family vacations


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At some point, coming or going, where a trip to Iowa is concerned, Minneapolis looms large and essentially unavoidable. A metropolitan area that all but defines the term “urban sprawl”, we found ourselves once again attempting to circumnavigate it with as much expediency as possible on our return trip to Canada last week.

Coming up I-35 and entering the interstate labyrinth from the southern edge, it can easily take well over an hour to break free. Compounding this was Rob’s quest for another two bar stools for our new kitchen breakfast nook. The pricing on everything under the sun hovering just below insanely cheap in the States, we’d found two chairs at the Pier 1 in Dubuque and determined that another two could be secured in another store in Michelle Bachmann territory.

Dee is an extraordinarily intrepid traveler for her age. Broken to the backseat during her 5th year and first in Canada by the vast expanse that is Alberta specifically but Canada generally, she can ride six to seven hours with nary an “are we there yet?” But a week of intense spoiling by her grandmother softened her a bit and the endless city of Minneapolis quickly mushroomed into a Groundhog’s Day experience.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“Minneapolis,” Rob said.

30 minutes later her attention wandered back to the seemingly unchanged landscape.

“Where are we now?”

“Minneapolis,” I told her.

And 30 minutes after that?

“Are we still in Minneapolis?”

“Yes, we are,” Rob said.

“Well, I don’t know why they call it Minneapolis,” she announced a little while later. “There is nothing ‘mini’ about it.”

“Minne is a native word,” Rob said.

“It probably doesn’t mean small,” I added.

“Probably not,” Dee agreed.

In Simon Ushakov's icon of the The Last Supper...

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I haven’t commented on the wedding. It was a wedding. They are all the same on the surface, varying only slightly depending on the personalities involved and the tales told in the aftermath.

Dee loved being a flower girl but she has no use for Catholic ceremonies that involve/revolve around the mass. The last time she was in church was for my dad’s funeral in ’08. At that time, she and N2 entertained each other a bit and the ritual still fascinated her with its exotic qualities and mystery.

No more.

Cannibals At the Altar

At nearly nine, she listens. And her reactions ranged from frustrated – because she couldn’t participate in the rote recitation and response that is so drummed into me that I could follow a mass while in a coma – to horrified when she finally comprehended what the priest was saying at communion.

“Body of Christ,” he intoned as he placed a wafer on each tongue

Horror. That was her expression.

“He doesn’t mean that literally, ” I whispered.

Incredulous horror.

“Do you remember the Last Dinner painting?” I asked her.

She nodded. Da Vinci’s Last Supper is a favorite of hers. The Canadian public school system recognizes no separation between faiths and state though Christianity in its Catholic form gets the most play. Dee loves to talk about the “last dinner” and what happened.

“Do you remember that Jesus shared bread with his followers?”

Eyes begin to widen in growing comprehension.

“The priest is just doing what Jesus did,” I assure her. “It’s not really anyone’s body.”

“That would be gross,” she said.

Indeed. And yes, I know perfectly well that Catholics believe (or should at any rate – it’s so hard to know what Catholics actually understand about their own faith) about the host, but transubstantiation would sail over the heads of adults and I didn’t have time to get into that with Dee then.


Rob and I ended up being matron of honor and best man. It’s a better gig than reader though I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to explain the role reassignment and by the time I had to reassure Fr. Pat that all was well and truly figured out, I was thoroughly reminded of why patriarchal systems irritate me so completely.

Domestic Air Travel in Canada

The weather was wonderful. It warmed our spirits up considerably to be somewhere that snow wasn’t, and the air travel, aside from a few minutes of disaster movie like turbulence on the return trip, went smoothly.

Did you know that Canadians don’t remove footwear as they move through security for domestic flights? Nothing even slightly Gestapo-like in the screening area at all. Just quick, suspicionless inspection of bags and jackets.

However, I did find the security wonks at the Kelowna airport a bit lax in their reaction to an abandoned backpack. I noted it and, being an American I suppose, pointed it out to Security agent. When he radioed it in, he was told to simply “take it to the break room and I’ll look at it later.” As I haven’t seen any news reports about the Kelowna airport blowing up, I will assume that someone – who is clearly not an American nor has ever traveled by air in the U.S. – just forgot the whole “unattended bag thing”. Understandable because in the domestic travel areas of Canadian airports one doesn’t hear that automated voice droning on about responsibility and how “only you can prevent a terrorist incident”.

On A Break

This week, I officially asked for some time off at my paid blogging gig. Between reno, teaching and recurrent health issues, I need a real vacation.

For example, I didn’t take my netbook along last weekend. I didn’t check mail or blog or Facebook.

It was nice.

More than nice and has jumped-started my quest to balance virtual and actual reality toward the latter. Rob’s opinion is that until the Internet completes its inevitable split which will leave those without means trolling a UHF-inspired tier like bottom feeding fish, one should enjoy what is left of the web. It is a shadow of what it was even just a few years ago as the “entrepreneurs” continue to destroy its actual quality for the fastest bucks possible. But my eyes and interest are open to opportunities to free myself though probably not from my personal blog. I still enjoy my little corner of the blogosphere enough to resist attempts to make it bigger or shinier.

