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I have an unusual divorce. In many ways, it is good. Ex-Pat and I get along pretty well most of the time, as we are committed to our 15-year old daughter. The first year was tough – he was angry, I was sad, it was awful at times. But now, when it gets awful, I can leave, or hang up, or whatever. I don’t have to put up with being berated or belittled. And we do help each other out with things from time to time. We’re better unmarried than married.
He has not moved forward in his life. I have. He is very supportive of my relationship with MKL. He wants me to be happy. But he has done nothing in his life. He hasn’t learned anything from our divorce, hasn’t grown, pursued another relationship, devoted himself to a job or a dream. He has just bowled and spent money and alienated nearly every one of his friends. His support system – on which he calls rarely – consists of me and Kelsea. That’s not good.
He got a sore neck about 45 days ago. It became excruciating. He had horrible back pain. He could barely move. He was miserable, and miserable to be around. He went to the doctor at th VA twice, and they didn’t diagnose him, just gave him painkillers, which didn’t help much. I finally insisted he go to the doctor again, and that I go with him to advocate for him. I couldn’t stand how he was being around Kelsea and I was worried. He’d lost 15 pounds in a month, and reminded me of how my mother suddenly lost a lot of weight before her final cancer diagnosis.
So on Friday morning, we went to the VA. And while I’m glad it’s there to help veterans, it was about the most depressing place I’ve ever seen. To give you an idea of how poorly Ex-Pat was doing, a fellow veteran in the waiting room mistook him for a World War II veteran, which gave me quite a giggle.
The appointment with the doctor was okay. I insisted that he come clean about his excessive drinking, and the amount of over-the-counter painkillers he was taking.The doctors listened, looked at x-rays previously taken, and said he had some arthritis in his neck that might have just finally started causing the pain. Hmmm. I was suspicious, but the doctors agreed to get him to a primary care doctor for more visits, and to schedule an MRI to see if there is any soft-tissue issue.
But as we were wrapping things up, Ex-Pat got woozy. He thought he was going to faint. They took his blood pressure: 87 over 51. And off we went to the Emergency Room. That was Friday. They decided to keep him overnight because his blood pressure wasn’t coming up. They said he either wasn’t producing blood or he was bleeding “somewhere”. Overnight, he spiked a fever. They ruled out leukemia. On Saturday, his fever was down, but his blood pressure was way high. They kept him in another night. He had an MRI, which was fairly normal. But they discovered bacteria in his blood, so he went onto massive antibiotics. This morning when I talked to him, he said they were keeping him another day. Now I can’t remember why, but I think they’re trying to figure out if it’s related to his long-term mitral valve prolapse. He’s on fab painkillers, so he’s happier. But they still won’t let him go.
So I’m at his house, to tend to the animals. (Roscoe is back to his old self, by the way.) I can’t sleep in our old bed, because it’s covered with laundry. There’s no food in the house, and a counter full of dirty dishes. And I’m in tender shape. I help people who need help. It’s who I am and what I do But I feel like we are crossing boundaries that our divorce should have solidified. It is disturbing to me. It is disturbing to MKL, and I can understand that. I am still half owner of this house (that he has let fall into as much disrepair as he has let himself fall) and the animals, and Ex-Pat is still my daughter’s father. (She, by the way, is in the mountains with a friend for spring break.)
And it is upsetting. When they mentioned cancer during his exam, I got nauseated. Seeing him degenerate like this has brought back all those feelings about when my Mom got sick, and I cared for her, and she died. And when the Captain got sick, and I lost him. Which were both around the same time. I find myself holding back tears and saying out loud to myself, “You’re all right. You’re ok.” And this makes me feel stupid. None of this is happening to me. It’s happening to Ex-Pat. I am fine. Inconvenienced. Worried. But fine.
I guess I still have some work to do.
I’m not whining, but I do want to share.
Roscoe’s injury has hit me hard. Not as hard as it has hit him, obviously, since he’s the one who had a nine-inch stick in his body cavity for a week and almost died, not me. But in an emotional way, hard.
I’m at the vet now, sitting on the bed that he’s become attached to here, typing this. He has his upper body curled against my leg, and is sleeping peacefully, breathing normally for the first time that I’ve seen since the injury. He was dreaming a bit, his paws twitching like dogs do when they’re chasing something in their sleep, and he just gave a big contented sigh. Nothing is waking him – not my sneezes, not the barking dogs in the treatment room, or the voices of the staff. He’s peaceful. I cuddled him and sang him all the lullabies I used to sing to Kelsea when she was a baby.
