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.
Yes, I realize that I am a month late on this. But, once again, here is my recap of the 30 days of thankfulness I do every November on Facebook. What are YOU thankful for (besides the fact that 2020 is OVER!!!!)?
Thankful project Day 1: (we need this more than ever this year. Dig deep. Find the every day joys!) My neighborhood! My biggest fear leaving our treasured McKinley Court community was not finding new people to smile at in our new place. Well, 6 years later, I can truly say we have chosen well. This year we have really come together and realized how important those “mailbox” connections are. We are lucky! I love Walden!
Thankful project day 2: grateful that Stevie Nicks, despite stealing a bag of chewy sticks and 6 pumpkin cookies with cream cheese frosting while we were out, did not puke during the night.
Thankful project day 3 (make that hopeful projection that will make me thankful if it comes true): Thankful that, no matter what happens today, tomorrow our country will start to heal. That, if our candidate wins, we have all acted with grace, humility, and quiet hope. So no gloating publicly (but yes, you can feel happy), because that is not how you get people to listen to you. And no rioting/destruction/ugly name calling (but yeah, you can be pissed or sad). This country should embrace differences, not mock them. Our variety is what makes us special, not what divides us. So today: vote for a side. Tomorrow: let’s start stitching things back together. And it starts with you, not whoever sits in the Oval Office. I am not a religious person, but I have always liked the phrase “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” So if my candidate prevails, I will not gloat. If my candidate loses, I will take it upon myself to change the world in whatever little way I can. Try to think of something positive you can do for one person, especially if that person is politically opposite from you. Be the person you want your kids (and your President) to be. Now: go vote!
Thankful project day 4: when my sailor’s ship is near land and he can text!
Thankful project day 5: more internet access for Sailor Boy means PHOTOS!
Thankful project day 7: the weather!!! Probably won’t be this warm for another 5-6 months! TGIF!
Thankful project day 7: that we committed to donating blood regularly ( a COVID silver lining!). Today we stepped it up and donated platelets! Please donate. They are seeing a drop off during COVID times.
Thankful project day 8: that HWSNBN was paying close attention when driving and didn’t hit the chocolate lab that darted in front of our car this evening. We quickly pulled over, I grabbed a leash and a handful of treats, and called to the woofer, assuming he would run. Nope: typical lab. Ran over, wagged his tail, and hopped in the back seat with a bewildered Stevie Nicks. Got home, found his name and number neatly embroidered on his collar (hi Oscar!) and called his grateful people. While we waited, he ran joyfully around the house, ransacking the toy box with glee. So glad it ended that way.
Thankful project day 9: 3 days and 3 1/2 hours until the next original song drops! (this is about Singer Girl’s song, that was soon to come out. IN the mean time, I was sharing one of her tiktok videos. Do you follow her? She’s @frankienstein3
Thankful project day 10: that my brother and I made it through the election cycle “relationshiply” unscathed, and, TBH, I feel we are closer than we have been in years. Happy birthday, Trevor S Rice!
Thankful project day 11: that the cortisone shot in my elbow is in the rear view. Ouch.
Thankful project day 12; the public library! For someone like me, who burns through several books a month, it’s a financial lifesaver! Although, TBH, I also spend a good chunk of change at Excelsior Bay Books, so I’m not totally thrifty. But hey: BOOKS!
Thankful project day 13: Cargill! Tonight I attended a fund raising event at a dog park in Plymouth, where Cargill employees paid for the privilege to stand in the wind and snow with happy puppies, all to raise money for Secondhand Hounds. So cool! Btw don’t forget November 19th is Give to the Max Day, but you can donate now and all donations will be matched by a generous donor!
Thankful project day 14: THE NEW SINGLE IS HERE! Like/follow/share on all platforms! Download on Spotify, iTunes, amazon, YouTube, etc. Wherever you get your music. But please share! Legend (Gin&Tonic).
Thankful project day 14: nature! This was a crazy, random moment off our balcony in Vail! Foxy lady! (see more on this in my previous post, “A-Vailing Ourselves of Colorado”)
Oops: missed day 15!
