lydamorehouse: (Default)
 We were supposed to head to Indiana this weekend, but we were derailed by Shawn's bad back. (She re-injured herself helping with the air-conditioning.  Ironically, I did ALL the heavy lifting, but last minute she decided to give the bed a tug... and that was all she wrote, as they say.)

Mason and I had  been itching for a road trip, regardless, so we pulled out our handy guide to random Minnesota Road Trips, Oddball Minnesota: A Guide to Some Really Strange Places.I picked something at random, an entry called: "Hitler's Handkerchief."  Apparently, in the Military Museum at Camp Ripley, there is, on display, a handkerchief supposedly once belonging to Hitler that was brought back as a war souvenir by a Minnesota soldier after World War II.  

Google maps led me to believe that Camp Ripley was only about an hour and a half or so out of town, so it sounded like a lark.  

It took us FOREVER to get there.  

Getting punchy, Mason took pictures out of the car window:

Central Minnesota landscape

You can see, at least, that it's a beautiful day.  Today, temps were up in the 70s F/ 21s C.  We stopped in Coon Rapids (a Saint Paul suburb/exo-suburb) at a Panera Breads for a spot of brunch and extra caffeine fortification for me. Turns out? I'm kind of cranky without enough caffeine. WHO KNEW? This is where I think we lost time, honestly. I wouldn't have thought it took us that long to find the Panera, but we were driving up and down Main Street a LOT.

At any rate, it was almost 1:00 pm by the time we finally hit Camp Ripley.  Camp Ripley is military base/training center and the museum was inside, so we had to drive through a checkpoint and show ID.  Shawn had warned us of this before we left, so I actually grabbed our passports. It's really the only picture ID Mason has, but, it turns out they didn't really care THAT much.  They just took my drivers license in and swiped it and waved Mason and I through.

We were issued a pass:

the pass that got us into Camp Ripley. Not very official looking, honestly.

Not very official looking, but there it is.  I also forgot to drop it into the box on the way out, so I guess I went rogue with this....

The guard told us to turn left at the tanks. For some reason, I wasn't entirely expecting THESE kinds of tanks:

military tank

The museum... well, was it worth the long drive?  The hanky was there, so I guess there was THAT. I did take a picture of it, but I decided against posting it on Facebook because: Nazis, you know?  I did take some pictures of the interior:

military uniform and museum display

There were a lot of displays like this one of the Viking Division of the Minnesota National Guard, with uniforms and other memorabilia.  It might have been more interesting if I had someone other than an Already-Bored-of-It teenager.  Mason was far more amused by the sign we saw on the way to the museum which read:

A sign proclaiming "You Can't Beat Rickey's Meat."

"You Can't Beat Rickey's Meat"---ah, teenagers.

On the way back, we saw a sign for 'pick your own' pumpkins and a Corn Maze.  Corn Mazes are such iconically Midwestern thing that we decided we HAD to stop.  It was actually quite a lot of fun.  I mean, really we just wandered around on dirt paths that had been trampled in the dry corn stalks, but... I dunno. It was a THING.  Kind of made the whole ridiculous road trip worthwhile.

enter sign at beginning of corn maze

Mason taller than the corn stalks

The funny part is that I *think* corn mazes are supposed to have the reputation of being scary.  This one wasn't.  I mean, it was BROAD daylight, so that was probably part of it. I suspect this could have been a little more spooky in the twilight, but also, as you can see from this picture--Mason is almost taller than the corn stalks. So, there was no real way we'd get lost.  Also, we're not two, so I suspect that's a big part of it.

We also picked our own pumpkin.

pumpkin patch

Still, all and all, this was a fun trip.  We didn't really do much except drive A LOT, but we always say: it's not the destination, it's the JOURNEY. Mason and I had a blast listening to crap country music, chatting, and giggling at various oddities along the road. Good times.

Though... I do think I will cross off "Hilter's Hanky" from my bucket list.  I may also attempt a lot more research before randomly choosing another site from the Oddball book.

Maybe.
lydamorehouse: (Renji 3/4ths profile)
With Labor Day and our very brief trip back to LaCrosse, I completely forgot to post anything.... and I'm not entirely sure which day of the week this is. Thursday? Yeah, that seems right. I guess I missed Wednesday Reading, but the only thing I managed this week was all 48 chapters of Kiss Him, Not Me / Watashi ga Motete Dōsunda by Junko (no relation, despite the fact that Junko is my fan pen name) a shoujo, reverse-harem manga that I actually really enjoyed.  Normally, I'm not a fan of either sub-genre, but this was very well done. Though I spent a lot of time having deep introspection about how much of an otaku I am, and whether or not that's actually a GOOD thing.  (The heroine is an otaku who is into yaoi and shipping her male friends with each other.)

You?

But, so for the rest. I went back to LaCrosse only for a day because my parents are in the process of moving their house and so didn't have a huge amount of time for our usual Labor Day visit. We stayed at an AmericInn, which was possibly okay--we had a kind of crappy room, right off the pool with a vending machine just outside our door (thus a high traffic area), PLUS we were the very first room off one of the entry doors, which meant when people went out for a smoke it was right outside our window. That sucked and felt deeply unfair, since thanks to our big Yellowstone trip, we're VIP AmericInn members.  Probably we should have hassled the front desk for a better room, but we were only there for one night and didn't want to bother.  

It took us forever to get to LaCrosse for some reason. We left right at the usual time (around 8:30), but didn't roll in until nearly 12:30.  LaCrosse is not that far away. We did make an extended stop at Lark Toys to play a round of mini-golf, but I would not have thought that we were there THAT long (but apparently we were.)  We went to Rudy's for lunch, which is another last-of-summer tradition, which was nice.  Rudy's is one of those old-fashioned drive-ins and still has waitresses on roller skates to bring out your food. The food is decent, but it's an experience more than anything. From there we went antique shopping in the quaint section of the North Side called Old Towne North. There's not actually THAT many stores here, but the Sweet Shop (which really does have awesome ice-cream and a fountain soda dispenser) is there, too.  It is a neat little part of town. My only disappointment is that they've never quite been able to keep a coffee shop going there, though it should be an ideal location.  

Then we went to see my folk's new place and said good-bye to the old. Dinner was at the Pizza Hut that I swear has not changed since I was in high school (1980-1985.) I was pretty exhausted from the road, so I didn't even notice all the foot traffic in the hallway outside our hotel room and promptly crashed ridiculously early.  At some point, when we visit LaCrosse again, I would actually like to experience some of its nightlife, of which there is a TON.  

On Saturday morning we had breakfast at the Hungry Peddler. My folks joined us there. The Hungry Peddler is a big nostalgia trip for me, since my dad and I used to go there a lot when I was younger.  Then my family and I attempted to do a tourist thing in LaCrosse and find the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I have linked to a blog of someone who had a wonderful time there.  We did not. I kind of think that they could sense we were pagans trespassing, and so we only really saw the interpretative center and couldn't figure out how the heck to get up to the actual shrine.  We left disappointed.

Then we drove back in record time.  In fact, we zipped back to St. Paul so fast that I managed to miss seeing my friend Paul who was headed down to LaCrosse for a funeral.  I did managed to catch up with Paul on Tuesday, which was nice. Paul is probably one of my oldest remaining friends... that I actually make time to see. I mean, I have a ton of old high school pals that I'm in touch with on Facebook and other social media, but Paul is someone I will actually seek out to hang out with in person.

We hung out with Rosemary and her mom on Sunday because Mason wasn't sure if he was going to end up with ANY classes with his BFF, but it turns out they have Foundations (Washington's answer to homeroom) and debate together.  Mason came back from his first day of school absolutely bouncing.... literally. At one point I had to tell him to stop, I was afraid he was going to shake plates off the shelves in the kitchen.  But, he LOVES high school--as I knew he would. Things start to get interesting and challenging now and he's been kind of waiting his whole life for classes like that.  (Luckily, he's had a few, having been advanced into a couple of high school classes while he was in middle school.) He did not have to change school, which was nice, especially, as I said, he's already been doing some high school classes.  

So, that's me. I'm sure I forgot some of the things we did, but I will try to be better about posting here.
lydamorehouse: (crazy eyed Renji)
Mason will be fourteen on Monday. It’s kind of hard to believe that I have a high schooler in the house.

On the other hand, I like teenagers. Maybe I will live to regret the words I just typed, but I will confess that my very least favorite stage in child development is everyone else’s absolute favorite: infancy.

Babies? Not for me. You can keep the “new baby smell” and the diapers and the once every two hours feeding schedule. I like young people when I can have a talk with them. Pretty much the instant they’re able to communicate, I’m there. I quite like the stage where they hand you random things and you suggest, “Oh, you’re giving me an apple?” and they sternly correct you, “No, moose.” Because, you know: toddler brain. But, that delights me. Plus, they just grow more interesting, IMHO, the more they age.

Even though he’s moody af sometimes, I’m happy to have a clever, bright young adult at home.

