldn’t be there, but you promised him that nothing would stand in your way of being there for his next big belt milestone. Unfortunately, death is stronger than a promise. I know if COVID hadn’t kill you, you would have been there cheering him on. It’s awful that every new achievement in G3’s life is now shadowed by your absence.

For his test he had to do his form — the form which he has been competing with for more than a year. We had no doubt that he would pass that component. When you perform well enough to place second in districts and third — twice in a row — in a second degree ring, testing isn’t much of a challenge. He isn’t yet as strong in sparring as he is in forms, but we’ve learned over the years that the bar is lower during a test than it is in a tournament. However, to make it more interesting, he had to spar two of his instructors. He didn’t need to defeat them, he only needed to prove that he was competent. The scoring is based on a rubric, and the judges look to make sure he is doing certain things — like faking and blocking. While he sparred, the other kids beat their hands on the mat and clapped, setting a rhythm to support him and cheer him on. 

Finally, he had to break three boards — two using hand techniques and one with a kick. He got to choose what he wanted to do. For his hands, he chose a back fist punch and a palm heel strike. For the kick, his instructor challenged him to do a running jump side kick in which he had to jump over two shields. In short, he was putting on a show and he enjoyed every moment of it. He broke the first board with his fist then he missed the palm heel strike — but he did break it easily on his second attempt. However, his kick was the most impressive. He looked like he was flying. He took a few running steps, launched himself into the air, and his foot went right through the board. I can’t believe he kicked and broke a board that was as high as his head. His instructor’s wife took a slow-motion video and I probably watched it a dozen times. I texted it to Mom so that she could see him. If there had been a way to text it to you as well, I would have.

G3 didn’t need to perform his sword form for his test, but since it was taught this cycle and since the other students needed to perform it for their mid-terms, his instructor had him do a demonstration. The sword form is one of the reasons we switched — three years ago — to an ATA school. Learning traditional Taekwondo wasn’t enough. G3 was itching to learn weapons. As soon as he earned his black belt, he asked his instructor to teach him the sword form which he learned in addition to everything else he needed to learn for his various mid-terms. His form is now graceful and smooth, and he had the mat to himself as he showed off his skill to the spectators.  

Before G3’s instructor presented him with his new belt, he said a few complimentary words. He told G3 that he likes the fact that he is always pushing himself, always wanting to learn something new and improve what already knows. When it was our turn to speak, I deferred to Kati. When G3 earned his first degree belt, I prepared a short speech. I figured it wouldn’t be fair if I spoke each time. But Kati also scoffed at me for writing a speech when most parents just say a few words — but hey, it’s not every day your kid accomplishes something big and I like writing. Kati did not prepare a speech, but she did tell G3 we were both very proud of him.

After the test, we took pictures and then G3 stepped back onto the mat and started doing the second degree form — the form he isn’t even supposed to start learning until his next class. Apparently, just from watching the other competitors in his ring, he learned almost the first two lines (there are eight in total) of the new form. To give you an indication of how impressive this is, at his level, students are given ten weeks to learn two lines. On average, it takes four cycles — forty weeks — to learn an entire new form. But as you probably have guessed, G3 will want to learn this form sooner than that so that he can start doing it at tournaments. I’m sure his instructor will have to tweak what he already knows, but his memory impresses me. He sure didn’t get it from me.

For dinner, we went out to celebrate. G3’s friend D and his family joined us. We went to the hibachi place in Somerville. Do you remember it? The last time G3 and I ate there was two years ago when you surprised me for my birthday. You showed up at my condo unexpectedly and I pulled G3 out of school so that he could spend the afternoon with you. I’m so glad I did; it was one of the last outings we had together. Anyway, G3 had a great time last night with his friend and his friend’s younger brother. The three boys laughed while the hibachi chef set a fire on the grill and then squirted water in all their mouths and sprayed their faces. The food was good and even the adults all seemed to enjoy conversing with each others.

The only thing that would have made today more perfect would have been your presence. 

I miss you!

Categories
Pandemic Diaries

Day 527

I am back in Mattituck. I came out yesterday to spend time with Mom and to help with the house. She was lonely being here alone. Since she doesn’t drive, she was trapped in the house and couldn’t go anywhere. It rained all day when I arrived, so we played dominos. Mom was happy to have company, someone to play games with. Long Island doesn’t usually get hit by hurricanes or tropical storms. That fact that one struck over the weekend has convinced me that Dad is somewhere crying hysterically. If he weren’t already dead, the selling of the house would kill him. Luckily, the storm wasn’t as bad as they predicted on the news. The rain fell heavily at times, but Mom said the wind never really kicked up. She had been worried that a tree would fall or that other damage would occur, but it didn’t. 

Today, we packed up my car with things we will no longer need and took them to the dump. Many of the things were still in good condition but didn’t sell at mom’s estate sale. Getting rid of them was depressing. I cried when I put the rakes into the car remembering all the November days I came out here to rake leaves with Dad. It had become a tradition. Every year during teacher convention, when my son had a four day weekend, we came out here to tend to the yard. I’m really going to miss doing that. Dad always thought I was crazy because I actually enjoy raking. There is something soothing and meditative about it. Yeah, I can rake leaves at home now, but it won’t be the same. Dad won’t be there. And it won’t be here, at this house.

Mom wanted to go to the beach. It’s been hot and since she doesn’t drive she wasn’t able to go swimming without me. But alas, the gods were cruel. The beach was closed. Actually, we could sit on the sand if we wanted, but we couldn’t go in the water. There was too much bacteria due to the storm. I asked mom if she wanted to stay, but the thought of sitting out on a hot day without being able to get wet didn’t appeal to her. So we turned around and went home. (You know, when towns close beaches due to bacteria, you never hear people screaming about government overreach. You never see people jumping into the water shouting, “It’s my right to swim in bacteria infected water. Don’t you dare tell me what I can and cannot do.” Or, “In America I’m free to do whatever I want, so don’t try to stop me from swimming.” Seriously, when people are told they can’t swim because the water isn’t safe, people trust the town. They trust the government. If they trust the authorities when it comes to bacteria, why not trust them when it comes to a virus?)

At home, we packed. I have to go back to New Jersey tomorrow. Kati has a car appointment and needs me to pick her up at the mechanic so she doesn’t have to sit around and wait. Mom decided that she’s going to stay out here again by herself. I tried to talk her out of it, but she still needs to find someone to take the furniture. Plus, if she doesn’t come back with me, I can fit more stuff in the car to drop off in Glendale. And Mom doesn’t want to hire movers, so the extra space means an extra bin of memories I can transport.

After we packed, I started reading the Alchemist by Pablo Coelho. The school year starts in two weeks which means I need to start planning my lessons. It’s always hard to transition back into teaching but at least I don’t have to deal with administrative BS. I can simply dive into material that interests me and my one one pupil. He gave me a list of the books he wants to read. Some are too long to squeeze into one semester. Others I think would bore him, or they bored me the first time I read them. And almost every author on his list is a dead European or North American white man. (And I can’t just teach the classic European white guys since diversity is a cornerstone in my curriculum.) Since Pablo Coelho is Brazilian and the Alchemist is a brilliant novel I figured we’d start the year with it. After our long road trip this summer, I think it will be the perfect book for him to get back into the mindset of school.

Categories
Pandemic Diaries

Day 525

Yesterday, my son competed in a taekwondo tournament. He did well taking third place in both weapons and forms. I am especially proud of how well he did considering he is still wearing a first degree black belt but competing in a second degree ring. (Next week, he will test for second degree). In sparring, he didn’t do quite so well. He lost in the first round. He needs more practice sparring to do well consistently. And I’m sure the five weeks he took off to explore the west didn’t help. 

In the last tournament, back in June, my son came in second place in sparring. The boy, Jakub, who beat him in the final round kicked him in the jaw. The injury was bad enough to require ice. There were no hard feelings. It’s all part of the game. If you didn’t want to be kicked you wouldn’t spar. But yesterday, Jakub went up to my son to ask him how he was, making sure that he hadn’t hurt him too badly. Score one for the kid on sportsmanship. But the kid’s character really came through in the final round of sparring yesterday. He was up against another boy and half way through the round it was tied at zero. After a break, as the judge was about to resume play, Jakub pointed to his opponent and alerted the judge to the fact that he didn’t look right. He immediately turned around and took a knee — the proper etiquette when an opponent is injured. As soon as the judge stopped the play, the other boy dropped to his knees and fainted. It turned out is was an asthma attack. A medic was called and she deemed the boy unable to continue. Jakub won by forfeit. But he deserved that win more than if he had fought it out. He saw his opponent wasn’t up for continuing and instead of using it to his advantage to score a point or two, he stopped the match. He had no idea that the match wouldn’t continue. He gave the boy a chance to come back on equal footing. That’s the sort of thing that should be rewarded. I’m not sure many other kids would have been as sensitive or as aware of their opponent’s mindset. If I were handing out a sportsmanship award, it would definitely go to Jakub. 

Now, don’t start thinking I’ve had a complete personality change and cast off all cynicism. While I can certainly identify the good in the world when I see it, there are still enough evil people in the world to piss me off. At the tournament, everyone was required to wear a mask. When the competitors were on the mat, they were able to remove them, but as soon as they stepped off, they were supposed to put them back on. Most people wore a mask. Some didn’t wear them properly, but for the most part people did what they were supposed to. However, Mr. R decided that the rules didn’t apply to him. He was the father of one of the boys in my son’s ring and he didn’t even go through the facade of putting something on his face. When I pointed him out to another parent she informed me that if people were wearing an orange wristband they had a medical exemption and didn’t need to wear a mask. That annoyed me. If someone has a medical reason that they can’t keep others safe they should stay the hell home. But I checked R’s wrists. He wasn’t sporting an orange band. Instead, all afternoon, he stood in the arena filled with kids — many of whom are not yet eligible to be vaccinated — and spread his germs. My spouse wouldn’t let me confront him about it, and the people running the event didn’t seem to care. But I was enraged. These are vulnerable kids. Just because they are proficient fighters doesn’t mean they are immune to the Delta variant. R proved himself to be the very definition of a selfish asshole. But maybe he was just thinking strategically. If he infects the competitors on the mat and they get sick enough, then it limits the competition for his son. I’m glad we got our son vaccinated. If we hadn’t, I’m sure I’d have said something to moron.

While my son was competing, my mom had an estate sale. She was hoping to sell the furniture in the Mattituck house. Many people showed up, but not a single person was interested in furniture. She sold a few knickknacks and some gardening tools but the big items are still at the house. The furniture is in excellent condition and it’s cheap. If you have need for furniture and a way to transport it, let me know. If you know someone who works for a charity that could use it, maybe I could persuade Mom to give it to you.

I was supposed to drive back out to Mattituck this morning, but due to the hurricane, I’m stranded in New Jersey. I had been hoping to get on the road early this morning, but after listening to the news yesterday, I didn’t think it was safe. The winds were supposed to kick-up and the rain was predicted to be torrential. It’s rough for Mom to be out on Long Island alone, especially since she doesn’t drive. But what good would I be to her if I got into an accident. The weather should be a bit better tomorrow. It will still be raining, but the hurricane should pass back out to sea by then allowing me to get to Mom. 

There is a cricket trapped in the house. He (or she) has set up residence in the kitchen. I love crickets. Their chirp is like a lullaby. It calms me. Hearing them makes me smile, perhaps because they remind me of Long Island. But my spouse doesn’t feel the same. To her the cricket is maddening. She verbally invited him to leave but he answered with a short chirp that, when translated, obviously meant no. When he gets loud and persistent she shouts through the house for him to shut up. He responds by chirping more loudly. 

Since it rained all day, we spent the afternoon playing board games. We played the games — Sorry and Clue Master Detective — that used to be out in Mattituck, the games my family and I played on countless rainy days. Playing them made me think of Dad which enhanced my feelings of missing him and my disappointment that Mom is selling the house.

Categories
Pandemic Diaries

Day 520

In novels, after a death, there is always closure. The novel wouldn’t work if there wasn’t. The reader would be left wanting more. The plot would feel unfinished. Real life is not a novel. After sixteen months, I still can’t find closure. Each time I try to locate it, it eludes me. Maybe the universe just wants me to be angry, bitter, miserable, and disappointed.

Today, my son asked if we could please go to Greenport one last time before Mom sells the house. He wanted to get rubber duckies, ride the carousel, and get ice cream all the things he used to do with his grandfather. Ironically, when I logged into facebook this morning my memory was a conversation that took place two years ago between Dad and my son. Since it was cloudy, Grandpa suggested that we go into Greenport to play mini-gold. The idea excited my son who immediately asked if he could also get ducks, ride the carousel, and have ice cream. To each request, Dad, without hesitation, answered yes. My son wanted to play mini-golf today, but I said no. My mother has never — not once — played mini-golf without Dad. I wasn’t sure she could handle it today. I was afraid it would be too much. Instead of a fun time, I feared she’d spend the time missing him. I didn’t want to hurt her. Nor did I want to cry. I’ve played without Dad but the last time we played in Greenport Dad was with us. And just didn’t think I had the emotional strength to deal with ghosts this afternoon.

But we did visit the toy store and my mom told him to pick out as many ducks as he wanted. After all, we’d probably never come back. It was our last time in a store we visited countless times with Dad. My son had no trouble finding eight ducks he didn’t have. Far more than he needed, but because they reminded him of Dad, we didn’t say no.

I cried when when he rode the carousel. If my life were a movie, each rotation would have been a different visit to the carousel with Dad. My son would have started out as a toddler with Dad standing next to him, holding him on the horse. After a few times around, I’d have seen Dad sitting on a horse next to him. And finally, Dad would have been standing next to me watching him go around on his own. 

There used to be so much joy in our visits to Greenport. Dad had the ability to make everything fun. Today felt like a funeral. We were mourning the fact that Mom is selling the the house. For lunch, I suggested that we go to Crabby Jerry’s for fried clams. The place reminds us of Dad, and I thought it would be nice to eat there one last time. Every time Dad suggested that we eat there they were always open. I had no reason to think they wouldn’t be open today, but when we arrived we were greeted with sign saying they were closed. The sign felt like a slap and all three of us were deeply disappointed. We still went for ice cream, but the ice cream was bland — tasteless.

Mom didn’t come to the beach with us. She wasn’t feeling well. The anxiety and sadness about selling the house is catching up to her. But I took my son. I hoped we’d have a fun time at the beach since our days there are severely limited. Instead, I got aggravated. While we were in the water, I looked over at our things and saw a young boy — probably two — rummaging through my bag. He took out my wallet and starting pulling things out of it, tossing them into the wind. His friends or relatives — maybe three or four — were throwing rocks at my son’s blow-up alligator. I sprinted out of the water, ran up to the kid, snatched the wallet from his hands, and yelled at him. He had no business playing with my things. Immediately, he and his friends started to cry. The two female adults with them scampered over to comfort the kids. One of them had the audacity to scold me for yelling at the the kids. Seriously? They had their backs to the kids. They weren’t paying attention to them — at all. They permitted the kids to not only play with my wallet but toss my sunglasses and my son’s sunglasses its to the sand which scratched the lenses. And they don’t want me to scream at the miscreants. Sorry, but if you neglect your children you forfeit the right to be upset when another parent has to put them in their place. I went to the lifeguard to place a complaint but of course he did nothing. He didn’t want to get involved. So now my kid and I have damaged sunglasses. And the parents-guaridans-babysitters, whoever they hell they were, told me they weren’t responsible for the damage. Well, maybe next time their neglect will lead to kidnapping. I’m so freaking fed-up with irresponsible parents. Let me remind you, our days here are numbered. All I wanted was a nice day at the beach with my son. But no, the universe wouldn’t even permit me to have a couple of hours of peace.

