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My abstract conversation with Kelsea this morning:

Me: Awww, Andy Rooney died!

Kelsea: Oh, that’s terrible! Really? I’m so sad!

Me: I know, but he was like 92, so it does happen.

Kelsea: But didn’t he just go somewhere or do something?

Me: Maybe. Probably. But not that I know of.

Kelsea: I loved him in those old movies.

Me: What old movies? He wasn’t in old movies.

Kelsea: He wasn’t?

Me: No, he was on 60 Minutes. He always did the commentaries at the end.

Kelsea: Oh, he was the really old guy who sat in his chair and talked about how bad everything was?

Me: Yes, that’s him.

Kelsea: I loved him. Wasn’t he also in some old movies? No, wasn’t he Matlock?

Me: No, that was Andy Griffith.

Kelsea: Oh. Are you sure he wasn’t in old movies?

Me: Yes, pretty sure.

Kelsea: But wasn’t he the one in the movies who was always smiling and trying to take three girls to the dance? Wasn’t that Andy Rooney?

Me: No, that was Mickey Rooney playing Andy Hardy.

Kelsea: What? Oh.  I’m so confused. (Pause). I need some pants.

RIP, Andy. We did love you. And we really do know who you are.

[OK, we're having so much fun and taking so many pictures that I am running up against a choice of writing or inserting pictures into my posts. So here's the post. Check back for updates with pictures.]

Day 2 started where it ended: South Dakota, land of big stone heads.

I slept like (appropriately) like a rock, but Kelsea did not – pillowcity issues.  Which  means she stole all the best pillows last night and so it was my turn not to sleep well.

We had another amazing yesterday.  We had a fairly leisurely morning, and a passable lunch (yes, it was that leisurely a morning) at the Holiday Inn, spent going through about 30 of those little pamphlets that every mid-range hotel that caters to families has in a big “take one” stand near one of their exits.  In my quest for said pamphlets, I chatted with a woman who runs the little hotel gift shop; she has a 13-year old grandson, and gave me tips as to where to go and what to do.  Kelsea, with her new interest in Native American culture, was talking during our drive about how what we as the conquering people did to the Native Americans was one of the most heinous things our countrymen have ever done, and when I hinted at this chunk of history to the nice lady, she got rather chilly.  Note to self: When in South Dakota,do not mention how we wiped out Native Americans. Apparently, it is a touchy subject.

Brunch was a rather risqué affair, spurred by Kelsea’s comparison of excellent french fries to hot guys – I will spare you the details, but it was one of those meals where everything either of us said seemed to have some sort of hilarious double entendre.  We finally reached a shutting up point.  Then it was off to the car to say G’Day to Lee (the Garmin, in case you’ve forgotten).

After being amused by cheerleaders waving their sparkly pom-poms and screaming out a little purple Toyota Celica, Lee directed us to our first destination: the Chapel in the Hills, or Stavekirk.

Chapel in the Hills (Stavkirke)

Built in 1969, the chapel is an exact replica of an 850 year old church near Laerdal, Norway, and honors not only God but the Norwegian culture that permeates the region.  And it’s Lutheran, in case you were wondering, which always makes me think of A Prairie Home Companion.  There is no congregation.  The Chapel is used for weddings and special events.  In fact, there was a wedding about to start while we were there.  (When we arrived, we could tell something was going on, but we disagreed on whether it was a wedding or a funeral, Kelsea thinking the latter.  But I can smell a groomsman from a mile away, thanks to all those years of catering.) The bride looked lovely and they had a beautiful day for it.  We decided not to creep, even though we could have stood in the exact right spot to make faces at the entire cadre of guests.

The intricate carvings depict battles between good and evil and trace back to Viking times, incorporating some pagan beliefs, which may be why I was so comfortable there.

They even have a Leper hole, so that the lepers could worship without interacting with the rest of the congregation. Not much needed nowadays, but if you’re building an exact replica, then you have to build an exact replica.

The light that streamed in through various openings, and enhanced the serenity of the Stavekirke. It felt simple, yet complex at the same time.  A lot like religion itself, in some ways.

They play a recording every few minutes, giving you some history and details of the chapel.  Of course, just as we were getting started, my camera’s memory card filled up.  However, because I’ve forgotten memory cards in the past – and it’s no small feat to find one in the islands – I had a spare.  They come in those packages that a rabid scrabbling badger couldn’t open if his life depended on it.  Fortunately, my daughter had her trusty knife. (Wait, fortunately? My daughter? A knife?) I borrowed it and started slashing away at the packaging and at that very moment, the Voice on the recording intoned, “Weapons were forbidden inside the Chapel.”  We started giggling in a hysterically guilty manner.

A Prayer Path runs through the woods behind the Stave, so we walked along that, following the prayer stones and sometimes touching the statues along the way.

(According to this sculptor, Mary wore steel-toed boots.  Who knew?)  It led to a large rock overhang (which looked like a shaman hole to me and a perfect place for millions of spiders to Kelsea) and took a minute to be still.

Our last stop was the small museum filled with Scandinavian things and creepy mannequins.

Oh, and the gift shop really needed a goat to trim its roof.

The Stave is a non-profit and runs entirely on donations.  Should you be in the area, I encourage you to visit. And the docent ladies are charmingly helpful.

Feeling peaceful, we headed for Bear Country, stopping along the way to take pictures of giant man statues.  You should never pass up the opportunity to photograph a giant man statue.

Bear County is an interesting take on a zoo/wildlife park.  It’s a little pricey ($32 for two adults, because my 14-year-old would not lay claim to being 13, which would have saved us bucks.  That’s what happens when you have just come from a church).  But, having never been to Yellowstone, where I would hope to have a similar experience, where else could we find bears and elk practically stepping on our truck?  There are a few basic rules to Bear Country: stay in your vehicle with the windows tightly rolled up, pull off to the right to take pictures, and don’t feed the animals. (Note to others: if you are planning to visit Bear Country, wash all of your car windows first.)

I really sucked at keeping the windows rolled up, and Kelsea was constantly nattering about how I was risking my life and going to be eaten by bears, but I successfully tuned her out.  I mean, who’s the mother here anyway?  (Just kidding, I love her concern.)

