Sailor Boy called one morning, casually asking what we were doing that weekend. He tried to be sly, but I knew where this was going: he was coming home.
We’d been planning for this for more than a year: he was moving to Italy with the Navy, and needed to come home to bring his car and other supplies, and for some R and R before he moved, and I was taking the road trip to Minnesota with him. Originally this was planned for last July, but he was unexpectedly deployed. Since last April 1, we and his USS Nimitz shipmates had been aboard. They were sailing on, but he got to be flown off early so as to finally change duty stations (as I write this, the Nimitz is days away from FINALLY returning home. Congrats to all!).
So I rearranged my schedule and waited for details. I looked into flights and hotels and driving routes. I researched funky sights and yummy restaurants. Once I got the speciic dates he would be home, I made reservations and waited.
Meanwhile, he was cooling his heels in Bahrain, waiting for transport back to the States. He slept a lot (in a real bed, not a tiny, no privacy rack with 5 other people within reach). He took long showers where he could have the water whatever temperature he chose. He went barefoot. He ate good food, and lots of it. His texts to us revealed the sheer joy he experienced in simple things:
“Oh my god…The (hotel) has a renowned Italian restaurant. I am laughing right now only because I’m on the verge of crying. The wine. The bread. The mozzarella. The everything. I’m back. I am in genuine pleasure over ARUGULA. This is the time where it hits and I know I’m safe.”
It made us happy to hear him happy, but I needed him back where I could see him. A few days later he was back in Washington, and I was days from joining him.
I flew out two days before our road trip. We spent the time before we left packing and purging, closing accounts and saying goodbye to my brother and sister in law who live out there. He also got a Covid test and one last haircut from his favorite stylist.
Then it was time to pile in his Nissan and make the drive!
Before we set off bright and early to catch the Seattle ferry, Sailor Boy wanted me to get a donut from one of his fave places in Bremerton, Dallas Donuts. This tiny unassuming place reminds me of a mom and pop Winchell’s of old. I’m not usually a donut person, but these were GOOD. So good, that I forgot to take a pic of them until the last bite, lol.
From Seattle, he wanted to stop in Leavenworth. I know — in my mind all I could think of was the prison, too. But Leavenworth, WA is super cute. It’s this replica Bavarian town in the Cascade Mountains. Seems the once thriving town fell on hard times when the railroad moved out. Some townspeople visited Germany, and were reminded of how much the mountains there reminded them of home — and realized: we could turn our struggling town into its own fairytale!
The town is full of charm in the form of architecture, shops, bars and restaurants.
I’d have loved to spend more time there, but we just wandered a bit then had a nice, hearty German lunch at Ludwig’s.
After we wiped to grease off our faces, we hit the road, with our evening destination of Missoula, Montana in our sights. Sailor Boy’s job for the trip was to download a book for us to listen to, and he enjoyed his task, spending his last week’s of deployment making his choice. He chose a Terry Pratchett book called Guards! Guards!. I was worried, as I am a visual learner, have never listened to an audiobook, and he likes complicated books with creatures and mystical names and places and stuff. But it was very funny, and we and a ball. It made me think of the nights spent reading books to him at bedtime, only now he was explaining the story to me. I could get used to that.
Along the way we enjoyed some snacks picked up in Leavenworth…
From Washington we hit Idaho, which was pretty unremarkable except for Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. So wish we had hit that area in broad daylight, as the scenery was stunning. Definitely on my list of places to visit in the future!
Shortly after we crossed the Montana border, things started to feel a little different. Like, we went into a gas station and we were the only ones in masks. Even the cops and store keepers didn’t wear them. Freaked me out, I’m not gonna lie. Ironic that as the day darkened to night, so did people’s attitudes towards safety.
The next day our goal was Deadwood, South Dakota. Had breakfast at the hotel, and hit the road.
One of the things I researched before our trip was a cool website called Roadside America. Among other things, it lists all sorts of really odd roadside attractions you can stop ad see on an adventure. We didn’t stop much, but we did read about things as we passed. Our mantra for this stretch of journey: “what the heck, Montana?”
