Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Since last night’s blog seemed to focus on Val’s misfortunes, let me spend tonight on Nick, my boy scout.

A little known fact is that in 1998 the National Scouting Museum was in Murray, Kentucky. If you think you will look that information up on line, don’t bother. The museum on the campus of Murray State University in western Kentucky opened in 1986, but was moved to its present location in Irving, Texas, in 2002.

An even less known fact is that on Sundays it didn’t open until 12:30. Which we didn’t know either, until we pulled up to the door at 9:10am on a Sunday and read the sign. Himey and I were disappointed, but were more worried about Nick. He’d been a boy scout for four years and his dream was to get his Eagle. I asked him if he wanted to wait around until it opened.

But being the polar opposite of a drama queen, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “whatever”.

As mentioned in last night’s blog, later that day he took the elevator up the Jefferson Davis Monument. He took some pictures from the top of us ants on the ground, but other than that didn’t return to us overly emotional.

At Mammoth Cave, however, he let out all the stops. Several months before our trip to Kentucky, I bought tickets for both the kids to take the Trog tour. It’s a spelunking experience designed especially for kids to get a taste of the off-the-trail cave, to feel what it would be like to be the first one to explore the cave.

We hadn’t told either Nick or Val about it until we got there and sprung it on them. They both did have a good time, and I don’t think Val even had a complaint when they came out all dusty and hot. I take that back, I think they both whined that the tour was over and we had to get going.

That night, we sprung another surprise on them. We stayed at the Wigwam Village. It is something right out of the 1940’s. The picture pretty much says it all.

Monday, November 29, 2010

My husband Himey hales from Crandon, where everyone is proud to say that they are “Kentucks”. Thus, in 1998, he thought it would be great fun to discover his roots and take a family vacation to Kentucky. Any time it requires getting in the car and leaving town, I am game for it.

The goal for the first day was a Motel 6 in Paducah, 648 miles from home. Our only interesting stop all day was in Illinois, just before crossing the river into Kentucky. That little town in Illinois would be none other than Metropolis, the home of Superman, or so the Chamber of Commerce would lead us to believe.

We drove down to Main Street to get our obligatory picture taken next to the giant Superman statue. Just prior to that, however, Val had a camera crisis and so refused to get out of the car. We all love Val to death, but if anyone is going to have a meltdown on any given day, it will be my daughter.

Val had several more misfortunes that trip. She left her brand-new shoes on the picnic table at a road side park. Later that day, at I believe a Pamida-type store, it took her 15 minutes to find another pair.

At the Jefferson Davis Monument, Nick got to take the elevator to the top, all by himself. For some strange reason – was she too short? – Val couldn’t go, so Himey and I waited in the park with her. She was not happy about that. “Why does Nick get to do everything?”

And at the Horse Park in Lexington, there was no food that she would eat. After the rest of us had finished our BBQ pork, potato salad and corn on the cob, Himey took her to the car for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

In the Travel Log, I documented two other times –“Val is bummed’ and “Val is already miserable” – but I don’t even remember what that was all about. Poor kid.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

(Two years ago I wrote a devotional, The Christmas Story in 40 Days, describing the events leading up to the birth of Christ. For the next five weeks, I will share a passage from that book each week in my Sunday blog. I hope you enjoy – I will, as during this busy time of the year, I won’t have to write one each week! Have a blessed Christmas season. )

"The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced."
(Matthew 1:18-19, from The Message Bible)

In Biblical times, to be engaged to someone was as legally binding as being married. The only difference was that the couple was not yet living together, and thus, unlike many couples today, not having sex. Joseph’s only option, when he found out that Mary was pregnant, was to cancel the marriage contract and divorce her. He could do this publicly, which would mean the masses had the right to stone her. Or he could do it quietly, in front of only two witnesses, which would hopefully save Mary’s honor and her life.