Our first encounter was with a two ginormous elk and their harem.  Never have I seen such racks (on the guys).  You could practically read the mind of one of the gentlemen elk when one of the ladies appeared in a softly flattering light between two trees and he turned his lusty, savage eye upon her.

The elk dudes strolled across the road as if they owned it (which they do) heedless of cars.  I’m curious how they trained the animals to become so inured to cars; even though no one is going fast, it is still a pretty foreign object to a wild animal.

Mule Deer, which we see all the time in Colorado.  These two were headed to a party in the shed.

We next encountered wolves, but they were all sleeping. ALL of them. Bummer.

Bighorn Sheep.  One was just falling asleep in sun, like I used to do in philosophy class in college, with that head nod-jerk thing.

Mountain goats, which Kelsea could see but I couldn’t.

Buffalo in the distance.

Mountain lions all curled up snugly together in their shelter.

And then the bears.  So so so many bears.  Beautiful bears.  Playful bears.   Old bears.  Bears sunning themselves.  Bears just being bears.

It was awesome.

I kept rolling my window down to take pictures.  Once in a while, I would roll Kelsea’s down to shoot across her, but since I am a good mother, I kept her up most of the time.  This strategy worked pretty well, although twice, I was distracted and Kelsea pointed out that a bear was ambling towards my open window or was about five feet away.  No contest, window shut.

Again, it was awesome. Though we did wonder how many people had been really stupid and had gotten themselves eaten.

We wound up at the gift shop and the place where the smaller animals that no doubt would be eaten by the bears hang out.

And where the baby bear cubs play.  I wish I could have gotten better pictures because they were adorable.  These will have to suffice.

We were undecided about our next destination. Well, I was undecided, but Kelsea was very determined: she wanted to go to Sturgis to the Mustang Rally (the car, not the horse).  We looked at the map, talked about what else was on our agenda for the weekend, and decided to take the plunge. I-90/14/79 here we come.  Why do highways have to have so many numbers?

The drive was smooth – lovely rolling green/brown hills.  We saw a sign for Black Hills National Cemetery, which had been on the “maybe” list of to-dos, and since we were there, we decided to stop.

Wow.

Kelsea wondered if everyone who had ever died in South Dakota was buried there.

What a powerful place.  From what I could gather – and I haven’t done the research yet – any veteran of the armed forces can be interred here, along with spouse and children.

The stories that these stones could tell.  I felt a book coming on.

Cemeteries usually give me a vibe.  This one felt orderly – which felt appropriate to the military demeanor – and personal yet impersonal all at once.  Peaceful but incredibly strong.  A sense of contained energy.  And a heightened awareness that we were just looking at a tiny fraction of the men and women who had served to protect this country over the last 100 years.

Thanks to all of them.

Continuing on to Sturgis, I had no idea where to find the Mustang Rally.  But as soon as we got to town, we started seeing Mustangs streaming down the street.  I told Kelsea that I thought we’d missed it, but she was ecstatic just to see so many Mustangs driving down the street.  That would have been enough for her.

But we weren’t quite too late.  The Mustang Parade was just winding down, and a ton of cars were still there, parked, showing off, or doing the peel-out competition.  I was looking for a place to park, having let Kelsea just jump out with the camera before she fell out the door in her eagerness.  I only had a moment of panic when I realized I had just turned my 14-year old daughter lose in Sturgis, but we quickly reconnected.

She had fallen madly, passionately, and completely in love.  With this car.

And now she wants to move to Sturgis.

The Mustangs WERE indeed beautiful.

We talked with the owner of Kelsea’s new innamorata, who told us there was an excellent Mustang rally up in Steamboat Springs in June.  I know where we’ll be going next June.  And she’ll even be able to drive by then.  Look out.

On our way home, she was too impassioned to even speak properly.  But we did start trying to count the “Think! Why die?” signs that South Dakota puts up on the highway to indicate where someone died.  Yikes.  I think it was worse than in Montana.

We walked to dinner from the Holiday Inn.  I had a momentary disappointment when, for some reason, I was thinking about my age and realized that I had just subtracted 11 years from my actual age when I was thinking about it. I was bummed to remember how old I was!

Dinner was at the Firehouse Brewery, a restaurant in the original Rapid City fire station.  The food (gumbo for me, Caesar Salad for her) was good.  The restaurant was a little loud, kind of crowded, but entertaining, with lots of firefighter memorabilia and patches from all over the country (and the world).

As we left Johnny Lunchmeat started playing cover songs.  Awesome name.  Not bad music.  We can say we saw him before he was famous.

Our walk home took us through the park, which was fine – no drug dealers.  As we were walking beneath one of the widely spaced streetlights, it went out, shoving us into near total darkness.  This would not be remarkable, except for the same thing had happened on Wednesday when Pat and I were coming back from Parent Night at high school.  I had joked that it was Dumbledore.  But now I am not so sure.

And so, we crashed.  And now, it is a new day. And I have finally gotten the loveable lump out of bed.  So it’s off to see the big heads.

It’s the time of year we all look forward to – our annual Mother-Daughter Labor Day trip! This is our 5th Labor Day excursion. We always pick somewhere new to go. Since flying was looking a bit pricey this year, we picked a destination that was drivable, and a state to which neither of us had been: South Dakota. We refer to this trip as the Lobe, since last year’s 14-state driving extravaganza was called the EAR (or Excellent Adventure Roadtrip). This, since it’s only 3 days and 4 states, is the Lobe.

As is customary, it’s always an experience travelling with me. I wound up leaving an hour later than I had hoped from work, and on our way out of Denver, l looked out my window and saw a dead hawk under a bridge. I took it as a bad omen initially, but Kelsea told me some Greek mythological fact about hawks that cheered me up. (This was to be the first of our semi-significant animal experiences for the afternoon.)

As we got through the Burbs, we encountered an amazing full rainbow that went double and triple on us from time to time in between cloudbursts. Kelsea was the photographer for this blog, as I was driving, and strangely enough, she kept snatching the camera from my hands when I attempted to take a picture while driving 80 mph. Go figure!

Double Rainbow!!

We drove alongside the rainbow for around 20 minutes. I’ve never seen one last that long before. We did our own impression of “Double Rainbow Man” and considered it a good omen.