My folks came up to celebrate early.  We had a good time. Friday night we met them at their hotel and ordered Red's pizza. Mason got to open his present, which was from all of us: a Nintendo Switch.  He was so excited by it (and the new Zelda game) he lost track of time playing it and ended up staying up all night.  This morning, my folks came by ours and we went off to the Good Will Outlet.  That's always an experience. It's the sort of place where you pay by the POUND.  Shawn gets a ton of fabric for her rugs this way, and we usually actually find a few shirts and whatnot for me to wear.  The outlet is a little different from the experience of a regular thrift store because nothing has been processed yet at all--except in the barest minimum of ways: all the clothes are together, all the non-clothes are together. That's it. Sometimes stuff is still in the paper or garbage bags that people donated them in.  We were there when the outlet first opened and there were only the hardcore sifters there.  I watched people just take handfuls of stuff and shove them into their shopping cars--I presume to sort later, though maybe, like us, these were people who wanted fabric of any kind. I'm not sure.  It's quite the experience. I highly recommend it.

Mason and Shawn are both napping now. My folks have left and the temperature is climbing.  I'm thinking about joining everyone in the "cool room."

lydamorehouse: (Bazz-B)
Yesterday was a lot of driving. I didn't end up posting anything last night because we didn't stumble in the door until after 8:30 pm (we left Rapid City at 7:30 am. Now, there is a time change in there where we lose an hour, but still that's a LOT of hours on the road.)

We did some classic stuff. We stopped both at Wall Drug and the Corn Palace.

the corn palace

450

We started to see a few more families on the road at Wall Drug, but Mitchell could have been a ghost town. Shawn and I both remarked at how several store fronts were closed and/or empty in Mitchell. It's June. This should be the beginning of the tourist season for them, I'd have thought. We were there right at noon and I had a BLT from the one place we found to eat. That was the other thing, the 'historic' downtown didn't have a lot of places to get food. You'd think it would be more like the other tourist towns we travelled through, like Cody, which is just lined with diners and burger joints and pizza places. Something for everyone, as they say. All of that interspersed with trinket shops.... but no, they seemed to have department stores and... furniture? Not something you're going to haul the rest of the way across country with you.

This actually made me wonder if the over-the-road tourism is down in this part of the country. Okay, well, a quick Google tells me that my anecdotal sense is WAY OFF. Apparently, tourism numbers are up, according to the South Dakota Tourism Industry Information for 2016.

Maybe we were just lucky? Because we planned this trip so early into summer vacation?

I don't know. Interestingly, Wikipedia tells me that the largest draw to South Dakota is actually the Sturgis Motorcycle rally. Maybe that's the thing that's shifted? The demographics of the people traveling across country? We certainly saw a ton of motorcycles all throughout our visit both to South Dakota and to Yellowstone.

Also, I'm super curious why so many of my fellow travelers were white. It wasn't 100%--but there was a shocking sea of white faces waiting for the geysers to blow. Why is that, I wonder? Or is this another anecdotal misinterpretation of mine? I couldn't easily find a demographic statistic for the visitors to Yellowstone, though I did see that 2016 was a record-breaking year for them. So what do I know?

We did stop at the Minute Man Missile Site (Delta-09). That was kind of spooky cool. There was a fence around the site that had this sign:

cows out of missile site

It says, "Help us keep cows from entering this area. Please close chain as you enter and exit." There's a lovely little center icon of a big red no symbol over a cow.  

One of the missiles is preserved:

missile in launch pad

As a kid of the 1980s, I found this very chilling, frankly.  Mason looked at us and said, "And how do you think I feel, knowing that 45 has the launch codes?"  

...

Right.  So, that left us all feeling a bit... freaked out.

Otherwise, I have to say that the thing I'm noticing now that we're home is that I still have my tourist eye on everything.  I kind of wished that I'd had my camera this morning when I went for coffee because I had a sudden yen to photograph the neat old houses that are in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood. Maybe this is something I'll have to start doing as an antidote for all the depressing politics.

I thought about going out to Pride today but I just couldn't muster the thought of fighting crowds after all of the fighting crowds at Yellowstone and whatnot. Good news: I'll be gay all year 'round.

lydamorehouse: (crazy eyed Renji)
Today was day two in South Dakota. Today was the day we decided to do a lot of the typical tourist stuff. Shawn had read in the guidebooks that the very best time to go to Mount Rushmore was early in the morning, so we were on the road again around 7 am. On the other hand, the guidebooks were right. We had the place to ourselves.

Here is our postcard perfect shot of Mount Rushmore.

The classic shot


Turns out Shawn LOVED the museum at Mount Rushmore and we spent a lot of time looking at the exhibits. Today, over dinner, she said that Mount Rushmore was one of her favorite parts of today, in fact.

Mason looking up at Mount Rushmore

I like this shot because it highlights one of the things that first struck me about Mount Rushmore. Most of the pictures you see look like the one I took, so you never have the sense that these faces are just carved out of the top of a mountain. When Shawn and I traveled here in the 90s with Karl from Czech, that was the thing I most remembered: that Mount Rushmore was actually just a tiny fraction of the mountain. For some reason, I had somehow thought someone had carved an ENTIRE mountain.

This time I was able to be more impressed.

From Mount Rushmore we took Iron Mountain Road "backwards" towards Custer State Park. If you go the other way, several of the tunnels have been cut to perfectly frame Mount Rushmore. Having done it the right way with Karl, we didn't feel we needed to do it that way this time. Iron Mountain Road is famous for its pig-tail bridges and switchbacks. There are also one-lane tunnels cut out from rock. We stopped at one of the overlooks.

Mason on the rock

The road was really fairly beautiful, lots of tall pines and jutting rocks. We've been having amazing weather, too, the wind was actually chilly this morning. You can see that the "sky was not cloudy all day" as the song says.

After getting off 16A, we turned toward Custer State Park. There is an entry fee to the park of $20 per vehicle. We stopped at the Visitor's Center and heard the park ranger telling tourists that there was good bison viewing off Fisherman's Road. To get there we took off on Wildlife Loop. Shawn and Mason were pretty convinced we'd never see any animals because most of the view consisted of miles and miles of this:

desolate Custer State Park

We started making jokes about a government conspiracy to hide the wildlife, especially the elk (which we kept mispronouncing elf). However, we did turn off on Fisherman's Road, which was dirt and gravel. But, that was where a lot of the wildlife was (no elf,) but we did see a huge herd of bison (including babies) and more pronghorn.

And my favorite: PRAIRE DOGS.

praire dog

I love how this one is just sitting with its feet in the air.

prairie dog lying down on the prairie

Then we got a classic bison blocks the road moment:

bison in the road

And, then, the "tourist" burros. Apparently, the burros are not native to South Dakota, but they were left in the park by workers. They are super friendly, looking for hand outs, and will stick their heads in your car.

burros

Unlike some people, we didn't get out of the car or feed the burros.

From here we drove up Needles Highway (aka Highway 87). I... could have used a few more guardrails on this drive. The roads were super-duper narrow and there were sections where there was just a tiny bit of asphalt between me and the cliffs.

needles highway

guard rails are a thing, South Dakota!

This scary-ass road culminates in this:
Needles Eye

The "eye" is so narrow that as our car went through, Mason could stick his hand out the wind and touch the wall of the tunnel. I have no idea how some of these big-ass trucks that kept passing us on the road got through that thing without scraping off their rearview mirrors (at the very LEAST.)  
I was really sort of surprised that the rangers that took our money did not measure the width of the car.  

Even though I white-knuckle drove this, I think it was probably my favorite part of the day.

We then stopped at a Subway in Hillcity for lunch.  Subway has become a weird go-to lunch place on the road. Shawn used to hate Subway, and now she's like, "OH LOOK, A SUBWAY!" I think because the food is always consistently decent and there are vegetables.

After this we turned towards home base.  We dropped Shawn off at the hotel, and then Mason and I took in a round of mini-golf at the pirate themed mini-golf course just down the street from our hotel. From there, we tried to go back to our creek, but it had been discovered by some frat boys (and one girl) who brought pizza to the rock, so we went across the road and found a new creek to wander around.

creek in black hills

And explore, we did:

Mason in river

I call this one "uh, Ima, what do leeches look like??!?"

From here, we turn towards the home fires. Probably taking I-90 through Wall Drug.
lydamorehouse: (ichigo hot)
 Originally, we'd planned to spend three days here in South Dakota, using Rapid City as our "home base." We decided today to cut it short. Our family is just plain tired of the road.  There's a ton to see here, but today proved that we're pretty close to saturated with "scenery."  Tomorrow will be our last full day here, then we will do the huge drive home.

This morning we let ourselves sleep in. With the time zone difference (we're in Mountain Time)  that really only meant until about 7:30 or so. Then, after fueling up on the hotel breakfast, we headed down 79 for Hot Springs and the Mammoth Site.  79 is not the most scenic, but Shawn snapped a picture.  You can't tell from this picture, but it really looked like it was going to rain on us.  A huge dark cloud loomed in the west.  

South Dakota hills

However, when we got to the Mammoth Site, we had a great time.  The site itself is interesting because it's a working paleontology dig.  When we were there, in fact, we saw people excavating.  At first, we thought it was going to be a bust because we had to buy a ticket for a tour that didn't start right away and they told us to "enjoy the gift shop." By the time the tour started, Mason was muttering about capitalism.  But, we had an amazing tour guide. He could not have been more than 12? Maybe 13?  He looked younger than Mason, but he did a phenomenal job. He was incredibly knowledgable.  