While novels seem to have it all wrong when it comes to closure, they are completely accurate when it comes to demonstrating the way death changes people. My mother is not who she used to be. She is plagued with fear and anxiety. Her life is now about survival, and I think she’s forgotten how to enjoy anything. My son too is not the same happy child he was two years ago. There is a sarcastic edge to him. A level of cynicism that scares me, even though I understand it. He hates the world, especially people who won’t wear masks, and I can’t blame him. As for me, I’m even more emotional than I used to be. It doesn’t take much to make me cry. I have less patience than I used to — and I never had much — and I have absolutely no tolerance for bullshit or assholes. COVID has exposed the world’s selfishness and shown me that I was right all along. People suck and I want no part of them. Of course there are exceptions. I just wish there were more of them. And if you are reading this, the odds are you are an exception. But everyone else…well, I’ll say no more because I’m still in a bitter cranky mood, about Dad dying, the house selling, the kid nosing around in my bag, and the stupidity on social media regarding masks and vaccines.

Oh, and the governor of Texas tested positive for COVID. The freaking idiot who wants kids to die. Since my thoughts are less than kind, I won’t expand on them. Like I’ve said before, COVID  is a trigger for me. It sets me off. The asshole won’t wear a mask. And now he’s sick. But, he’ll have more than my father did. More medicine, more attention, more care. And that pisses me off more than anything. He courted COVID. He doesn’t deserve medical intervention. Can’t we just set him out on a remote mountain somewhere with nothing but thoughts and prayers? 

Categories
Pandemic Diaries

Day 519

According to my memory on Facebook, it was two years ago today that my son asked his grandfather to please take him to the sound so that we could watch the sun set. Of course, Dad said yes. He always said yes to my son. And that night it was a beautiful sunset. We had a most enjoyable evening sitting on the beach. I honestly thought we’d have many more summer nights together, more sunsets. But that was the was the last one. The last sunset I watched with Dad. When he died, everyone told me the missing gets easier with time. But here I am missing him more today than I did yesterday.

Is it possible for the weight of sorrow to press down so heavily upon a person that they shrink? Kati drove our son out to Mattituck on Saturday so that he could spend a few finals days here. Kati has always been shorter than me — only by an inch, maybe an inch and a half — but when she showed up she was taller than me. Even she thought it was odd. For once she was looking down at me as if I had fallen into a hole. And it had only been a week since I had last seen her, when I was last taller than her. What other than deep sadness could account for me shrinking?

I’m sure it’s the selling of the house that has me in very poor spirits. It’s hard to enjoy a place in the final days you have it when you’re so busy getting ready to lose it. Mom is having an estate sale on Saturday in hopes of selling the furniture. Much of the furniture she’s had since she and Dad first bought the place 30 years ago. How many meals have we eaten at that table? However, they only recently bought a new couch and the mattress on my son’s bed Dad bought for him shortly after he was born. Dad certainly expected to have more summers out here. I won’t be here for the estate sale. I feel bad because Mom could use the emotional support. But on the other hand, not being will be better for me emotionally. I can’t hold mom up when I can barely stand myself. I can’t be here because my son will be competing in a tournament. How many times since Dad died have I had to chose between being a good daughter or being a good mother? I can’t miss a tournament. My son would never forgive me. The last eighteen months have been difficult. I’m afraid losing this house might be the final straw. The one that breaks me.

Speaking of my fragile emotional state, when it comes to COVID I snap far too easily. I went with my mother the other day to buy corn from a local farm. She asked for four ears — less than four dollars — and they refused to take cash. I asked why, and the girl behind the counter said, “COVID.” I laughed at her, “If you’re so concerned about COVID why aren’t you wearing a mask?” And then I noticed the sign that said you needed to wear a mask to get service. This increased my laughter as I said to her, “You are such a fucking hypocrite. You want me to wear a mask, but you aren’t wearing one. Obviously, you really don’t give a shit about COVID.” It’s probably good I’m not sending my son to school. Even though Murphy said everyone in schools will be required to wear a mask, I worked in enough schools to know that rules don’t necessarily mean anything. If it’s easier for teachers and administrators not say anything they won’t. And if my kid was in a school where the mask mandate wasn’t seriously enforced the both of us would lose it. 

I really don’t understand how we as a society have moved so far from science. Why are people so freaking stupid when it comes to masks and vaccines? Or maybe, there have always been odd ones out there — like my grandmother. One day, when my father was in elementary school, his entire class lined up to get the polio vaccine. Every single kid, except my father. Until the day he died, he remembered that day vividly. He was angry at his mother for not permitting him to get vaccinated. Though I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember why my grandmother wouldn’t allow it. But Dad was always incredulous when he told the story. Polio paralyzed kids. It killed them. What parent wouldn’t want to protect their kid from a deadly disease? I wish I remember my father’s explanation for his mother hesitancy. I wish he were still alive. I wonder what he’d say about all the morons refusing to get vaccinated now. All the parents who refuse this simple step to protect their kids. The COVID vaccine came far too late for him. But I have no doubt, if he had been alive, he’d have been one of the first to get it.

My son really wanted to go kayaking today, one final time before the house got sold (and perhaps the kayaks too). My car is too small to transport the boats so we had to carry them down to the inlet. It’s not far, maybe 500 meters. But they get heavy and the handles cut in my son’s hands. So carrying them is a slow and tedious process. We walk maybe ten meters, then put the boats down and rest. Then walk and rest. When we finally got down to the inlet the tide was lower than I’d ever seen it. As we walked down to the water, our feet sunk into the muck. We sunk down to our knees and when we pulled our feet up the muck ate our flip flops. We had to reach in and rescue our shoes with our hands, but when we stepped without shoes broken shells sliced the bottoms of our feet. They were raw after two steps. We weren’t turning around after that. More steps would mean more slicing. We launched the boats but we couldn’t go back the way we came. It would be hours before the tide came in. Our only other option was to paddle down to the sound. The paddling was fun, but then when we pulled the boats out on the sand, not muck, we had a good two and half kilometers back to the house. And at ten meter increments, which shrunk closer to five meter as got closet to home, it took forever. We spend far more time transporting kayaks than we spent in the water. Both of us were extremely disappointed. What should have been fun — a finally happy memory in a place we love — was miserable. I’m sure if my feet didn’t hurt so much, if I wasn’t so tired, I’d see this as some sort of metaphor. But I knew exactly how bad of a place I’m in mentally when my son said, “Look on the bright side, you could probably write a really good essay about today,” and I fought back tears, the thought of writing suddenly felt like an overwhelming task.

I measured my son for the last time on my bedroom door frame. He’s grown four inches since his grandfather died. Four inches of missed memories. Four inches that should have been filled with happiness and hugs. I always thought my son would grow into adulthood here, but the house will be sold and the lines charting his growth will be painted over in a month. A broken trail. A fractured map. Tonight, I also finished the vodka and kahlau in the house. How many black russians had my father made me over the years? And after a year, they still don’t taste as good as when Dad made them.

Categories
Pandemic Diaries

Day 512

It rained yesterday and it rained today, fitting weather for my mood. Yesterday, Mom and I spent the day packing up the house. Taking knickknacks off shelves, wrapping dishes in newspaper, boxing up memories. Maybe the rain drops are Dad’s tears. I know he never would have sold this place. We packed until we filled my tiny car. This morning, I drove to Queens just so we could drop off boxes and then turn around again. There is more to pack up, but I don’t seem to have much energy to do it. It’s depressing me too much. This place has been my home for thirty years. I don’t know how I’m going to function when coming here is no longer an option.

While in Queens, we stopped in at the Yeh Art Gallery at St. Johns University. This week, their exhibition is the Queens COVID Remembrance Day Project. On display are portraits of nearly 300 Queens residents who died from COVID. They were created by Hannah Ernst, a young artist who founded Faces of COVID Victims after her grandfather died. For her, it seemed important that people stop talking about numbers and statistics. She wanted the world to know that each death was a person who was loved, a person who will be missed. You can see her work and follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/covid.victims/

I want to thank Brian Walter and everyone else from the Queens COVID Remembrance Day Committee. They have worked tirelessly to ensure that Queens COVID victims are honored and remembered. Because of them, my dad and so many other people whose lives were cut short are not being forgotten. We need to remember how awful this pandemic was and still is. We need to never forget what we lost. And it’s so important that those of us who survived know we are not alone in our grief. 

Even though I knew what to expect, walking into the gallery was difficult. The moment I stepped through the doors and saw the walls covered with portraits tears filled my eyes. It’s one thing to know the numbers. It’s one thing to be aware of how many people have died. It’s quite another to actually see them. Every single person hanging on the walls should still be alive. When Mom and I arrived, we were the only ones there. We had the place to ourselves and all the time in the world to look at the faces and read the names. I read every name. And what struck was the diversity. COVID certainly didn’t discriminate. It hit everyone regardless of their background.

I’ve been to art galleries before. But today it was different. Usually, art shows are about the artist and their work. But this exhibit is also a memorial. It was a solemn event. A reminder that while the world is pushing for a return to normal, my family isn’t the only one that will never know normal again. 

On the wall, my father stands out — at least to me. When selecting a picture to submit to Hannah, I wanted something meaningful. So I chose a photo of him sitting next to G3  — of course, I cropped G3 out of the photo before sending it — and in the picture he is wearing the Star Wars shirt I bought him in Disney. I bought matching shirts — after following my road trip for a month, you all know how we obsess over matching clothes in this family — for Dad, G3, and Me. Black shirts with white writing: The Force Is Strong In My Family. Dad and G3 both loved wearing those shirts whenever we visited. It seemed the perfect shirt for a memorial portrait. The day I took that picture of Dad we were on the Amistad. When Dad had read that a replica of the Amistad was going to be in Greenport he had immediately purchased tickets for the family. We had a great time out on the water learning a little history. It was Father’s Day. The last Father’s Day we spent with Dad. As I looked at the other loved ones on the wall in the gallery, I started wondering what their photographs looked like, the ones their families sent to Hannah. Why did their families choose the photographs they did? Mostly, I guess, I wanted to know the stories behind the pictures. Or maybe not necessarily that story, but a story about each person who died. Yep, that is what I was thinking as tears spilled down my cheeks. Who were these people and what memories of them do their families cherish the most? 

Dad would have appreciated the fact that his portrait is hung at St. Johns University. Though he never had much interest in art, for years he liked the St. John’s basketball team. He preferred college basketball to professional basketball and he always watched The Red Storm on television. When I was young and infatuated with basketball, Dad took me to at least one game. I still remember sitting in the stands and watching them play. 

When we left the art gallery, Mom wanted to go to Popeyes for lunch. St. John’s University is near a doctor she used to go to. Whenever Dad drove her to appointments, they always stopped at Popeyes afterward. Actually, Popeyes and Burger King are in same space and Mom used to eat Burger King. It was dad who really liked Popeyes’ chicken. But today, Mom wanted Popeyes. I’m guessing it’s because it reminded her of Dad. Perhaps, for moment, it brought her closer to him. The woman behind the counter even recognized my mother, and Mom said it’s because she always liked Dad. Dad had a way of making people laugh. And he could be very memorable to the people he knew, even in passing.

In the last six weeks, I have driven through and visited seventeen states. When it comes to wearing masks, NYC residents are champions. Nowhere else do so many people wear masks indoors. True, not every single person I saw was masked, but the majority of people I saw in NYC had their faces covered. Perhaps it’s because NYC was once upon a time the epicenter of the pandemic. New Yorkers know how deadly the virus is. We know it isn’t a game. We know the virus itself isn’t political. We’ve lived through an awful ordeal once. I suppose we don’t want to live through it again.

We are back in Long Island. I should be helping Mom pack, but I’d rather write. I can pack more later. I don’t even want to be in the house. The emptiness is upsetting me too much.

I intentionally angled the picture of the Yeh Art Gallery to include an empty bench. You can share your Empty Bench conversations here: https://conversationsontheemptybench.wordpress.com/submissions/
Categories
Pandemic Diaries

Day 510

It’s been 67 days since I last wrote in my Pandemic Diaries. (Yes, you heard from me daily for a month, but that was different. That was about fun stuff. The diaries are different. They’re about death, its aftermath, and a virus turning the world upside down.) I honestly thought when I last wrote that I was done. On June first I wrote about NJ tossing aside its mask mandate and doing away with capacity limits. Everyone was talking about a return to normalcy which absolutely gutted me. Now — thanks to the Delta Variant — here we are, just over two months later, and Governor Murphy has brought back the mask mandate for schools. As the spouse of a teacher, I applaud this. I think it is wise. But there are parents who are angry. I don’t understand why. These are the same parents where were bitching and complaining that they lost their free babysitters. They wanted to go back to work. They wanted someone else to care for their kids. They wanted to abdicate that responsibility. And they’ve gotten that. The babysitters are back. And yet it still isn’t enough. They want to unmask their kids because they think this virus is a game. They think it’s a joke or a conspiracy. I have no sympathy for these parents. If they don’t like rules then they should quit their jobs and keep their kids home. Because in their homes they won’t need masks. I’m done with people. If you don’t give a crap about other people, you don’t belong in a public school setting. If you don’t want to keep everyone safe, if you don’t want to do what’s best for the majority, then send your kid elsewhere. I don’t want your kid infecting my spouse. 

Seriously, what the hell happened while we were on the road. Its like we hit a time warp somewhere in our travels. We left and it was 2021, yet we get home and we’re back in 2020. Cases are surging in much of the country — especially states ruled by Republican Governors. Hospitals are once again reaching capacity. But this time around it’s different. Now kids are getting sick and some of them are also landing in the hospital. Why are so many people refusing to get vaccinated? Stupidity alone can’t be the answer, can it? Eighteen months ago old people were dying, but good old selfish America, still hanging tight to the myth of “rugged individualism,” didn’t care. They watched the numbers grow exponentially and still they demanded their freedom, their right to infect and kill their elderly neighbors. But kids are cute and innocent. Surely, we’d band together to protect them — right? HA! We seem just as eager to sacrifice kids to COVID. I mean look at that dude down in Florida. What is his issue with masks? How can anyone have so much hatred toward a piece of cloth.

This morning I woke up at my mother’s house in Queens. As I do every morning that I am not on the road, I took a long walk. And since I was in Glendale, that walk took me by the cemetery. Ever since Dad got sick, when I reach it, I put my book down and take a long hard look through the green cemetery fence. It’s almost reflex now. I had gotten into the habit after Dad died of counting fresh graves. Then, for a long while I didn’t see any. Occasionally, I’d see one. Let’s face it. Even without COVID, death is inevitable. Graves will be dug, virus or no virus. But today, for the first time in ages, I saw multiple graves. Three to be exact. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Three dead from cancer. Or some other tragedy. Whatever the reason, the fact that I have to write graves as a plural seems ominous. 

Also, my son’s taekwondo instructor is once again requiring all parents — regardless of vaccination status — to wear masks. This made me very happy. But again, two months ago, he had gladly kicked the mandate aside. To bring it back, things must be getting bad again. How bad will they get? With the Delta variant, people who have been vaccinated are apparently contagious. Which means a vaccinated adult can infect a child. And what about the Lambda variant lurking on the horizon. Some studies indicate that vaccines many not hold up against it. 

This return to normalcy that everyone cheered 67 days ago is starting to fray. How far will it go? How many more people will die? Will schools manage to stay open? Will teachers be forced to work overtime to prepare virtual lessons for students who get sick?  Teachers were fed up last year. They worked more than ever before and got shit on by parents and politicians. I can’t imagine many of them will excitedly worked more overtime especially since better pay won’t be part of the deal. 

Speaking of schools, we — my spouse and I — have opted to keep G3 home for another semester. We won’t commit to a whole year. After all, we’d like to see G3 back in real school, back with his peers, back in place where he can also learn music and a foreign language. But as important as socialization is for kids, keeping him safe is our priority. We will do everything we can to keep him involved in taekwondo and Boy Scouts so that he isn’t completely isolated. But we can’t yet trust that schools will be as safe as we’d like them to be. As for his academics, he won’t lose out. Okay, maybe in science, but I’ve learned this summer not to underestimate the power of G3’s curiosity. I am fairly confident that G3 is solidly on grade level — even in science. And when he does finally return to real school, he won’t have to play catch-up. The big question is when will he return. We’d like to be in January, but we’re prepared for another full year of homeschooling if necessary.