Family Matters

Rob picked out a movie for us at the bookmobile last evening. It’s never a good idea to watch a film on a weeknight and now with Dee’s bus driver on a mission to get us up as early as possible, it’s even less of a good idea, but we haven’t snuggled and viewed in a while (unless you count the “Hoarders” thing this last weekend and I don’t).

A 2010 flick called Mother and Child, which takes all the worst aspects of adoption from every possible angle and mushes them into one film. I am used to the misrepresentation of adoption – good and bad – but there was one thing in the film that made me incredibly sad. Sad enough that I cried when the movie was over.

There is the notion that it’s difficult for adopted children or birth parents to find each other. If the agency is known, most allow adoptee’s and birth parents to place contact info/letters in the file that both parties can easily access. Agencies will sometimes contact one party on the other’s behalf.

Both the mother and the daughter in the film write letters for their file, but due to miscommunication the mother doesn’t learn about her daughter until after the young woman dies.

Which was sad, but not what upset me.

The upsetting thing was being reminded that neither of my birth parents have ever contacted me. My information has been on file with the agency for 25 years. I haven’t thought about that for sometime now. Not looking for sympathy, mind you. Just an observation.

Last But Most

Both Rob and I are tired. In the last 6 weeks obligations have been plentiful and while we took care of them, the reno sat by idly a lot and we have gotten run down, over-tired and illness/injury prone. That’s being the grown-ups, I know. Suck it up, Buttercup.

But we now have a bit over a month to move a few mountains around before the obligatory family holiday to see folk down south and it’s just him doing all the work and just me trying to make the trains run around it.

This last weekend was a two nighter of bad mattress that has stove up both of us for much of this week, and a week or better at my mom’s (not to mention hotels there and back) promise more back and shoulder issues on top of exhaustion. Tripping to the States is about family. Not fun. Not relaxation. However, Christmas was exhausting and I don’t foresee resting up in advance of the trip. A dilemma that I am rolling around with now and for which I have no solution. Having pulled the holiday rug out from under Dee in November, I can’t see doing that again, but a hotel is a pricey option given the expensive Christmas followed by an unplanned for in the budget wedding and other miscellaneous.

“I am content never to leave home,” Rob pointed out as we discussed this today. I’d called him from the truck with the latest dental update (I’m not ready to discuss that).

“I suppose we could just start telling everyone that if they want to see us, they will have to come here.”

“No one would come then.”

A sad but true point. He and I are the wheel hubs in our families. If we don’t make it so, it just won’t be.

Just a good night’s sleep. That’s all I need. Oh, and to avoid further illness. At Christmas the new father-in-law left Rob and I the cold from hell as a parting gift. Today Rob got an email from his mother describing some virulent stomach/intestinal flu that they came down with last evening.  Nice.

Our second hike was through the Garden of the Gods. The mainstay of the park is a lame stone paved trail that takes one past the largest of the rock formations, a bluff area over looking a valley. Once part of a vast sea that millions of years ago covered the state, today it plays host to tourists who clamber over the rocks that despite not being as dangerously high up as say the Grand Canyon would very likely be the death or at the very least severe disablement as a result of any misstep.


The Guide claimed that the hike (and I hesitate to call anything that is paved and manicured a “hike”) would take about 40 minutes. Even with photo ops, we trekked it in half the time. It was easy to see what a clusterfuck (god, I love this word) a well-laid out place such as this would be once the summer and families on holiday began to arrive though Rob is incredulous that anyone could possibly visit this area on purpose (if we could have endured a longer car trip, we’d have been farther south ourselves). As it was only the end of March and just in the upper 50’s to lower 60’s, there were few people aside from us visiting.


The Flip-flop family were the people we encountered on the first real view from the bluff. Clad in shorts and flip-flops, they had hopped and huffed themselves out as far as one could go without actually falling off. The youngest, a girl of about seven, had leapt a space just a tad shy of her own height out to a stony flat and was trying to coerce her father into following. If that were my daughter so inappropriately dressed for hiking/rock climbing, dancing around on a 7 by 5 foot surface above a sheer drop of a hundred feet give or take – I would expect someone to turn me in for bad parenting. The father gamely attempted to make the leap but one look down the crevice in between his perch and the girl’s stopped him fairly cold. He tried to grab a thin tree that even I could see would crack like an egg and thought better of that too. The mother was sitting a bit farther out with the two older children still farther out behind her. I wondered if she had scooted all the way out on her butt because it didn’t seem to me that she could have stood all the way upright if one of her children’s lives depended on it. Still, she was the one who insisted that they all gather on this far point for a picture they could use on their Christmas card. Gotta love those people who can plan their obnoxious holiday missives 9 months in advance. “Look here we are on the bluff at Garden of the Gods in Illinois. This shot was taken just before my late husband fell feet first into a crevice and dropped 75 feet to his innard splattering and excruciatingly painful death right in front of our children and myself. Merry Fucking Christmas to you.”