Joseph had a lot to think about. When we are faced with difficulties, do we look at all possible solutions? Or do we just plunge in and do the first thing we think of? Next time you have a challenge to face, look at all your options before taking action. And most importantly, take time to pray.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Raise your hand if, when you were a kid, everyone fit around the dining room table for thanksgiving. If you raised your hand, I think you are in the minority. Most of the people I know put the young ones at a separate table – the kids’ table – because there is not enough room around the kitchen table. And if you had small rooms in your house, like the one where I grew up, the kids’ table wasn’t even in the same room.

I used to think, man, I can’t wait until I’m older so I can sit at the adult table and listen to adult talk. I remember joining the grown-ups for one year and quickly decided that the kids’ table was more fun. If the kids couldn’t be at the big table, I didn’t want to be either.

Ever since I was one of those kids, segregated to a different room whenever there was a large family gathering, I dreamed of having a dining room big enough to accommodate all the guests. One big table like they have in TV shows and on the Hallmark channel.

Well, I don’t have a dining room big enough. I can sit eight comfortably around my dining room table, and can put two more at the kitchen counter, a card table in the hallway. Not what I had pictured all those years ago.

Suddenly, about four years ago, I think, I had an epiphany. I don’t have a big enough dining room, but I have a big enough living room. It was only through the good-naturedness of my husband and my son, that every thanksgiving morning since then, the dining room table gets dragged into the living room, muscled through three doorways. Aunt Helen’s little side table with its amazing features pulls out to six feet. And the two tables combined comfortably fit as many people as I need it to. Chairs don’t match and some of the silverware has questionable origins (i.e. a dorm in Madison from the 1980s), but we are all at one table in one room. Not quite as pretty as TV, but it works for me.

Hope you had as blessed a thanksgiving as we did.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

One Friday in June 1998, Pat and I decided to take a ride up north to the Porcupine Mountains. We took Val along for fun. We needed that.

I can think of three times when I stayed in a hotel room with my sister Pat. This trip. A swank hotel in Milwaukee with our parents for my cousin’s wedding in the 1970’s. And that dumpy hotel near the University of Wisconsin Hospitals, where we went for one last ditch effort at a cure for Pat’s cancer.

What am I thankful for this thanksgiving and every thanksgiving since 1999? That God gave me those 37 amazing years with my sister Pat. And the knowledge that some day we will go camping together again.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

After Himey settled me down with the journal purchase, my next crisis occurred about four hours later. Several people had given us JCPenneys’ gift cards for the wedding and we thought we could get something with them on our way through Madison. About the time we were eating lunch at the Perkins in Marshfield, I realized I didn’t have the gift cards with me. The last time I remembered seeing them, they were with the stack of thank you cards. The stack I had dropped in the mail slot much earlier that day.

A frantic call to the post office turned out to be fruitless. All we could do was wait until we could call the kids after they got home from school and see if the gift cards had gotten left behind on the kitchen counter.

Several stops and many hours later we checked into the Lamb’ Inn in Richland Center. What a charming farmhouse and what an absolute sweetheart of a hostess. I had never stayed in a Bed and Breakfast before and it was a such treat, a wonderful experience. If you have never been to one either, it is something you need to try.

Bright and early the next morning we arrived at the House of the Rock. I have been there so many times before, but it just never gets boring. It is always a new adventure and was made even more so by being able to show it to Himey for the first time.

The southeast area of the state really has a lot of fascinating things to see. Dodgeville, Mineral Point, Mt Horeb, New Glaurus are all charming little towns with just enough tourist-ism to keep them interesting without being garish. (My barometer is that Wisconsin Dells and Las Vegas are garish.)

Grandview, on a hill just outside of Hollandale, was an unexpected surprise. In the 1930’s immigrant Nick Engelbert began creating concrete sculptures, not stopping until he had over 40 of the figures on his small farm. He even covered every square inch of his house with concrete embedded with pieces of glass, beads, buttons, and anything else he found lying around. What we call American Folk Art at its best.