Plus, we got to see mammoth bones!

mammoth skull with tusks

I learned that there are actually mammoths other than woolly mammoths.  Apparently, the majority of those found at this site are of a kind known as Columbian mammoths.  Also, we aren't supposed to call these fossils because they have not turned to stone.  They're actually just dried bone.

There were also a ton of other animals that were discovered in this sinkhole, including another extinct mega-fauna, the short-faced bear.

short-faced bear skeleton

I have to admit that since Mason was very much focused on the Cambrian Period, I never learned that much about the age of mammals. I didn't know that llama used to roam here, as well as some kind of now extinct camel, something called a camelop. That's pretty cool stuff. 

We left the museum pretty enthused for the rest of our day.  I have to say, too, though we didn't get any pictures of it, Hot Springs seemed like a  neat town. I sort of regret not exploring it a bit more. There was a Pioneer Museum that we could have checked out, and a very cute downtown made mostly out of red sandstone.

Instead we drove up 385 toward Wind Cave National Park.  We didn't have any intention of actually going into Wind Cave.  What I wanted from the park was prairie dogs!  I love prairie dogs.  If I had a fursona, I think it would be a prairie dog. I mean, look at them. They fat, sort of cute, a bit territorial, social, and enthusiastic.

prairie dog town!

I literally could have spent the rest of the day watching the prairie dogs popping around, zipping from hole to hole, and chirping at things that annoy them.

SO ADORABLE.

As we were cruising through the park at low-speed and my family was getting really tired of me happily chirping, "Oh! More prairie dogs! Let's stop!!" we spotted a group of pronghorns on the side of the road.  Perhaps you already know this, but I was able to wow my family by telling the that the "antelope" of the song, "Home on the Range" with the line "where the deer and the antelope play" is actually referring to the pronghorn.

pronghorns, America's antelope

I really did not expect to see pronghorns in the wild on this trip.  Just as I did not expect bears.  We also saw what we figure was a marmot sitting on a fence post in Wyoming. 

From this park, we'd hoped to cross over into Pringle and head up towards Custer, but... we were caught in a time loop and could not escape the buffalo.  Seriously, we must have circled the interpretive center three times trying to find our way out.  However, we did see this lovely buffalo a lot:

buffalo in wind cave national park

Thanks to the compass that is built into our car and a very helpful park ranger in the interpretative center we managed to escape the gravity well of Wind Cave.

Custer, of course, is a tourist trap of a town.  We got out there, though, because we were all getting really kind of hangry and I needed to pee. Shawn was really, really, REALLY done with crowds, though, so finding a place to eat that wasn't wall-to-wall tourists was hard.  We managed to find a sit-down place that had decent food and we were all in a much better mood after chatting with our server, Joseph, who was from Tennessee originally and sort of found himself stuck in Custer, having been brought here as an army brat.

Besides getting food into our stomachs, the smartest thing we did was peel off 385 and head down Sheridan Lake Road toward Rapid City. Hardly anyone was on that road and it was GORGEOUS.

black hills with rocks and trees

Having seen pronghorn, however, we started to really hope for elk.  At one point, our entire family spontaneously attempted an elk call, which was sort of a terrifying bellowing groan in our estimation.  :-)

Sheridan Lake Road

As we were driving along here, we spotted a pullout and decided that what this burnt out family really needed was an hour in the woods just sitting and reading and exploring.  There was a small pat that led us to a stream that had a ton of small fish and crawdads.  

Mason dipping his toes in the stream

my big fat butt in the river

I managed to drop my phone in the water.  Ironically, I'd been very careful and taken it out of my pocket and set it in my shoes, but when I sat down to put my shoes back on... bam! It tumbled into the water.

Classic.

However, I managed to turn it off right away and it's apart, drying right now. I have faith it will recover. Otherwise, Tracfones are cheap. This is why no one buys me a smartphone. :-)

Tomorrow, we're going to hop up early to see Mount Rushmore before the crowds and then do the wildlife circle in Custer State Park.  Then, finally, we shall head for the home fires!
lydamorehouse: (??!!)
One thing we've been noticing as we've been going along is how few families seem to still do this whole road trip thing. We seem to be throwbacks, dragging our child across the country. Do people still do this?

I should say, clearly, people still do, but they all seem to be retirees, no children. There were hardly any groups that included children, unless they were Native American. We saw several Native American families all traveling together.  (Also, the majority of tourists in these places seem to be white.)

Today, however, was one of the few days I regretted this idea. We saw some pretty amazing things, which I'll get to in a moment, but we spent a lot of time on the road. Worse, we kept hitting road construction that was more than a slowdown through some orange cones. We'd come to a full stop and then have to wait for a "Follow Me: Pilot Vehicle." This was frustrating as heck, though occasionally it meant that I had time to frame a kind of lovely-in-its-starkness photo.

fence post in Wyoming

I call this, "Lonely Fence Post."

We also legitimately came across sections of road in Wyoming that had been sloppily paved over and a road sign that read, "Road Damage." My family and I spent some quality time trying to figure out if it was more expensive to print up the sign and mark the road or to actually fix it. Obviously, Wyoming Department of Transportation figured the signs were cheaper.

The interstate driving was really, really dull through much of the state. I kept saying, "Well, there are some horses. We must still be in Wyoming." A lot of it looked like this, only more desolate:

Wyoming never ends

The nice surprise was the Big Horn Mountains. Shawn had done some research (naturally) and found us a highway that was rated safe for RVs. Shawn had found a blog and a video of people in an RV driving over one of these stretches (maybe Beartooth?) and we kept repeating what the blogger had said anytime we went down any grade as steep as 7 percent, which was, "My wife was on the floor... crying." (Their experience was apparently much steeper and their brakes were burning out.) We didn't have anything like that, but it was pretty exciting driving through this:

Big Horn Mountains

We would pass signs that would tell us which era of rocks were exposed. There was a lot of "Pre-Cambrian" and "Lower Cretaceous." At one point, after a particularly long and arduous "Follow Me" truck construction zone, we decided to stop at a roadside diner called "The Meadowlark Resort," just outside of the town of Ten Sleep. The diner had a poster of Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire from the TV show Longmire/books by Craig Johnson. Apparently, the nearby town of Buffalo was an inspiration for the novelist. The only reason that was particularly striking to us is that Shawn and I, who loved the show, had started thinking about the fact that the landscape must be very similar to the faux Absaroka County that Longmire is the supposed sheriff of.

Big Horn Mountains

It was good to sit and have a real meal, something we've been neglecting this whole trip. We've been subsisting on road food and things we've packed like trail mix, chips, beef jerky, and granola bars. A real omelet made by an actual short order cook was just the ticket. It probably added a half hour to our day, but I regret nothing.

Except all that interstate driving. The interstate was hideously boring. I kind of wanted to claw my eyes out after driving for hours and hours along the interstate. The only good thing about the interstate was that the speed limit was 80.

Eventually, we got to Devil's Tower. Or, at least the turn off for Devil's Tower. Devil's Tower was made famous for my entire generation by the mashed potato scene in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." There was, of course, another "Follow Me" truck on the way to Devil's Tower. Also, the guidebooks lie. This is not a quick jaunt off the highway, this is a legitimate detour WAY THE HECK OUT. However, it is classic:

Devil's Tower

The gift store would sell you aliens.

Also, because I could no longer take the Interstate, I insisted on a detour through "ANYTHING PRETTY." So we took off on 14-A towards the Black Hills National Forest. This also took us through Sundance, Sturgis, Leads, and Deadwood.

Sundance City Limits sign

The Black Hills National Forest was really amazing, but Mason was starting to lose it in the back and said, "OMG, it's just more rocks and trees. Shoot me now!"

Black Hills

As you can see, he's not wrong. We were getting pretty punchy by this point, too, and Shawn was snapping photos by sticking the camera out of our sunroof.  We got some surprisingly good shots that way.

black hills

Then, finally, we made it to the hotel!  I was super-ready to be here. Our only concern at this point is, do we really want to spend the next several days DRIVING AROUND???!!  Ask me tonight and my answer would be: no $%!@ing way.  I'm going to guess that tomorrow, I'll be all, "Pack up the car, we're on the road!"

We have to AT LEAST see Mount Rushmore.
lydamorehouse: (temporary incoherent rage)
 Shawn dragged us out of bed at 5:30 in the morning because she read that it's best to hit Yellowstone early in order to avoid the crowds.  Turns out there was another bonus, which was, morning is when the animals are the most active.  We've been staying at AmericInns the whole way and they have continental breakfast that isn't horrible. Cody, like Beulah, sports two coffee shops (possibly more, but two were easily seen from the main drag) and so I went out at 6 am to try to find a decent brew. I found someone who would make me a latte, but it was fairly awful. Tomorrow, I will try the Mudd Shack or whatever it was called.

It's about an hours drive between Cody and the east gate entrance to Yellowstone. We passed through mountain tunnels, which is always cool.  This is the reservoir made by the Buffalo Bill Dam.

on the way to yellowstone

The landscape up to Yellowstone was very similar to a lot of what we'd seen in Montana.  No trees and a lot of scrub leading up to rocky outcroppings.  Shawn and I both confessed that this was pretty much what we were afraid all of Yellowstone would look like (oh boy, were we WRONG.)  In fact, once we got to "cruising altitude," as it were, things looked a lot more like the landscape around Bearskin. Shawn said, looking out at all the pine trees lined up along the roadside, "This looks like home." (Grand Rapids, MN.)