Rob, sure-footed as a goat, hip-hopped out to the edge. The mother commented to me on his agility and kept the comments on his legs and bum to herself, but I saw her looking. Rob does have a very fine set of legs and a magnificent ass. He was just saying to me the other day that I don’t express my awe of him enough and so I thought I would throw some his way.


We wandered away from the Flip-flop Family as quickly as we could, but soon encountered the Outsiders. Teens whose dress – MySpace Goth – indicated that they thought themselves rebels. The black on black look topped by the hack job hairstyles, Cleopatra eyes and possibly accessorized further with piercing is so cliché to me. Having taught in middle and high schools for twenty years I can barely remember a year that I didn’t see kids dressed like this. Sometimes a handful. More and more as the time passed. But it is a tried and true sign of rebellion – nose thumbing – that like the youth music of the moment can hardly be called original anymore. I wonder when, like blue jeans, Goth like dress will become something that adults wear routinely, enduring the groans and eye rolls of their own children. I was listening to an NPR interview with Tracey Ullman where she explains why she doesn’t wear jeans. As a 48 year old divorced mom, her son considered jeans on a woman her age to be “sexy mom jeans”, the kind that women past forty and single wear to catch a new husband. Will the Goth young someday be accused of wearing “edgy mom chains” or “black widow clothes” by their teenage children who are afraid that they are in the market?


I had seen the two girls before we began our “hike”. One was a faux Goth. She had the lope-sided Veronica Lake look, dyed a dark pink – magenta maybe – and was dressed all in black but she clearly looked like a poser. Just doing the minimum defacement to be allowed to hang around. The other girl was as close to the real deal as a kid can get in southern Illinois. Jet-black hair that was clearly a dye job and hacked/shellacked into a variety of stark angles. I wasn’t even sure she was a girl at first because she wasn’t wearing the skintight pants of her companion but boys black jeans with stomping boots and a black jacket over a t-shirt with something on it I didn’t bother to read. It would have been obscure or insulting or both and I don’t read kid’s shirts anyway. I never have. Once in my early teaching days at a middle school on the eastside of Des Moines after I had escorted a class to the auditorium for a school performance of some kind, one of my co-workers sidled up to me and asked me if I had read the writing on the shirt of one of the boys in my class. While I had noted the scrawl that covered his shirt, I hadn’t paid it too much attention. Turned out it was the word “fuck” in cursive over and over. I don’t read kid’s shirts. Nor do I look into their mouths. There are just things I don’t feel I need to know.


When Rob and I ran into the Goth girls, they were accompanied by a boy who was holding the leash of a yippy looking little black (what else?) dog. I had spotted them on the far bluff that we were heading toward earlier and we had slowed down our pace a bit as the Flip-flops were far behind and we didn’t want to be stuck occupying space. Wearing the obligatory hoodie and fringed shaded eyes, he was darkly dressed as well. I didn’t get the sense he was “with”either girl though Pink was clearly enamored of him. The slunk past trailing the noxious odor of cigarettes that became thicker as we approached the rocks they had just vacated. I had forgotten how smoke hangs in the humid air but not how much I loathe teen smokers. Especially when smoking is part of an “outfit”.


After we’d moved off the tidy stone trail to a real hiking one, we ended up following a couple who Rob had initially suspected of being a pair of young lovers in search of an open-air shagging spot, but when we caught up to them they were just a couple of middle-aged tourists (Tracey Ullman’s son is right – it’s the jeans – coupled with ball caps and dyed hair anyone can fool Mother Nature now, provided she’s only got a rear view and from a distance). They attempted small talk but we shut them down, not being in need of hiking buddies and also because we are both a bit reclusive – not just a honeymoon thing either.


The hike itself turned into another off road experience. Flooding has drowned evidence of worn trails and enough people have simply created new paths hither and yon that it is pretty easy to end up running out of trail in a dead end. Like the first hike, we simply bushwhacked but by this time were in the valley between the bluffs and a coming rain and the setting sun made it seem darker than it was. At one point we were skirting close to the bluff and the distinct rustling of, in my opinion, a lot of bats, sent me scampering at almost a run to catch up to Rob who is always leading the way at Storm trooper pace. Later as we approached the truck in the parking lot, Rob spied a bat circling in the dimming light.


“Is that a bat?”


“Yes, there was a whole bunch of them back in the bluffs.”


When he wanted to know why I didn’t point them out, I replied.


“Because you’d have wanted to go back and take a look.”


And he would have too. And I hate bats.


The parking lot was deserted when we emerged from the trail after bushwhacking through the rain. I wasn’t too surprised. We hadn’t run across anyone that day who wouldn’t have melted.