(Oh, yes, and the $120 worth of Penney's gift cards were on the kitchen table when we got home, and we didn't spend them until a trek to Madison on February 6, 1998, but that is another trip.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

“Oh, shoot,” I said as we pulled the car up in front of the post office. “I forgot to bring along any paper so I can write about this weekend.”

“Well, you run in and mail the thank you cards, and I will run across the street and buy you a notebook.”

That would be why, on October 4, 1997, I had married that man. Himey was the friend of a friend. As soon as my divorce from Dan was final, a friend of mine told me that as soon as I was ready to date, she knew a guy who would be perfect for me. Well, no guy is perfect, as we all know, but Himey did turn out to be my soul-mate. And that is about as good as it gets.

That particular day, two weeks after the wedding, we were leaving town for a weekend honeymoon to southern Wisconsin. Himey ran across the street to the Ben Franklin and bought the most amazing book. “Project Planner” is inscribed in gold on the cover. He told the checkout at the store what the book was for and even the checkout agreed that it would be ideal.

So guess what? My main reference for the next twelve years’ worth of travels will be this perfect travel log. Unless it is pertinent to the particular trip, I will try not to bore you with the mileage or the money we spent, even though it is all documented. I’ll also try to skip some of the potty breaks and benign purchases we made along the way. But it is always hard to tell what I might find interesting on any individual journey.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:18-20 (New Living Translation)

As I was driving down the road last weekend, I noticed all the different storage units for rent. I started wondering, “who puts their stuff in a storage unit and why?”

I am sure there are many valid reasons for storing your things in some place other than your home. You are in transition from one place to another and don’t have room right now. You are going to down size, come spring when you can have a rummage sale. You are waiting for your new college-graduate to get settled and take his stuff with him.

I look around my basement and think to myself, “I could use a storage unit. Then I could clean up this place.” Or better yet, I could just get rid of all that junk. What am I saving it for anyway? My rationale usually is, “This stuff is too good to just throw out, but nobody else wants it, so I will have to keep it until I find a use for it or someone who does want it.”

I think we all have material objects throughout our homes that we really don’t need or want, but for some reason, we keep hanging onto them. We have to remember that it is all just “stuff”. It can be replaced or we can simply do without it. There are more important things which we cannot live without.

The basics like food, shelter and clothing. Family or friends to support us, defend us and comfort us. A reason to roll out of bed every morning.

Find what is really important to keep in your life and get rid of the rest of it. And maybe then there will be more room in your life for a saving relationship with your Heavenly Father.

This strange little building near Saikeri in Kenya, Africa, reminds me of some of our storage units. But guess what, people in Kenya have no extra stuff to store away somewhere. They use everything they've got.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The SS Meteor is the last of the remaining whalebacks, ships so named for their rounded hulls. Designed by Captain Alexander McDougall, the Frank Rockefeller, as she was originally named, launched from Superior in 1896. Over her many years of service, she carried a variety of cargos on the Great Lakes, including iron ore, grain, cars, and oil and was originally registered at nearly three thousand gross tons. She was big and sleek and ran throughout the Great Lakes until 1969. In 1972 she was brought home to Superior and is now permanently berthed on Barker’s Island.

It always causes my head to fill with romantic visions of brave men spending sleepless nights keeping the ship on course when the winds of Lake Superior blow cold and fierce. It brings to mind the men of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Maybe that has always been a part of the draw for me to the Great Lake among the Great Lakes. Hard work, perseverance against stacked odds, a hand-numbing cold, life hanging in the balance - literally - on an ice-covered deck.

In any case, that summer of 1997, my sister Pat and I took Nick and Val into the belly of the SS Meteor. Granted, she was cleaned up for tourists and sitting still, harbored forever in the city of her birth, but in her narrow passageways, it was easy to run a hand along her cold steel and know where she had been, the stories she still stored away in her spirit.

Wow. Was that a little bit too much?