He still has the pump in his side. They upped his antibiotic dosage, and so the incision sites are cooler, and he is much more alert. The shaved spot is the size of many other dogs, so he may have to wear a t-shirt when he gets home, which I always think looks adorable on dogs. But he’s still not eating and not drinking. He did covertly eat the food I brought yesterday sometime in the middle of the night, so I brought some more for him today. They gave him two liters of electrolyte IV solution earlier to help him keep hydrated and his body just soaked it up like a sponge.
I don’t even want to imagine what the bill will be. I don’t care. I can’t really afford it anyway. But you do what you’ve got to do. The vet – Arapahoe Animal Hospital in Boulder – has been fabulous. All the doctors and all the techs here know Roscoe now and love him. They want him to live here with them and be their vet pet. (Sorry guys, we got him first.) It reminds me of when Kelsea was first born. That first night, they took her away and told me they’d bring her back for me to nurse her. I woke up seven hours later with no baby and no one answering the bell. I wondered if something had happened and I was the last person alive. So I hobbled out to the nurse’s station, and said, “Um, excuse me, do you know where my daughter is?” “Oh, Kelsea?” they said, “She was so sweet that we just decided to keep her here with us at the nurse’s station.” Sweetness must run in the family.
So, Roscoe is getting better and is going to be okay. And that’s all the news that really matters.
But now we come to me. Yes, wussy me. I am so exhausted energetically from caring from him from a distance, emotionally from worrying about him, and physically from not sleeping well at my ex-husband’s house while I care for the other animals that I can hardly tell which way is up. Sitting with my puppy while he sleeps, along with this wiped out feeling, is totally taking me back to taking care of my mom the week before she died. I was up all the time, sleeping in strange places, showering when I had a second, snarfing food when I could, sitting with her all the time because I could. (I haven’t been able to do that with Roscoe all the time.) This zombie-like functional state is so familiar in my bones from that time with my Mother that it’s giving me flashbacks to a most tenderly painful episode in my life – her death. I never thought I would feel that way again. I couldn’t have told you exactly what it felt like until now, when I’m experiencing it again. And now it is flooding back in a strange, disjointed, poignant way.
I will deal with my own feelings, and it will be fine. I will be fine, just like Roscoe will be fine.
But it is strange to wander in this strange land again.
Yes, Kelsea really needed a little distance from Colorado, so that’s just what we got today… out-of-state. Fortunately for us, another state is less than 100 miles away. So we went there.
We spent the travel time talking and talking and talking. Mostly about what’s going on in her life, but we did have the occasional bizarre segue, like a debate about the perceived gender of God, and if God were a woman, perhaps we all have really bad weeks when she has her period. And then about the fact that, yes, to blaspheme is actually a verb.
We were looking for some bizarre rock formations that I had read about on www.roadsideamerica.com a couple of months ago. My swiss-cheese brain told me it was near the border, but that was as far as it went. So we took a detour east and found some rocks that were inaccessible near the tiny town of Carr. Which also had a great little convenience store.
We debated and declined trespassing on the funky rocks, and turned around to continue our journey. But once we got back on the Interstate, we saw the ACTUAL rocks that we’d been looking for, which we would have seen had we driven another mile or so. We resolved to stop on our return.
Into Cheyenne, we stopped at the first flea market we saw and poked around for over an hour. It was a good flea market, and we came away with some music for her – I had gotten her an old record player for Christmas, so she’s starting to collect vinyl – and some clothes from my fledgling Ebay vintage store for me. And of course, we got a couple of little things for the house.
A scented china glass conch shell that we initially thought was a salt shaker, but then determined was for potpourri. Either way, it now lives in the bathroom.
A milk glass covered chicken dish! (The gold perpetually waving Chinese cat was a Christmas present from Kelsea). Both now live in the kitchen.
After browsing and buying, we stopped in at Two Doors Down for an absolutely excellent burger, and played peekaboo with a neighboring baby.
We had an actual purpose for going to Cheyenne – to buy Kelsea a pair of cowboy boots. We braved the wind – one thing we both REALLY dislike about Wyoming is the perpetual wind – and fled into the Wrangler, a longstanding Western store and fixture of downtown Cheyenne. And I’m happy to say we met with success!