For example, you have the Big Stack. The larest free-standing masonry sculpture in teh world (the Washington Mounument could fit inside it easily),it’s literally an old smokestack. They tore down the factory, but folks in teh area protested, so tehy kept it up. But you can’t get within a mile of it, becasue the ground is toxic thanks to the arsneic and lead from it’s working days. Which leads me to perhaps teh creepiest Montana “toursit attraction” we read about, “the Lake of Death.”
Used to be an open-pit copper mine. Now, according to the Roadside Attractions page, “it’s a massive lake of deadly drainage, as large as 484 football fields, 1,800 feet deep (deeper than any of the Great Lakes) and a mile across. The pit holds over 40 billion gallons of waste so deadly that in 1995 it killed over 300 snow geese that mistakenly landed on it. The snow geese slaughter happened again in late November 2016, when 10,000 of them landed on the liquid and thousands succumbed.” It is a tourist attraction, where you can pay to go see all the pretty colors of the lake, from a safe distance. If you forget to bring a lunch to enjoy at the picnic tables, they have a snack bar. Just don’t mind the horns they have to keep honking to save more wayward birds…
So yeah: what the heck, Montana?
We stopped in Billings for lunch, where we found a wonderful Mexican restaurant called Don Luis. I was driving that afternoon, so I let Sailor Boy tell me all about their sangria (I did take a sip — it was great!).
Later that afternoon we were getting low on gas and started to look for places to fill up. I wanted to stop right away, but listened to my son. He was sure we were fine. It was his car, so he knew it better, but I didn’t like it. So on we drove, through a very quiet, very isolated Native American reservation. No gas stations. Not very many houses. The light on the dash was getting brighter. My anxiety was rising. We finally saw a sign for a town, and I relaxed a bit — until we got there.
We turned in the direction the signs indicated, and were stopped by a road block. Flashing signs warned of local traffic only due to a Covid outbreak.
I asked the man at the barrier if we could just go in and get some gas, but he said absolutely not. In fact, they weren’t even allowing supplies in, so the gas station was empty anyway. Besides, there was a gas station about 20 miles up the road.
Grrr. (at least we had churros leftover from lunch)
I glared at my son, and drive on, carefully. Holding my breath. I breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the station in the distance, and told my son we wouldn’t be taking that risk again. Of course, he felt we were more at risk at this stop, as no one was masked here either. Just miles from an outbreak, that wasn’t comforting.
Back in the car, with old timey Deadwood — and a cocktail — on our minds.
The good news: we got there safely. The bad news: even fewer masks!
This was the only hotel we went to where the staff didn’t wear masks (except for the front desk woman who put hers on when we walked in). I purposely chose Marriott properties for all of our stays, assuming they would be safe. Not so much this one. Ugh. The hotel was nice, but we didn’t linger in the hallways, wouldn’t visit the bar (I really wanted that cocktail), and in the morning refused to enjoy the free breakfast. Dinner that night was nice, but even there: no masks. I hadn’t seen a server’s whole face in almost a year. It was so uncomfortable! I hated it. Even small children started at us for being masked. Clearly South Dakota didn’t believe in science. The town lost out on dollars from us, but it didn’t look like they were hurting. That’s cool. You stay in your state, I’ll stay in mine.
So leaving Deadwood behind was easy! I’m not sure I want to visit when things get better, which made me sad.
The next morning we could’ve driven straight to Minnesota, but we wanted to make a couple of stops. Just a short 40 minutes from Deadwood we reached the Crazy Horse Memorial, then after that visited Mount Rushmore. Both were more impressive than I thought they would be, and I am so glad we stopped. The museum at the Crazy Horse memorial is really amazing. Definitely check it out if you can!
And even though we didn’t find any treasure, or see Nicolas cage, we marveled at the beauty of Mount Rushmore.
And we saw a mountain goat on the side of the road!
We had originally discussed stopping in Darwin, MN, to see the world’s largest ball of twine, but Sailor Boy was way too excited to get home. Grabbed a couple power ball tickets, some road snacks (gotta have Corn Nuts), and some weird wine called Red Ass Rhubarb for later and powered through — with one more detour.