The next place we visited that day was Fairlawn, a mansion built in 1890 by wealthy lumber and mining baron, Martin Pattison. The fascinating story behind this house is that it was a children’s home from 1920 to 1962.

That’s where my imagination really took off. And someday I am going to write a story about some of the nearly 2000 children who called Fairlawn their home. Anyone want to give me ideas for plot lines?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Don’t you love looking into other people’s cars when they are driving down the road and they just are totally oblivious to the fact that you can see everything they are doing?

Pat, the kids and I were tooling down the highway in northern Wisconsin one summer, towing the camper, on our way to Amnicon Falls State Park, when we noticed this beat-up green Vega in front of us. It looked like there had to be at least four kids in the back seat, none in car seats. They ranged in age from maybe five to ten years old. One kid would hit someone, then that kid would hit someone else. Then all of a sudden another head would bounce up in the back window and someone would grab him and throw him down on the seat. This kept going on for miles. Pat and I kept thinking, what is going on in that car and are there any responsible adults in it?

Boing, there went another head bobbing up from the seat. Smack, there went someone else’s head against the window. I am not kidding you. It was crazy.

We hate to admit it, but we are all used to the guy passing us in his 1978 Chevy pickup, and we look over and he’s picking his nose. But this little compact car we followed for ten miles was nuts.

That was just the the start of a short camping trip to the area around Superior, Wisconsin.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

One other really memorable thing came out of the first trip with the new camper back in 1997. The now world famous Happy Dance.

I have talked to enough people to know that my sister Pat and I are not the only ones with this idiosyncrasy. Now, be honest. When you travel somewhere, do your bowel movements get off track? I mean, don’t you sometimes get constipated when your schedule is different or you can’t get comfortable in a strange bathroom or you just don’t have time to sit like you usually do at home?

Complicate that by trying to do your business in a smelly, dark, spider-infested outhouse. And I think you can sympathize with us. We usually end up with backed-up bowels within a day or so of any camping trip.

So, it was with sheer joy, that Pat came two-stepping out of the latrine the second day. She even sang a song. Something like, “I can sing, I can prance, I can do the happy dance. I went poo and you can too.” (I am sorry, I really have no idea what she sang that day, but honest-Injun she did sing something that she had just made up.)

Ever after, on any trip which Pat or I went on, when we took a good healthy dump, we came out of the bathroom dancing. And in the first paragraph of this blog, when I say it is now world famous, I mean it. I don’t know if you were with me when I blogged about my African trip, but before we came home, the rest of the team which I traveled with were also all doing the happy dance.
Waiting to use the facilities during our stay in the African Bush.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Well, nuts, somehow or other I managed to miss an entire camping trip. I cannot believe that in my photo scanning frenzy, I didn’t catch any of these pictures. You will just have to use your imagination.

Early in the spring of 1997, Pat, on a drive west of town, spied a pop-up camper for sale in someone’s yard. She called me up, all excited.

“What do you think about getting a camper, a pop-up trailer? It would be so nice, don’t you think?”

I honestly don’t remember going to look at it; I think I may have just say, “Go for it, and let me know what I owe you for my half.”

It didn’t take us long to try it.

Our first trip was to a rustic campground in the Nicolet National Forest just past Eagle River. Luna and White Deer are the names of the two lakes which border the campground, one on each side. The lakes are small, so small that they don’t allow motorboats, which is ideal for us. It meant peace and quiet. White Deer also had a fairly decent beach.

We chose a site along White Deer Lake. This site was also right next to the outhouse, but neither of those were reasons why we picked it. We settled on that site because Pat felt she could best back the camper into it.

Shortly after we got the camper set up, it started to rain. We took cover inside and played cribbage. And said to each other, “Ha, ha, ha! This rain is not going to dampen our spirits. We are high and dry in the trailer. Ha, ha, ha!” We were pretty full of ourselves that time.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

He said, "Go, and tell this people:
'Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.' Isaiah 6:9 (New American Standard Bible)

I’ve had “cheaters” for years. In fact for a long time I had a pair of reading glasses in every room, until I wised up and bought one of those eyeglass holders for around your neck. I call it my eyes on a rope.