We exchanged snappy dialogue:

Me: So do you have any classes with such-and-so?

Her: None

Me: You have nun class together? Are you studying good habits?

Her: What? Uhhh… [groan]

Actually we talked constantly – it was a feast of reason and a flow of soul.

Colorado whipped past and we lamented the closing of the Sweetsville Zoo. How could it have closed? There was no guide and no admission. And they couldn’t have just gotten rid of all those giant sculptures. I mean, there was a tugboat in there, for Pete’s sake.

The tradition of the Corn Slap was reinstated as we passed by numerous cornfields in full tassle. This, if you are unaware of it, is like Slug Bug, except you get to slap the back of the person’s head if you are the first to see a cornfield. (It was a painful trip through Kansas last summer.)

Wyoming greeted us with its standing buffalo silhouette on the bluff, and a ton of fireworks stores. We realized that we hadn’t stopped on the EAR and taken each other’s picture at the Welcome To [Insert State Here] sign upon arrival in each state, but there would be no time like the present to do so, so we were planning on doing it this trip.

Of course, the first live animal we saw was camels. Yes, camels. Four of them. Apparently they are trying to fool the camels into thinking we’re in the desert, which we’re totally not, although your local horticultural school will tell you that this is high desert.

Still I had never seen camels in any semblance of the wild, so I was trying to turn my head around backwards, Linda-Blair style, to see them. Not what you do while driving 80 miles an hour. But then I think I did a lot of things I shouldn’t have done while driving 80 mile an hour.

This incident did, however, help set the tone for some of our music selections during the drive. Not that we were listening to Bedouin karaoke, but since our tastes are somewhat divergent, we take turns with playing our respective iPods. She gets a couple of hours, and then I get a couple of hours. Kelsea is very considerate about what we play – she’ll check with me to be sure a song is something I enjoy, inform me if one is really inappropriate (ahem, then why do you have it on your iPod? Oh right, because you’re 14), and skip over the heavy metal ones for me. I do the same for her when my turn rolls around, since she loathes country music with a bloated passion. With a few song exceptions, and those are the ones I love, that I MUST listen to. So now, when those songs would come on, and she’d groan, my most appropriate (in my opinion) response was:

“Don’t complain. You saw camels.”

We also saw a herd of buffalo, which was new for her. And we saw buttes.

Butte

Isn’t it a beauty? (Get it? Get it?)

Being somewhat directionally challenged (even though to get to South Dakota from Denver, you basically head north and turn right), I had not only programmed Daniel, the Garmin, with driving directions, but had also printed out a set from Google maps. The problem was that these two set of directions were slightly divergent. Not greatly, but about 30 miles worth of divergent.

As we were zipping along, I had a choice to make as to which set of directions to follow. Well, the sun was, while not still high in the sky, at least still in the sky, so I opted for the slightly shorter route. As soon as we took the exit, I had a feeling I had chosen unwisely, as we went from a six lane interstate to a two lane road. But it was straight and fairly empty and nearly as fast as the highway and there were rock formations, and it felt like an adventure, so we were happy.

Drive, drive, drive. Pass the town of Chugwater, much touted in signage but leaving something to be desired in person, although it was in a geologic basin surrounded by flat top cliffs, with white sandstone rocks and tempting caves creeping up the sides. Kelsea was in mid-sentence when she stopped in awe and said how she could envision Indians in this particular spot, long before Chugwater chili came into existence.

Just past Chugwater, Daniel was a little unclear as to his directions, and so we turned around and took the Google directions, which Daniel wound up agreeing with. It was only about 5 miles to Hartville, where we would get on another road for a long stretch.

Hartville was a sketch in time and an oasis in the Wyoming landscape, built in a hollow with lush trees by a creek, with 76 residents, all of whom were just winding up a little BBQ in the tiny grassy park, and all of whom looked at us as we drove by.

Welcome to Hartville

I ignored the sign saying “No Outlet”, assuming it meant that at one point there was No Outlet, but surely not that there was NO Outlet. We curved up a hill, around a bend, past another No Outlet sign on a little fork road. Then we were met with a Road Closed sign, and Kelsea, wise woman that she is, said, “I think the road is closed.” Being me, I said, “Of course not.” We encountered yet another Road Closed sign, and she said, “I think so.” She’s always been a bit of a backseat driver, so I kept a steady course. The next sign said “Road Closed 1000 feet,” and my daughter said, “Mom, there have been five signs. What is it going to take for you to believe them?” I guess it took me running up against the closed road. Because I did. And then I believed them. But I did not believe Google maps anymore.

We backtracked, waving at the townsfolk, who looked at us if they wanted to BBQ us, and got back to the safety and comfort of our little two-lane highway.

Many relationships, over time, run their course, and so it was this trip. Daniel, the Garmin, and I were having problems. I had started to feel like he was mocking me in his snooty British accent when I didn’t listen to him. He would revert to “Please drive the highlighted route” which of course I can’t see when I’m driving because I wasn’t supposed to look at him when I’m driving – that just felt like he was being sullen and pouty. He would “lose satellite connection” when he was annoyed with me because I was lost. Or he would start saying the ever infuriating “Recalculating” when he was insistent that I make a U-Turn even though I was on a perfectly good road, just not the one HE chose for me. No flexibility. No compromise. I had had enough. It was time for us to break up.

Kelsea chose a new Garmin beau for me – Lee. Lee is Australian. His voice is soothing, not superiorly irritating. He makes me feel like he’s winking at me when I screw up, and he’s just along for a fun ride. So G’Day, Lee. He made me feel much better about being navigationally challenged. And it was remarkably easy to stop saying “Daniel” and start saying “Lee”.

Kelsea was in, as she put it, the best mood she’d been in for months, wanting to take pictures, enjoying the trip, the beauty of wooly Wyoming. There was a gorgeous sunset behind us, and the sky morphed into blackest night, peppered with stars, and a peach-colored sliver of a setting moon.

Wyoming Sunset

It was open range, so I was a little edgy driving 80-85, but there were no speed limit signs. We decided that the speed limit was “As fast as you can go without dying”. I will come back and post that sign myself.