Thankful project day 16: bulldogs in baby carriages!
Thankful project day 17: dinners like this. (again — see previous blog, and the pic of our staying-in meal).
Oops…another missed day, #18…
Thankful project day 19: I missed yesterday, so today will be an all-day affair! Today I am thankful for YOU, and all the support you will give your favorite Minnesota charities today. It is the annual Give to the Max day! Below is my blog post about one tiny baby saved by Secondhand Hounds. If this or any of the stories you see today inspire you, please donate! (See blog post, “Weeble May Wobble but she Don’t Fall Down”)
Thankful project day 20: the enormous generosity of Minnesotans! Yesterday people gave more than $30million to Minnesota charities. We assumed that Give to the Max Day would not be as lucrative as in last years (pandemic!), but it was a record breaker! I look forward to sharing many amazing updates in the future about the animals we will save with the money!
(And another skipped day…)
Thankful project day 22: Singer Girl (aka Francesca Torres) is home for 2 months! (this was supposed to be my TP D 21, but my info was wrong and her flight was today. Now I need to double up some day…)
Thankful project day 23: fostering! This pic popped up today. It’s HWSNBN and our very first foster, Etta. What a journey she kicked off! That decision changed my life in so many ways. It was a time when I saw the empty nest looming, and kind of wondered: what’s next? lol, be careful what you ask the universe!
Thankful Project day 24: today has been a tough one. I hate vague booking, but I can’t go into details. Suffice it to say I cried and I swore and I worried. But things can always be worse. And, for that perspective, I am grateful. (this was about my sailor son, I can now say. Deployment has been tough).
Thankful project day 25: hearing my girl sing again in the basement. Does my soul good! (and now she’s doing opera, no less. Even makes my cocktail taste better!)
Thankful Project day 26: elastic waistbands. (this was on Thanksgiving, lol)
Thankful project day 27: the simple things, like a long bath (made complete with a CBD bath bomb from Jes Naturals – CBD Wellness, btw), a very full glass of wine, a fun book, and knowing that I neither have to shave my legs or put on a bra. Thanks, COVID, for another Friday night in! Time to fire up the Netflix!
Thankful project day 28: all the people out for small business Saturday in Excelsior! We shopped until mom dropped — the weather was beautiful, the shops filled with goodies, and the shopkeepers were immensely grateful. Some eve had to have people wait outside because they were at COVID capacity!
Thankful Project day 29: zoom calls. I know, I know: yawn. But today, thanks to Zoom, I attended a baby shower in North Carolina, and hung with some of my fave women in my book club. No, it’s not the same as in person. But it is so very much better than nothing!
Thankful project day yesterday (whoops — posted on Dec 1): as the month wrapped up, I tried to think of something profound, but then I realized I was me, so I stopped. Anywho…I feel like I mention silver linings a lot, but I do think they are important. I think I have mentioned that the events of the past year, from the pandemic to the rioting to the elections, have caused me to take a deeper look at myself and how I interact with my community. I have become incredibly aware of shopping local whenever possible — and am now thus on a first name basis with some shopkeepers in Excelsior, and I can tell you I feel much brighter and lighter leaving those stores than I do a big box! (I still shop big as well, but only when I “have” to). I am going to try to patronize a new small business each week, whether a shop, a restaurant, etc. I am already thankful for the new friends I shall meet! Happy December, everyone!
So there’s this bug going around…
No, I don’t have it — yet.
Am I the only one out there not freaked out, but still get that it is a real thing? I mean, I know I will likely get it, or at least be exposed to it if I haven’t been already. I also assume that, sadly, I will know someone who dies. That’s an awful thought, but the odds are likely.
In the meantime, I am not sitting around wringing my hands and obsessively watching press conferences or reading charts or graphs or statistics.
My life has changed, sure. Date nights are gone. So is any personal space. My activities at home have to be curtailed to accommodate our home being turned into an office and school space.
