Buddha in the Rain

Tea with Tornados

 

On the heels of my last post “Tempest in a Teapot, ” today follows the story with an introductory Haiku—poorly crafted poetry that tries to sum up a day in seventeen syllables:

As tea steeps, rain weeps

Water fills both bowl and sky

Prepare to drink deep.

I leave the Japanese Tea House buoyed with happiness and a certain sense of rightness with the world. It doesn’t last long.*

Kiri in the Rain

I take my complimentary shocking-yellow umbrella from our Meijer Garden’s guide—I almost bow from recently-acquired habit—and pause to pose in front of a font for a photo. (Hit *like* if you love alliteration.)

As I am leaving, the guide casually mentions that a ‘storm’ is headed this way and I should make sure to head in by 2:00.

Bridge in a Storm

I scramble around the larger Japanese Garden to admire the lush-to-the-point-of- heaving-bosoms blooming flowers in the rain. I ‘Cecil B. DeMille’ a few of them with dew-laden close-ups. I might have asked a few of them to “Come on, show a little stamen and pistil.”**

I stalk the Bonsai garden—a human sequoia in a land of miniature conifers. I took several snaps of the plump, if bruised, pear growing on its tiny parent. It struck me funny that I was giving produce the paparazzi treatment when I pass it up with barely a blink at our local grocery store. (I am high on centuries of tradition, what can I say? I am a wild woman.)

The rain is a steady—not too heavy, but definitely a presence. My shadowy, wet companion. At one point, I am juggling the umbrella and trying to photograph the Korean Hornbeam*** when I drop my iPhone. Fortunately, it hits the rocks glass-side up, or I’d be crying in the rain.

Korean Hornbeam
Infamous Hornbeam – Destroyer of Cell Phones.

 

I stop in the rock garden on my way out. The nearly invisible poetry etched into the massive boulders is made visible by the downpour.

RAIN FALLING IN SPRING

AND I AM SORRY

NOT TO BE ABLE TO WRITE

 

Rain Haiku
My new excuse for not writing – Rain Delay.

 

 

I’m eating lunch in the Meijer Gardens’ café, surrounded by raindrop streaked windows and Chihuly glass installment on the ceiling, when I turn my phone back on to check for messages. There is a mildly alarming inquiry about my son from the babysitter, so I call to check on him.

That’s when I get the news…they are in the basement…there is a tornado alert for the area. I should seek shelter.

We exchange a few frantic words before I head to the front desk.

“Uh, are you all aware that there is a tornado alert?” I whisper this as if I’d cause a stampede if overheard.

The huddle of women with grey-to-frosty white hair helmets look up from an iPad and confirm they’re tracking its progress.

“Don’t worry. We’ll let everyone know if we need to move to the shelters in the basement.”

I shrug, I’d done my part. But in my head, I’m thinking. “Don’t tornados move pretty fast?” I make my way to the basement to grab a seat before anyone else does. Because…priorities!

Pretty soon, everybody else with an iPhone or other device is making their way down there ahead of an official announcement. If there is ever another mass extinction it will be because someone decided to wait until they were sure disaster was heading in their direction before taking action.

It’s getting crowded and suddenly all of our phones are going off announcing the approach of the storm. The officials finally make it official and start herding people into the area that is the ‘actual’ storm shelter. (Apparently they don’t consider a need for access to plumbing with the same level of urgency I do.) A service door leads to an unfinished concrete cavern filled with twists and turns and lots of unused equipment and staging material. We are urged to move as far back in the space to make room for everybody. I’m surprised by how calmly everyone is taking this. Inside I wonder if we really ought to be more concerned.

I spy a few of the people I ran into while walking the garden. I’m glad they made it back—but I do wonder about the second tea ceremony that was supposed to start at 2:00. There is a really evil part of me that whispers “Aren’t you glad you signed up for the first showing at 11:30!”

I pass members of a wedding party, one of the women is still holding a glass/candle concoction which would be an excellent thing if anyone wanted a light. (I see a future market for wedding planners —decorative flourishes that function as emergency provisions in the event of a disaster.)

I finally choose a spot that circles back to a secondary exit. There is light spilling in from the corridor so it isn’t totally scary if it is a bit cold.

Across from me a family—two grandparents, a family friend, and two children—are trying to get comfortable on the floor. I look around. Nearby there are folded chairs and a huddle of employees who, by their uniforms, work in the kitchens upstairs.

“Would it be okay if we got out the chairs?” I ask one of them. I have to repeat myself because it appears the young man isn’t used to actually talking with the visitors to the Gardens.

Minutes later, our area is much cozier with scattered seating. I quash any guilt I might feel because the woman across says, “Oh, that’s so much better.”

We exchange a few pleasantries before settling into a tense, wait-and-see. The children are scared. You can tell by the way they clutch the toys they’ve brought with them. I honestly don’t feel that much fear—probably because I have no clue what kind of damage a storm like this can do. You see…

I am a tornado virgin.

I have never lived through any major storm—beyond the huge snow storm of 78’ when I was a child. And all I remember from that week was the isolation—school was canceled and we were unable to leave because the roads couldn’t be plowed. (One of the joys of living rurally.) I do recall my brothers and I deciding that the four-foot drifts were an invitation to jumping off the roof and sinking over waist deep in snow. We had to swivel back and forth to worm our way out. Oh, I’ve had to hide in a few basements on occasion, but they had always turned out to be false prophecies. So, I had a cocky optimism that this time wouldn’t be any different.