I am now in Long Island with Mom. G3 is in Jersey. He has a tournament in a couple of weeks and after taking so much time off he needs to train if he’s going to be ready to compete. Plus, he has a Boy Scout meeting that he doesn’t want to miss. If all goes well, he’ll be out here late next week. In the meantime, I have to help Mom clear out the house. I’ve been in a bitter, cranky, and angry mood since I got back from our road trip. I have only a month left in the one place that has always brought me happiness and I have to spend it getting it ready to sell. What am going to do from now on when New Jersey depresses me so much that getting out of bed is difficult? Where will I go when I’m miserable and need to recharge? I don’t know how I’m going to get though this next month. All I want to do is cry. Mom and I went to the beach today and I didn’t even want to go swimming. I sat in a chair and read a book, holding onto it as if it were the only thing that might prevent me from having a total breakdown.

Categories
Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 36

We had hoped to go to the beach today but that’s not going to happen. It is pouring. And the rain on the cost is expected all day. It’s disappointing but I can’t complain, we’ve had a long and fun holiday. However, we still can’t go home. I have a month’s worth of laundry to do and I can’t do it because the water at home is toxic. It’s like New Jersey wants to prove it sucks. Since we can’t wash at home, we will stop in Delaware where we can shower and do laundry at Kati’s dad’s house. Then we will go home tomorrow. G3 has to start training again so he can test at the end of the month. And Mom has waited long enough to get to Mattituck.

It’s like Delaware had a force field around it keeping the rain out. As soon as we crossed the border the rain stopped. It was still cool and cloudy. We did stop at a winery in Delaware about an hour before we reached Kati’s dad’s house. G3 sipped an orange soda while Kati and I shared two wine flights. Once the laundry gets unpacked and washed our holiday is officially over. I guess we want to put off that moment as long as possible.

When I say I have a month’s worth of laundry I suppose that is a bit deceiving. When you only change clothes every four, five, or six days the dirty clothes don’t pile up quite as fast. In total, we probably have a week’s worth of dirty laundry but it is really super dirty.

It was lovely to take a hot shower in a clean bathroom without having to wear flip-flops. And the washcloth was a nice bonus. But considering the water at home is still toxic I guess it’s a good thing we got used to showering infrequently. Who knows when we will be able to shower next.

The clothes are clean and folded so I guess this effectively ends our summer road trip. Until next time…

Categories
Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 35

G3 is difficult to please. He doesn’t like to give me credit for anything — even this vacation. He even went so far as to comment, “The only reason you take me on vacation is because you always had so much fun when Grandpa took you on vacation. So really, I should thank Grandpa for the trip.” Well, it was Nona and Grandpa who took me on vacation but I guess he’s right — in a way. I take him away because summer vacation when I was a kid was always the best part of the year. Nothing beat going somewhere new and seeing different things. Plus, being on the road is an opportunity to learn. And it sure beats sitting in a classroom.

For our last night on the road, we picked up extra firewood and headed back to our campsite. A campfire, at our site on the banks of the New River, seemed the perfect way to end our vacation. The sun set behind the mountain and bands of pink streaked across the sky. We could hear the cicadas and the wood crackling and absolutely nothing else. Peace. I don’t want to go home. Neither does G3.

While we were sitting by the campfire, G3 said, “When I go off to college, you should drive around the country collecting orphans.” I’m not sure if that was an insult or a compliment.

A lonely man out camping alone came over to chat with us for awhile. He’s a few years older than Kati and he lives thirty miles from the campground. But he’s on vacation and since it was allegedly raining in Virginia Beach he decided to come here and do some fishing.

I woke up before the family and read for awhile by the river. At 8:30, I woke everyone up. We needed to get on the road for our long dive home. As soon as I packed up the car it started to rain. G3 is terribly sad. He does not want to go home. The rain, however, makes it a little easier.

Just kidding. We are NOT going home today. This delay, however, is not our choice. We were three hours en route home when I noticed on Facebook that the water in Middlesex is not safe to drink. The water is so bad that it is advised we wash dishes with bleach. Residents are also being asked to use water sparingly. So why go home if we can’t shower, cook, or do laundry? In the car G3 was begging us not to go home. He wanted one more day on the road. Is Dad really powerful enough to have sabotaged the Middlesex water supply so that he could grant yet another one of his grandson’s wishes? If he is — Dad I could really use a literary agent. I promise that would also benefit your grandson.

We stopped at Rebec Winery and Kati cashed in another of her no whine wineries. While there our neighbor called — she knew we were due home today — to inform us of the water problem. She said hazardous waste got into the water source and the cutoff valve is under a swamp. To shut it off they need to send divers into the swamp. It will be several days until the water is safe. I can’t say I’m complaining. The less time I am in Jersey the better.(Sorry Julia!) I do feel bad for Mom. I was planning on picking her up and taking her to Long Island on Thursday, but that will need to be postponed a day or two. Also, G3 was supposed to resume taekwondo training tomorrow. That too will have to wait.

Anyway, the wine was good — 16 tastings for $10. Some of them were very unique — the herb infused white was very good. The desert cherry paired with dark chocolate was also enjoyable.

G3 has decided to teach himself Russian. He is sitting in the back of the car, taking advantage of our unlimited data to learn the alphabet and some vocabulary. This is what happens when you scold you child for wasting brain cells on stupid cat memes. We told him he would lose phone privileges if he used the phone for frivolous purposes.

I have been wanting to take G3 to Appomattox to see where General Lee surrendered to General Grant. Today, we finally got there. Kati would have preferred not to take the detour but she graciously gave in so that G3 could see where a key event in American history took place. I’ve already written about how bored Kati is every time I drag her to a battlefield. I asked her if this was a tad bit more exciting. She twisted her lip and curled her nose before responding that they were the same.

We got there late, too late to experience any of the Ranger Talks which I would have liked. We also didn’t have time to explore the surrounding area which I would have enjoyed but I won’t complain. We saw the McLean house. We stood in the same room where Lee and Grant ended the Civil War. We got to knock one more place off our list of Must See Historic Sights. I think Dad — if he is anywhere looking down on us — would be happy we used this unintended and unplanned detour to touch a piece of history. Now we could go home…if only the water wasn’t poisoned.

We were all happy to see that mask mandates are back — at least in some places. Masks were required in all Appomattox buildings regardless of vaccine status. With the Delta Variant surging and breakthrough infections rising I hope to see more mask mandates in the coming weeks, especially in grocery stores and schools. Actually, I think vaccines and masks should be required in all public schools. Public safety and health should trump everything else. After all, parents who object have the right to send their kids elsewhere or to educate them at home. Why do they always conveniently forget that?

By the time we left Appomattox we were all famished. We stopped at Burger King because they have a vegetarian option. Only the drive through was open because they were severely short staffed. The manager complained that she can’t get anyone to work because everyone wants government money. We were quick to counter that maybe they just want a decent salary. But I’ve heard a great deal about this wonderful government pay check. Where exactly does one sign up for it? Because you can’t get unemployment if you quit and those government stimulus checks aren’t enough to cover a month’s rent.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 34

Last night, we were looking forward to a campfire. We got back to the campsite, lit a fire, settled in, and fifteen minutes later we heard the rustle of the trees followed by rain drops. We dashed into our tent and went to sleep.

We spent the day on the New River white water rafting. G3 had been asking for an adventure outing all summer but the rapids in Montana were only class II and III. Not nearly the adrenaline rush that would make any of us happy. Here in West Virginia they are as high as class IV and V. Finding an outfitter that had room for us last minute was a bit tricky, but we got one.

Me and G3 are up front. Kati is behind G3.

Sadly, the river level was low — not much rain in the last two weeks — so the water wasn’t moving terribly fast and the rapids weren’t as frothy as we we’d have liked, but we still had a fantastic time. None of us fell out of the boat. However, G3 and I took every opportunity to tip ourselves out of the boat to go swimming. The river was warm, much warmer than Superior. But the air was unseasonably chilly. So every time I got out of the water I was cold. G3 didn’t seem to react to the change in temperature. He made fun of me for shivering. One of the highlights of the day was jumping into the river from a rock. A 20 foot jump. Talk about adrenaline. Kati sat that one out.

After the trip we got free soda and beer to sip while we watched a video of our adventure. I left my phone in the car to keep it dry while on the water so I took pictures of the video. Hence the poor quality of the pictures.

For dinner — our last dinner on the road 😞 — we went out for pizza. It was okay. No one — outside of Italy — does pizza like NYC.

Categories
Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 33

We were supposed to go home yesterday. At the very least we planned to be home today. But while all good things must come to an end, you all know how I feel about New Jersey. And you are also familiar with our last minute random detours to postpone the inevitable. Two days ago, I learned that West Virginia has a new National Park. New River Gorge used to be a National River but it has recently been upgraded to a park. (The New River isn’t new. It is one of the oldest rivers in the world. Even the Appalachian Mountains are younger.) We have spent the last month National Park hoping. Finding out the existence of a new park seemed a good enough reason to detour. So here we are in West Virginia.

Last night — or rather early this morning — sometime after midnight, I was hungry. A couple of sides of broccoli, mashed potatoes, and a few cheese curds at Culver’s doesn’t exactly keep my belly full for long. But there are so few things I eat on the road — my son never misses an opportunity to tell me I’m difficult. Anyway, I needed a snack so Kati stopped at a Taco Bell drive through and ordered me one bean burrito. Just one. When she handed over the cash, I reminded her to ask for a couple of packets of hot sauce. A couple packets — that’s it. When she handed me the bag it was far heavier than it should have been. I thought they got the order wrong until I looked in the bag and saw a gluttonous amount of sauce. 53 packets! 53! What the hell. Who needs that much sauce?

Our detour to West Virginia was rewarded with a free campsite. That’s a pretty nice bonus. And it’s a pleasant site right on the New River.

We got in super late and didn’t get to sleep until this morning. Therefore, we got a later start than usual to our day. We were all hungry when we woke up so we figured we’d have a big brunch at IHOP and then go hiking. I did not expect us to be in the restaurant for two hours. We ordered our food and it never came. Finally, in frustration we inquired why it was taking so long and our waiter said they were short staffed. To compound the problem a cook quit mid-shift. Our waiter was great. He kept coming by to chat with us and to apologize for the delay. But in frustration Kati did kindly but firmly speak to the manager. She insisted that the manager comp our meal. The manager wasn’t happy about it but she did it. We, however, tipped our waiter well. After all, he tried to make our wait as painless as possible even bringing G3 a second hot chocolate before the manager comped the meal.

We have seen places short staffed during our entire trip. We’ve experienced signs begging for patience and flustered or disgruntled workers everywhere. (I think that’s why the short staffed bitter worker at Taco Bell angrily handed me a bag with so much taco sauce when I asked for it.) Maybe enough people will quit. Maybe businesses will lose enough money that they will finally start paying their employees a decent salary — enough that they can live well.

G3 and I took a three and a half mile hike in the New River Gorge National Park this afternoon. We followed the Castle and Grand View trails. The Castle Trail was rocky which G3 really enjoyed. It was listed as being strenuous but I wouldn’t consider it rougher than moderate. The Grand View Trail was rather flat and easy — nice for a relaxing stroll. The views were okay — nothing spectacular like out west. But they would have been prettier without all the haze and clouds. At least it wasn’t smoke this time obstructing our views.

I wanted to take a look at Thurmond Historic District so after our hike we drove north. Thurmond used to be the gateway to the coal mines in the New River area. It was a busy depot in its day. But when the Great Depression stuck and trains switched from steam to diesel and then people grew infatuated with the automobile, people started moving away from the railroad dependent town. Eventually, Thurmond and other mining towns were abandoned. Only a few buildings stand today. Hardly anything to draw tourists except for those of us with an interest in history. I hope now that the New River has been upgraded to National Park status the government will spend money to restore the buildings. Add a bit of paint, a few artisan shops, and a cafe and it could be a quaint place for tourists to visit.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 32

Kati has spent way too much time in campground and other icky public restrooms. She found a mystery bruise on her thigh and initially couldn’t figure out where it came from. And then she squatted, digging her elbow into her thigh and the pinch of pain solved the mystery. Needless to say, she may not be looking forward to the end of this trip but she’ll be happy the use her own toilet again.

We couldn’t leave Michigan — again — without a visit to the Henry Ford Museum. However, we knew one day would not be enough to see the museum, the factory, and Greenfield Village, not without rushing through all of it. We opted to select one section and explore it thoroughly — after all, we have to save something for a return visit. Because Kati was indecisive (although the factory would have been her choice if it was guided) and I wanted to see it all, we let G3 choose what he most wanted to see. He chose Greenfield Village.

Greenfield Village was designed by Ford because he believed hands-on experience was the best way to learn. Textbooks can only get you so far. And history has far more meaning if you can catch a glimpse of it. If you go to someone’s house or workshop suddenly they will be more real and you will have more of an interest in who that person was and what that person did. You’ve been following my blog, you know my philosophy on education is identical.

Ford envisioned Greenfield Village as a place for kids to learn about history and the people who populated it. Therefore, along with a working farm, Ford brought these famous peoples’ houses to Greenfield. He had them disassembled and the reassembled in Dearborn, Michigan. What a disappointment it was to learn that Edison’s Lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey is a replica of the real lab because Ford brought the original to Michigan. I was actually upset that a New Jersey landmark was moved. Yeah, that’s a first. Who knew I had it in me to be outraged on New Jersey’s behalf. But while I was dismayed to learn about Edison’s lab — maybe now that I’m thinking about it, I vaguely remember some guide in Jersey mentioning something about Ford — I was excited to be able to visit the homes and shops of other cool figures. Among the many buildings were homes lived in by the Wright Brothers, Noah Webster, Henry Heinz, Henry Ford, Robert Frost, and some guy responsible for the Idaho potato.

The guide in the the Wright Brothers’ Bicycle Shop annoyed me. He asked what Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, and Henry Ford all had in common. I was quick to answer, “They were all white men.” He shook his head and said, “There is no need to go there. That’s not relevant.” Then he looked at G3 and explained, “They were all big readers. They were self made men who taught themselves the skills they needed by reading a great deal.” Well, when Lincoln was elected President it was illegal for most of the black population in America to read. And it’s not like once slavery ended all former slaves could then miraculously read. And what educational opportunities did women have in the late 1800s? They were not as likely to read as their male counterparts. So yes, my answer absolutely was valid. If any of those men had been women or black they probably would not have succeeded to the degree that their race and gender permitted. But before I could argue this point, Kati and G3 simultaneously shot me a look that said, “Shut-up. Just shut-up.” But I am right, I know I am and the sort of narrative the guide wants to perpetuate fails to acknowledge the privilege white men have had throughout history.

Next we ventured into the Wright Brothers’ home and the guide there was wonderful. She spoke about their upbringing and the vital role both their parents played in cultivating their curiosity. They learned how to build from their mother. And their father, a minister, did keep many books in the house encouraging them to read everything — even Darwin, despite disagreeing with his theory of evolution. Their younger sister went to college — unusual for women of the time — and taught high school English and Latin. Wilbur died in 1912 but Orville lived through both World Wars. He got to see his planes used as weapons of war. He was raised in a Christian household by a minister. I can’t imagine he would have been happy to note the deaths that occurred due to his invention. What were his thoughts when planes were used to drop bombs that obliterated the populations of two Japanese cities? And let’s not forget the damage and deaths that occurred throughout Europe.

The guide in Henry Ford’s house was also really good. G3 impressed her when he asked, “If Ford didn’t invent the car, why is he so famous.” She excitedly launched into a history lesson about the assembly line — did you know Ford’s inspiration for it came from a slaughterhouse? — and Ford’s belief in paying people enough so that they could afford the product they helped make. According to her, he paid whites, immigrants, African-Americans, men, and women the same salary.