Are we in Montana or Wyoming?

But this is Wyoming/Montana: scrubby.

We passed a lot of horse ranches, too.  I joked that where in North Dakota it was all, "I found a cow!" in Wyoming it's "I found a horse!"

Shawn had made a big deal about finding us a hotel room at all in Cody this time of year, and so any time we saw a "vacancy" sign on any of the dude ranch/hotels, we teased her saying, "Oh, sure, you couldn't find anything open! We could have stayed here and had pony rides!" Luckily, she's a good sport and used to us ribbing her.

Even before the official gate, we saw people pulled off to the side of the road.  This is what's known in the Yellowstone area as a "bear jam," aka the kind of traffic jam that happens whenever wildlife is spotted.

Here's what everyone was looking at:

buffalo in sage grass

I really love the contrast here between the brown/black of the buffalo and the silvery green of the sage brush.  This shot seems almost stereotypically Wyoming, don't you think? At first I worried that this big guy was sick being so far from a herd, but Shawn read that male buffalo are loners. Mason said he clearly saw that this fellow was male.

The flowers were really lovely.  There were pearly everlastings growing here too (which remind me of deep woods northern Minnesota):

pearly everlastings

One we were in Yellowstone proper, the road grade started getting significantly steeper.  I worried a lot about our new/used car, but it performed like a beauty.  Pretty soon there were snow caps in the distance.  We had to pull over to take a picture. (We tried selfies, but we kind of suck at them.)

Shawn and Mason with snow-capped mountains in the background.

We took a ton of pictures as we moved higher and higher into the mountains.  But here are a few of the more interesting shots we got:

Slyvin Lake

snow capped mountains at Yellowstone


top of the world


Then came the most amazing thing. We saw a traffic jam ahead and I jokingly said, "Hey, maybe there will be bears at this bear jam."  GUESS WHAT??!! THERE WERE BEARS.

bears!

A pretty good shot considering that Shawn (being non-suicidal) took this picture from inside the car, the window rolled down, with telephoto.  There were many more morons who were out of their cars, setting up tripods, and milling around.  It is possibly not obvious, but these two are GRIZZY BEAR CUBS.  The one in the foregrounds still has a bit of white baby fuzz.  There is a mama grizzly somewhere near and, unlike the stupids, we were long gone before she showed up.

We saw dumber people, though.

There was a whole contingent of stupid walking across a grassy plane towards a giant herd of buffalo.  Buffalo can run 30 mph.  People can not.  There were idiots with children doing that.

Sigh.

It does make me wonder how many people die from wildlife every year.  Especially since you can get great shots from inside your car. Like this:

deer

And this:

buffalo herd

Then, we did what every tourist to Yellowstone must do. We went to visit "Old Faithful."  OMG. The visitor center near "Old Faithful" is a massive complex and it is ENTIRELY JAMMED WITH HUMAN BEINGS. I don't normally mind crowds, but I do not like being elbow-to-elbow with that many sweaty, impatient people.  Mason had the right idea. He put on his Moose Hat (which he picked up at the first gift shop) and read:

moose hat

But we didn't have to wait that long for the big eruption.  For all that, the actual geyser was nifty.  Mason and I managed to score some good seats right next to the walkway's edge.

old faithful erupting.

But our stop here was one of those times when no one knows what to do--should we try to eat here? Do we just grab cereal at the convenience store? Get in the car again and subsist on potato chips?--and we were all h-angry and hot.  Luckily, I had an epiphany in the bathroom and that was that when the guidebooks told us we needed to practice patience, they didn't mean on the road, they meant with each other.  So, we suffered through the long lines and got some real food. (Actually, I made my family find a seat and I waded through the food lines).  After that, we felt much better getting out of there and getting back in the car.  

We did decide, though, that if someone wanted a cheap version of Old Faithful, you could crush into the bathroom, let someone like me who has stinky farts let out a good gassy one, turn on the hot water faucet, and then everyone cheers. Because that's something that's never in any guidebooks: geysers STINK. They smell like sulfur, like rotten eggs. In fact, the whole "clean pine forest" smell up in Yellowstone has a whole undercurrent of "who farted?"

At any rate, after all that hassle, we decided, in fact, that we didn't need to see any more geysers. If there were a lot of people gathered to see a "site" that wasn't wildlife, we would just pass that site right on by, in fact.

I think we made a good choice. We did see these "painted pots" however:

painted pots

After that we mostly just pulled out in spots where there were hardly any people.  Thus, Mason got some time to contemplate nature on the Summer Solstice:

Mason and Yellowstone

The very last thing we did was look at the giant falls... that I've forgotten the name of.  Because you know what else I wasn't prepared for in Yellowstone? How BAD the signs are... and the maps.  I think a lot of tourists would be a lot less cranky if there were better signs directing people to places. But, we had to do a complete 180 at one point otherwise we would have missed these.  And, they were pretty darned spectacular, too:

falls!

That was Yellowstone.  From here, we turn east towards Mount Rushmore and home.... though it will still be a few more days on the road.

Right now, I'm off to avail myself of the hot tub. My shoulders are aching after all that white knuckle driving on the roads.  Going up had me worried about the engine, going down had me freaking out about the breaks.  I could use a massage, honestly.

Tomorrow? MORE DRIVING.  We go from here to Rapid City, hopefully going past Devil's Tower. 
lydamorehouse: (nic & coffee)
We got up bright and early this morning and headed west. Today was a day of heavy driving, not a lot of stopping, though we did manage a few. I made Shawn stop and take a picture of cows on our way out of Beulah, though. It was such a familiar sight that I had to have it immortalized.


cows on the hill (ND)

That's North Dakota to me, right there.

Ww stopped at a rest stop that overlooked Theodore Roosevelt National Park, aka the North Dakota Badlands. After we left that rest stop we lamented not taking a picture of the picture of the buffalo wandering around in front of the Interpretative Center. We did see a giant cow pie on the grounds, so we know that it was accurate that buffalo occasionally invaded the rest stop.

ND badlands

This picture doesn't really do the badlands justice. They're such weird places, actually.

As we entered Montana, we discovered that Shawn really does not like the landscape of Montana. "Alien," was what she categorized it as, and, "Dead." As the driver, I have to disagree. I found Montana fascinating. The colors are so different, everything is legitimately sage colored and the trees are replaced by scrub. It seems flat and uninteresting, but when you're driving, you become hyperaware that you're constantly going UP at a fairly steep incline.

But there's not a lot to look at, that's for sure. Here's typical landscape:

flat of Montana

You can see why they call it "Big Sky Country," though.

My family and I had a long discussion about "Big Sky" and what other mottos Montana could have used. Pretty much all of us were in agreement that really, if it were us, we'd advertise the fact that there are DINOSAURS bones everywhere. I'd have put "The Land of Dinosaurs!" on the license plates, but that's just me. When we were arguing about whether the landscape was interesting or ugly, I muttered, "Well, it's prettier than Indiana" and Mason thought that would make a good state motto, too: "Better than Indiana."

The thing about Montana is that for all the weird, scrubby flat stuff, occasionally stuff like this will randomly jut up out of the ground:

random rocks of Montana

This is Makoshika State Park. We stopped for the Interpretive Center which had some dinosaur bones in it. We wandered around a little bit, and I was kind of tempted to drive around in the rocks, but the woman in the center said there was only a couple of miles of paved road before it became unpaved switchbacks. So, yeah, no. Not with our car.

Mostly we didn't stop except to pee, but all the the rest stops there was this helpful sign:

sign for rattlesnakes

The only place we spent any really amount of time was at Pompey's Pillar. This is where Clark left some graffiti on a rock. There was a really nice set of stairs we climbed to see it and there was an elder tour bus there, so we didn't have to feel badly when we had to stop a lot to take rests. Pretty much at every perch were some nice older folks who admired Mason's hair and asked us where were from.  

Clark's graffiti

Here's a shot from above:

pompey's pillar

Then there was more driving... we saw mountains in the distance, but happy stayed between the pass all the way to Cody.

Tomorrow, Yellowstone!
lydamorehouse: (I love homos)
We planned one more day in Beulah, ND, mostly because we had hoped to get flieschkuekchle from the deli at the Beulah grocery store for dinner tonight. So we decided to bum around the area to see what could be seen. Plus, one of Shawn's relatives told us that there was actually a road up to Salem Sue and Mason got it in his head that if we'd touched Dakota Thunder (the giant buffalo), we ought to be able to say we'd also touched Salem Sue.

Looking at the map, we thought we planned ourselves a pretty decent day of it, and so we headed off bright and early to Lake Sakakawea. The trip took us back to Hazen, and, because the map didn't have a name marked on the road that looked like it took us to the lake, I stopped and asked for directions from the gas station employee. I asked him the best way and he said, "Head back toward Beulah at the next gas station and turn north." I showed him the map and said, "Here? But it has no name." He gave me a funny look and said, "Just go north. You'll hit the lake."

Apparently, roads don't need names if they go to the lake.