We almost stopped at Wall Drug, but after a dozen miles and what felt like hundreds of signs, we were exhausted by the very idea. Like seeing an overlong preview at the movies (remember those?), I felt like we’d seen it all and didn’t need to spring for the feature.
Instead, we pulled off in Mitchell, South Dakota, and enjoyed the glory that is the Corn Palace.
I love kitsch.
As the hours passed, Sailor Boy became more and more excited. Home was on the distant horizon. He didn’t really recognize anything until we were about 30 minutes from home, but that was okay. Soon he’d be in his bed, with his dog and his dad, and would start the longest stretch of time spent there since joining the Navy five years prior. Pulling into that driveway after three long days of road tripping was wonderful!
We truly were lucky on the drive. No major issues (and since neither of us later broke with Covid, our masks and hand sanitizer seemed to do the trick, thank goodness), no weather, no car trouble.
Flash forward a week and a half, when we drove to Michigan to take the now road-weary car to Singer Girl, who would be using it while it’s rightful owner was overseas. A storm hit the day we had to drive, and our 10 hour drive lasted 14 hours. We barely made it to town in time before restaurants closed, but grabbed dinner and had Singer Girl’s apartment in our sights — when we were rear-ended by some poor college kid who slid on the unplowed roads. After exchanging info, we continued on — only to get stuck in the snow outside her building. With his bum shoulder and my bad elbow, we were a sight trying to push that car free. Later, after dinner in her apartment, we travelled to the hotel — which didn’t have an attached parking garage, so we drug my suitcase through the snow. But only mine, mind you: we left his in Minnesota.
I guess one out of 2 easy road trips ain’t bad.
Hey now! I didn’t say sleeping around IN Seattle. Get your mind out of the gutter!
No, this is about our last trip before the world melted. It was a mini vaca of sorts to Seattle and a few surrounding areas, taken to witness and celebrate Sailor Boy’s re-enlistment in the US Navy.
He could pick any time, really, to do this, as long as it was done a certain amount of time before his contract was up. We chose the last weekend in February, because it was the beginning of Singer Girl’s spring break, and she was able to escape and meet us cross country. She’d never been to Washington, so we decided to add some touristing to the schedule.
Sailor Boy picked us up at SEA-TAC, and we took the long, meandering way around Puget Sound to get to Bremerton, where his aircraft barrier is docked. We had a lot planned for the next three days, and, as we were eager to get to sleep — but we were hungry. Thought a drive-through would be a good quick option, but evidently, Taco Bell is the place to be after 9pm in a Navy town. An hour later, our border run complete, we stuffed tacos u our faces and fell asleep.
The next day we had to meet Sailor Boy and his fellow sailors for the swearing-in. It’s always interesting being a civilian at these things, as you really don’t get all the procedures and, frankly, they speak another language.
First, he was honorably discharged from the Navy, which took me by surprise. I didn’t expect that step, and for a moment I thought “he is free — maybe he should walk away?” Evidently, I wasn’t the only one thinking that because a sailor piped up “Run!” But everyone laughed, and his lieutenant shifted gears to swear him back in. Last time I saw him sworn in he was freshly out of high school, and we were all a little terrified about what was coming next. It was easier this time, even if it meant not having him home for an even longer period.
But we had him now — for the next 48 hours!
All were invited to a celebratory lunch at his favorite restaurant in town, The Curry. It was fun breaking bread with the sailors who were able to join us! Next, it was off to the ship. Singer Girl had never been on the aircraft carrier before, so a tour was a must-see.
The next stop on our agenda was checking into a new hotel, in a different town. My brother and sister in law live in Olympia, so we were meeting them for dinner. As always, we were fashionably late on our drive to the new digs. But we cleaned up quicky then feasted at one of their favorite places, Basilico Ristorante.