In Noah Webster’s house, we saw a short film about his life. He’s most famous for creating the first American dictionary — the first dictionary with words spelled the American way and with words used to specifically describe the American experience. However, he was also instrumental in helping to make school compulsory for children — although he believed a girl’s education should be limited, girls were not worthy of competing intellectually with their male peers. Along with the dictionary, he authored many other grammar books to be used in schools.

Greenfield Village had several artisans that G3 enjoyed watching. He was disappointed they didn’t have a blacksmith but excited to find they had glassblowing. He and Kati also enjoyed watching the potter. The three of us observed that all the artisans appeared bored out of their minds. We have been to many living museums, we have encountered many artisans at those museums, and never once have any of them looked so uninspired. You could tell they were just doing their job. They got no joy out of it. Unlike at other living museums, they were not permitted to engage with the audience. Men and women narrated what they were doing, but the artisans just did the same task over and over and over. And the narrators did not warmly welcome questions. They didn’t want to veer off script.

G3 asked if he could please ride the carousel. My initial instinct was to say no. It was an extra charge — in an already expensive place — plus there were so many other things to see that couldn’t be seen elsewhere. But if I didn’t let him ride, Dad would have struck me with a lightning bolt. How many carousel rides did Dad pay for in Greenport for G3 because he liked to ride. I’m sure part of the reason G3 wanted to go on the carousel was because carousels reminded him of his grandfather. Instead of a horse, G3 chose a rooster to ride. And as he went around, I could almost see Dad standing next to him, smiling and holding him the way he had when G3 was a toddler. I was happy the sunglasses and mask hid my tears.

For dinner, for our last meal in the mid-west, G3 asked for Culver’s. Oh cheese curds we will miss you.

Categories
Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 31

The sunset in Paradise was gorgeous. It was one of the prettiest sunsets I have ever seen. And we really were in Paradise — Paradise, Michigan. We were lucky, last night, to score the last campsite at the campground in Tahquamenon Falls State Park which is less than twenty miles from Whitefish Point. We pitched the tent quickly, got back in the car, and arrived at the Point just in time for the sunset. It was cold and the wind was fierce. Lake Superior was so rough one easily could have mistaken it for the ocean. And the sky was a brilliant shade of pink. Dad would have loved it.

I texted my mom a picture of the sunset and the promptly got a message from Verizon telling me there would be a extra charge for the text because my plan did not include international usage. International!?!? How bloody stupid are the idiots running the ship at Verizon. The last time I looked at a map, Michigan was planted squarely in America. And I am certain the border is still closed, so how could I possibly even enter Canada to send a text message? Verizon’s given me crappy service this entire trip. And finally, I can get a text through and they want me to pay extra for it.

The whole reason we drove up to Whitefish Point was so G3 could examine the night sky. Plus, Kati had read somewhere that the Northern Lights could sometimes be glimpse from there. We didn’t see the Northern Lights, perhaps it was because of the clouds that were gathered on the horizon. But there were no clouds overhead and the stars were amazing. G3 excitedly danced around the parking lot — the wind whipping his hair in all directions — pointing out all the constellations to me. I love his enthusiasm. It makes me happy. It was cold. The wind made it feel like winter and we only had sweatshirts. After all, I packed for a heatwave. If it wasn’t freezing we probably would have stayed even longer. The sky is so much prettier here than it is back home.

After the incredible heat out west Kati couldn’t wait to get to Whitefish Point which promised cooler temperatures. She got her wish this morning. It is cold. In fact, the wind is making it feel like early fall.

The rocks at Whitefish Point are magical. Last year, Kati fell in love with them. Superior rocks, on this beach, she claimed are the most beautiful rocks in the world. But not only are they pretty they have the ability to calm and sooth Kati. Whenever she feels anxious or upset rubbing the rocks with her fingers makes her feel better. And so she wanted to come and find more rocks. Slowly, she walked the beach carefully selecting a handful of rocks to bring home. Whitefish point is her happy place and the rocks will help her keep smiling even when she is no longer here.

As for me and G3, the air may have been cold but nothing was going to stop us from taking one final swim (this summer) in Lake Superior. We love the lake too much to leave without a proper good by. The lake sparkled under the sun and the water was a clear inviting shade of blue. We walked out to the point — and while Kati was dressed in a sweatshirt and fleece — G3 and I and stripped down to our swim trunks and dove into the water. It was warmer than the air and we had a pleasant time swimming. However, the moment we stepped back onto the sand the wind hit us like an air conditioner on high. Goose bumps rose up on our arms and legs and we shivered uncontrollably. G3 and I raced back to the car to change into dry clothes. Kati was a bit slower — it’s hard to run with rocks in your pocket.

Before leaving Paradise, we stopped at a food truck because I didn’t want to leave Lake Superior without having white fish. I ordered just a couple of pieces to appease my craving and hold me over until lunch. It was really tasty. It may be my favorite fish.

For a late lunch, as we past through Mackinaw City, G3 wanted to stop at Weinerlicious, which he claims has the best hot dogs. Kati had wanted to eat here last summer but by the time she and G3 showed up, they were closed. As a result, she was a tad bit jealous G3 ate there when he and I stopped in back in May. Having eaten there today, her jealousy has subsided. And she agrees with G3. The weiners are fabulous.

This week is Family Week in Provincetown, Massachusetts. For the five years my brother owned a condo in P-town he let us stay there so we could attend Family Week and have fun at the ocean. This year, he sold the condo, so we couldn’t go to Cape Cod. We’ve had another exciting adventure instead but still, it’s hard not to miss a place you love. However, after reading about the massive outbreak of COVID among the vaccinated, I’m glad we aren’t there this summer. I feel awful for the full time residents, many of whom are vulnerable. But in the push to salvage businesses and the grab for normalcy, compassion lost out. From what I read this outbreak is behind the CDC once again recommending that everyone mask-up indoors. But people will scream and shout and declare loudly that masks are a violation of their rights. And so, more people will die. At this point, if you choose not to get vaccinated and you die, well you were the idiot. I can’t feel sorry for you. But how many people can’t get vaccinated? Why can’t we just all agree to be kind and wear a mask to protect those who have no other defense against the virus. It’s really a very simple thing to do.

We ended our day — after a long-ish drive — at the country’s largest Christmas store. Bronner’s show room is almost as big as two football fields and it is packed full of Christmas ornaments, decorations, toys, and attire. The moment you walk through the doors you are blasted into the Christmas season. Christmas carols spill out of speaks all around and it’s hard not to fall into a Christmas mood. We were here last year and Kati and G3 both insisted on a repeat visit. Why not, picking out our yearly ornaments is more fun when you have so much to choose from. G3 picked out a llama for himself. We got little gnomes for our family ornament. A Buffalo to represent our road trip (they didn’t have prairie dogs). And a black belt for me since…well, finally earning my black belt this year was a big deal. Being here it was hard not to feel a touch of sadness. Dad always loved the holidays. He was always excited around Christmas and we will never have another Christmas with him. I fought back a few tears not wanting to spoil G3’s fun.

Categories
Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 30

Last night while we were eating dinner another storm broke. We held off leaving Culver’s until it eased up a bit. When we did get back to the camp site our tent was dry. There were enough trees around us that we were able to hang a tarp over the tent as a precaution. I do love the sound of the rain hitting the tent. It helps lull me to sleep — especially when I’m not concerned that I’ll get wet. When we woke up the sky was still dreadfully gray but the rain had stopped.

As I mentioned yesterday, Keweenaw Peninsula was a huge copper mining area in the late 1800s into the early 1900s. Today, we went rappelling in one of the mines. We took a three hour tour of a copper mine — a tour that touched on both geology of the area and some history. Our tour guide was fantastic. He is in college studying geology and Astrophysics so his knowledge of geology was spectacular — another win for homeschool science. The guide spoke about the continental rift that occurred around the time of the last ice age and how the basalt rock and the high mineral content in the water combined to form the copper in the mines.

Native Americans mined the copper thousands of years before Euro-Americans. They would heat the rock until it got really hot, then they would pour water on it which would crack the rock and expose the copper. Or they would pour water in holes and wait for it to freeze which would also crack the rock and expose the metal. They used the copper to make knives and arrowheads.

When the mines were operational, children as young as 8 were employed. Eight to twelve year olds were hired to sift through rock to ensure no pieces of copper were missed by the miners. Miners were paid a dollar an hour which was considered a rather decent salary. Most miners came from Northern Europe, specifically Finland. However, Italians did most of the masonry work on the company buildings because they were among the best in the world.

The rappelling part of the tour was the most fun. Kati and I had gone rappelling through waterfalls (Kati still has the scar to prove it) years ago in Costa Rica. But this was G3’s first time. He did very well and he really enjoyed it. Kati was not completely spastic — no blood this time around.

Last summer, as we were driving west through the Upper Peninsula we stopped at Jerzi’s 41 for lunch. We were the only ones in the entire restaurant and the waitress/owner was wearing a mask which is why — despite the pandemic — we felt okay about eating inside. It was the only time we ate indoors the entire time we were away. Because we were the only ones in the restaurant, we spoke at length with the owner. We ordered pizza and mac and cheese. I generally don’t like mac and cheese, but it was so good in that restaurant that we made many references to it throughout the year. When Kati declared that we had to return home via Michigan so that she could revisit Whitefish Point, G3 announced that he had to rerun to Jerzi’s 41 for mac and cheese. And so, after we left the mine tour we set the GPS for Jerzi’s. The Mac and cheese was as we remembered it. But we were shocked that the owner recognized us. She walked out of the kitchen, took a quick look at us and said, “You’re back.” I’ve never been memorable to anyone, so I was taken aback. Or maybe she just really remembered Kati or G3.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 29

It did not rain last night but Kati woke up at 4:30 because water was dripping on her head. It didn’t drip on my head or G3’s — just Kati’s So she woke us up and told us it was time to pack up and move on. She couldn’t have been completely hallucinating because her sleep bag was wet.

G3 is in tears. He does not want to leave Northern Wisconsin. He would like to spend another day here. But even if we stayed, tomorrow would be the same. He wouldn’t want to move on. He’s grown attached to Lake Superior, especially swimming at Houghton Falls.

Last year, we spent more time exploring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula than we initially intended. However, there were still things we missed. The Keweenaw Peninsula was one place a friend had recommended that we bypassed. Since we have once again found ourselves in the UP, I decided we should probably check it out this time around. So that was our destination this morning. It is fun to revisit places I love, but I also enjoy seeing and experiencing new places. We had no trouble getting a campsite at a peaceful and removed campground at the base of the peninsula. We Pitched our tent, had an early lunch, and then set out to sightsee.

Keweenaw is a copper mining area. We learned this when we stopped at Keweenaw National Historic Park. Copper mined here was used to make pennies, cannons during the Civil War, and shell casings used in both World Wars. But like every other area in America, it belonged to Native Americans first. They too mined the copper as early as 7,000 years ago.

We drove to Fort Wilkins State Park to do an Adventure Lab cache. But there was no service in the area. If you’ve done Adventure caching you know you need to be connected to the internet in order to answer the questions. I was more than a little annoyed. What moron sets up a cache in a place with no service. Since we were there G3 and I walked around the historic fort. It was built in 1844 and soldiers were tasked with keeping the mining community peaceful. However, it was only in operation for two years. The Mexican-American War posed a greater need for soldiers south of the border.

Before the fort was build, the land belonged to the Ojibwa people. The Government in their greed didn’t like that. In the 1842 Treaty of La Pointe, the Ojibwa signed away 10 million acres of land — including the western part of the Keweenaw Peninsula. While they maintained the right to hunt, fish, and gather on this land, they no longer possessed the land itself. Within months of the government taking possession, copper miners and settlers began arriving.

It has been a cloudy, gray, and breezy day. We stopped at a beach with the intention of swimming but the air wasn’t exactly warm and there seemed no point in swimming just for the hell of it. We’ll have to try to get at least one more Superior swim as we make our way east.

We ate dinner at Culver’s. As we near home, G3 is beginning to fret about not being able to eat another butter burger. He wants his fill before we leave Culver’s behind. After dinner, he and I shared a pint of Culver’s custard.

Categories
Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 28

And our idyllic campsite turned out not to be so idyllic at all. While we were watching Black Widow a storm tore through northern Wisconsin. Driving back to the campground there were branches and leaves down everywhere. As we drew closer to camp the debris littering the road multiplied. This did not bode well for our tiny flimsy tent. Sure enough, the minute I saw the tent I knew something was wrong. It was twisted and collapsed in the back. I ran out of the car to take a closer look and found our sleeping bags floating in at least two inches of water. Every thing was drenched. We had to sleep in the car. Someday we we laugh about this. Someday is not today.

We pulled the car up to the lake but the lightning show was too spectacular to sleep. The sky looked angry as lightning flashed bold and frequent. Two bolts struck simultaneously. Other bolts struck horizontally, vertically, and in intricate patterns. And the thunder crashed, booming so loudly that the car vibrated. Then more wind came and rain that poured down on the earth. Out wet tent taking more of a beating.

None of us slept well. We didn’t have room to stretch out but at least we stayed dry and relatively warm. We were all up early. We drained the tent of water and then drove to the laundromat in Washburn. Not only did water get in the tent but sand also got in our sleeping bags. We washed them and will lay them out in the sun later. G3 had never been to a laundromat before, and in the absence of other entertainment he amused himself watching the close spin round and round. There is a sign on the door saying “masks required.” The only other woman here is taking a liberal (stupid or selfish) view of what that means. She obviously thinks a mask is necessary to prevent her chin from falling to the floor. (This pandemic has really caused me to hate people.)

Our sleeping bags are clean and dry. With life looking a bit better we went out for breakfast. We then headed over to Houghton Falls — mine and G3’s favorite place to swim. Considering how many places I have visited and how many bodies of water I’ve swam in the fact that this is my favorite says a great deal. When we left Northern Wisconsin last summer we were sad to go. Neither G3 nor I thought we’d be back — at least not for a long time. Yet, we’ve been back twice. The water was much warmer today than it was in May, but not quite as warm as it was in last August. To get there we had to hike for about 15 minutes. Not only did G3 not complain about it, he practically raced down the trail.

Of course it’s jumping off the rocks that makes swimming here so much fun. There was another boy — about G3’s age — there with his family. He and G3 got along well and spent close to an hour jumping off the rocks and swimming together. Kati jumped in once. Apparently, she is not as enthralled with jumping as G3 and I are. Plus after days of being too hot, today she was cold.

We went to visit friends who live nearby and G3 was excited to spend time with two of his favorite dogs.

When we got back to our campground we felt better to see other tent campers laying out their clothes, cots, and sleeping bags. Misery loves company. And it was good to know our tent wasn’t the only one to get wet.

The late afternoon, early evening is my favorite time at the beach, and I am loving the fact that we can hang out on the beach all night. We had another picnic dinner and then G3 and I went for a swim. To dry off we took a walk along the beach. But I am not surprised that as soon as we returned — mostly dry — to our campsite G3 dove back in. He is greatly enjoying his time here. And now that the sun is out and everything is dry our site is back to being perfectly idyllic. Now, time for a campfire.

When the sunset — behind a veil of clouds — G3 set up his telescope. He is so enthusiastic about the stars.

Categories
Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 27

We started the day with showers. Whenever we change our clothes that’s usually a good indication that we stayed at a campground with showers. Kati would love to shower more often. G3 doesn’t seem to mind infrequent showers.

We spent a great of time in the car today. By the time we reached Duluth we were all hungry so we stopped for lunch. Since sandwiches are in the menu for this evening we thought “real food” for lunch might prevent us from having a cranky child. I went online and found a relatively inexpensive burger place not far from Superior. Yes, I had a burger…a really good meatless one. But first some history.