Four years ago when I was at the eye doctor, I told him, “I think I’m going blind.”

“No,” he casually answered. “You are just getting old.” As if that would make me feel better. And then he offered me bifocals, which I declined.

Two years ago, he told me the same thing. He put a pair of lenses to my face, opened the door and let me look out into the department store.

“Hmm?” I said. “So things at a distance really aren’t supposed to be blurry?”

Needless to say, I got bifocals.

In another few months it will be time for me to go back to the optometrist again. I am hoping he doesn’t say I need trifocals. That will be the next thing.

But my eyes can be corrected with glasses, and then I can see. What about people who see without perceiving? Or people who hear without listening?

In the Bible, God told Isaiah that that was exactly what was going to be the case. He didn’t want the people to understand what was going to happen. Why would He do that?

It was not yet time. If the Israelites in the Old Testament book of Isaiah understood what God was telling them, what was happening to them, they would have learned nothing. It all would have been handed to them.

They had to go through all the rough spots, learn their lessons, come to appreciate what an awesome God they had. And if you have read the Old Testament, you probably realize that it took them many times to figure things out, to come to trust God unconditionally.

How many times does God have to show you and tell you something before you get it?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bear Country, USA. Believe it or not I had never been there as a kid. It is one of those animal parks where you stay in your car and drive through. The thought is that you are seeing the wild animals up close and personal and in their own environment. We all know it is totally natural for cars to be driving around in the backwoods where bear and wolf and bison used to live in the days of the Wild West.

We went early in the morning, thinking that the animals would be more alert, but most of the residents were either sleeping in or had already had their breakfast and were taking their first nap of many for the day. None of them were very rowdy.

Except the bear cubs. They were just adorable. They sat in a line, chewing on each other’s ears, and making noise. Noise which would be purring if they were cats or sighing if they were human babies drifting off to sleep. It was a cross between a moan and a whine. They kept changing positions just enough so that no one cub went without an ear to suck on for very long. I am sure it all gave them great comfort, as if they were suckling on their mommas.

The next adventure that day, another one I never partook of in my youth, was the Black Hills Maze, a labyrinth of family fun (or so their website claims). They turn you loose in over a mile of walkways, bridges, etc., with a card to be stamped at each of the four corner towers. After you get your card stamped you just simply find your way out. Right.

Himey, being the party pooper he can be on occasion, sent me in with the kids, choosing to stay outside and wait for us. He also hugged the western wall, where I somehow managed to always find him.

“Himey, are you out there?” I would call through the fence, when I thought I saw his sneakers pacing the perimeter.

“I’m right here. How are you doing?” He knows how claustrophobic I am, so what kind of dumb question was that.

“I think I’ll be ok. But I lost the kids.”

“Do you want to crawl out under the fence and we will just leave them?”

This is why I married that man a few months later. We always read each other’s minds.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Oh, South Dakota. The Black Hills. The Badlands. Custer State Park. Mt. Rushmore. Crazy Horse. If you have been following my blog since day one (or about day – I don’t know - ok, I had to count) – day 120, you know that I have been to that part of the country several times before. Hmm?? So what do you want to hear about this time?

Well, for starters, what should have been a simple straight shot from Colorado Springs to Rapid City, South Dakota, was full of events. I rolled up Himey’s finger in the window while we were sailing down the freeway. Then he rolled up Val’s finger in window. Then the kids were bored. I just hang my head whenever I hear that phrase. I can’t imagine ever saying “I’m bored” when I was a kid. I would have been cleaning out cupboards for a week. “Are you bored now?” Mom would continue to ask.