The first time it started feeling real for our family was on our trip to Seattle Feb 27-March 2nd. That was about the time it started breaking open in Washington. As we wandered through museums and tourist attractions, rode planes and Ubers and ferries and monorails, ate samples at food markets and didn’t wash our hands enough, the bug was out there, closing in.
On Wednesday the 10th, HWSNBN was sent home from work to self-quarantine. He hasn’t been back to work since. That was the first way the pandemic has affected the family. We are lucky that he is still working — but keeping puppies quiet during his conference calls has been challenging.
At my weekly marketing meeting for Secondhand Hounds, the animal rescue I work for, we discussed possibly changing our upcoming events. I reached out the next day, Thursday, to my upcoming puppy parties (that’s what I do: I run our puppy party division), assured them that animals can’t spread the virus, but if they wanted to reschedule, that’s fine. No one took me up on the offer.
The next day we sent another letter, informing that all events were canceled, whether we liked it or not.
About that time my daughter and son were starting to feel the ripple effects where they are.
Singer Girl goes to school in Michigan (Go Blue!). She loves it there. I told her to prepare for things to change. I told her that her A Cappella group’s trip to Boston would likely be canceled. She said no way (it was canceled). I told her folks would soon be leaving. She said no way. The local kids started heading home temporarily. The school canceled classes for two days to decide how to handle the situation. They went to online classes. She wanted to see what would happen with all the social stuff. When St Patrick’s Day and Aca prom and here sorority’s charity event were all canceled, she was stunned.
I told her she would be coming home soon. She said no. She was still working; in fact, she was working more than she ever had, to cover the shifts of all those who had left already. She also worried about exposing us to anything she had come in contact with.
I told her she would be coming home. She said she didn’t want to leave her friends. I said just start emotionally planning for it. She rolled her eyes, and we hung up.
Two hours later she called and said, “Ok: come get me.”
So last Thursday I drove 10 hours to Michigan. We packed her up the next day and drove back on Saturday.
Now, we all have to juggle wifi and quiet time so she can do her studies, HWSNBN can do his work, and I can stay sane while they step all over my routine.
Sailor Boy is supposed to change duty stations this summer — to Italy. Not sure if that’s going to happen now. The military is taking some major steps to deal with the virus, and his day to day life has drastically changed. He calls every day, and we discuss the latest development. Will he go to Italy? Will he stay with his current ship? Will he deploy? Will the navy help him move? Will I have to go to Washington and help?
Weirdly it’s like wartime. It’s what he signed up for, I tell him. In a lot of ways, this whole gig reminds me of what I imagined WW2 was like. Folks are sacrificing and stockpiling. We are being told to use supplies wisely. Many common items are hard to come by. People are churning out homemade masks and hospital gowns to protect health care workers. Neighbors are checking in on one another. Again, we all are waiting for that shoe to drop: who will we know that will pay the ultimate price?
Rescue is all weird now too. We have been told to stop doing spay and neuter surgeries. We’ve already cut our office staff to a skeleton crew. On the plus side, more people than ever before want to foster. Sadly, we are unable to take in as many animals as we usually do, as we have cut down on transports to minimize potential volunteer exposure. So we have fosters just waiting to help, and we can’t get needy animals to their waiting homes.
On a day to day level, my life isn’t radically different. I am not worried. My philosophy for most of my life has been to plan for the worst, hope for the best.
In 2015, I saw a movie that pretty much changed my life: Bridge of Spies. Tom Hanks stars as an attorney on cold war America, called upon to defend an accused Russian spy. He funds the situation distasteful, to say the least, but does his civic duty Upon meeting the spy in jail, Hanks’s character explains the gravity of the situation, while the accused spy calmly listens. hanks, exasperated, asks why he is so calm. Isn’t he worried?”
“Would it help?” the Russian replies.
Would it help? Does worrying help? No, of course not. It just stresses you out. So from that moment on, whenever I get that nagging feeling, I pause and take a breath. Rather than waste energy worrying, I take action. Do what I can to take control of the situation, then let it go.
That’s where I am now: I have done what I can to prepare. Now I breathe. And wait.