Kelsea was hungry and there was nothing to be seen – and I mean nothing – as far as places to eat – or places to do anything – or just places – went. She considered killing and eating an antelope, and we then experienced that awkward moment that comes when you suggest eating your Mother’s shamanic power animal.

As we were driving along, taking a slight hill, something dashed across the road in front of the truck, causing me enough panic to swerve slightly. Too small to be an antelope, too big to be a rabbit, I thought it had horns, I thought it had fur, I thought it had wings, it was a tan the color of the earth. I had nearly hit a jackalope – or perhaps a chupacabra. Either might have made delicious roadkill.

Finally arriving at the crossroads that is Lusk, Wyoming, we got gas, semi-edible crap (I finally tried pork rinds, because I never had, and all I can say is DON’T and don’t ever let me do so again), and a tip to visit the Keystone Taffy-Pulling Shop outside of our destination, all at Tye’s One-Stop. Lusk was a nice little town, with a Friday night high school football game in progress. Kelsea wanted to stop to watch, but it was so late already that I had to veto the suggestion.

Lusk All A-Bustle

We still had 200 miles of darkness to go before reaching Rapid City.

Cellphone service was gone. We would pass through pockets of hills and trees, enchanting in the darkness, except for the occasional giant wildlife carcass that would startle and disturb the straight line of the road. There was some commotion in our truck when a car ahead of us was pulled off the side of the road, lights bright. I thought it was an officer who might disagree with me on the unposted speed limit. We discovered it was someone who shared our brilliant idea of having their picture taken by every “Welcome to [insert state here]” sign.

We drove into the direction of the most amazing lightning storm. No thunder, but lightning illuminated the cumulus clouds and the entire horizon in an eerie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” sort of way, which, given Kelsea’s recent UFO sighting, gave me pause. It would flash out from under the clouds, like a shutter opening and closing on a bright lantern, the light spilling out flat through the darkness.

Kelsea fell asleep (what greater sense of comfort and security than to fall asleep in a car while your parent is driving, even if the parent driving is me?), and I played country music to my heart’s content while wending into Rapid City. It was close on midnight, and I was trusting that the Holiday Inn hadn’t given away my reservation. Kelsea had programmed the address into Lee earlier, so I was relieved when he directed me specifically to our destination. However, our destination wound up being a vacant lot off the main drag and behind a warehouse, with a deviant looking character sitting in the dark grass beside it. Had my daughter programmed my destination to be a clandestine drug deal two states distant? I didn’t stick around to find out. But I did wake her up to show her that she too is somewhat navigationally impaired.

We waved to the drug dealer and retraced our GPS steps to find the charming Holiday Inn Mount Rushmore. The front desk woman was as welcoming as a corn husk, but after careful observation, I saw a little flyer that she’d been looking at with the cover “In loving memory of Steven” on the desk. And a plaque on the wall that identified said Steven as the owner of the Holiday Inn. So I silently forgave her her prickliness and her way-too-intense false eyelashes.

With an indoor atrium, waterfall, and glass elevator with freaky mirrored ceiling, we were satisfied with our surroundings. Our room is right outside the elevator door, but it was quiet last night. The sheets are soft, the beds are cushy and there are more pillows than we know what to do with. It’s a beautiful day in a new state.

From the 8th Floor of the Holiday Inn

Kelsea woke up once to plug in her phone and her backpack got her into a nearly unbreakable ju-jitsu hold so she went back to sleep, as is evidenced by the lump shown below:

My Loveable Lump

Time to poke the lump and start the day.

Every year while we’re down here, Kelsea and I take an excursion somewhere for a day.  We generally head north – last year, we went to Beaufort, the year before to Swansboro.  However, we’ve had a few … struggles passing through Camp Lejeune, which is basically in the way of anywhere north, so I decided we’d do something different this year.  Like go South.

To Bald Head Island.

My parents had often talked about taking a little daytrip down to Bald Head Island.  My dad loved lighthouses (as do I), and the Bald Head Island lighthouse (aka Old Baldy) is the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina. But somehow, we never did it.  For a number of years, the lighthouse was closed due to lack of funds, and I don’t think my folks wanted to do the long drive and not be able to climb to the top.

But I thought it might be just the ticket for the two of us.  A drive, a ferry ride, and an island with 14 miles of pristine beaches, a quaint little village surrounding a marina, a maritime forest, a lighthouse.  We will tool around on a rented golf cart, wander through the tree-arched forest, dabble in the sun-drenched sea edged by white sands.  A basically perfect day.

What is that they say about the best laid plans?  That they “aft gang agley”?  Well, mine aft ganged with some serious agleyness.

The day started out fine – a pretty deliciously disgusting steak biscuit from Hardee’s (it’s a once a year treat, ok? no comments from the peanut gallery).  We hit the road around 9:00, with Daniel, our navigational GPS James Bond, chiming in with directions when needed.  It was an easy drive, skirting Wilmington and turning east to hit the coastline.  And then WE were hit with an amazing rainstorm.  Wipers on high, roads nearly flooding, creating our own waves along our two lane highway.  We didn’t stop at the jeep that had flown off the road and buried it’s nose in the hillside, only because two other cars had already stopped.

The rain eased as we entered the town of Southport, where we were to catch the ferry.  Daniel, however, seemed to be somewhat befuddled, as he made repeated attempts to direct us down alleys, roads, and dirt tracks that had names but went nowhere.  Like a GPS creeper trying to lure us behind a barn to have his way with us.  So we turned him off, and found our way to the ferry on our own.

The ferry terminal was lovely and clean and cool. $48 got us two round-trip tickets and two tickets to the lighthouse. We wandered around the docks, admiring the sailboats and making speculative purchases. When the “Patriot” arrived, we snagged a corner seat on the outside upper deck.  The ferry was about as large as one of the larger Caribbean ferries, and as a catamaran, it was a smooth 15-minute crossing.