My goodness, I digress. So, anyway, to stave the boredom and because there were no radio stations we could agree on, we picked up a cassette tape (remember this was 1997) of the Peanuts sing country classics. Oh, my goodness, we had that entire tape memorized by the time we were out of Wyoming. ("I Got Friends in Low Places", "Any Man of Mine")

About that time, we stopped at a scenic overlook to overlook the scenery. And disaster struck.

Val’s grandma had bought her this tray of 1000 beads in every shape and color imaginable. For some reason, Val thought she had to have it at that time and pulled the box out of the safety of the trunk. In the blink of an eye, 950 beads were all over the gravel parking lot. And they could hear Val wailing all the way to Idaho.

It was not pretty. Well, I shouldn’t say that, the parking lot filled with sparkly beads was actually quite lovely.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rocky Mountain National Park

In July 1997, my former in-laws decided they wanted their grandkids to come out to Colorado for a visit. Nick and Val flew out of the Minneapolis airport July 12 and the following week, Himey and I drove out to get them.

We left on a Friday afternoon, planning to pick up the kids at their grandparents sometime Sunday afternoon. Having made this trip many times before, I told Himey ahead of time that there just wasn’t much in Iowa, Nebraska or eastern Colorado. Somehow, he still managed to enjoy it.

Being as we spent Saturday night in Fort Morgan, Colorado, we knew we had a good portion of the day to waste before picking up the kids. We drove through Estes Park and the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park, then down to Castle Rock where I showed Himey the house I used to live in. I even took him to Daniel’s Park to get a great view of the castle on the Cherokee Ranch just west of Castle Rock. Since I had been there last, some developer had built an elaborate golf course on the land between the park and the castle, so he was more fascinated by that.

For it being our first long trip together, we were doing really well, no disparities at all, until we got into Colorado Springs. Having been there before, I had decided that I would drive, thinking I knew where I was going. I know that Himey will roll over, laughing hysterically, when he reads this, but I am without a doubt, the first to admit when I am lost.

“Honey,” I said, “Can you reach into the backseat, get out the map and tell me where we are and how to get to the hotel from here?”

“I don’t do maps,” he answered casually, making no move whatsoever for the backseat.

“What do you mean you don’t do maps?”

“I mean I don’t do maps.”

I felt my blood pressure rise, as I continued to navigate the unfamiliar streets, obviously on my own.

“What do mean you don’t do maps?” I asked yet again.

“I mean I don’t DO them.”

“Is this a personal conviction you have that I was not aware of? Or what? We are lost and I need you to read the map and tell me where we are.”

He read off the name of the street sign which we just passed and said that that was where we were.

Was he just trying to make me homicidal? Was he just being stupid? What was his problem? Just get out the stupid map!

About that time, I had a blackout. Oh, I kept driving and somehow we found the hotel, but I don’t remember how we got there. I just kept seeing black spots in front of my eyes. You know the ones I am talking about. The ones caused by an overload of anger spilling out all around your eye sockets.

Pike's Peak, I believe from our hotel in Colorado Springs

Monday, November 8, 2010

(Taken from the first page of the notebook that I kept of this trip)
What: Summer Vacation
When: July 18 thru 25
Where: Colorado and South Dakota
How: Driving my car many hot miles
Why: Because we like to go bumming
Thoughts prior to the trip:
Nick’s (age eleven: I may have seen the Black Hills, but there’s always something different to see. I can’t wait to see Grandma and Grandpa.
Val’s (age seven): I think it’s going to look cool out there.
Himey’s: Our first real family vacation. I hope we all have as much fun as I hope to. I’m looking forward to seeing land I’ve never seen before and doing it with the people I love.
Chris’s: I can’t wait to just get away from home and travel. It’s been a long time since I was out West and I’m anxious to how things have changed and how much I remember of the things that have stayed the same.

This is the first vacation where I turned anal about documentation. Tomorrow I will tell you how many miles we drove each day; how much money we spent each day on food, gas, hotels, etc.; and what time we did everything. Not only what actually happened, but also the estimates I calculated before we left home. Can’t you just wait?