The Ojibwa People originally lived in the Eastern part of North America along the Atlantic coast. Due to tribal warfare, about 1,500 years ago, they started moving west, following the Great Lakes. Then the French arrived in the 1600s and invaded their land to trap animals. Displaced from their homes, they heeded a prophecy telling them they needed to travel west until they came across food that grew on the water. Eventually, they settled in Minnesota. There they found wild rice or what the Minnesotans call wild rice, only it isn’t really rice at all. It is the seed of an aquatic grass that has more protein than most grains. As a result, it makes for a perfect meat substitute and it’s what I had for lunch today — a wild rice burger. Kati was just excited that it looked as if we were all eating the same thing for once. Oh, and of course we needed to add an order of cheese curds. What would a mid-western meal be without them.

Following lunch, I wanted to take a walk down the the water. We are back. Back at our favorite non-salty body of water and I couldn’t wait to see it. G3 couldn’t wait to stick his feet in it. But once again the heat was too extreme for Kati so she stayed behind while G3 and I strolled down to Canal Park. We had a bit of culture shock. After three weeks of being out in nature, being in a city was a bit jarring. All those people. And cars. We actually had to look both ways before crossing the street. I enjoyed the walk and my spirit smiled to be so close to Superior. Unfortunately, a swim will have to wait until Wisconsin since Kati is starting to feel anxious about finding a place to camp.

As we walked down one street we came across Lake Superior Art Glass — a glass blowing studio. G3 is almost as fascinated and interested in glass blowing as he is in forging and black smithing. There is just something very alluring in the way a potentially destructive force — fire — can be used to create beautiful art. Needless to say, we stopped and I called Kati to tell her we were going to be awhile. The guy blowing the glass was very personable. He described what he was making and the process of making it. But, as always, I started asking questions and he seemed happy to answer them. He’s been blowing glass for eight years and he has a bachelor of fine arts in glass blowing. I had no idea one could get a college degree in it. And yes, he has traveled to Murano, Italy the birthplace of glass blowing. And the reason — I found this fascinating — Venice exiled glass blowing artists to Murano is because they were causing too many fires. It was safer to give them their own island. And the artists didn’t mind because it enabled them to better keep their artistic secrets.

We crossed into Northern Wisconsin — one of our favorite places. We planned to camp at the same place we camped last summer but when we looked online it appeared to have gotten more expensive. So we ended up at Herbster. Not only is it cheaper, it is right on Lake Superior. We can roll out of our tent into the water. I cannot imagine a better place to camp. In fact, if I don’t come home and I appear to fall off the grid you might find me right here.

Tonight, in memory of Dad, we went to see the first Marvel movie released since the pandemic shut everything down. (I am so happy G3 is vaccinated or we wouldn’t have been able to go.) G3 and I have been wanting to see Black Widow since it opened two weeks ago but we haven’t been anywhere near a movie theater. However, Bay Theater in Ashland is only forty minutes from where we are camping. When we gave G3 the option of a swim or the movie he quickly chose the movie. There will be plenty of time to swim tomorrow. As I’ve said, I am in no hurry to leave that campground. I can’t believe how cheap the tickets were — $8:50 (for a nighttime show). And a large popcorn is only $4. When I asked for tickets the guy at the counter made a face and I thought he was going to tell me it was sold out. Instead he said the movie wasn’t for another hour and a half. I guess things don’t sell out like they do at home.

After we purchased our tickets — we showed up early not wanting them to sell out — we went down to Superior for a picnic dinner. Near the lake is an artisan well with water that was allegedly delicious. We tried it and it’s the best water we’ve ever had. G3 was so super excited he not only filled up our reusable water bottles, he dumped out the water in the jug we had purchased in the store to fill that up as well. G3’s quote of the day, “Superior makes me happy.” He also said this might be the best stop all summer. That says a lot considering how much we have done, how much we have seen. I would move here — but there is no ATA taekwondo. And he would miss that.

We need not have worried about the movie selling out. There were only seven other people in the theater.

The movie was fantastic — the best Marvel movie I’ve seen. Daddy would have loved it. He should have been here to see it with G3. They would have had an incredibly wonderful time together. Life is so unfair.

Categories
Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 26

Kati was riddled with anxiety about finding a first-come-first serve campsite late on a Friday night. I assured her that there was nothing to worry about. Only 76.7 people in total live in North Dakota. There aren’t enough people to fill any campground anywhere in this state. At 9 PM we pulled into a campground outside of Jamestown and sure enough it was completely empty. Not one tent. Not one RV. We had it entirely to ourselves. However, the amenities were sparse — really what do you expect for $10 a night — which means they only have vault toilets (or in layman’s terms more permanent porta-potties). Kati hates vault toilets. She refuses to use them. And so, once we pitched our tent she drove 8 miles to the closest gas station just to pee — that’s half an hour of driving to avoid a stinky toilet. G3 hates them too, but he opted more simply for a tree.

We got to the campground in time to watch the sun set and then, about an hour later, we saw the moon rise. As the sky darkened and the stars came out, G3 gave me and Kati a tour of the constellations. Not only can he pick them out, he can identify some individual stars in the constellations. Plus, he wove into his tour a few of the myths he read about in the book he got at The Knife River Indian Villages gift shop.

A week or so ago, my cousin — the same one who gave G3 The Week Junior magazine — sent me a link for the most beautiful State Parks in the country. On the list was Custer, which we loved and totally agreed was one of the best State Parks we had ever been to. Therefore, I looked more closely to see if there were any more parks on the list we might be able to hit on this trip. There was. Itasca in Minnesota. My brother’s childhood friend lives in Minnesota and he does a fair amount of hiking so I shot him a message asking if he thought it would be worth our time to visit. He responded quickly and enthusiastically that he absolutely recommended it. And so I added it to our itinerary. Now, the cool thing about Itasca is that it’s where the Mississippi begins. The Mighty Mississippi — America’s second longest river — is so narrow and shallow at it’s source that you can walk across it. And yes, that does immediately call to mind an Indigo Girls’ song which of course we did have to listen to in the car.

This morning we broke camp, had breakfast in Fargo, and then crossed into Minnesota. We spent the afternoon at Itasca State Park. Because I love Mark Twain’s novels and because I have been to St. Louis and New Orleans it was important to me to see the Headwaters of the Mississippi River. It was fun to walk across. We stepped on the rocks first and then took off our shoes and sloshed through the water. G3 was unimpressed and declared that it was anticlimactic. Oh well, maybe someday he will appreciate being here. In fact, knowing my son, if he ever reads Twain in school, he will be very quick to announce to the entire class that once upon a time he did walk across the Mississippi. And at that moment, he will appreciate the experience.

After seeing the headwaters, G3 and I hike on the Brower Trail along Lake Itasca. It was 92 degrees but most of the hike was shaded which kept it from being too uncomfortable. Although, it was too hot for Kati. She opted to wait for us in the comfort of air conditioning at the visitor’s center. The trail was easy — a few ups and downs but nothing too taxing.

We asked G3 if he wanted to go swimming and he surprised us by saying no. I guess fresh water — in a small lake — was unappealing after his last swimming mishap.

The woman at the visitor’s center told us we had to drive the wilderness loop because is wasn’t beautiful. If you ever come to Itasca, don’t waste your time. We were all bored by it. It was like driving through the woods — with no scenic spots along the way — and we can do that at home.

The campground in the park is not first come first serve. It requires a reservation so we were surprised to find vacant sites for this evening. It did make for a more relaxing day knowing we had a place to sleep and didn’t have to hunt for a site after a day of activity.

If we make G3 eat one more sandwich he might launch a hunger strike. Sandwiches for brunch and dinner today just might have been too much. He was not happy.

Since we are staying in the state park we actually get to have an early and restful evening around the campfire. When we first arrived we saw posted signs saying fire restrictions are in affect — Minnesota is in a drought — and campfires are not allowed. It turns out that they are not allowed except between the hours of 6 and 10 PM. We can work with that.

Categories
Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 25

Last night, we didn’t get back to the campsite until 2:10 AM. I think we — Kati and I, G3 was sleeping — might have seen a mountain lion running beside the road on our drive. It definitely moved like a cat but looked too big to be a house cat. However, we were moving too quickly for me to have been able to scrutinize it closely, therefore, I can’t be sure. We definitely did hear coyotes while waiting for the astronomy program to begin. They were loud, and if I heard them while alone on the prairie it very well might have freaked me out.

I can’t sleep late in a tent or while away so despite getting in so late last night (or rather this morning) I was awake a 7. To prevent my restlessness from waking the family I put on my boots and went for a walk. I intended only to traverse the nature trail at the campground but soon my steps carried me over to the buttes and I hiked a short bit on one of the trails. I like the North Unit much more than the South. There are far fewer people and at that early hour I was entirely alone. I love the quite of the early hour. The only sound to be heard were the birds. There is a magic in the morning before most of the world wakes and I always feel it most strongly when I am away.

G3 wanted to hike to the prairie dog town this morning before we left. Yes, G3 asked me if we could hike. I don’t hear that request nearly enough so I was definitely not going to say no. Besides, the prairie dogs are incredibly adorable and I really am going to miss them so I too wanted to see them one more time and say goodbye before we left the prairie. When we started our hike it was still relatively cool at 74 degrees and when we arrived at the town the prairie dogs were all up and out of their burrows having breakfast. We actually heard them barking before we saw them. They must be quite used to people because they let us get super close.

While watching the prairie dogs, G3 stumbled upon a rattlesnake in it’s den. This time, I felt much braver — probably because it was curled up and sound asleep — so I did take a second to snap a photo before walking away.

Driving through North Dakota as a native New Yorker, I find the vast emptiness mind boggling. We drove for over an hour without passing another car. The grasses and cattle here should be very thankful that they have as much political clout in the Senate as humans back in New York.

I thought prices and the cost of living was supposed to be cheaper out west. I thought New Jersey was supposed to be one of the most expensive states to live in. So why then were the prices of Subway sandwiches in the middle Nowhere North Dakota much more expensive than anywhere else we have been? In fact, Subways in New Jersey are cheap by comparison.

We stopped into Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. It is where the Hidatsa People lived. Until this trip, I had never heard of them, but I had heard of their most celebrated resident — Sacajawea. When we arrived, Kati asked if there were any Ranger talks or programs scheduled. There weren’t. However, they offered to do in impromptu one for us. We were excited. These historical visits are always more fun and meaningful when a ranger is involved. Other people were there and they too joined the Ranger tour of the Earthen Lodge. The ranger giving the tour was new but she was good. She brought us inside the lodge and explained how the Hidatsa lived and what they used things inside the lodge for. The talk was interesting and informative. But I have turned into my father. He always had lots of questions for tour guides and I often do too. In fact, Kati commented yesterday that she can tell how much I’m learning and how interested I am in a topic based on how many questions I ask. Today, my questions were endless — everyone else was long gone by the time we finished speaking with the ranger — and I was a little disappointed that the ranger didn’t have all the answers. But in fairness, I admit some of my questions were beyond the scope of that particular historic site. When I get home I will have to do some research, perhaps find a good book to read. (If you have read anything you found interesting on the Hidatsa people I do love recommendations.)

One of the best things about history, or even learning in general, is connecting the dots. Applying what you already know in order to understand something new. What I knew of tribes on the Great Plains was that they were all nomadic because they followed the bison herds. My knowledge was faulty. The Hidatsa — and the Mandan — lived in villages. They hunted bison like the Lakota, but they were also farmers, growing the three sisters — squash, beans, corn — plus a fourth sister, sunflowers which acted as a pollinator. Why did I never learn this in school?

I suspect three reasons play into the Hidatsa’s absence from textbooks: no gold was discovered on their land, there were no wars between them and the US government, and they were farmers — they didn’t need to be “civilized” as much as other tribes. Another Ranger speculated that they were allies in the US government’s war against the Lakota. Did they try to appease the government? Possibly. But like every tribe who fought to maintain their freedom and way of life they too ended up on a reservation. Their land was taken and they were forced upon a much smaller patch of land set aside by the American government. Maybe that’s why their story isn’t told. They were “peaceful,” they did everything they were asked to do, and still the United States stole from them. In some ways, that makes America look even worse. The Hidatsa gave the US no easy excuse for their deplorable behavior. History, as taught in public school, traditionally has elements of propaganda to make America and Americans sound wonderful. But we have our faults and history needs to acknowledge them — hence the need for critical race theory. I really need to teach history. I would be great at getting students to think critically about history and the way we view it.

G3 talked me into buying him another book. This one is about Native American star myths. This is why I am opposed to homework over the summer. I am even opposed to summer reading. If G3 had to do school work he wouldn’t want any part of reading or learning. With the summer free, he can pursue his own interests.

When G3 was about a year and a half old we spent the day hiking and swimming in Minnewaska State Park in New York. It was a long day and when we finally left the park Kati and I were in the mood for TCBY so we stopped for frozen yogurt. We planned to eat dinner when we got home, but G3 was exhausted from a day spent exploring the great outdoors. After a snack consisting of Smart Pop and frozen yogurt, G3 fell into a deep sleep. We knew waking him up when we got home would not be a good idea. Jokingly, Kati said, “Do you realize we just gave our kid ice cream and Smart Pop for dinner?” In response, I cried. And boy did I cry. What kind of mother gives their kid ice cream for dinner? My kid wasn’t even two and I was failing at parenthood. Kati was incredulous. Dumbfounded that I was actually crying about it. Well, obviously I got over it. Now, on occasion we have ice cream for dinner and it’s something that makes us all smile. Anyway, the TCBY place in New Paltz closed nearly a decade ago and I haven’t seen TCBY anywhere — until today. In Bismarck, North Dakota we found it and since G3 has heard that story so much I decided we needed to stop. Only it was a small treat — after dinner, not for dinner.

Categories
Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 24

Last night, we were sitting around the campfire when G3 asked, “Are we getting up early tomorrow?” With a sideways glance at me Kati said, “We are on vacation with your mother. Of course we are getting up early.” I definitely have a different relationship with vacation than the average person. When traveling, I like to see and do and explore as much as possible. You can’t do any of that sleeping in. But this morning, I didn’t wake Kati and G3 until 8. And for me that was a late start.

Our plan was to head down to the Southern Unit of the park after breakfast. However, we stopped at the scenic pull out near our campground where we found a ranger hanging out as if waiting for something. Kati jumped out of the car and asked if he was going to do a talk or some other program. He said in three minutes he was going to do a guided two mile hike through the prairie. We didn’t hesitate. We put our boots and got ready to join him.

It was one of the best most informative ranger programs we have experienced. It reminded me of the programs the parks had when I was kid, where we were taught a whole lesson in a fun and interactive way. Today, the program focused on the geology and ecosystem found in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We learned about the formation of the buttes and the various layers sediment — from coal to clinker rocks. We learned about bison and prairie dogs and how natural prairie fires are good for the prairie and encourage new growth. (And if you are worried about prairie dogs during fires like we were you can rest easy knowing that they are perfectly safe underground. The fires don’t burn hot enough to roast them.)

Medora is a quaint town outside the South Unit Park entrance. Some of the buildings are dressed up with facades to resemble the old Wild West. We stopped there briefly for lunch and stayed to do an Adventure Lab cache. I enjoyed the walk through town but the heat was so overwhelming oppressive towards the end that Kati opted to find a shady spot and sit for a bit. The heat is so bad that the National a park has heat advisory warnings posted everywhere.

How is it possible that a place Dad never went to, a place he never even spoke about, could remind me of him so much that periodically throughout the day I found myself crying because I missed him so much. Of all the places we have visited since Dad died, of all the conversations I wish I could have, I most want to call him today and tell him what we leaned about Roosevelt and this park. He would have been very interested. And his response to everything I said would have been, “Very nice.” Even G3 thought of his Grandfather today. He bought a lego-like building figure of Roosevelt and commented, “Grandpa liked him.”

Behind one of the visitor centers is the cabin Roosevelt first lived in when he came to the Dakota Territory. Seeing the cabin, for a boy who loves visiting Presidents’ houses, was a must. The Ranger talk at the cabin was a plus. Roosevelt first came here because he wanted to hunt a bison. Bison were nearly extinct and finding one to shoot was challenging. Eventually, he accomplished his goal but the scarcity of bison convinced him that nature needed to be protected. That one event set him on the path of conservation.