We pulled into the quaint little village of Bald Head, disembarked, and set off to see if we could get a golf-cart.  (There are no private vehicles allowed on the island.) The sign on the door of the rental shop said that no golf carts would be rented without a prior reservation.   Well, there has to be a way around that, right?  So we talked to Wade, a stoned, but still functioning young man, who considered the idea when I asked if I could go outside and call to reserve a golf cart.  After coming to his senses, he checked the schedule, and said that while they usually only have about 25 rentals a day, today they had 70, and a lot of their charging stations were out of order (or rather underwater) so they had fewer golf carts than reservations anyway.  He tried to talk us into electric bikes, even though I told him I didn’t ride a bike. That conversation concluded with him saying, “Yea, it’s as easy as riding a bike. Heh heh.” Very Beavis.  He did show us (sort of) a route to the lighthouse, and he was actually very sweet in a stoned teenage boy way.

We happily trotted down the boardwalk edging the beautiful marsh, with old trees framing the lighthouse in so many spots that Kelsea got irritated with my stopping every 5 seconds to take pictures very early on.  We passed through the tiny little gift shop, were awarded with our “I supported Old Baldy” stickers (it took great willpower for me to NOT think of that as a reference to my ex-husband), examined things in the tiny one-room museum, and headed out to the tower.

Old Baldy was originally illuminated in 1817, and was the second lighthouse on the island, the first being built in 1795 but destroyed by erosion. The 90-foot octagonal lighthouse has five-foot thick walls, narrowing to 2 1/2 feet thick at the tower’s top, and is made of brick, plaster, and stone, with stairs and flooring of North Carolina yellow pine.  The lighthouse has some amazing energy – a very spiritual place, strangely enough. It has a certain subtly primitive quality, and yet it displays its history beautifully and in its many layers (a theme for this trip, it seems).  Hard to describe – I’ll share some more pictures, which may help you see it through my eyes.

The steps to the top were tall and narrow, but with several landings, each with a strategic hole in the center so you could see down to the bottom or up to the top from whatever floor you were on.  The access to the light itself was up a narrow ladder.  Suffice it to say that the lighthouse keeper would need to have a fairly small ass, and I was pleased that I did just fine. (Others did not.)  The view from the top was great, but I wish it had been open – I suppose the liability for potential suicides is too great for that these days.  We were sweating like the wild boars that the island used to support by the time we finished the climb up and down.

From the top of the lighthouse, I had spied the church spire nearby and wanted to check it out, so we headed that way.  It was a cool respite from the heat.  The serenity was interrupted slightly by Kelsea asking me if Jesus had a middle name (although what I thought she asked me was if Jesus had a wooden leg, but either question was bizarre.)

Upon exiting the church, we tried to get a little closer to the marsh, but the bugs were biting a bit, so we ducked down a delightful forest path.  The little grey signs described the role that the island had played in the Civil War as the home of Fort Holmes, a haven for shipping and smuggling.  It was magical and fascinating.  And then things started turning on us.

Walking along the path, something suddenly leaped from the trees to our right.  Large and golden, I thought it was a big dog (though why it would be leaping from the trees I could not say), until I caught a glimpse of antlers which identified it as a stag.  Only one, bounding off into the woods.  Our path dead ended.  We suddenly realized we were being consumed by mosquitoes.  Turning around, we were performing a very unique tribal dance, trying to keep the bloodsuckers at bay.  We figured we’d head for the 14-miles of pristine beach – the breeze would certainly help with the bugs.

We dodged a few golf carts as our path crossed a little road.  And then, things got a little stranger.  First, the bugs got worse.  And worse.  And worse.  We did not have enough hands to swat at the flying things on all of our body parts. We came across a sign warning us of alligators.  And snakes.  And poison ivy.  Really truly.  And our path ended in a little raised walled platform with no way out except the way in. So we jumped over the wall, off the platform, running along a faint deer trail and hoping like hell that our legs weren’t being entwined with poison ivy and that no alligators were going to snap at us from the fetid pond next to us.  Still flailing, we emerged into the serenity of a golf course where we later figured out we were not supposed to be.  But the bugs had eased (as long as we kept walking) and so we followed the path, figuring it had to go somewhere – I kept thinking I could hear the sea.  I mean, it’s an island, right?  But I know that I am capable of getting lost for hours on a very small island.

We walked.  We flailed. We swatted each other. I would stop to take pictures and would be devoured.  We wished for cooler air (thankfully, it was overcast, although the rain must have made the bugs worse.) Finally, finally, we see a sign for Beach Access. Bliss is close at hand.  But… no. Bliss is another mile down a residential road and then another 1/2 mile of board walk and sand and then, we arrive at the beach.  But it’s not the pristine sands we were anticipating.  It was a stretch of sand covered with flotsam and dead marsh weeds piled a foot deep, with surf fisherman happily casting away.  We took our shoes and pants off and cooled off in the water for a few minutes, but there was nowhere to settle in comfortably, soooo… we went onward.

We decided to stay on the beach this time as long as we could.  The bugs were better there, and we could see where we were going.  We’d gone a long way – the lighthouse was way off in the distance – but the marina seemed closer.  As we walked along the track of golden sand, we came across some … bones?  Yes, bones.  We decided they were likely deer bones – a scapula and something totally unrecognizable. And creepily, both were right next to a large crabhole with a sort of long, wide lump extending away from it.  Freakish.

A few steps further and we are assailed by an absolutely vile stench.  I’ve smelled dead animals before, but never anything like this – our imaginations already inflamed, we both decided we were smelling a dead human.  And then we encountered some other spongy, boney mass next to a large lump in the sand and we were certain we’d come across some illicit grave.

Time to exit the beach at the next access. Which is just what we did.

Stopping ony to take a few pictures of frog roadkill (old habits die hard) we went immediately to Eb and Flo’s for something cold to drink and a little food.  We just beat some more rain, and the gin and tonic was most refreshing.

So our blissful escape did not exactly turn out how I  imagined.  Ferocious mosquitoes, endless walking, skranky beaches, potential dead bodies  – it did not exactly add up to my fantasy.  But my Kelsea said she wouldn’t have traded it for the world.  We were together, we laughed, it was an adventure, and something she said she’d always remember. Like me, she is learning that she who dies with the most stories, wins.

As for Bald Head Island, I am wondering if it is truly just a marketing ploy, as everything new on the island seems to be under the control of Bald Head Island Limited, which rents all the houses and (I think) makes all the rules.  The lighthouse was worth it, and I might try the island experience again, if we were to find ourselves spending a couple of days in the Southport area, and it hadn’t been pouring, and we could be sure we had a golf-cart.  Or we might just chalk this one up to experience and leave Bald Head Island to the wealthy visitors who can afford to make themselves at home for a few weeks.