After dinner we hung at their house, celebrating and going through my brother’s record collection. He let Singer Girl pick 10 of them as a birthday gift, and it was so fun listening to them — especially since so many of them had been our parents’. It was bittersweet in retrospect, as my parents had been huge Kenny Rogers fans back in the day, and he passed away so shortly after this. Gotta love The Gambler!
The next morning we checked out and hustled back to Bremerton to have brunch at Sailor Boy’s fave diner, the Big Apple Diner. I love this place, too! Super kitschy and great food (the potato pancakes are to die for!). After eating it was time to get on the ferry to Seattle.
I loved that someone had left a puzzle on one of the tables. Singer Girl and I tucked in and got to work. Who knew that would be the first in a series of puzzles in the coming months?
Once in Seattle, we checked into our VRBO. I picked a place right downtown, minutes from the ferry and walking distance to everything. If you are looking for a place, check it out.
Before we left, I borrowed a date night trick and booked a scavenger hunt via Groupon. I love these as a way to get to know a city and to give you an idea of what you want to come back to. We started up by the Space Needle, wandered around by the museums and gardens there, then headed back down towards Pike’s Market and other downtown sites. Halfway through we met up with our niece/cousin Alyssa who lives and works in Seattle.
As always, whenever I get near a market, I am camera happy. The colors are always too tempting for me!
Scavenger hunt completed, we went back to the condo to chill and get ready to go out to dinner. Dinner was at an awesome place — in all ways. The ambiance was terrific, the food was delicious, service outstanding! If you happen to be in Seattle, check out Toulouse Petit!
HWSNBN had to fly back on Sunday, so it was just the three of us left to pal around. At Sailor By’s suggestions, we breakfasted at a Seattle landmark, Biscuit Bitch.
I had an orange latte, and the Cheesy Pork n’ Bitch,(middle picture), which was biscuits and gravy with bacon and cheddar cheese. Sailor Boy had the Smokin’ Hot Bitch — biscuits, gravy, andouille sausage, and jalapenos. Singer Girl had some sort of breakfast sandwich which looked awesome — until a hunk fell on the ground. Sadness.
We had some calories to burn so we headed north to where we started our scavenger hunt the day before. Our intended destination was MoPOP, the Museum of Popular Culture. This place is a must-see! It highlights everything from music to TV, Movies, books, art and more.
Some of my fave exhibits:
Next, it was off to the Chihuly Museum, another fantastic place. Yeah, it sounds kind of boring: a bunch of glass sculptures. But seriously amazing.
Singer Girl is not a fan of museums, so she had grumbled at our itinerary when I revealed it that morning. But she loved both!
We did a bit more wandering (and a lot more photography for Singer Girl’s Insta page). The next day it was back home for us and back to the ship for the Boy. During the two days there we heard rumblings about the Coronavirus outbreak in Seattle and joked that we probably all had it. Thankfully, almost a month later, I can say we most likely did not. But unbeknownst to all of us, this was the last trip for a while.
I am glad we had the time together!
It’s a joyful moment when your child suddenly acts like a grown up — and wants to spend time with you in the process! A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Sailor Boy discovered he could obtain tickets to Hamilton (!!!) via the Navy. So yes, I rearranged my life, and flew west to hang with him for a few days.
It was a whirlwind 48 hours — and pretty darn cool. As usual, the flight was overbooked, and, as I had purchased my tickets rather last minute, I was stuck in the middle — but with whom? NO ONE! The window seater never showed, so my row-roomie and I got a little breathing room. Next awesome moment: discovering that Three Billboards from Hibbing, Missouri was one of the movie options. Yeah Delta! That was one of the movies I had yet to see for the Oscars, so I was literally crossing something off my to-do list.