As we turned down that road, we discovered the Hazen cemetery, where some of Shawn's relatives are buried. We stopped to look around and Mason found a shed snake skin, from the size of it, it was probably a rattlesnake.

snake skin in the cemetery

He's holding it up, in the wind. It was a Very Blustery Day, as A. A. Milne might say. We actually decided to take the snake skin with us, and so we stuck it in a plastic baggy. It's the sort of thing that will go nicely on our altar.

On the road there, we had to stop for a family of ducks that made their way across the two lane highway. It was the first of many times that I hit the brakes suddenly for critters crossing the road. A TON of gophers dashed across the road (and one lost its life under our wheel, alas, despite my best efforts.) But, most of the things trying to cross made it. I made sure of that as best as I could.

The lake was fairly spectacular.

Lake Sakakawea

Floating in the breeze we saw a pelican. We also drove down to the boat landing and stuck our hands in the lake, just to say we had.

Then it was back on the road for the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. This is where I started pointing out cows. There are, in case you were wondering, a LOT of cows in North Dakota. In fact, in one of the brochures Shawn picked up at the Knife River site, we learned that for every one person, there are three cows. Pretty soon this became a running joke and I'd say, "Hey, everybody, guess what? I found some cows!" Many of the cows had calves, so part of the game (for me, at least) was looking for the babies.

I needed a game, because we drove around a lot.

We got out and walked around a lot at the Knife River Site, though. They have an interpreter center there with some history of the site. The village is notable because it's where Louis and Clark picked up Sakakawea, actually.  All that's left right now are depressions in the earth where the earth lodges once stood.  They had a reconstructed earth lodge out front:

earthen lodge at Knife River

There were miles of trails, but we took a short hike down to the water's edge.  The sun was bright and the air smelled AMAZING, mostly wild clover, I think. I told Shawn that I thought it smelled a little like laundry detergent, and I suspect that's not a coincidence.

ND fields

Knife River (ND)

From here we made a return trip to Salem Sue, the World's Largest Holstein. We found the road in this time and drove up a very narrow, winding hill.  It was actually fairly busy at the top of the hill, which made me wonder what people did if they met another car coming the other direction on that gravel road. Luckily we never found out.  The cow was there. She's still delightful.  I have no idea why this giant cow has charmed my family so much, but it totally did.

There was also a heckuva a view from up there.

Shawn in ND

I was also impressed with the scrubby wild roses growing on the hill around Salem Sue.  They reminded me of the roses I'd find growing near the railroad tracks in LaCrosse, WI, where I grew up.

wild roses


The next "destination" was the Enchanted Highway. When we planned this trip, I looked at the map and said, "Wait, The Enchanted Highway just stops? That seems dumb. Shouldn't we find a way so that we can come up it on our way home from somewhere?" Oh, good idea, Lyda.  TOO BAD IT MEANT HOURS OF DRIVING THROUGH PRETTY MUCH NOWHERE.  

We kept having to tell ourselves as we drove through towns like Mott ("Mott, the spot that god forgot" as Shawn's dad just to call the town he was born in), that our secondary motto this trip is, "The journey *is* the destination."  But, OMFG, I was tired of driving by the time we finally hit the beginning (or end) of the Enchanted Highway.  But, the bizarre statues were worth it in my opinion.

Interestingly, the only place we saw real, live pheasants crossing the road, was right before this statue:

giant pheasants on the Enchanted Highway in ND

(Mason is there for scale)

Weird fish sculpture

world's largest grasshopper

Some ominous weather started dogging us here at the giant grasshopper statue, but we managed to outrun it, by heading north. 

eye of saurian or geese in flight?

The official name for this one is "Geese in Flight" but I kept calling it the Eye of Sauron.  I think it looks like a giant eye on a hill.

The rest of the drive back to the hotel was a lot of me saying, "Hey, look, I found some cows."  We did, however, see a runaway llama, though. As we were headed along 200, I saw something galloping on the hill. I started to say, "Hey, a cow," but then my brain said, "No, not cow, horse? No... LLAMA!"  The llama was clearly on an unscheduled walkabout since it was being herded by a pick-up truck with its hazards flashing and an ATV.  That woke us up.  

This was outside of a town called "Zap," which made it all the more surreal and hilarious. 

We were pretty road punchy by the time we made it back to the hotel.  We'd hoped to catch that fleischkuekchle at the deli, but it turned out that it was closed. Worse, the only other restaurant in town that served them was also closed. Damn you, Sunday in a small town!  But we met up with Shawn's brother Keven (who was also in town for the reunion) at the DQ for dinner instead. A far cry from fleischkuekchle, but I was so hungry at that point (having only really eaten the road food we'd packed, which consisted of things like beef jerky and trail mix) I was happy with ANYTHING.

Now I'm going to collapse into bed and rest up for another long drive across the country to Cody, Wyoming!
lydamorehouse: (writer??)
We took off from Saint Paul this morning around 8:30 am. The directions to Beulah, ND are as follows: take I-94 West, turn right at the sign for Beulah. I think for a lot of people this drive can be done in 8 hours, however, you have to factor into this that my family LIVES for roadside attractions.

LIVES for them.

We also stop at every single rest stop between here and there, just because. The very first rest stop we came to had a very unusual name:



Despite the name, this was a fine place to use the bathroom. It was also the first time we ran into a group that would follow us much of our trek out west: the Mission Possible people. They were a large group of teenagers, all in matching tee-shirts, and we can only assume they were probably some kind of church group. But, pretty much if we stopped, they were there (or were there shortly after we arrived.)

The next place we stopped was Fergus Falls, MN, at the Continental Divide marker. This is not THE Continental Divide, though it is a point that "separates water that flows into the Mississippi watershed with the one that goes into Hudson's Bay." There's a giant surveyor's telescope statue, a little open-air interpretive center (which happened to be inhabited by a family of barn swallows and their fledglings), and a huge tee-pee type structure:

mason at Fergus Falls, MN

Oh, as a bonus you can see Mason's new hair color.  Yeah, so that happened.  Mason wanted to do something radical before the trip, I think precisely because we're headed into Trump Country.  I think he wanted to make it absolutely clear that he was One of Those People. Anyway, I think he looks super-cool and was happy to pay for it.  

There was a really pretty bush there, though I'm not sure what it was: sweet pea?

flowering bush

The next place we stopped was Rothsay, MN.  Why Rothsay, you ask?  Well, it's the home of the world's largest booming prairie chicken.

booming chicken and Mason

Directly across the park, which you can see a hint of in this picture, is the Rothsay Public School, home of the... Tigers? I mean, I guess I can see why you might not want to name your high school team the "prairie chickens" because 'chicken' has bad connotations, but why not the "Boomers"?  Honestly, I could hire myself out to these people. 

Once we headed into North Dakota proper, we discovered a few things. The first of which is that there are NO SERVICES off any of the exits. Normally, on these kinds of road trips, one depends on getting gas at some station just off the exit.  Wisconsin is great for this. Anytime you see an exit, you're pretty much guaranteed gas, a toilet, possibly a McDonald's, as well. North Dakota? NOTHING. Worse, the roadside rests became fewer and further between. In Minnesota, you'd see a sign at each rest stop saying, "Next Rest Stop in ___ miles" and most of the time, it'd be 30 miles. We crossed the border into North Dakota, and suddenly the signs read, "Next Rest Stop in 69 miles."  

Which is how we ended up in Valley City, ND.

Because we pulled into the first rest stop we saw (which was in the center of the highway, so a left exit) and it was closed.  All the Mission Possible kids were there eating lunch, but we really, really needed to pee. I did snap off a picture of how FLAT North Dakota is, however:

flat with flat sauce

The very next town was Valley City, so we pulled in.  We thought our best luck for a place to pee was the Visitor's Center, which was quite a distance into to town.  It was a very weird little winding road that took us past a John Deere shop and several industrial looking places before we hit main street and this:

military plane?

Not exactly a friendly entryway to town... and then the signs to the Visitor Center seemed to point us into an empty parking lot next to a gas station.  In fact, I drove in and then drove back out again because it didn't seem right, but there was a sign saying "Visitor's Center" on a small little depot-like building off on the other side of the dusty parking lot.  Turns out the Center also doubled as the town's Department of Motor Vehicles. The parking lot was also kind of... odd. Someone had spay painted a very rough outline of where you should park with a helpful scrawl of "park here." I should have taken a picture of this because it was very amateur hour meets "Pennywise," if you know what I mean.  

But, the actual Visitor's Center was quite pleasant. They had a toilet, so I would have loved them even if they were terrifying. They had a little train history display and the carriage car of the Northern Pacific's superintendent (?), supposedly the only one still intact.They had a gift shop, so I bought a few postcards there to send to my various international friends.

Shawn's back has been hurting, so we decided to a little more walking around.  Just across the street was a little walking bridge over the river and so we strolled across that and back again.  

walk bridge

Back in the car, we watched a whole lot of nothing and NO SERVICES pass us by.  

Shawn confessed to really loving scanning the dial for music. No surprise we found a lot of country music, but then Shawn and I are actually fans of country & western so we were kind of happy when we came across 104.7 DUKE FM. We heard "Stand By Your Man" and "Vaya Con Dios, My Darling" and just a ton of "wow, I can't believe they're playing THAT." We passed many miles singing cheesy country songs. 