What we have concluded is that excursions with me are never dull.

Kelsea and I are on what is the first of several road trips for the summer this weekend.  We’re up at Cripple Creek for Donkey Derby Days, which I’m looking forward to writing about.

I love her. She’s so awesome. It was almost as if we started out being a little quiet and awkward on the ride up, but then we started talking about music – she has an immense knowledge of music and I have no idea where that came from.

We strolled around town, had a nice dinner listening to an awesome singer, and then shot pool for hours.  Her game is improving, and I, of course, shot like a goddess, except for scratching on the eight-ball.  We both danced with an old miner named Wayne.  She got to see a side of her mother that daughter’s don’t often get to see, I think, and while I was mentally beating myself up for not exactly being Mother of the Year in the eyes of the world, I’m Mother of the Year to her, and I guess that’s all that matters.

Kelsea (and Uber-Cool Will) graduated from eighth grade last week. 

This was a big deal, much bigger than I had thought. 

There was no graduation from eighth grade for me.  Not that I didn’t, mind you, just that they didn’t celebrate such things.  I was in a Pre-K through 12 school, so for us, it was just the end of another year.  The big difference was that we moved to the Upper School campus in 9th grade, but otherwise? Meh.

So I was approaching Kelsea’s end of eighth grade as I had approached my own – just the gateway to another summer.  I had no idea how wrong I was.  I’m still unsure if it’s a big deal because she’s going to a different school – high school – or if it’s a big deal because times have changed and we now feel the need to make a big deal out of everything that our kids do as a part of being human and semi-adult, from coming in last in a competition to helping a duck across the street.

But a big deal it was, and I was proud to be a part of it.  All the girls in her class dressed up.  As you’ve probably been able to tell from my talking about Kelsea, she’s about as far from a girly-girl as Abe Lincoln is from Diana Ross.  So when she told me she wanted to wear a dress for graduation, I thought she was kidding.  She wasn’t.  And she didn’t just wear a nice short-skirted party dress like every other eighth-grade girl.  If she was going to wear a dress, she said, she wanted to do it her own way and make a statement.  Thankfully the statement wasn’t this:

or this:

No, she wanted to express her own sense of style.  So she wore a floor length dress, and her long hair down, and she looked gorgeous.  And she only tripped on it once on her two trips up to the platform (that would be her dress, not her hair).

The continuation ceremony was looong – almost two hours.  There were the requisite number of inspirational speeches about “what school has meant to me” and “taking the next step into the journey towards adulthood”.  One excellent student speaker told an embarrassing story about her mom from when she was in high school.  I surely hope she discussed this with her mom beforehand, otherwise the poor woman no doubt wished she could sink into the floor.

One of the 90 students in Kelsea’s graduating class had succumbed to cancer shortly after the beginning of the year.  The staff acknowledged her and her parents who were in the audience, and that brought tears to my eyes.  They acknowledged all the veterans among the parents, which I thought was a nice touch.  And at diploma time, when the principal said to hold applause until each row had received their sheepskin (or cardboard, as sheep are scarce these days), we were a poor audience and refused to do so, but came to an unspoken compromise by making a coordinated single clap for each student, with a more robust chatter of applause after each row.  I thought it was hysterical, but I would get distracted, and clap off beat, which was rather awkward.

Kelsea had straight As, so she was on the President’s Honor Roll, which included a certificate signed by Barak Obama.  She and I both wanted to wet the ink to see if it was a genuine signature, but we resisted.  My niece, who works in the governor’s office, also gave her a personal letter from the Governor, congratulating her on her achievements – that one really was a genuine signature.

And as for Kelsea, she is so relieved to be out of middle school that she said she almost wishes summer was over – she’s that eager to start high school.  I hope it lives up to her expectations.  She used to love school (in elementary school) and she just loathed middle school, even though she did well.  But for now, she just wants to sleep as late as she feels like sleeping.  I, for one, will let her do so – though I may be the only one who will let her do so.

I am so proud of my lovely girl.  Watching her cross the stage with poise and joyfulness was a wonderful experience.

So I guess it is a big deal after all.

Kelsea is grounded.  She is not allowed to hang out with her friends for a week.

Why, you may ask?  After all, as I’ve expounded on endlessly, she’s such an awesome person and an amazing teenager.  But she wouldn’t be a perfect teenager if she didn’t screw up sometimes, would she?

That time arrived on Friday night.  At 1:15 in the morning on Friday night, to be exact.  I’m sorry, but at age 14, you CANNOT come home at 1:15 in the morning and not be in trouble (one way or another, and frankly, I prefer this way to the alternate troubles.)

I was supposed to pick her up when I got back from Denver, after going out with some friends after work.  About 6:30, she called me to ask if she could go to the movies with three of her friends.  The movie didn’t start until almost 8:00, which would put her home around 11:00, but one of the other moms was driving, and 11:00 is the shank of the evening for these guys.  Fine by me!

I arrived home around 9:30, and at about 10:00, I texted her to check on her timeline.  Her response?  ‘Still at movies.’  That worked from a timing standpoint – a movie can run about 2 hours these days.  She would be home soon.  I skyped with a friend, watched something on the Bonnet Channel, and at about 11:00, tried to call her.  It went to voicemail – not so good.  OK, I’ll wait a while.  I fell asleep on the couch, since going to bed without her being home was not an option.  When I woke up, it was 12:45 – no call, no text, nothing but silence.

I didn’t know what to think.  Be angry?  Yes.  Be scared?  Absolutely.  I called her Dad, so as to put him into the same state of mind – probably not the best idea, since he and I are in a not-getting-along phase, but I felt it was my parental responsibility to let him know what was up, and I just had to bear up under any accusations of bad parenting.

She still wasn’t answering her phone.  I had no idea where she was.  The movie let out hours ago. 