She’s very pleased. And now it’s payback time, because I always make her take MY cowboy boots off when we’re home together.
Our final shop-stop was Ernie November, a head/music shop, where she indulged in a few CDs to round out her growing music collection. The final music tally looks like this:
Gotta love her eclectic taste in music – she bought Kiss AND Dean Martin!
Time to head home, we did take the detour off the highway back to see the strange rocks, and to get a slightly closer look at the herd of buffalo that we passed. The sunset was lovely.
And the rocks were REALLY cool.
There were a lot of them, and they created a sort of little maze, complete with small caves and crevices. But the wind was blowing like cold stink and after scaling one of them, Kelsea decided she’d had enough.
We made a mad dash back to the car, and watched the remaining sunset cuddled in front of the heater.
We’re home now, on the red couch, watching ridiculous television, and happy that we had a few hours in another state of mind.
I hope you are having a lovely weekend, too.
I know that really, every day is special. But today is especially special for me. Why? Because today is the day that my most special and precious daughter arrived on this earth (at least this time around – she’s a very old soul.)
Because some of her friends read the blog, I’m not going to inflict much gushiness and reminiscing on her. After all, she’s 15 today, and you know what that can be like. At least I do. I remember 15 quite well.
The idea that she’s 15 is amazing to me. How could that be? Like an excellent vacation, it feels like she’s been here forever, and yet the time seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. I wish I had been (then and now) the one to spend more time with her. I missed a lot of her day-to-day growing up by working so much to support us all these years. But she had an excellent parent in her dad for those many years. And I do feel that the time we have spent together has been “quality” time, more precious for its scarcity.
It snowed the day before she was born; it is snowing now. That day was a Sunday. Today is a Thursday. But at 4:06 pm on that day, my life changed forever for the better because this strong, smart, beautiful, funny, caring soul decided to grace it.
I can’t wait for many more years of roadtrips, inside jokes, kitchen disasters, epic fails, soul-level hugs in front of endless fields of sunflowers, famous chats, and getting to know one another better as we both continue to grow and change.
Happy birthday, Kelsea, my dearest daughter and friend.
I don’t follow sports. I don’t have any connections at Penn State. I don’t even know how I became aware in the last several days of the atrocious acts that former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky committed on who knows how many young boys over the past 20 years. My heart aches for the victims. I know a little about how they feel. I remember being a victim myself.
But in all this publicity, the perpetrator hasn’t spoken. He’s free on a reasonable amount of bail. What’s he doing? Spending a lot of time with lawyers, obviously, and supporters, certainly. Note that I did not make the totally inappropriate remark about athletic supporters – oh wait, I just did. He can’t be strolling around Happy Valley with his head held high. Can he? Or can he truly be secluding himself in his home, with his wife of heaven knows how many years? Can he really? Which brings us to the point of my post.
As my heart aches for Sandusky’s young victims, it aches for his wife. What must this woman be feeling? Shame, anger, disbelief, rage, humiliation, shock, nausea, betrayal, bewilderment, devastation are just a few of the emotions that come to mind. What do you do when suddenly you discover that the man you married and loved and helped all these years is a person you don’t even know? And someone you would consider a monster if you did not know them?
It must be impossible for her to believe it, despite the evidence. And I know that, at this point, she is looking at every moment of their life together and wondering. Did she really know and just turn a blind eye? Did she miss all the signs? Does this fact make x,y, and z make sense now? How could she have been so gullible? Such a fool?
These are the things she is thinking privately. She may not voice these kinds of thoughts to anyone. And barely even to herself. To friends and family, I imagine she is still displaying the stong, supportive wife-face she has worn for years. The face that says, “I don’t believe a word of this, and I am standing by my man.” She has perhaps raged at her husband – or perhaps not. She’s not of an era when women did that, for any cause.
People have asked, “How could she have not known? It had to have been obvious, or at least suspicious.” But no, it is entirely possible that she did not know, did not see, did not believe. Sociopaths – which is what child molesters are – are extremely charming and excellent at the art of deception. And when you love someone and have built your life around them, you are predisposed to believe what they tell you. When you know someone as a man who has looked after kids in various capacities for years – and raised the ones you adopted together – then the trips, the phone calls, the bedtime companionship in the basement room, seem like pure fatherly activities. And pedophiles can – and do – raise families without victimizing their own children – sometimes.
The one thing I know is that this woman is a victim in a whole different way. And for that, my heart goes out to her.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.