I’m just kidding. I’ll try to make the trip more exciting than that.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Go to work in the morning
and stick to it until evening without watching the clock.
You never know from moment to moment
How your work will turn out in the end.
Ecclesiastes 11:6 (The Message)

Twice a year we go through this. Early in the evening, my husband sets most of the clocks in the house, either forward or backward, and I spend the rest of the night not knowing what time it is. I wake up in the morning still not knowing. Because I always change the clock next to my side of the bed last.

It is November, so we set the clocks back and then people say we gain an hour. Gain an hour? How does that work? I can never figure it out. Just because I can stay in bed an extra hour and it turns out to be the time I normally get up, it doesn’t mean that I really gained an hour. To me, that says we have time travel.

I do obsess about time way too much to the point that I drive myself nuts sometimes.

When I was in Africa, we learned the following saying. “Americans have clocks, Kenyans have time.”

Wow! How I wish I could throw away all the clocks and just have time! The problem is that I have so much to do every day that I feel I have to continually time myself so that I can get it all done. But you know what? The work will still be there tomorrow. Or maybe the work just wasn’t that important in the first place.

What is important is getting my priorities straight. All this “stuff” that I think I need to do? It really doesn’t matter in the end. What matters is that I take time every day to work on my relationship with that Lord. Because that will matter in the end.

Maybe Germans are even more obsessed with time than us Americans. Or Val, when she was in Germany two years ago, was just obsessed with taking a picture of every clock tower she saw.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I am going to skip all the touristy, “we did this and then we did this” tales of our trip to Las Vegas in 1997, and just tell you about the city bus driver.

After Hoover Dam, Fremont Street is probably the next most popular must-see place in Las Vegas. It is where the original casinos were located and where the huge neon cowboy sign, an icon of Vegas, resides. In 1994, four blocks of Fremont Street were enclosed with a gigantic neon-light canopy. Throughout the night, the light displays change to the beat of the music. Himey insisted we had to go downtown to see it.

Not realizing how big Vegas is, we tried convincing him that we should walk. On the map, it only looked like Fremont Street was nine or ten blocks from the Excalibur, on the far end of the Strip. Himey, the seasoned Vegas veteran that he is, assured us that we would want to take motorized transportation. So, we hopped a bus.

Big mistake.

The bus was crowded and smelly, but we seemed to be approaching our destination post-haste. Then, at one stop, someone touched the rearview mirror.

No big deal, you and I would say. Keep driving, bus driver, you can still see what’s behind you, nobody moved the mirror, they only touched it.

Well, no. The bus driver announced that she would have to call her boss and that she would hold us hostage until she spoke to him. We don’t know what the boss had to say, but at the end of the conversation, the bus driver once again made an announcement.

“I can’t drive this bus no further ‘til someone from my company comes down to adjust my mirror.”

Himey, Pat, Jeff, Amy and I all looked at each other and said, “what?” Then we looked at all the other passengers, and they were saying, “what?” as well.

Realizing we were ready to mutiny, the bus driver let us off the bus. “But I ain’t goin’ give you no refunds if you get off and ya’ll will have to pay to get back on.”

Like there was any way in the world we would get back on her bus.

Fremont Street was now only a couple blocks away and we walked there in just a few minutes. The light show in the canopy was worth it. And the taxi cab ride back to the hotel was well worth the cost.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

We rented a car one day and drove out to Hoover Dam, because, well, no one goes to Las Vegas without seeing the Dam.

At that time, there were several different tours to take. Pat and Jeff, being electricians at our paper mill, were tempted to take the "get into the guts of the technical stuff” tour but it was an all-day expedition and rather pricey. So they opted to join Himey, Amy and me on the cheap, quickie tour. A few years later, Jeff went back and took the technical tour and really liked it. Since September 11, 2001, I believe they no longer offer that outing.

While there, we had to take pictures of all of us at various points on the dam with various scenic backgrounds. Jeff and his daughter walked across the road so we could snap their picture. Pat and I hooted – they walked identically, the same lope in their stride, swing to their arms.