I remember the only argument I ever had with my own father.  I was about 16, and I had stayed out with my friends, lost track of time, and came home about two hours late without having called (this was before the days of cellphones – we used coconuts and smoke signals back then).  My parents had been frantic.  They had called my friends’ parents.  They had called the hospitals.  They had even called the morgue.  I’m not kidding.  I was so angry that they had so overreacted that I told them I was leaving again.  My calm, peace-loving, gentle dad – the man from whom I got my temper – stood in front of the front door with his arms spread and said, “If you’re going, you’re going to have to go through me.”  I thought about that for a split second, my teenage rage boiling like Vesuvius – then turned on my heel (no doubt with some choice words), stalked off to my room and slammed the door.  For me, there were no other repercussions; like me, my parents did not believe in curfews – they believed in our being committed to our words about when we would be home.  But it certainly never happened again.

Back to the present day.  I figured out that if Kelsea wasn’t answering her phone, one of her friends might, so I called Uber-Cool Will, who quickly handed the phone to Kelsea.  “I’m getting dropped off soon,” she said hurriedly. “We’re dropping off Will first.”  Where had they been?  “At dinner at Old Chicago.”  And she didn’t think to call.  She lost track of time.  She had her phone turned off since she’d been at the movies.  Hmmm. 

Ex-Pat called one of her other friends right around the time she and I hung up, so she knew she was in deep.  I was furious by the time she got home – 1:15. 

“Am I in trouble?, she asked, standing in my bedroom door.  “
Yup,” I replied. 
“What are you going to do?”
“You’re grounded.”
“REALLY?”  She sounded so incredibly pleased. “I’ve never been grounded!”

This punishment wasn’t turning out exactly the way I had imagined.  She’s always been so good, I think she was excited to feel like a “bad” teenager.

“Is this the worst thing I’ve ever done?”
“I think so.”
“Wow!”  She smiled broadly.

What the heck.  That’s tough to parent.  She was extremely apologetic, and clearly understands the worry she caused us.  She wasn’t defensive or combative.  And I know she’s not going to show up on an episode of  “16 and Pregnant”.  Had I been the mother who was driving, things would have been very different. There’s no way I would let kids stay out that late without being sure everyone had contacted their parents – and I don’t think I’d even consider allowing kids to stay out that late anyway.  But I wasn’t in her shoes at the time.

So Kelsea is grounded for a week.  Meaning she can’t hang out with her friends except at school.  She just gets to hang out with me.  Poor thing.  Fortunately for her, the week’s punishment ends in time for the season opening of Elitch Gardens, Denver’s equivalent of Six Flags, which she and her friends have been looking forward to for months.  If I were a stricter, tougher mom, I would ban her from attending.  But I think she’s learned what not to do.  I trust so.

I really, really hope so.

Things are moving along.  I told my landlords that I’m leaving.  Work has begun on what (for now) I’m calling The Bungalow.  Harry the Handyman pulled out the sink and vanity and ripped up the carpet in the bathroom.  And as an added yippee, it wasn’t the hot water heater leaking, it was the under-sink pipe.  Much easier to fix.

I peeled off about 50 years worth of wallpaper today, and rid the backyard of a few years worth of branches.  I bought about 300 pounds worth of tile – that is heavy stuff, man.  And, in my quest to restore the bathroom, I bought what I’ve always wanted:  a 1922 cast-iron clawfoot bathtub.  It needs a little elbow grease but not too much.  I’m so happy!!

While I was out getting the tub, a former resident of the house stopped by.  He told Harry that he used to keep a pot-bellied pig in the house – so what I thought was a dog door was actually a pig door!  Somehow, I really like that.,

Kelsea and Uber-Cool Will and I were in the house last night, sitting around on the floor talking.  It felt wonderful.  His suggestion for the Bungalow’s name is Innovo, because it means “to start again” in Latin.  That’s a good one.  And it’s the only idea right now.  So again, a little help here, all my creative friends?

Tomorrow, we’ll start painting.  And, if it’s still there, I’m going to go get the most awesome surprise for the garage.  It’s interesting how my mind is starting to compartmentalize what I have to do for the little bungalow.  We’re starting with the kitchen, bathroom, living room, my room and Kelsea’s room.  The Shaman Room, little office, laundry room, greenhouse room and hot tub room will have to wait.  As will the floors – although I will clean them before we move furniture in.

My heart is still broken, but the world warms up, it seems to heal a little bit each day (except on those backslide days).   I’m tired, but happy right now.  I have a date to go dancing tonight, and a nice gentleman with whom I’ve been Skypeing.

Yes, life goes on.

As you know, I love my daughter to  infinity and back again an infinite number of times.  We never fight.  We just don’t.  We have what I consider an unusual relationship for a teenage daughter and her mother.

Given that, I’m not accustomed to getting angry with her.  I do know that happens.  And I am committed to my role as a mother, in which I teach my daughter self-discipline, self-worth, self-respect and how her choices impact herself and others.  I’ve tried to do this all along, and feel I (and Pat) have done a good job.  She’s a lovely, considerate, thoughtful person.

Today, we’re going to the auction, and taking Uber-Cool Will with us.  I’ve been looking forward to it since the last auction, and I know Kelsea has too.  We scoped out the goods yesterday, and have our eye on a 70-year old upright icebox that Kelsea can use as a dresser, since she doesn’t want an ordinary one.

We had dinner at my niece’s last night, got home about 10:00 and to bed about 11:00.  She was going to Skype with Will for a little while – they talk constantly.  I was fine with that.  I understand that she’s a night person, and I understand the teenagers have different circadian rhythms.

I woke to the sound of her voice, so I went to check on her.  She will still Skyping with Will.  When I asked her what time it was, she said, “Not too late….only about….3:40.”  3:40?????  I told her to sign off immediately.  Five minutes later, I could hear that she was still on.  And I got mad.

I went in and turned on her light and told her to shut it down that minute.  She’s not accustomed to me getting mad, so I guess she knew I meant business, because she did.  And then I chewed her out. 

She had struck a nerve, and I recognized that.  As I was laying in bed, listening to her still being up, I felt exactly the same way as I used to feel when I was married.  Pat always did this same thing.  We would have plans to do something special and he would stay up (or in his case, out) until the wee small hours and then be sluggish, hungover and too tired to be a happy participant in whatever our special plans were.  I could feel the slow boil inside of me as I was laying there, something I had never thought I would feel again.