The next place of interest we were headed for was Jamestown, ND, home of the world's largest buffalo statue.  Shawn had previously only ever driven past the buffalo, which is visible from I-94, but since I accidentally turned into the first exit to Jamestown (in search of a toilet, what else?) we ended up checking out not only the buffalo itself, but also this tourist trap "frontier town."

world's largest buffalo

Shawn is 6'1" for scale.  

Also, for reasons known only to its sculptor, the buffalo is anatomically correct:
buffalo balls

I guess this is important to some.  Also, note the placement of the park bench. How many teenagers do you think take pictures touching the buffalo balls every year? Thousands, I'd bet.

In the field beyond is a buffalo preserve. We never saw the herd, which is a shame because there is (or, apparently, was) a very rare albino buffalo that's part of the herd called "White Cloud." It's unclear if her albino offspring or the other spontaneously born white buffalo is still there, but we saw no buffalo at all, so it didn't really matter.  Shawn has it on her trip bucket list to see buffalo in the wild. We did see a buffalo farm just outside of the Twin Cities, but Shawn claims that "doesn't count" because they were on a farm. 

Then there was more driving.  Lots an lots of driving.  

The next place we stopped was North Dakota's capitol, Bismarck. Shawn suggested that the capitol building itself was a must-see.  It totally was. Oh, and I forgot to mention that we dubbed this entire trip's motto:  "Might Be Worth a Detour"  If you can stop, stop!  That's what we figure.
capitol at Bismark

We went inside and took a look at the senate chambers.

senate chambers, bismarck ND

There were all sorts of cool art deco features, including these little seating nooks:
seating nooks in Bismarck capitol building

We hit a traffic jam outside of Bismarck that delayed us, which was frustrating because the next planned stop was OUR HOTEL ROOM in Beulah, ND.  We're spending the weekend here for Shawn's family's family reunion/wedding anniversary.  We'd hoped to make it in time to eat dinner at "the house," but between that construction and the construction delay we hit coming up the highway to Beulah, there was no way.

Oh, actually, we had to make a stop to see Salem Sue, the world's largest cow statue:

salem sue at a distance
Salem Sue close-up


As we waited for the construction delay, we did get to see the spectacular sight of a rainstorm coming across the great plains:

rain on the plains

Heckuva start to the trip, wouldn't you say?  From here it's a few days here in Beulah and then ON TO YELLOWSTONE.  Expect many, many more photos.

lydamorehouse: (Bazz-B)
 ....I finished Closed and Common Orbit last night!  

Yesterday was a busy day.  I got up early and took our car to Dave's to make sure it is road worthy for our big trip West (starts tomorrow!)  I always feel so "urban" whenever i take the bus/train combo to get there and back again.  The car was done around 10 am, and by the time I got up Mason was sniffing around for lunch ideas. One of the other trip tasks was vacuuming the car, so I talked him into helping me with a promise of Subway.  While we were sitting at Subway, Mason looked up from the manga we were reading (we're both reading Haikyu!!) and said, "Do you want to go on an adventure?"

Adventure in our family can mean anything from a hike in the woods to a road trip to Crystal Cave.  We opted to head over to Minnehaha Falls and take a walk along the paths by the creek.  The falls were AMAZiNG. Of course, because this was spontaneous, I didn't have my camera. (For those of you who don't know me well, no, this does not mean I left my phone at home. It means I don't have a smart phone. My flip phone technically has a camera, but yeah, no.)  The falls were super huge thanks to all the rain we've been getting. The creek had even washed away a lot of the usual paths. Everything was walkable yesterday, but we could clearly see water lines where the water had crested the trail in places. The whole creek was very fast, too. It's very rocky and rushes like a rapids.  We stopped in that first little wide spot where a lot of people go swimming and Mason and I watched one kid on an inner tube have the time of his life letting the current whip him downstream. He'd hop out, splash back up, and do it again.  I took off my socks and shoes to dangle my toes. The water is still very cold. It felt good on an 80 F / 26.7 C day.  

We hiked all the way to the river, reliving a lot of memories of the bog walk, the cliff section, etc., along the way. Near the river we found a good spot to sit and Mason read while I watched the mighty Mississippi flow.  We were visited by at least one Great Blue Heron, who flew overhead, and several coots (which I first thought were loons, but they had no spots).  I waded in the water and watched the super-tiny baby fish as they inspected my toes.  There were a lot of them, but they were needle-small, and none of them were brave enough yet to take a little taste of me, like the bigger ones will do.   

I always think it's fun to take the flatter route back, but it never is, though a chipmunk dashed across our path at one point.  Then, we stopped at Se Salt for ice-cream in the park and OMG I wanted fish fry (all the plates passing us looked SO, SO tasty.)  Mason got "salted caramel," which I had a couple of bites of.

A nice day.  As Mason said with a big grin on his face on the drive home, "THIS is summer vacation."

Indeed it is. 
lydamorehouse: (crazy eyed Renji)
 We dropped Mason off at the airport just a little over an hour ago.  He's on his way to compete in the KidWind National Competition.  (https://www.kidwind.org) with his team.  A lot of my friends contributed to the team's fundraiser, so A BIG THANK YOU TO EVERYONE. YOU MADE THIS POSSIBLE!! 

If you want to read more about what is actually happening at the National competition: https://www.kidwindchallenge.org/p/17-about-nationals

mason leaving for Anaheim

Mason will be back on Friday, and, until then, Shawn and I have the place to ourselves.  I suspect we'll get up to all sorts of mischief, including maybe going hog wild and cleaning the house. Books will be read with abandon!  We might even have DORITOS AND CHEESE FOR DINNER.

Crazy.

Yesterday, it was sunny, so I spent much of the day outside. I'm really proud of how my faux Japanese garden is looking this year, and I'm working very slowly on getting other parts of the yard in decent shape. (I should really take some pictures before the ENORMOUS bleeding heart stops blooming).  I don't think we'll ever be a showcase garden, but it would be nice if I could look out and feel happy instead of thinking, "OMG what a mess." I definitely think we're well on our way to that.  Especially since several bulbs showed up for stuff I don't remember ordering. I planted them in a couple of different places--a few near the little free library (which is my one remaining "problem" area) and a bunch in the front of the Japanese garden.  I think they're going to be irises...?  We'll have to see what blooms next year, if the squirrels don't eat them all and/or replant them for me.

I got a couple of letters from my international pen friends yesterday.  I love all my pen friends, but I have a couple that I adore. My friend in Canada is AWESOME. Of course, I didn't get her from IPF.  She's actually someone I know from Bleach fandom who volunteered last time I put out a request for pen pals. Her letters always make me happy.

The other letter came from an IPF friend from the Netherlands. I like this particular woman because in her very first letter back to me she talked about her daughter and her daughter's partner (female.) This meant that I felt free to be my honest/authentic self, which is something that I've been sloooooowly revealing to my other IPFers.  I mean I had that one German lady quit me because I told her I wasn't Christian.  Can you imagine if I'd said that I was a big ol' lesbian?  Probably we could have heard her head exploding from across the ocean, eh? But, my Netherlander is great. She got me following the recent election there--another country that held tight against the rise of fascism.  She always closes her letters with "Ah! That Trump of yours!" in various iterations.    

A sign of our times. 
lydamorehouse: (Renji 3/4ths profile)
 I'm just plain, ol' tuckered out right now.  Another wet, cloudy, drizzly day.  We finished up the rummage sale and netted Mason's team $95.00.  Not bad, actually, and about what I'd secretly hoped to make. Between that and a few other last minute donations to the GoFund me from a couple of my friends, we added an extra three hundred some bucks!  Hopefully, this will mean less money worries for the Team.

The sale was much slower today, despite the fact that the weather was actually quite a bit nicer.  I think this is a Saturday vs. Sunday thing. I know that when Shawn and I do rummaging we like to do it on Saturdays.  Sundays, particularly rainy ones, are for being curled up on the couch with a good book.  

We had a few humorous interactions with strangers who came to the sale.  One was a set of grandparents who were entertaining the kids for the weekend, it sounded like.  Apparently, after church they traditionally go rummaging and so this time brought the two (amazingly well behaved, if indecisive) kids along. They stopped at our sale specifically hunting for a "digger" for the young man. Apparently, at the previous sale the young lady had gotten a treat and now it was the young man's turn.  He reminded me of Mason at that age, which I would guess to be about three.  But, he was very articulate, though the hilarity ensued when grandma became very insistent that since our bucket was labeled "4 for a Quarter" the two kids had to chose four, and ONLY four, toys. We, alas, had no diggers, but there were plenty of trucks.  The young fellow first wanted the dumper, then didn't, then grandma finally sort of picked something for him so they could get in the car, but then, hilariously, kept coming back and forth to the bin trying to appease the kid.  It cracked me up. Finally the problem was solved by me explaining that, honestly, as long as it was okay with her, the kids could have all the trucks, no extra cost.  I explained that what we didn't sell was going to GoodWill, anyway.  She finally decided this was a good deal and took all three trucks.