Himey next sent Pat and me across the road. When we got there and turned around, he was practically falling over the wall into the river he was in such hysterics.

“What is the matter with you?” I hollered over to him.

“Nothing,” he choked, trying to catch his breath.

After he had snapped the shots, he too walked to the other side.

“What was that all about?” I demanded.

“You and Pat are so funny. You mocked Amy and Jeff for walking the same, but you two sisters walk exactly the same too.”

We looked at each other. “No, we don’t.”

Jeff and Amy looked at each other. “We don’t walk the same either.”

Himey just shrugged. He realized he was outnumbered.

Jeff, Pat, Me and Himey inside the Luxor hotel

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The most uncharacteristic thing that Pat ever came up with was that we should go to Las Vegas. My sister Pat who hated big cities, who hated commercialism, who hated crowds, who was not fond of shopping or gambling or watching people do stupid things. Where did she get the idea that we should go to Las Vegas? Because she had heard that Las Vegas has fantastic and inexpensive buffets and her husband Jeff lived for a good cheap buffet.

So we booked flights out of dinky little Rhinelander airport. Himey and I got out to sin city on the evening of May 3, while Pat, Jeff and Jeff’s daughter Amy followed the next day.

My internal clock is always set to go off way earlier in the morning than it needs to. And if you send me an hour west, my clock is even more screwed up. Usually I can wake up in the wee hours of the morning and lay quietly in bed until it is time to get up.

But no, the morning of May 4, as the clock read 3:30am, I sprung out of bed.

“Himey, I can’t lay here any longer. I have to get up and go explore.”

We were in the city that never sleeps, right? Of course, he obliged and we slowly started getting ready for the day. I think the sun was just coming over the horizon when we burst out the front door of the Excalibur to discover all the cities within the city that Las Vegas has to offer.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cold can't always be measured by a thermometer. It may say ten degrees above or thirty degrees below, and the cold can still be other-worldly cold. Cold like the dark side of the moon.
Cold like Black River Harbor that February day in the winter of 1997 when Pat and I decided that it would be fun to see some of our favorite waterfalls when they were engulfed in snow and ice.

The Lake of the Falls, near Mercer, was our first stop. The flowage was covered in snow and ice thick enough to hold not only the two of us, but four-wheel drives and ice shacks. We struggled through the snow to get closer to where we believed the falls to be, but stopped when we heard the sound of rushing water. The water of the meager falls still had enough power to force through the snow. Hmm? we thought as we stood panting a mere foot from the open water, and then we wisely tromped back to solid ground.

The falls at Black River Harbor were more of the same, except that our trek through the snow was much longer and followed a rabbit path instead of the boardwalk which led tourists to this spot in the summer. We were pretty much alone, not even any rabbits out that day.

We continued our drive and came out on Lake Superior. Up until that point the air outside felt like the chill of any other winter day. The sun was shining, and felt warm when we turned our faces to it. But we had been raised on Wisconsin winters and as long as the thermometer stayed above zero Fahrenheit, we didn't think it was too bad.

When we got to Lake Superior, however, it was as if all heat was sucked out of the universe. It wasn't just the cold and it wasn't even the wind because there was none. The air was still; there was no movement in the sky above or the ground below. No birds were flying and there was no noise whatsoever. It was like walking into a vacuum.

I thought that Gitche Gumee was powerful in the summer, when the waves crash on the shore, unrelenting in their actions. The power to just withdraw heat, movement, the very air above was a power I could barely fathom. The Lake was covered in snow, with drifts like waves upon the beach, and as far as you could see it was one solid whiteness, the sky blending into the horizon.

"Wow," Pat said, "not quite what I expected."

"I know. It’s like being on another planet. It’s beyond cold.”

We took our pictures and fled back to the SUV. And then hunted up a place in Bessemer which was open and served hot chocolate.