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Bye Bye Bremerton

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.”

Yup.

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.

Lovely.

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.

Baby Steps Back

It seems the world is slowly waking from its COVID-coma, taking tentative steps into the light. I am not sure if it’s wholly a good thing, but I will be totally honest: I do like having more freedom.

We have been to restaurants — one dinner outside, one inside. We went to a brewery. We even had friends over for an INDOOR dinner party.

I got my nails done, and then, the following week, my hair.

I’ve had in person meetings, not just Zoom ones.

As a rule, we are a family of mask wearers. I hate going into a store or office and seeing people with bare faces. I have chosen to not continue patronizing a few places when I have seen the people working there without masks, and seeing the clientele without them. I have never told someone to put a mask on, but I have definitely felt aggression towards me from those who don’t wear them. I don’t get it.

But then, we have been guilty ourselves of breaking some COVID rules. We sadly attended a funeral wake last week, and not only did we not wear masks, we even hugged some people.

My daughter is socializing again, mostly with the same people. But I did allow her to go camping with these friends and several other new people. I felt massive guilt about it. I know that means I should have said no. That’s what I tell my kids: if you feel wrong about doing something, you shouldn’t do it. But I did.

Today I got to do something I haven’t done since February: see my Dad. In case you didn’t know, Dad has Alzheimer’s and lives in a care facility. His incredible home locked that shit down at the first sign of trouble — earlier than most — and has not had a single COVID case. Great in some ways, dreadful in others. Residents lived in their rooms, away from other residents and all group activities, for 4 months. Last week, they satrted allowing socially-distanced meetings: masks n, no touching, temperarure checks and hand sanitizer for all.

Because of her camping trip, Singer Girl did not come. Too risky.

But Mom and I did.

He looked the same — which isn’t great, but not worse. He didn’t fuss with his mask, but frankly I don’t think he was too cognizant of it.

I’m so glad we got to go — evn if it was tough hearing Mom apologize to Dad for not coming sooner, and trying to explain about this wretched virus.

We will definitely hop on the old Sign Up Genius to schedule another visit. As we left I told mom That when things shut down In March I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see him again. She agreed, and commented it was good that we got another memory. He even smiled and laughed for us at the end.

And that is a gift.

Silver Linings in your COVID Mask?

We are lucky so far.

We don’t know anyone who is sick (yet). My husband is still employed. I really haven’t found any shortages on the shelves that has made my life difficult. But our lives are a wee bit different, just like everyone else’s — and sometimes, for the better.

This past weekend I was supposed to be sad, as I would not be attending mom’s weekend at my daughter’s sorority at the University of Michigan. Her a Capella group was set to travel to Boston for a workshop and competition. But obviously that all changed. Instead, on Saturday she attended the event online, and I get to hear her sing. A lot.

She has also convinced us to commit to a movie marathon of sorts: we are going to watch all 20-plus movies in the Marvel Universe series (except the Hulk, which she doesn’t like, or Deadpool, because it’s rated R and this not technically part of the saga. but I digress). I’ve never been one to go out of my way for superhero flicks, but it is fun to be committed to this much family time.

We have never had this much time with her since, well, probably since she started preschool, honestly. Day in, day out, we are together. We have learned to respectfully give each other space. I was getting overwhelmed and feeling like I didn’t have any me time, so I created a  schedule. Everyone writes down when they have to be online for a class or conference call, and we all try to stay quiet and out of the way for each other.  I am forced to be more productive at certain times when I know she will be hopping onto my laptop and I will have to get off.

I am working out more. We know when each other will or won’t be in the home gym, so I am scheduling my time better. On a normal day I would say to myself “at some point today I need to hop onto the treadmill.” Now, because others want to hop on, I schedule it and it gets done.

There are more walks, too, and not only by us. Our neighbors are out more, and we are talking with ten (at a distance, of course) more than perhaps we ever had. Everyone is friendlier. Everyone has the time to chat — and we crave it.

With the workouts, I realized I need new shoes. I can’t go to a mall, so I reached out on the socials and was flooded with suggestions of local businesses that are making it possible to shop.

I am adamant that we use local businesses when possible. Yesterday, the rules changed and they want us to wear masks. Amazon is, of course, sold out for a month, so I went back on Facebook and asked, “who is making masks?” I had five options within 15 minutes.

I am overtipping like crazy, and paying people for services I ma not receiving, simply because I can and I want to help directly, not just in am anonymous “donate here” kind of way. For example, we are still paying our housekeeper. I also reached out to her and asked if she had a family member who could use the clothes we had purged from closets. yes, I could give to Goodwill. But if I can give it directly to someone I know, I feel less helpless.

Speaking of helping however we can, HWSNBN and I gave blood yesterday. You should do that as well.

HWSNBN, as I mentioned, is still working. However, his commute is much shorter — just a walk down the hall to his office. In the first few days of this, I learned a lot about what was coming by overhearing his conference calls. I’ve also learned a lot more about what he does on a daily basis, which has been interesting.

Relationships are weird when you are housebound. I can tell when he is procrastinating: he cleans, does laundry, putters around — usually in my arena. Don’t get me wrong: I love him helping out. But it has been harder for me to know my place with the lines so blurry.

I’ve also learned a lot more about my daughter and her academics. I have proofread a few papers for her, and in some ways, I feel as lost as I did when the kids hot about 5th grade in math. Out of my depth for sure! I have always been impressed by her scholastic work ethic, and now is no different. I am grateful that she has school work to help keep her busy.  I do hope the restrictions ease up when her academics end, or we could we in trouble. In the meantime, she is growing her own kombucha for a botany class, speaking Spanish at a level that would be acceptable on a Madrid street, and watching all the pandemic ramifications from the POV of a student who hasn’t decide whether to major in psychology or sociology.

She has been so respectful of social distancing! Yesterday marked the end of her 14-day quarantine since coming back from school. So today, I grudgingly allowed her to visit a friend in a distant way: they kicked a soccer ball around in a park. No close contact, just back and forth passing. I worried she’d get dirty looks (some folks are calling the cops on kids), but thankfully that didn’t happen.

Tonight I was going to order takeout, as we are trying to support local restaurants a few times a week. But HWSNBN wanted to cook, so I let him. Tomorrow someone from The Lakes Running Store will drop off shoes for me to try (I could get used to this), and I will see if my mask supplier needs provisions.

And I will try not to dwell on the latest losses, or that my son is serving on a probably COVID infested aircraft carrier, and that my dad lives in a nursing home, the front line of this wretched viral war.

I will enjoy the fact that my husband and daughter are messing up the house and eating all the food.

It could be worse.

 

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