So when I began the chewing-out, I began by telling her that I knew there was a certain part of projection occurring on my part, because of this memory.  However, I told her it was inconsiderate of her to stay up so long that she would be too tired and grumpy to share in our day tomorrow, and I was disappointed – which is one of the worst things I can ever say to her.  She tried to interject with a couple of “Buts”, “but” I told her I really didn’t want to hear them.  I told her I was understanding of her rhythms and feelings, “but” that this kind of behavior wasn’t taking care of herself and wasn’t respectful of others when she had plans with those others (a.k.a., me). 

I pointed out to her that I was using “I” statements, like her school counselors have coached all the kids. I didn’t raise my voice.  I didn’t tell her that her behavior was wrong.  I just told her how her choices are impacting me and my feelings, and how they will likely impact her.  And that this is an area where she needs some self-discipline.

We had been talking about this sort of thing on the way home earlier in the day, about how she tends to live exclusively in the present, with a “cross that bridge when we come to it” attitude.  I generally support that attitude, however, I told her, she must learn to have a broader vision, incorporating the lessons learned from her past experiences and her insight into how the present can alter the future, for good – or bad.  I reinforced that message at 4:00 am, when she reminded me of that conversation.   But other than that, she was silent – as she should have been.

I turned off the light and went back to bed, still slightly fuming, now moreso at the thought that on this, my one night to sleep in, I was now awake at 4:00 am.  One of the things I realized, as I lay there in the dark, was that I want to spend my time with people who take care of themselves, as that’s a sign of valuing oneself.  And I want to take care of myself, as that’s a sign that I value myself.  And I want Kelsea to learn, understand and know that lesson in her heart of hearts.

I did get back to sleep for another few hours.  It’s now 9:30.  She’s got another hour or so to sleep.  I’m not mad any more.  But I am curious as to what she’ll say when she gets up.

I know I’m right.  I know she knows I’m right.  It’s just interesting getting mad at her.

Cautious Experimentation

A recent Freshly Pressed post, http://cold-glass.com/2011/02/21/what-was-your-first-cocktail/, made me remember the story of MY first cocktail, and this being Sunday morning, and I being charmingly irreverent, thought I would share the tale today.

When E-Bro went to college, he moved about four blocks away to a dorm on Duke University’s East Campus.  I was still a refreshingly innocent 16 year-old.  Back then, while you couldn’t really buy beer and wine at 16 (you had to wait until you were 18), it seems we did, because I remember sharing bottles of Riunite Lambrusco with various friends from time to time, and a picnic Sarah and I had at Duke Gardens one summer in which we had little bottles of pink champagne. 

At any rate, one fine fall day, E-Bro invited me to his dorm room after I was out of school.  Let me preface this by saying that we did not come from a family of drinkers.  My Dad had bottles of unique liqueurs gathering dust in the basement, and there were bottles of Boone’s Farm and Manischewitz in the basement refrigerator that would show up empty by the back door from time to time.  (Sheltered by the washing machine, when I was very little, I would tipple the dribbles in the bottom of the bottle in secret when no one was looking – yes, a lush in the making – and I liked the blackberry wine the best.)  I never ever saw my parents drink at home.  Not once, until E-Bro and I were adults, and would bring home our own beers and wines.  Even then, my Dad would only have a few sips or a small glass, and my Mom none at all.  But the tales of drinking with my parents are best left for another post.

So on this fine fall day, as I say, I paid E-Bro a visit.  Hard alcohol was not quite as new to E-Bro as it was to me at the time, but that part of his shady past is something I know little about, so we’ll just leave it in the shade, shall we?  I’m sure Erik Le Rouge could supply some background, if I wheedled it out of him.  (Wow, I do seem to distract myself this morning, don’t I? It’s not like I have ADD or something….oh, look, a chicken!  Wait, what was I saying?)

We visited a while.  Even though he was close to home and brought occasional friends and laundry by, I missed him.  As much as we had fought during our childhood, it was really hard for me (and for my folks) when he went to college.  I remember they snipped at each other ALL the time after he left, to the extent that, one morning over breakfast, I basically yelled at them and told them that I didn’t care if they were suffering from the “empty nest syndrome” because I was still here, he was gone, that was a fact, and to stop picking at each other all the time, or I would be gone too.  That shut them up, made them think, and improved things.  You have to understand that I NEVER spoke to my parents like that.  Now see?  There I went again.  Distraction action.

Back to our story….  Somehow or other, as we were listening to some ELP, E-Bro’s and my conversations came around to partying.  He said – and mind you now, this is what older brothers do, as all you little sisters out there well know – “Hey, I want you to try something.”  Words every little sister dreads to hear, but accepts with a brave facade and a resigned internal sigh.  He got some juice glasses (no doubt “borrowed” from the Student Union – didn’t we all do that?) and poured me the following:  a glass of gin, a glass of vodka, a glass of whiskey, and a glass of rum.  We’re not talking a full glass, but we’re talking about two shots per glass.  “Okay,” he said, “see which one you like best.”

And so I drank them all.  One by one.  And by the time I was done, I was pretty darn happy.  And pretty darned reeling.  And the whole world looked pretty darned good. 

I liked the gin the best. 

I was invited to several of his dorm parties while he was in college and I was still in Durham.  I drank a little (not too much), met some nice people, set some carpeting on fire, watched girls compare scars from their suicide attempts.  All fodder for other tales.  Sometime in E-Bro’s sophomore year, at one of his parties, I asked for my usual gin, and whoever was pouring said, “Whoa, don’t you want some tonic with that?”  I looked at him, most puzzled. “Tonic?” I asked, “What for?  What’s that?”

Yes, I had been drinking straight gin for over a year.  E-Bro neglected to tell me that there was such a thing as mixers.

I consider the whole experience early weight-training for my liver. 

I have since passed far away from gin, went through a whiskey phase, will turn to vodka as a coolant on occasion, and dearly love rum.  I’m pleased to say that, even with all the stress and sorrow of the last few months, I never drink alone, and I only drink once a week or so, in a social sort of way.  So the lush life has most fortunately passed me by.

But I still treasure the memory of my first cocktail – okay, as much of it as I can remember.

Bar at Neptune's Treasure

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