Arrived a few minutes early, which is always great. Enterprise did not have my reservation, which is NOT great. Seems I was supposed to go to some other location. Ugh. But they fixed me all up — awesome service, BTW. Got my rental car, plugged in the GPS, and was told my destination was 18 miles away — which translated to 1 hour and 15 minutes (gotta love driving around bodies of water). Advised Sailor Boy of my ETA and took off in my putt-putt rental car (kinda spoiled by my slick new ride, gotta be honest). Traffic snarled up and I relayed my extended drive time to Sailor Boy, and plugged along, enjoying seeing mountains and forests (not something I see much since moving to the Midwest!). Arrived at hotel, checked in, texted the Boy so he could start the 10 minute drive from his barracks to my hotel. He texted back: “what room are you in?” Evidently he was so excited (cue the awwwws) that he drove over early and had been sitting in the parking lot waiting for almost 30 minutes! Nice to have a child excited to see you (not something I get from Singer Girl these days, lol)!
Sailor Boy was so excited to show me around. I had visited Bremerton, WA once before, almost 2 years prior, but he didn’t know the area then. Now he had all sorts of plans. He had about 5 restaurants to show off. I gently reminded him that I was only there for a short time, and we already had our dinners booked. He scoffed with the appetite of the young and highly-metabolized, saying we could just do 5 meals a day. Um, no. But love the enthusiasm!
Our plan that evening was to meet my brother and his wife for dinner in Tacoma. About a 40 minute, beautiful drive. Unless, of course, my son is driving. Dude is a maniac. We almost crashed twice, got lost countless times, and he didn’t really have a path in mind. Luckily we both like metal music, so that drowned out some of my screams.
Mexican food for dinner — my fave! Margaritas taste especially delish when you have a designated driver (he’s 21 in April, so I will use him while I can). I got some amazing meat stew concoction, that doubled as a facial as it was so steaming hot. Num. If you are ever in Tacoma, try Moctezuma’s!
When we got back to the hotel, I could barely keep my eyes open. Seriously: fell asleep fully dressed as soon as he left for his barracks, dreaming about my next meal.
He picked me up around 830, and we went to the Big Apple Diner in Bremerton — The. Bomb. Had these sausage stuffed German potato pancakes and far too much coffee. Fully fueled, we headed to some wilderness walk. We only got lost on our way there like twice this time, so we were doing better. Finally arrived at some dirt road, and got out, ready to explore. But two creepy dudes were standing at their car, kinda watching us. Looked like gnome people — older scandahoovian gents in modern day hiking gear. It wasn’t their appearance that wigged us out so much as the way they just watched us. We smiled and waved and said hi and tehy sort of nodded. And there was a solitary hiking boot laying abandoned near them. I don’t know it felt weird. Totally thought we might end up as human sausage for their gnome grandbabies.
So we went walking!
Lol…it was gorgeous, and we talked about everything and nothing. Actually, most of the weekend he tried to explain video game plots to me. My head hurt. I looked at the scenery. It felt better.
Then we ran into the Giant Gnome Hikers again. No idea how they got down where we were without us seeing them. Totally creeped us out. Sailor Boy was sure they were pod people.
Hustled back t the car, as Sailor Boy had muster (roll call, but in a uniform) at 130. He dropped me off, where I realized that I had to be on the 450 am ferry to avoid traffic and make it to my flight on time. Napped.
One of the main reasons Sailor Boy wanted to go to the play was to wear the suit he had made in India while on deployment. He was so proud! We ferried into Seattle, parked and walked to an amazing dinner at the highly recommended Wild Ginger. As we had not had lunch after our big hike with the scary alien hikers, we were scarfing down pot stickers, spicy beef, duck with plum sauce and more (and some shi-shi-poo-poo cocktails pour mama!). Would love to spend more time in Seattle, which seems very cool. But we hustled off to make curtain at HAMILTON!
Went to will call. No names from the Nimitz on their list. They sent us to some fancy side entrance. Nope. Nothing there. At this point, Sailor Boy is casually freaking out. (and I am mentally calculating my airfare, car rental and hotel costs). But more amazing service: they put folding chairs on the aisle for us and we saw the show. It was as terrific as I had heard and hoped. And at the end? Sailor Boy was wiping tears away.
That was some of the best 3 days I have ever had. So much fun and laughter and getting to know my boy as an adult. He thanked me over and over for coming out. It royally screwed up my week (and my sleep) but man was it worth it. I did not throw away my shot.