The other was the two women (maybe a mother and daughter, but possibly just two good friends, with one slightly older than the other) who checked out all our board games and ended up buying almost twenty dollars worth of things (which at our sale is actually a LOT.) They were funny because they seemed seriously impressed that we "knew our merchandise." I wanted to know where they were shopping previously that people didn't really know what they were selling, but I think they were really surprised that we'd at least tried all our odd board games at least once.  I think I liked them because they reminded me of who Shawn and I are when we're out sale-ing.  We chat pleasantly between ourselves and the sellers and generally talk about all the merchandise. 

One woman came by specifically looking for bookshelves (I hear ya, sister!) but left with another nice piece of furniture.  

Then there was the big haul to GoodWill. Lisa and Shawn did most of the packing up, while I went and pulled up signs. By the time I came back with the car, they were mostly ready for me to jam everything into the trunk and backseat.  We managed to haul it all in one load because Lisa filled up her minivan as well.  I can't believe we finally got all that junk out of the house!  

We only came back with a small bag of LEGOs for Mason and a stool for Shawn to try to use with the loom.  She's got one now, of course, but since she hurt her back, she's been specifically looking for something that might offer a bit more back support. We're hoping that this one from Lisa will do the trick! Fingers crossed.

The last things I have to do before Mason leaves is get him some cash for food in Anaheim.  Shawn is going to start packing his bag a bit tonight, but we're all so wiped out that she'll probably do the lion's share of it tomorrow.  We've already done our bookstore run so that Mason will have new books to bring along for the trip. I hope that Mason remembers to take lots of pictures. Last time he did a big trip like this he actually took notes of things he wanted to remember to tell us about on his iPad. I hope he thinks to do that again. 

Ja ne! 
lydamorehouse: (ticked off Ichigo)
 Mason's team did not win against Capitol Hill last night (not even close), BUT Mason got a hit, scored a run, and, for the first time, got someone OUT. Ironically, a kid also named Mason. So, it was almost like he got out his alternate universe self! (See: our tangled history with Captiol Hill in the post below.)

Mason was playing second base, which is, IMHO, a tough position because you have to be constantly alert for base steals, grounders, and of course any balls coming your way.  AND it's best if you have an arm strong enough to comfortably toss to first base, in order to do a classic 'double play.'  And coach kept letting Mason play there, which is a nice change from right field.

Listen to me, sounding like a baseball mom!

The bummer is that Mason is going to be headed off to Anaheim on Tuesday, so he's going to miss the play-offs.  Well, most of them. They start on Monday so he will likely make that one, so long as the informational meeting during 510 doesn't go overtime and it's a home game (or at a field I can find quickly.)  Weirdly, I'm going to miss cheering for the team. I jokingly asked Mason if it would be alright to cheer for the team while he was gone, anyway, and he snapped a quick: NO, DON'T BE CREEPY, IMA.

Speaking of Mason's trip, a bunch of us Kid Wind Team moms are planning a last-ditch fundraiser for the trip: a multi-family garage sale!  If you're interested to see what we're selling, feel free to stop by on Saturday, May 20 (8 am to 4 pm?) 2260 Sargent Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105.  I can tell you there will be lots of unusual things, more than your standard baby clothes (although a lot of those will be there, too!)  Shawn and I have, over the years, collected all sorts of odds and ends--and a fair number of them are on the chopping block, including an old foosball table and an antique adding machine.  It'd be nice if we could raise a couple hundred bucks, so to that end, we're pricing things TO  GO.  We will be very much "or best offer" because what doesn't sell is going straight to GoodWill.

Today I have to go get cash for the cash box and some plastic tarps, because the chance of rain, unfortunately, is quite high. (Bummer.)  But, we can't delay because the kids LEAVE on Tuesday.  We may end up extending the sale into Sunday, though I think it's supposed to be rainy all weekend (because Minnesota now has a monsoon season, apparently. Though, I do feel like this is more NORMAL than the spring droughts we've had in the past, so I'm not *really* complaining, universe!)

Because it's been cold and rainy, I made myself a big pot of borscht. I am literally the only person in my family who eat this. I don't mind making  big batch, because that means I can have ready-made lunch for a couple of days.  But, the hilarious thing is that while gathering ingredients at the store today, I FORGOT THE CABBAGE. For borscht!!  This is the second time I've made borscht with everything but the cabbage, so I guess that's partly why I keep doing this, but what heck.  Next time I spontaneously decide to make borscht I need to think: beets AND cabbage.

Right, I'm off to start the pre-garage sale errands!

Ja matta!
lydamorehouse: (Default)
I just found out from the Loft that my "Not Just the Zombie Apocalypse" class which is being offered in July is ALREADY filled. In fact, they wanted to know if I would be willing to up my registration number to 20 (initially I had capped it at 15, because 15 teenagers is a LOT.)  Whelp, now I'm going to potentially have a many as 20, because i said yes.  The only bummer about this is that I usually try to make sure that the students get a chance to have their work critiqued and 20 is going to make doing that nearly impossible. MAYBE we can figure out something. I might ask them to bring in the opening page of their work-in-progress (or make one up) so that we can do a little mentor-guided peer critique.  Finding a beta reader can be an awesome thing, so maybe if we do a couple of exercises like that, people will get a sense of how critiquing ought to work.  

Twenty students, holy crap.

Anyway, normally, right now I'd be sitting outside of Mason's school waiting to pick him up.  But today he has a late-start baseball game against his old rival, Capitol Hill.  

Mason's rivalry with Capitol Hill started in pre-K.  He had a friend in pre-K called Noah.  Noah was a lot like Mason, only... bossier. He tended to mock Mason for things like not knowing how to count after 100 or how to spell Mississippi. (Keep in mind, this is PRE-Kindergarten.  Both Mason and Noah equally qualified for gifted and talented, and Mason, like Noah, was ALREADY READING. Something neither of them would really be taught for another year or two.)  Noah ended going off to Capitol Hill, the Gifted & Talented magnet school.  We chose to keep Mason at Crossroads for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that, while Mason is gifted, he's NOT a "high achiever."  Giving Mason extra busywork results in him blowing off said busywork to read more about animals and fish that live in the twilight zone under the ocean, aka the thing HE wants to learn about at the moment. (This is, btw, still very true of Mason. He has a tendency to do what is required to get the grades and not much more. Unlike his friend Rosemary, who will voluntarily do the History Day competition, even when it's not mandatory.)  

The rivalry continues into Mason's tenure at Washington Technical, because for the longest time there were only TWO junior high school math teams in Saint Paul, Washington and, you guessed it, Capitol Hill.  Capitol Hill still having mostly gifted and talented students at this point regularly wiped the floor with Mason's team at the various math meets.  Defeat at the hands of the Capitol Hill math team is something Mason's math team has now faced for THREE YEARS IN A ROW.  (Despite Mason placing among the top scorers in the region, individually.) 

Then, out of all of the students who qualified for the state competition for the National Geographic geography bee, Mason was one... as was one kid from.... yep!... Capitol Hill. THAT GUY made it into the top ten finalists, and I have to admit that both Mason and I silently cheered when he was finally knocked out of the competition.       

So, for Mason, today's game against Capitol Hill's baseball team is very FRAUGHT.  Those guys have no idea how motivated Mason is to make a run against them.  

Should be interesting.

As long as the rain stays away....
lydamorehouse: (Default)
 Ah, it's already Monday and I have to go to work in about an hour. (I work at 10 am at the White Bear Lake branch, and it takes me a little over a half hour to get there.)  Somehow I got through the weekend without doing my homework for class tomorrow night.  I have a feeling that there will be much panicked reading this evening. :-P  

On the other hand I did manage some gardening.  I should take a picture of the amazing bleeding heart that we have in our faux Japanese garden.  (I would love a legit Japanese-style garden, but I think the closest thing I can hope for is to emulate the aesthetic of one. I'm just not that tidy and organized a gardener.) The bleeding heart is huge and gorgeous, and inspired me to pick up a couple more bleeding hearts, because: damn.  I should also connect the hose to water the new plantings.  Last week I didn't have to remember to do that because I was basically gardening in between the rain showers.  This week looks to be fairly dry and sunny, so I'd better get out there and water things. It'd be stupid to do all the transplanting and planting just to have everything croak.

Sunday, Mason's baseball team did a fundraising gig at the Cub Foods on Larpenteur Avenue.  Nine of them working as baggers raise a couple hundred bucks.  When I picked up Mason, coach made sure to let me know that Mason "had good hustle."  

Here's a picture our friend Sean Murphy (SMM Photo) took for us at last Thursday's game:

SMM Photography

Pretty good action shots.  Of course, Murphy is a serious sports photographer and you should have seen the size of his specialty lens!  Huuuuuge, as 45 might say.

Speaking of fundraisers, though, Mason is going to suggest the whole bagging thing to his Wind Energy Teacher/Advisor. His wind team still has a couple thousand dollars to fundraise to make their goal, and so they're looking for ways to make that difference up in the next few weeks.  My friend Naomi thought of a rummage sale for charity, and so we've cooked up something with one of the other moms from the team.  Gods know, Shawn and I have a ton of stuff to contribute.  We don't really have a great place to host it, but the other mom does, so fingers crossed that we can raise a few more bucks for the kids that way.  I mean, obviously, having made it past their deadline, Washington Tech is committed to sending these kids to Anaheim, but it would be nice to continue to lighten the school's burden.  (You can still donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/help-send-us-to-kidwind-nationals).  They leave on the 23rd of this month.  We're hoping to have the rummage sale that Saturday RIGHT BEFORE they leave, May 20th.  I'll post details about hours and location here and on all my other social media outlets once we have everything firmed up. 