Roosevelt later came to the Dakotas after his wife and mother died — on the exact same day. He came here to grieve. Much like I found solace at the beach in Long Island and then the Great Lakes after Dad died, Roosevelt found it here. I sought healing in water. He sought it on the prairie.

Oh, and he hated to be called Teddy which I found interesting because that’s how history has remembered him — thanks to the Teddy Bear.

We did not go to Roosevelt’s Elkhorn ranch. His house is no longer standing and the road to access the property is long and not paved and therefore not good for Kati’s car.

We took the scenic drive through the park, stopping at the pull outs to pause and appreciate the landscape. G3 and I took one super short hike. At 95 degrees with absolutely no shade I did not think a long hike was wise.

G3 has embraced a new tactic to get me to buy him books at the National Parks. If he sees a science related book that interests him he holds it up, smiles, and says, “Homeschool science!” How can I say no? My kids wants to read, he has a thirst for knowledge, and so I give in. So far, he got a book on astronomy and a book on prairie dogs, each of which he devoured the same day he got it.

We left the park to eat dinner but returned around 7:30. There was no point in returning to our campsite — an hour and a half north — because G3 wanted to attend the astronomy program at 10. We pulled over next to a prairie dog town to watch the little guys. It was cooler so dozens of them were out of their burrows eating and socializing with each other. We sat down on the ground enjoying the quiet, the solitude, and the prairie dogs. We — G3 especially — are really going to miss them when we get back home.

When we arrived — two hours early because only the first 15 people were admitted to the program — for astronomy, G3 got a call from a friend of his on Messanger Kids. He was ecstatic. Thrilled that a friend thought of him. Excited that he could talk to someone other than his moms. Since he had just finished mocking me mercilessly for my need to hike I figured he wouldn’t mind if I went out without him. The heat had finally broke and I had hoped to hike two or three miles before settling into a science lesson. However, when the sun started to set I figured I should turn around. Being out alone on the prairie at night didn’t seem safe. I was about three minutes into my return journey when I heard the telltale rattle sound a split second before the snake rose up in front of me sprawled across the path. There was no way I was going to try to get around him. I didn’t even stick around long enough for a picture (sorry). I turned and raced to the road, simultaneously reaching for my phone. I called Kati asking her to pick me up. She was irritated but she came to get me.

The astronomy program was spectacular. It was a billion times better than the one in Glacier and the guys running it made up for the nasty guy who left us stranded in the parking lot. John, the guy running the program is a former science teacher and it was easy to tell that he was a good teacher. He knew how to engage an audience and he was able to explain the material in a way that we — non-science people — could understand it. G3 was the happiest, most excited I have seen him the entire time we’ve been on the road. He was dancing around, pointing out constellations, and telling us which stars were which proving that he read the book I bought him. Yes, he’s been studying — of his own free will — on vacation. Through the telescope we saw several stars. We saw details on the surface of the moon. And, most interestingly, we could clearly discern Saturn’s rings and several of Jupiter’s moons. It was definitely a good night.

Categories
Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 23

Last night, we slept at a campsite in Malta, Montana. It was right on Route 2 which seemed perfect because we didn’t have to waste time driving just to find a place to sleep. And since we were planning to be there less than 10 hours it’s not like we needed someplace scenic or isolated. But the site was nothing more than a city park. No actual sites, only empty space. Simply pitch your tent where ever there was room and deposit $5 in the payment box — on the honor system. By the time we pulled in it was already dark. But when we got out to scope out the area with flashlights we found dozens of large holes in the dirt, homes, we assumed, of some sort of critter. We could only guess what animal might live there since we didn’t see any living creatures at all. But Kati insisted on pitching a tent as far from the holes as possible. I guess none of us really wanted anything trying to burrow into our tent in the middle of the night. When we finally selected a spot, the wind from an approaching storm kicked up and lightning lit the sky in frequent flashes. Setting up a tent in the dark is difficult, add heavy wind to the scenario and it’s almost comical. We put down the tarp but the wind blew it away before we set the tent down. Then once the tent was up it was bending and blowing in all sorts of ways while I fought to get the stakes in. Finally, the tent was staked and the rain came but it only beat down for about twenty minutes. The wind, however, kept up it’s ferocity and I wondered if it might actually blow us into the next town. But when we woke up all was quiet. No wind. No rain. And the temperature already uncomfortably hot at 7 o’clock.

Sadly, we left Montana this morning but we entered North Dakota. It is the final new state G3 will visit on this trip. (It is also a first time in North Dakota for me and Kati.) In total G3 has now been to 26 states.

We stopped in to see Fort Union Trading Post which is a National Historic Site on the border of Montana and North Dakota. John Jacob Astor established the trading post in 1828. While in existence, it was the busiest trade post on the Upper Missouri River. It was also Astor’s most successful fur trading location. Men from various tribes in the area went to the trading post to trade their furs for coveted goods — including rifles — from the East. The end of the Civil War brought about and end to the trading post. With Union soldiers redeployed out west and violence escalating between Americans and Native Americans all peaceful relationships were severed. You can’t trust or trade with people who might shoot you.

G3 was excited to find a blacksmith at the trading post. He has been fascinated by blacksmiths since he was really little. They are by far his favorite part of living museums. (He has been begging me and Kati to find him an apprenticeship so he can learn the trade. If any of you have any idea where we can send him to learn the necessary skills please let me know.) The blacksmith at the trading post is also an engineer so he not only discussed what the blacksmiths did at the trading post, he also incorporated some of the science behind working the metal which G3 found interesting. G3 watched and listened so raptly that he gave G3 the hook he had been working on. Free souvenirs are even better than the ones you have to pay for.

Fort Buford is less than five miles from the Trading post. As we were leaving, I asked Kati to please take the detour. Fort Buford would probably have dissolved into obscurity except for the fact that it was where Sitting Bull surrendered his freedom and consented to live on a reservation. When we arrived, we could hear thunder crashing above. The moment I started to read the sign regarding Sitting Bull thunder tore the sky open and rain poured down. But like yesterday, it lasted only a few minutes.

Daddy liked Teddy Roosevelt a great deal. If Roosevelt wasn’t his all time favorite president, he was definitely in his top five favorites. Mostly, I think, Dad liked him because of his role in conservation and the establishment of the National Park system. Also, Roosevelt was from New York and Dad loved his house out in Oyster Bay. When my brother and I were younger he took us to Sagamore Hill. And then, when my son was about six years old and developed an interest in Presidential History, Dad excitedly took G3 to see Roosevelt’s house. We all had fun that day. Just one more experience Dad wanted his grandson to have. He gave G3 so much. Needless to say, whenever I hear about Roosevelt, I think about Dad. So I’ve been thinking about him a lot today as we began our exploration of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Shortly after Dad died, his first cousin got G3 a subscription to The Week Junior magazine. G3 and I enjoy reading it at night before bed and discussing the news. One of our favorite parts of the magazine is the spotlight of a State or National Park in the United States. Not long after we started planning our summer trip the magazine chose Theodore Roosevelt National Park. As soon as G3 read it he said, “We have to go there.” I agreed and immediately added it to our itinerary. I am glad we did. It is beautiful. Thank you Anna.

We arrived at the campground in the Northern Unit of the park early in the evening and were lucky to get a campsite. The temperature which had been painfully hot all day finally dipped down to 70, so of coarse I had to take a hike. G3, surprisingly, said he was going to come with me. To make him happy, I selected a short segment of the Buckthorn Trail which would take us to a prairie dog town. You know how much he loves those rodents. On the way, we saw a bison on the trail walking directly towards us. We stepped off the trail to give him plenty of room. Neither one of us wanted to be trampled by an angry wild bison.

Seeing the prairie dogs may have been the highlight of G3’s day. He spent a great deal of time watching them. And I could not believe how close he was able to get to them.

Sorry, lack of service again delayed my post.

Categories
Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 22

Glacier National Park was our turn around point. G3 and I would have kept traveling west to the Pacific, but Kati, the responsible adult, said no. If we went further and stretched our trip longer we would run out of money and find ourselves stranded, possibly in North Dakota — and what the hell would one do trapped in the middle of nowhere. So alas, we now are driving toward the rising sun instead of the setting one.

G3 was very groggy this morning from the Benadryl he took before bed. We woke him up and told him to get in the car and go back to sleep. Kati and I then broke camp. G3 conked out for a good two hours while Kati drove and when he woke up he announced his hunger and need for food. But we were surrounded by nothing but grassy fields and way too many cows. No sign of a civilization selling food anywhere in sight.

Conrad was the first town — if you can call something that tiny a town — we came to this morning and by then G3 was famished. We passed a gun shop advertising “Buy Sell Trade Pawn.” I wanted to stop in out of curiosity to see how easy it was to get a gun but they were closed. We ate in a cafe down the street from the gun shop. It was run down and the booths were in dire need of an upgrade. I sat down and fell into a hole. At least the food was decent and cheap. And now that G3 is full he is in a happier mood.

Lewis and Clark traveled on the Missouri River as they made their way west. When they reached what is now Great Falls, Montana they were dismayed to discover five large waterfalls obstructing their path. In order to bypass them, they had to take their canoes and supplies out of the water and lug them across 18 miles dry land. Initially, they thought this would take a day or two but it ended up taking quite a bit longer. In all, they spent more than a month in this area, longer than they spent anywhere else on their journey.

Today, Great Falls is home to an interpretive center — museum — that tells the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition. This is where we detoured today as we began our return to the East Coast. The museum was interesting and informative. We walked through the exhibits and watched two films about Lewis’s and Clark’s trials, but what we all enjoyed and appreciated the most was the talk about the Spanish. Apparently, the Spanish Government sent at least four expeditions in search of Lewis and Clark. The Spanish were displeased with Napoleon for selling us Louisiana and they wanted to prevent America’s westward expansion. The best way to do this — in their opinion— would have been to arrest Lewis and Clark. The first three missions — all led by the same man (sorry, I forgot his name) — failed. Finally, the Spanish got smart and hired someone else to lead the charge against Lewis and Clark. But he turned around and hired the first guy as a assistant. In the end, he too failed. But you have to wonder, if the Spanish had succeeded, would it have made a difference?

The woman who gave the talk was fantastic. She knew how to tell a story to keep her audience engaged. And I can say this because even Kati enjoyed the talk and Kati is a hard sell when it comes to history. As for me, I always like learning something new.

While in Great Falls, we wanted to see the waterfalls. Unfortunately, due to the dams which have been built, the river looks much different than it did in the time of Lewis and Clark. The woman at the city’s visitor center told us they are absolutely beautiful but we would have to take her word for it. With the dams in place they were nothing but a trickle. I did, however take a short walk beside the river traversing only a tiny fraction of what Lewis and Clark covered. I would have walked further but we still had quite a bit of driving to do for the day. I didn’t want to hold up G3 and Kati who had no desire to walk. They both think I’m insane for all the hiking I’ve made them do since we left home. Besides, it was 98 degrees and neither one of them wanted to melt.

The big laugh of our road trip has been Kati’s inability to park straight and in the lines. Needless to say, “straight jokes” have been endless.

Categories
Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 21

Oh what a morning we’ve had. Yesterday after our swim both G3 and I were itchy. By the time we went to bed, I was fine and G3 was no longer complaining. However, this morning he woke up covered in what appeared to be hives and he was more itchy than yesterday. We immediately drove over to the ranger station to inquire about a doctor. They sent us to a clinic five miles away. We were the first ones there — arriving 20 minutes before they opened.

When the physician’s assistant showed up he tended to G3 immediately. He was wonderful and seemingly thorough. He made us feel like he had all day to spend with us. He diagnosed G3 with Marine Toxin Dermatitis — or in layman’s terms, swimmer’s itch. It is a parasite that burrows into the skin and is caused by fowl populations. Apparently, it is not uncommon in lakes. The physician’s assistant said that often two people may swim in the same place and one acquires the parasite and the other doesn’t and science hasn’t figured out why. He did add that the fact that G3 swam closer to the shore, whereas, I swam out deeper probably contributed to G3’s more severe reaction. There is no treatment for the parasite, it will go away on its own in about a week. But he recommended rubbing Benadryl ointment on G3’s skin to alleviate the itchiness and taking Benadryl at night so he can sleep. Of course, after leaving the clinic, we went directly to a pharmacy. While outside the park we stopped at a diner for breakfast since G3 request “comfort food,” claiming it would make him feel better.

Due to our unexpected detour this morning to the medical clinic, we got a late start on our activities for the day. We finally got on the Going-to-the-Sun road around half past noon. We planned to drive all the way to the other end to visit the St. Mary’s Visitor Center and gift shop. G3 has been buying Lego-like animals to put together at all the parks we have been to. But so far he hasn’t seen any at the gift shops we have explored here at Glacier.

The Going-to-the-Sun road is only 52 miles but it snakes around the mountains gaining a great deal of elevation. The average speed is about 20, maybe 25, MPH. Driving the entire length took an hour and a half.

When we got to St. Mary’s on the other side of Glacier National Park we stepped out of the car and immediately smelled smoke. The smokey haze is worse today obscuring the mountains more than on our previous days here. We can see the mountains but not as clearly as we would like. We drove a long way and the smoke is disappointing. It’s not like we can just swing back this way when the air clears. Without the smoke, the scenery would be gorgeous.

The gift shop was microscopic. They did not have the buildable animal figures G3 wanted. But they did have a tee shirt we all liked so we bought another set of matching shirts. Apparently, we are incapable of traveling together if we don’t all dress alike. I guess if one of us ever goes missing it might make finding the lost person a little easier.

I think the east side of the park is more picturesque than the west, though it is hard to really say because of the smoke. Late this afternoon we hiked through a cemetery of dead trees — trees that had been charred in a forest fire six years ago. Their skeletal branches still twisted toward the sky and combined with the Smokey background they lent an ominous feel to the landscape. Our hike brought us to St. Mary’s Falls. There is definitely no shortage of waterfalls in this park. I could not believe how blue the water was. G3 enjoyed sitting at the edge and watching the water crash into the river.

The man who gave the astronomy program a couple nights ago told us that if we came back at 11 o’clock tonight he would take G3 out into the parking lot and show him some stars with his telescope. All night G3 was looking forward to it. At the campfire he was even reading about the different constellations in preparation for it. Not wanting to be late, we left early and when we got to the amphitheater the man was breaking down from tonight’s presentation. He told us to wait for him in the parking lot, so we did. We waited about twenty minutes but instead of showing G3 the stars as promised, without a word to us he got in his car and just drove away. That was a really crappy thing to do to a kid. G3 was beyond disappointed. I don’t blame him. And so our trip to Glacier ends on an exceptionally sour note. And my opinion of rangers and their programs took a severe hit.

Sorry about the super later posting. I had to wait until I had service.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 20

A park ranger told us that Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake west of the Missouri River. Since we have already gone swimming in the five greatest lakes east of the Missouri we figured we should probably take a day trip to Flathead Lake. There were a few state parks boarding the lake and their websites said they had swimming. We went to both Wayfarers and Yellow Bay and we were disappointed in both of them. Wayfarers didn’t have a beach and Yellow Bay had a beach about the size of my tiny car. The minute beach was already crowded and since we hate crowds, especially in tight spaces we went back to Wayfarers to swim off the rocks.

While most days have been too hot for Kati, today, a day set aside for swimming was the coolest day we had — too cold for Kati to jump into the water. G3 and I, however, had a fun time in the lake. The water was deep which was perfect for swimming and G3 enjoyed climbing on the rocks.

The area around Flathead Lake had many cherry orchards and stands along the road were selling the cherries. I LOVE cherries so I had to stop to get some. Unable to decide if I wanted red cherries or white ones, I got a pound of each. They are delicious — probably the sweetest cherries I’ve ever had. And they were so much cheaper than back home. I liked them so much I ate them all for lunch — okay G3 had a few so I didn’t eat exactly two pounds but it was still the best lunch I’ve had on the road. If I could get them home with having them spoil I’d bring some to Mom. But I am fairly certain they wouldn’t survive the trip. Sorry Mom.

G3 and I were both insanely itchy. It must have been caused by something in the water since Kati is fine. But what could it be? There were no warning signs posted and there were lots of other people swimming. Only after dousing ourselves with rubbing alcohol did we feel better.

Kati is often bored with history. I can’t fathom a vacation without including some historical stops. To counteract her boredom she decided we needed to stop at wineries along the way. But wineries bore G3. It’s not surprising. He isn’t old enough to drink so wineries bore him as much as history bores Kati. Several months ago, when we started talking about our summer holiday G3 told Kati that if she earned her orange belt decided in taekwondo he would let her visit 6 wineries on our trip and he wouldn’t whine. In June, she earned her belt. And today, she cashed it her first winery. After swimming, we detoured to Glacier Sun Winery where they offered not only wine tasting but cider tasting as well. When it comes to alcohol Kati and I are good about sharing. She opted to taste wine. I went with the cider, but we shared our samples. Kati and I agreed — yes, us agreeing is a rarity — that the Bear Food cider was good so before we left we bought some to drink at our campsite. Oh, and Kati might be a little jealous that the bartender was flirting with me.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 19

Last night we had a campfire. I am surprised campfires are allowed in the park with all the wildfires in the surrounding areas. G3 sat at the fire and read his astronomy book. Those of you who read his paper on constellations know he is interested in the intersection of science and mythology found in the night sky.

We slept in this morning, figuring we needed to recharge our internal batteries a bit after getting such little sleep the night before. For breakfast we had coffee, hot chocolate, and oatmeal all easily made with hot water boiled on our camping stove.

Since we got on the road we have kept very busy. We’ve been go go go for more than two weeks trying to see and do as much as possible. Therefore, we decided today would be a low-key relaxing day. Of course G3 mumbled, “Hiking isn’t relaxing.” Apparently, after eleven years he still doesn’t know me very well.

We hiked the 4 1/2 mile Avalanche Lake trail. Smoke continues to obscure our views but it was still an enjoyable hike. It was 66 degrees when we started — cool enough for Kati to join us. However, it did climb to 82 so by the time we finished she had started to melt. The lake was shallow, more shallow than the Peconic Bay at low tide, and the water was cold. We did take off our socks and boots when we got there to soak our sweaty feet. The hike was easy, only an elevation gain of 500 feet and since we started at a much lower elevation than yesterday there was no chance of seeing another mountain goat.

Lunch was variations on peanut butter. Kati ate peanut butter and jelly. G3 went with peanut butter and Nutella. I’m a purist, only peanut butter for me.

The campground is on Lake McDonald. This afternoon we went swimming. I expected the water to be cold but it was just chilly. It was the best swim we’ve had thus far on this trip. The water even felt clean.

We then had some time to just kick back around the campfire reading.

At ten o’clock at night there was an astronomy ranger program at the campground. G3 was super excited about it. He made sure we left in plenty of time because he was so eager to learn something new about the universe. Homeschool science is finally going well. The program started with a PowerPoint presentation. G3 found it interesting and he drank in the information. Since it was dark, I struggled to keep my eyes open. After the presentation, one guy tried to set up the telescope — one more powerful than the one G3 has — but he was having technical difficulties. While he worked on it, G3 set up his telescope and the other guy pointed out a double star for G3 to examine. He then pointed out other stars and constellations. Unfortunately, they never did get the powerful telescope to work. G3 wasn’t too disappointed. He enjoyed his brief individualized tutorial about the night sky.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 18

It doesn’t get dark until ten-ish. Knowing we had to get up at an absurd hour we attempted to go to bed early. But none of us could fall asleep when it was still light out so we read instead.

This morning we got up at 3. Kati and I have broken camp so frequently that we were easily able to do it in the dark. In order to access most of Glacier National Park you needed to make a reservation. They are trying to cut back on the number of visitors. However, getting reservations has been impossible. Despite logging in and calling at the time they are released, we were never the lucky ones able to get through. But they don’t start checking for reservations until 6 in the morning and the road never closes. So we will be in the park long before they start checking for tickets which should enable us to get a spot in the campground of our choice.

OMG! Trying to get a site in this campground (which is all first come first serve) is insane. According to the website, it sometimes fills up before 7. However, the barricade across the road says that you can’t line up or access the campground until 8. It is not yet 6 and the crowd is building. People have parked their cars elsewhere and are lining up on foot. There is no respect for who got here first. I feel like I am back in NYC trying to jockey for position to board a train during rush hour. Kati has already loudly proclaimed that I have a black belt just in case any of the bigger men thought that that might be able to push me around. But she is keeping G3 warm and safe in the car.

What an adrenaline rush. Envelopes — for site payments — were handed out to people on foot — no cars allowed — the barricade was removed and we were off in a race to find a campsite. G3, Kati, and I all ran to different sites in different areas, each claiming one. Once we knew we would have a place to sleep we could evaluate which was best. G3 said the chaos reminded him of the Cornucopia scene in Hunger Games. After all that we aren’t moving for at least three days.

Once we secured our spot we had a quick lunch of ramen noodles — I am not sure if that is a step up or a step down from sandwiches — we took a drive on the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road. Along the way we stopped at the Logan Pass to hike the Hidden Lake Trail. It was a relatively easy walk uphill some of which was on a boardwalk. The scenery was majestic. I haven’t see Mountain View’s this awe inspiring since I was in Peru.

Some of you may know that we call G3 our little mountain goat. (BTW they are related to antelope not goats). Every time we go hiking he is always racing ahead and his favorite hikes always involve a rock scramble. As a result, he has come to think of the mountain goat as his spirit animal. When we were at Custer State Park he wanted to see a mountain goat more than anything. He left disappointed. However, today his wish came true. While on our hike we saw not one but five mountain goats one of which was a baby. G3 was more excited than I have ever seen him. He even proclaimed, “This is the best day ever.” Thank you dad for sending us the mountain goats.

The sky is still smokey from the fires and so many of my pictures look hazy.

After hiking we drove a little further to see the Jackson Glacier. I wanted to make sure G3 got to see at least one glacier while he was here. Comparing it to a picture from the early 1900’s you can see how rapidly it is melting.

I will leave you with the baby mountain goat.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 17

Today is Daddy’s birthday. He should be celebrating his 73rd birthday with my mom. They should be spending the day at the beach and then going to one of their favorite restaurants for dinner. I wish things had happened differently. I wish I could call him now to wish him a happy birthday.

Our plans this morning have been derailed. We wanted to drive north and camp for a night or two in the National Forest. But the campgrounds posted warnings about the air quality. Nothing like planning a trip to get my kid out into the mountains and having to switch gears because the air is not clean. Damn wildfires.

After the crowds in Yellowstone we wanted to avoid another popular National Park on the weekend. But the poor air quality where we intended to spend the next two days pushed us further north into Glacier National Park. We couldn’t get into the campground we wanted, but we did get into a campground on the eastern end of the park. Daddy must have been looking out for us. He didn’t want us to be anxiety ridden on his birthday. The site is small and there are many sites crowded together but the landscape is gorgeous — tall jagged mountains towering over a cool clear lake.

By the time we set up camp we were all hungry. The closest town was on the Blackfeet Reservation so we drove there for tacos. Seeing the reservation made me sad. True we didn’t explore all of it, but what we saw was run down. There certainly wasn’t a fair amount of money flowing through the area. We stopped in a trading post and were depressed to see that much of what they sold catered to an interest in cowboys and cowboy culture. It’s one thing to read about how poorly the United States treated the Native Americans but seeing it really allowed me to better understand how guilty our nation is. And by attempting to bury our guilt, by not teaching the entire truth in our schools we continue to exacerbate the cruelty of our forefathers.

I absolutely LOVE Glacier National Park. It is beautiful. Dad would have loved it too. It is one of the most — if not the most beautiful National Park I’ve ever been to — and so far we’ve only explored a tiny bit of it.

G3 and I took a short hike to Aster Waterfall. Once there we took off our boots and socks to wade into the water. The water was extremely cold, colder than Lake Superior in May.

I have been doing the “Empty Bench” series for over a year now but this particular bench really makes me miss Dad. He loved the water as much as I do. He would have liked to sit here with Mom. They would have enjoyed this park. His future should have been so different. He was robbed of so much.

We had just finished eating dinner at our campsite (peanut butter and jelly which G3 rejected because it wasn’t tasty enough) when I noticed a ranger program beginning one site over from us. Of course we went. We learned about how Glacier National Park was formed and why it is important for so many water systems in the United States. Once upon a time there were over a hundred glaciers in the park, now there are only twenty. And due to global warming, even they may be gone in ten years.

Sorry for the late posting. I had absolutely no service in the park last night.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 16

This morning while Kati and I broke camp, G3 took his book down to the lake, he sat on a huge rock, and he read. He is really enjoying The Martian. I love when we are in the car and he reads aloud excerpts that make him laugh or ones he finds interesting. Yesterday he commented, “I love this book. There are so many curse words.”

Driving to Big Hole National Battlefield we could hardly see the mountains that were not far in the distance. They were covered in a thick layer of smoke that came from a nearby wildfire. When we rolled down the window we could smell the fire — a scent much stronger than a simple campfire. Even when we closed the windows the smell hung heavily in the car. I don’t understand why people in areas devastated year after year by forest fires continue to vote for people who deny science. How can they not acknowledge global warming when such severe evidence can be seen so clearly in their own backyards? Why is protecting the Second Amendment a higher priority than protecting the plant we all need if we are going to survive? Guns can’t defend anyone if we destroy our environment. I knew this trip would enhance G3’s education in science and history but he is also learning quite a bit about political science.

The Big Hole Visitor’s Center was open but all tours and talks were cancelled due to the fire which is raging only five miles away. We were also unable to walk the trail that runs through the battlefield because the smoke was too thick. It was disappointing, but at least we could see the battlefield in the distance. I would have liked a tour or talk especially since the talks at Little Bighorn were so interesting and informative. Besides, going into Little Bighorn, I was familiar with the history. Before today I knew little about the Nez Perce. I was familiar with Chief Joseph and his proclamation that, I will fight no more forever.” But I didn’t know the details of the how the United States stole their land and butchered their people. Luckily, a shot 26 minute film offered us a brief history, a history that prompted Kati to observe, “It’s the same story every time.” And she is right. The original treaty between the US and the Nez Perce gave the Nez Perce a decent sized reservation. But unfortunately, gold was discovered on the land which caused white people to pour onto into the reservation. Maybe the Nez Perce should have built a wall to keep all the illegal white people out. They didn’t. Instead, the US Government manipulated the the situation and sole their land, reducing the reservation by 90 percent. Not surprisingly, this led to conflict. At the Battle of Big Hole the US army slaughtered women and children, as well as the Warriors, all of whom where asleep in their teepees. Their actions were immoral and unethical.

When the film ended, G3 said, “It sounds more like a massacre than a battle.” I agreed with him. He asked why it isn’t called a massacre and why we don’t learn about it in school. My answer was simple, “Americans want to believe they are great. They want to believe our country is great. They don’t want to objectively look at our history and admit that we were cruel and committed acts of genocide.” If we taught the truth in school we would seriously need to reevaluate our romanticized version of westward expansion. We would also need to acknowledge that our belief in “rugged individualism’ is a myth that was only made possible because the Government protected the illegal acts of white settlers by committing acts of cruelty against non-white people. In reality, there was no individualism. The settlers could not have survived without Government interference.

Leaving the battlefield we continued driving west. We drove parallel to the fire and behind the trees we could see thick black smoke billowing up into air. Above, we heard and saw helicopters fighting the fires.

As we turned north, the three of us started to feel sick. G3 felt overwhelmingly tired despite sleeping in this morning. He put his book down and fell asleep. Kati’s throat hurt. And both she and I got bad headaches. We are certain it’s from driving through so much smoke. I can’t imagine living out west and dealing with these fires frequently.

We stopped briefly in Hamilton for A&W root beer floats and cheese curds, snacks we can’t get at home. We sat outside to eat and even though we had put some distance between us and the fire, we could still smell it. After eating, G3 and I felt better.

Our campsite isn’t as scenic nor as deserted as yesterday but it will do for a night. The guy in the site next to us is a criminal. He’s got one of those house arrest ankle bands on his leg. The writer in me is itching to know his story and G3 and I have spun several tales as to what his crime might be. If I ever write a story with a character who is a criminal camper you’ll know my inspiration.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 15

Last night, we got back to the campsite and Kati lit a campfire. It will be our last one for awhile since we are heading up to Montana where campfires are banned due the heat and lack of rain. There are enough wildfires raging out west. We certainly don’t need more. But we will miss our campfires.

While I wrote in G3’s journal, G3 and Kati played Spit. There were so many annoying bugs (perhaps gnats) flying around and harassing us that not only did G3 spray on a heavy layer of bug spray, he put on his swimming goggles to keep the bugs out of his eyes.

This morning we headed north. Western Montana is beautiful. The mountains and streams make for a pleasant landscape to drive through. But everything is so dry. There is hardly any green. The fields are all yellow. It is easy to see why the west is plagued by wildfires. I’m thirsty just looking out the car window.

We found a campsite east of Butte but it is so far removed from civilization that it is only accessible via a dirt road. Our site overlooks Delmoe Lake and it is one of the more scenic spots we have pitched our tent.

Today’s excursion was a trip to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park — the first state park in Montana. It was 89 degrees so Kati stayed behind while G3 and I took a hike. The earth was so parch that each time G3 took a step a cloud of dust rose up behind him. I enjoyed the hike. I enjoyed G3’s company more. But he thinks we’ve done too much hiking on this trip.

After our hike we took a tour of the caverns. It was by far the best cave we’ve seen on this trip. And our tour guide was fantastic. The stalactites and stalagmites — hundreds of them — were extremely impressive. I could have spent the entire day exploring but the tour was only two hours — half of which was in the cavern.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 14

Traffic in Yellowstone is terrible. The National Parks do need to do something to limit the volume of cars entering the parks. We sat in traffic for over an hour this morning entering the park and then driving the first 14 miles. The parking lots and turn out spots are also overflowing. Trying to find a place to park is as challenging as finding a place to park in Manhattan. Only if you go into NYC you have the option of public transportation. The Parks are supposed to be about conservation and all that car exhaust being released into the environment is further harming the environment.

One of the things G3 loves most on vacation is visiting gift shops. Before heading into the park G3 and I stopped into a gift shop in West Yellowstone. Outside was a statue of a bald eagles. Bald eagles remind G3 of his grandfather. On one of their many outing together, Dad bought G3 an eagle stuffed animal.

Our first stop in the park today was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We took a short hike to see the waterfalls. No matter how many falls you see, they are always pretty.

Have you ever been stuck in such horribly dense traffic that you muttered in frustration or anger, “I could walk faster than this.” Well, traffic got so miserable on our way to the Midway Geyser Field that Kati kicked me and G3 out of the car and told us to walk. We did. We walked roughly two miles to the geyser basin and Kati never caught up. We had brief conversations with people in cars as we passed them and we even met a family from NYC.

I had wanted to go back to the geyser fields because G3 enjoyed them so much and we ran out of time to do them all last night. Midway was gorgeous. The blue water in the hot springs was incredibly vibrant. We could feel the heat rising off them.

As G3 and I completed a lap of the geyser field and returned to the parking lot we saw Kati finally pull into a parking spot. We asked her if she wanted to see the geysers. We would have walked the loop again but she wanted no part of the geysers. She was done with the park. She just wanted to leave. I can’t blame her. Traffic always leaves me in a bad mood. On the way out of the park we did stop at the Fountain Paint Pot where we got to see the mud boiling. That was cool.

I had wanted to do another hike today but I totally understand Kati’s frustration and desire to leave behind the traffic. At least G3 and I got in a brief hike along side the road. It was neither the most enjoyable hike nor the most scenic we’ve ever taken in a National Park. However, it was definitely the most interesting and probably the one G3 will always remember best.