That means we're starting to eye everything in the house with the "can I sell that???" look.  I think the cats will be lucky to escape without being tagged "$10 OR BEST OFFER."  ;-)  

Right. I should go get dressed for work. See y'all on the flip side.

lydamorehouse: (Default)
 I think I blasted this out on all my social media, but I failed to mention it here.... Mason's "Wind Energy Team" participated in the Minnesota Renewable Energy Challenge a few weeks ago, and their team qualified to go to the NATIONAL competition in Anaheim, California. This is a pretty cool deal.  Not only did these kids have to design and build a working windmill, but they also had to do an on-the-fly design and build challenge at the competition.  Mason reported to me that their on-the-fly windmill actually successfully picked up ALL the washers.

Go, SCIENCE!

These are our future engineers, my friends!

The only problem is that Washington Tech is not a rich school.  The kids are required to fundraise 100% of the travel expenses.  Added pressure is that the principal won't start the paperwork (which has a deadline of May 1) until they've raised a "significant" amount.  Thanks to a lot of big donations (that biggest one is from us, because Shawn and I decided that we would have otherwise funded Mason's travel, so we should just go ahead an donate what we would have paid), they're getting REAAAAAAALLLLLY close to halfway. I'm fairly certain that the principal would accept half as "significant," but we don't know.

Thing is, there's no need to break the bank.  Every little bit helps.  So, if you've got a spare dollar or five dollars for science these kids would really, really appreciate it.  

Even if you DON'T have a spare buck, you should check out their GoFundMe page, anyway, and watch the video to check out the cool stuff they're up to.  The narrator is Mason's friend Rosemary, and you can see Mason in several of the shots (hint: the white dude.)

https://www.gofundme.com/help-send-us-to-kidwind-nationals
lydamorehouse: (ticked off Ichigo)
 Mostly, Mason is everything that two "indoorsy," geeky mothers would want. He reads a lot, is a gamer, and is generally fairly nerdy, himself.

Except this one thing... his love for baseball.  

Parenting requires sacrifice and let me tell you the wind was COLD last night out at Lawson Field.  Shawn and I sat on metal bleachers and cheered on the Washington Eagles, even though they lost 5 to 8.  


Mason up to bat

Last night was also my class at the Loft, so I actually ended up having to leave Mason and his mom at the field in order to make it to class at 7:30 pm. (The game was a late start.)  But, Shawn has a Go-To card, so they hopped the bus/light rail and made it home in no time.  

Class continues to be amazing. I finally had a lecture that didn't feel entirely like babble (did Venus go direct yet??) But, whatever the reason, I was glad. We ALMOST got the timing to work out, too. I think we only overshot class by about 5 minutes, which isn't egregious, at least. I also try to be very clear that if people need to go, they should.  But, you know, Minnesotans. They'd sit there politely, make themselves late for the bus, and curse me all the way home... and I wouldn't hear about it until the evaluations.  *sigh*

I'm also volunteering to host the student reading at the Loft. I just sent out the information to my students.  Hopefully a bunch of them will sign-up or I will be STUCK WITH POETS....and I can barely think of a worse fate. (Unless they were science fiction poets. Those folks, I like.)

If was funny because normally when I ask if my student have read the assigned short story only one or two hands go up. This time, when we were dismissing, one woman said, "Wait, aren't we going to talk about the story??" It was "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies" which I believe is up for BOTH the Nebula and the Hugo this year.  It's an interesting story if for no other reason than it is told in bullet points. There's been some unique (in a good way, not the Minnesotan way) formatting in this year's Nebula nominees.  Our first story was a chose-your-own adventure, the second was semi-epistolary.  Fascinating stuff.

Right, I'm off to hang out with my Wednesday writing group. See you all on the flip side.
lydamorehouse: (nic & coffee)
 A lot happened since I last posted, however.  Mason and I went down to Mankato, Minnesota, on Thursday night. We had a fun time traveling together as we always do.  We ended up stopping early for "road food" in Burnsville.  Shawn laughed pretty hard when I called from the "Old Country Buffet," given that we hadn't even managed to break the exo-suburbs before pulling over.  To be fair, Mason had had one slice of pizza for lunch (one of those school fundraising things) and I was just generally starving, too.  Of course, the food there was.... meh. I always make the mistake of thinking the taco bar should be okay. (It's not.)

We only got turned around a couple of times once we reached Mankato.  The in-city map was printed very small and there was the classic confusion of is Stadium Road the same as Highway 58 (or whatever)???  Turns out it was, but we at least figure that out BEFORE we drove too far out of town.  Yes, there is great irony in the fact that we got LOST ON THE WAY TO THE GEOGRAPHY BEE.

We spent out hotel time doing geography quizzes based on Trivial Pursuit cards, which was our fun way of studying.  Mason did bring along some atlases and such, but it was much more fun to read the questions and think... is the answer going to be the USSR? Or some other country that no longer exists because this deck was printed in the early 1990s???!  We laughed a lot, which, IMHO, is the very best way to study.

On the day of, we got up early (too early in my case. I woke up precisely when the cats normally would rouse me: 5:45 am.)  We were too nervous to do much constructive, so we at at the hotel (passably okay) and then thew everything into the car, checked out, and headed to the bee, which was being held in the Student Union of Mankato State University, about four or five blocks away.

Here's another attempt at a picture:

Mason at bee 2017

This is a picture of a smiling (smirking?) Mason holding up the classic yellow National Geographic magazine's frame around his face.  He's wearing a blue plaid shirt and you can see his official geography be name tag over the right pocket of his shirt.  The wall behind him is marble-esque and has some letters carved into it, which make up some part of Mankato State University, I suspect.  

After some brief discussion, it was decided that I sit out the preliminary round. Two of his teachers were there--Ms. Lesser and Ms. Croone.  Ms. Croone was there as one of the judges, but Ms. Lesser went in with Mason to root for him.  I would have done the same, but we decided that me being there might make Mason more nervous. If you can't tell, one of the big themes of this trip for us was that we really, really wanted this to be as FUN as possible. No stressing about how far we made it in the competition, etc.  Just to accept that it's really pretty damn awesome that we made it this far--because it is/was.  Mason had to beat out not only his whole class, but also the other two grades that were eligible (there were some 6th graders in the competition: Mason is in eighth.) Out of the 500 people who got that far, only the top 100 scorers on the written test advanced to state.  

Out of those 100? ONLY 10 advanced to the final round.

Mason wasn't one of those. But both he and his teacher thought that he did very well in the preliminary round, but he was eliminated. You have to get a near perfect score (only one wrong is allowed, two wrong and you're OUT) to advance.  

We stayed to watch the final elimination round and it was INTENSE.  There were a couple interesting things that happened.  At one point, in the second round of questions, you could hear someone in the audience give the right answer. What I found fascinating is that, though there was an admonishment from the National Geographic judges to the audience, that question was allowed to stand (no re-take) and the person who answered that question went on to be the final-place winner.  I'm not sure how I feel about that, but the judges decided to let it stand.  I'm really surprised that they didn't give that particular competitor a different question. But, whatever.

it's also interesting to me that the winner was actually the previous year's winner... and home-schooled.  I've been trying to decide if I feel like homeschooling is an unfair advantage here, or not.

Also, 90% of the competitors were white and male.

As Mason wondered out loud, "Why? What about geography has a gender bias?" Outside of institutionalized sexism and racism, I have no idea. Two of the ten finalists were obvious PoCs, but they were all male.

Other than that depressing observation, we had fun.  I don't know if there is a high school version, so Mason may not have a chance to do this again, but we ARE planning to watch the National bee when it's aired.  Despite the weird start, we ended up liking the state champion.  Mason called him, "The Han Solo of Geography Bees" because it was very clear that he was making a lot of educated guesses that were turning out correct (you could tell by his occasional SHOCKED expression.)  That made him very likable, so we will root for him in the Nationals.

The drive home was fun. Mason LOVES road trips, so we had our usual enjoyment of watching small towns roll by, commenting on especially creepy rural cemeteries, etc.  We managed to leave behind Mason's school iPad's cord, but that was the only even vaguely dark cloud on the whole trip. (Cue a lot of calling the hotel, not getting answers, and then finally what I think of as a brush off, which was, "Nope we never found it." The next whole rigamarole will be getting a new one either from school, or apparently the Apple store, but that's a whole other headache. Though, it should be noted, ultimately VERY solvable.)

Saturday was Shawn's birthday. She has now successfully leveled up to level 50. When I went out to fetch the birthday cake and coffee on Saturday morning a lot of the people I interacted with asked, "So BIG plans?"  I had to say, "Listen, Shawn is an introvert. It's big enough we're going out to dinner." And, it was true, after the excitement of cake and presents we spent much of her birthday doing a lot of napping and jigsaw puzzling on the porch.  It was so lovely out that I did a little garden prep, but that was about the pinnacle of excitement for us.  :-)  Dinner was at the Indian place in Maplewood, per usual. Shawn and I both really love that place.  Turns out, Mason loves it now, too, so that's extra wonderful.
 

 



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