We spent much of the day in the park but between all the traffic and the great distance between points of interest we only got to enjoy two places. We spent nearly all our time in the car. I am glad I got to see Yellowstone. I’m happy we were able to give G3 this experience, but I have no desire to ever go back. If I ever miss the crowds or get a hankering for traffic I’ll just take a trip home. At least both traffic and crowds belong in big cities — not in nature.

G3 saw many signs in West Yellowstone for huckleberry ice cream. Neither of us had ever heard of it before. Since huckleberry is native to this area G3 decided he had to have some. I did too. It was good. We both liked it.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 13

Driving through Idaho en route to Grand Teton National Park we stopped for bagels for breakfast. HUGE mistake. They were the absolute worst bagels I’ve ever had — chewy, dry, and salty. No one does bagels like NYC and the surrounding areas.

We entered Grand Teton from the south via Jackson Hole. It was a cute little town. If we had time we would have stopped to walk around, but we wanted to spend the day in the park so we kept driving. The landscape in Idaho was flat and bland. Once we entered Wyoming, mountains rose up around us and the scenery turned pretty. However, it is another hazy day, not good day for photography. All my pictures will look washed out.

We stopped to have a picnic lunch at Jackson Lake. It was a quiet, pretty, and peaceful place to eat.

It is not haze. It is smoke. A Ranger said that the smoke is coming from a wildfire. The fire is contained but the smoke is seriously dampening our experience. We can barely see the mountains we came to look at and photograph. Oh well, one more disappointment. At least we got here.

G3 and I took a three mile hike in the northern part of the park. There was so much horse poop on the path it should have been called Poop Trail. The horrible smell combined with our constant vigilance not to step in it detracted from the enjoyment of the hike. But I still had fun being with G3. Kati didn’t join us for fear of melting since the temperature hit 90 again today.

Following our hike, the three of us drove a few mile north, changed into our swim trunks, and went for a quick soak. The water was too shallow to swim, but it allowed us to rinse off a layer or two of sweat and grime. Lakes are a camper’s bathtub and we all felt refreshed after our dip.

To get back to our campsite we drove north through Yellowstone. We stopped at the Upper Geyser Basin to visit Old Faithful. After a few false starts, it erupted. I was happy to see it but it wasn’t as awe inspiring as I expected it to be.

Seeing the smaller geysers erupt was far more exciting. G3 loved walking through the geyser basins and examining each of the geyser pools as closely as he could. It was late, so there were hardly any other people out which was wonderful and made the experience more enjoyable. Plus it was cooler.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 12

The campsite we were staying in was awful. I am learning to dislike people in RVs. The ones we have encountered on our road trips are some of the loudest, rudest, most selfish people. RV culture is definitely different than tent culture. The RVs run their loud generators all night not caring about ruining the sounds of nature or about whose sleep they might disrupt. They speak loudly and are often in large gregarious groups, again not caring that others are there for an escape into nature. I’m not saying all tent campers are angels. We’ve certainly dealt with ones we haven’t liked. But we are at point where we will do whatever possible to avoid RVs.

Last night, the RV campers were so loud that I ended up having to put the seats down in the car so that I could sleep in trunk. The thin tent walls just did nothing to muffle the sound. Only in the car was I able to fall asleep.

To escape the awful campground we woke up at 5:30 this morning to break camp and drive north. We found a much better, more removed campsite in the National Forest, not too far from Yellowstone. We can smell the pine and since there are no electric hookups we can be confident there will be more tents than RVs.

Since we will be living in bear county for the next week or so Kati not only bought bear spray, she bought a hunting knife. We are hoping we will not need either knife or spray, but if Kati ends up wrestling a bear I will do my best to snap a photo as I scurry G3 away to safety. (Just joking).

We finally made it into Yellowstone for more than a drive at night. We entered the park at West Yellowstone and started the day with a hike. We did the 4.2 mile round trip Bunsen peak trail. The clouds and breeze kept it cool enough for Kati to reach the top. Besides, she had the bear spray so she wasn’t allowed to turn around.

Hiking is almost mandatory in National Parks where the stifling crowds threaten to choke the serenity of nature. It’s the only way to escape the people. At the peak G3 was excited to meet a curious little chipmunk. I could not believe how close he got to us. The views from the trail were okay, nothing breathtaking. That might have been in part due to the thick haze that cast a veil over the mountains in the distance.

After our hike we visited Mammoth Hot Springs — another cool science lesson for G3. Water deep underground is heated. When it is pushed through the buried limestone it dissolves the calcium carbonate. The calcium carbonate is then deposited in terrace like formations. They were pretty and the patterns beneath the running water were interesting. G3 said the color and texture reminded him of coral. I could have watched the water dribbling over the terraces all day but while G3 and I were looking at them we heard thunder in the distance. Rain pour down.

Traffic leaving the park was once again reminiscent of NYC during rush hour. No, I actually think the traffic here was worse. There are too many cars, too many people. And it’s not just entering and leaving. All the parking lots are overrun. Finding a spot is nearly impossible. The National Park should limit the number of people who visit daily. But they won’t because then they’d lose money.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 11

Last night was awful. After making far to many stops end route to Yellowstone we were leaving Cody when an accident shut down the road. I had wanted to be at the campground no later than 7:30 in hopes of finding a campsite. But at six o’clock we were sitting in traffic that had come to a complete stop. We waited a half hour before we could move. We thought there was an accident due to the sirens, paramedics, search and rescue teams, and the water rescue people but once the road opened up we didn’t see an accident.

The traffic was infuriating but the drive along the Shoshone River was beautiful.

And then luck abandoned us again. According to the National Park website, 150 campsites were supposed to be first come first serve. They could not be reserved. However, when we arrived all of the sites had reservation forms posted to them. There were empty sites that according to the website we should have been able to use but the website was incorrect. Even the information the park handed out upon arrival listed the sites as first come first serve. We were pissed. This totally screwed us over. We had no where to stay and there were no vacancies anywhere.

So technically we visited Yellowstone. We entered the park, we drove through more than half of it, we saw the geyser beds in the pinkish glow of the setting sun — which was stunning — and then we left. We drove over an hour into Idaho — which was not on our itinerary— before we found a place to camp. We will go back to Yellowstone, just not today.

When G3 first looked at Yellowstone on the map and saw how close we would be to Idaho he must have asked a dozen times if we could just drive across the border to add another state to his list. Each time we emphatically said “No.” Needless to say when he woke up this morning and I told him where we were he was ecstatic. And I wondered, did Dad have a hand in this? He never said no to G3 and he would have known that ultimately, I would have preferred a good story to tell over an easy night. Plus, I too had never been to Idaho so even I get to up my state count.

Last night, while examining the Idaho map and trying to find a place to stay, I came across Craters of the Moon National Monument. Even though it meant a greater detour, we had to go. G3 has become interested in geology and the more science he gets on this trip the more he can compensate for his awful science teacher last year. And Daddy would have wanted G3 to see and experience everything possible, so I am even more certain he led us here.

This was definitely one of the more unique National Monuments I have been to. The lava flow field is covered in volcanic rock. It resembles the surface of the moon so much that when astronauts were preparing for the moon landing they practiced collecting samples here.

I think G3 enjoyed the day. The three of us started a hike on the North Crater Trail — 3.5 miles round trip. Kati and G3 had fun examining the rocks on the trail. But it was another 90 degree day so when Kati started to melt she turned around. G3 and I completed it. He and I did a few shorter hikes as well, including the caves trail where we explored Boy Scout Cave and Beauty Cave which were both formed by lava flow tunnels. It was refreshing to cool off inside. I think the caves were the highlight of the day for G3. I loved looking at the patterns on the rock, patterns that formed when the rivers of lava cooled.

To celebrate our accidental trip to Idaho I thought it only appropriate that we eat potatoes for dinner. Not WITH dinner. FOR dinner. I suggested that we sit down at a restaurant and order every potato dish on the menu. Both Kati and G3 thought it was a fantastic idea. G3 did a google search and found the perfect place for us to eat. I think my German-American potato-loving dad would have approved.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 10

Yesterday, following Devil’s Tower, we drove north, dipping into Montana so that I could torture Kati with a battlefield visit. When we arrived at the campground the wind was insane. We set the tarp down and the wind whipped it so fiercely that both Kati and G3 had to stand on it while I set down the tent. For the first time ever, I had to stake it down before inserting the poles.

When the tent was finally up, we sat down to enjoy the sunset. Sunsets remind me of Dad and the last sunset I ever watched with him. The summer before he died, G3 asked him to please take us to the sound to see the sunset. I took a picture of Dad and G3 at the beach that night. Now every time I see the sun heading toward the horizon I see both G3 and Dad smiling and wish they could have shared more smiles with each other.

It is so dry and hot out in the northwest that fires have been banned. Camping just isn’t the same without a campfire.

We ate breakfast in a local cafe near Little Bighorn. The waitress was wonderful and the food was fantastic. It was the best breakfast I’ve eaten since we got on the road. If you are ever in Southeastern Montana stop in for a meal.

For a long time I have wanted to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Today, I finally got there. We arrived just in time for a ranger talk. It was fantastic. He spoke about the politics behind the battle and how Grant’s War Department manipulated him and public opinion into supporting a confrontation with the Native Americans.

We enjoyed the talk so much we stuck around for a second one by a different ranger. This time he spoke about the Irish soldiers who fought under Custer. He compared the plight of the Irish suffering from the potato famine and the tyranny of the British to the plight of the Native American suffering from the decline of the bison and the tyranny of the US government. The Irish escaped to America looking for a better life but when they arrived they faced discrimination and high unemployment rates. They joined the military because they didn’t have many other options. The US government used them to wager an unethical war. This talk gave me a different perspective on the battle. In essence, both sides were fighting for survival. The Irish were pawns in another government’s imperial quest for dominance. The Native Americans banned together in an attempt to protect their families, land, and way of life.

Following the talks we took a short walk along the one trail on the battlefield. We then attempted the audio driving tour but the audio portion was boring. The narrator spoke in a dry monotone voice that nearly put me to sleep. We gave up on the audio bit and I simply jumped out to read a few signs while Kati drove.

Since G3 loves prairie dogs so much I bought him one in the gift shop.

We are now heading back into Wyoming and across the state to Yellowstone. When I spoke to Mom this morning she told me that it was exactly 11 years ago that she and Dad began their Yellowstone vacation.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 9

Rain crept in last night while we were eating. When we stepped out of Pizza Hut it was drizzling. By the time we returned to the campsite lightning lit up the prairie. And the wind was so fierce it seemed the tent might blow away with us in it.

Wyoming is desolate. We drove to Devil’s Tower this morning and planned to get breakfast along the way but we saw nothing except endless fields of rolling hills. We had to drive ten miles passed the tower to find a cafe and the prices in this teeny tiny town made NYC look inexpensive.

Returning to the tower we found a line of cars that could match traffic going over the George Washington Bridge during rush hour. It was insane. We sat in traffic for 33 minutes in a county where the entire population is a tiny fraction of Manhattan’s population.

I am glad we went to Devil’s Tower. If we hadn’t I would have felt like we missed something. However, I have no desire to ever go back. The crowd was horrible — all just to see a stone jutting out of the ground. I couldn’t even use the bathrooms because they were so foul from overuse. And those of you who know me know I have a very low bar for bathrooms.

According to Kati’s car, it reached 102 degrees. I was still keen to do a hike but Kati decided if she attempted it the sun would instantly turn her into a puddle. G3 and I set out to do a three mile loop trail. I wanted to avoid the popular paved trail since navigating it would be like Rockefeller Center at Christmas time. The trail we took was relatively empty and the views were pretty, but there was little shade. After a mile, G3 started to melt and asked if we could turn around. We did.

Kati‘s question of the day: When a fly gets trapped in your car and inadvertently transported miles from home, what does he do? Does he find his way back? Does he settle in? Does his confusion kill him?

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 8

It has been blisteringly hot during the day — reaching well into the 90s — but at night it gets chilly dropping into the high 60s, making it perfect for a campfire. I think the fire is Kati’s favorite part of camping.

We woke up early to get tickets to Jewel Cave but the earliest tour we could get was noon. To pass time before then we did a couple of Adventure Lab caches in Custer. As always it was interesting to learn some history, however, not surprising the history in the caches heavily favored the white man. I didn’t appreciate the labeling of Native Americans as hostile. I mean what do you expect? Would you be welcoming if someone stole from you? And I have come to wonder, we are taught we should honor American soldiers, but isn’t it immoral and unethical to honor people who slaughtered others because of greed and a sense of superiority? We have come to question the whole idea of honoring Confederates. When will we start questioning the honoring of Americans who committed atrocities against Native Americans? I would love to teach history, but I could never do so in a school that frowned upon critical race theory.

We did learn that Custer was the first settlement in the Black Hills following the discovery of gold. In Custer, we saw the first jail. The first person to be jailed in it was its builder. Once he got paid for constructing it, he spent his money on a drinking spree which resulted in an arrest for drunk and disorderly conduct. We also saw the first school which was pretty cool. It was super tiny, smaller than the school Laura Ingalls attended.

We all enjoyed Jewel Cave more than Wind cave. It was a more difficult tour. We had to duck and bend to get around and under the rocks. The temperature in the cave was 49 degrees — a great way to cool off on a hot day. One of the formations in the cave is called Madonna and Child because it looks like.a woman with her child. G3, as always, walked up front with the guide and asked many good questions about the geology of the cave. He was by far the most observant — and inquisitive— person on the tour.

En route to Custer State Park from Jewel cave we were all hungry so we stopped for ice cream – always a filling treat.

We liked Custer State Park so much we went back this afternoon. It is one of the nicest, most scenic state parks I have been to. G3 wanted to do a rock scramble hike in hopes of seeing a mountain goat. Due to the heat, Kati opted to sit out the hike. We didn’t see a mountain goat but the rock scramble was fun and the view from the top was beautiful. G3 enjoyed it too. But there was so much poison ivy. I’ve never seen such huge patches.

Driving through the park we passed through the most narrow one lane tunnels I’ve ever experienced.

G3 wanted to go for a swim and considering it has been days since we last showered we thought a swim was a fabulous idea. So before leaving the park we stopped at a lake. We intended to stay just long enough for a cleansing dip but we met a nice couple from Minneapolis and ended up chatting with them for awhile.

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Summer 2021 Road Trip

Day 7

Late yesterday afternoon, I wanted to go hiking and G3 wanted to go swimming but Mother Nature denied both of us our desires. She sent is rain and so we ate an early dinner and called it a day. However, shortly after we returned to the campsite the rain stopped. G3 and I took a walk to where the prairie dogs live and watched them run and interact with each other. It was fun, definitely not something we can do at home. I had no idea they were so loud — at zoos, I never heard them make a sound — but their bark sounds more like a chirp.

When the rain started again we retreated into our tent to play cards.

Daddy always used to joke out in Long Island when he saw a horse standing alone, away from the herd, that it was the Elizabeth horse. He’d say this in jest because I never really played well with others and often kept to myself with a book. This morning, as we were leaving the campsite, a lone bison strolled across the road at the edge of the campground and Kati exclaimed, “It’s the Elizabeth bison.”

Today we visited Badlands National Park. Twenty-five years ago I saw the Badlands for the first time on a cross country trip following my college graduation. It was the first National Park I visited without my parents and the beauty of the park blew me away. I honestly never thought I’d be back.

Have you ever made drip sandcastles at the beach, you know the ones where you let the wet sand drizzle through your fingers? Well, that’s what the Badlands remind me of. Only you can really see the various sedimentary layers, especially when the sun strikes it. The Badlands are definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

G3 had a blast. Usually he grumbles about hiking but today he couldn’t wait to bolt out of the car and start exploring. He loved the more rugged up hill trails. We certainly had a full day of physical activity.

On one trail we met a nice couple from New York. They were kind enough to take a family picture of us. Perhaps, we went a little over the top with our matching.

I had wanted to visit the site of the Wounded Knee Man mssacre but it is on the Pine Ridge Reservation which is still on lockdown due to COVID. Oh well, what would a long trip be without a disappointment or two.