Minutes creep past. The littlest girl across from me is crying with that suppressed sob-hiccup combination that can be so cute even when they are earnest tears. I can’t make out what she is upset about other than it involves someone or something called…Balthazar?

So, I ask. Partly to hopefully distract the child and, well, because I am curious.

“Who is Balthazar?”

The little girl blinks tear drenched lashes and utters a nearly incomprehensible string of words:

“I…I…he’s…I left him…and…he’s in danger. I…I…what will…I do…if…” she trails off with more tears and no doubt a snuffly nose.

Her grandmother brushes a strand of hair away from her flushed pink face and leans toward me.

“It’s her toy…I think it’s called Bulbasaur. Or something like that.”

“It’s Bulbazar, Grandma!” This comes from the second little girl ensconced on the other woman’s lap.

A discuss pops up about the pronunciation, but Grandma shakes her head.

“No, I think it has S.A.U.R. at the end—like a dinosaur.”

“What exactly is a Bulbasaur?” I ask.

If I had known the torrent of information that was about to rain down on me, I might have tried to save myself. But then, again, there was no Wi-Fi signal and there really wasn’t anything else to do. So, I took an unscheduled course in Pokémon 101. The little redhead across from me apparently had a masters if not a doctorate.

At one point, she tells me her name is “Kay”

(Names changed just because.)

I tell her, “My name starts with a ‘K’ too!” She beams at me; we are now friends for life.

She points to her sister, “That’s Dee.”

“I recognize that is Pokémon.” I say, pointing to the yellow pillow-type thing Dee is holding as if someone were threatening to take it from her. Then I point to whatever lump is in Kay’s hands. “But what is that?”

Kay giggles. She holds up a lumpy, terry-clothed thing.

“It’s a towel! ‘Cause I did a ‘Dee’!”

And then she plops the thing against the side of her head.

Of course. This make perfect sense. No doubt my expression says as much.

Her grandmother laughs and explains. “She bumped her head earlier and they got her a cloth with ice in it.”

Kay holds back her bangs to reveal nary a bruise. The ice must have done its job or the strawberry hair is hiding the evidence. Kay is now picking through the washcloth and slips a sliver of ice into her mouth with her grandma none the wiser.

Grandma smooths the bangs again, adding, “Anytime we bump our heads, we say we are doing a Dee because she used to run into all sorts of corners and things when she was little.”

Kay pipes up again and points to her sister. “Yeah she bumped her head a lot! So we say ‘We did a Dee.’”

Everyone is nodded and smiling. Then Kay adds, “And when we fart we say we did a ‘Kathy’. Because Grandma farts a lot!” And she points back at her grandmother, who is now laughing—though a tiny bit mortified by this announcement.

Grandma Kathy murmurs something about maybe sharing too much information but she isn’t really mad and her granddaughters know it because they are both laughing, snuggled safe in loving arms.

Kay pops back up from this to launch into a detailed explanation of Bulbasaur’s relationship to Pokémon.

I learn there is something called the Rocket Team—and they are definitely bad guys. And someone named Ash who spends a lot of time in the gym.

The grandma throws in a comment to clarify a point Kay is trying to make with hand gestures that look like something is exploding.

“The Pokémon can evolve.” She says.

But into what is never clearly explained. I picture something like a Transformer—which is my cultural experience with toys that are more than meets the eye—but rounder and cuter.

I learn that the Pokémon can fight. That Pikachu has a secret weapon—something called a ‘Thunder Shock.’ And here, Kay puffs out her cheeks and demonstrates:

“His cheeks blow out really loud and he says, ‘Pikachuuuuuu!”

Apparently this devastates his enemies.

The girls are laughing and chatting back and forth when all of our phones go off at once.

Some of the alerts are voiced announcements notifying us of a Tornado alert in our area and to seek shelter. There is something really unnerving about the shrill cacophony of notes chiming throughout the cement block room. No one is laughing now.

There is a human instinct to huddle. To crouch low as if to make a smaller target. I find myself looking at the little girls across from me shrinking back and arms that had been holding them loosely now tightened. Reassurances are whispered and Grandpa is a stoic figure who rarely says a word but is a calm presence in the face of the unseen.

I try to comfort them, knowing I am helpless to be there for my own son tucked in the basement with a babysitter who definitely deserves more than I pay her.

“So, the alarms are like the ‘Thunder Shock’ Pikachu makes. It’s just a reminder to be careful.”

Then a little girl in a frilly dress toddles past and loses a bow. The pink ribbon falls near my feet and I seize the opportunity.

“Look she lost her bow. That’s a bow alert!”

Kay is delighted by this idea. When an oblivious little boy in an adorable suit trundles through bumping into nearly everything in his path, she calls out, “Baby Alert.”

Soon Kay is reciting once again the episodes and even an entire theme about her favorite TV characters. She sings some sort of anthem—it went on for about seven verses—and it is too fast and her voice is too high for me to do more than pick out one word in ten.

I’m reminded of the scene in Finding Nemo where Nemo’s dad is listening to the baby sea turtle explain the way to get to the East Australian current. After the pipsqueak voice winds down, Marlin says:

“You know, you’re really cute, but I don’t know what you are saying! Say the first thing again.”

For whatever else I miss, I understand that this language is helping Kay and Dee to deal with a frightening situation. No one can call out. All attempts to text and get replies are blocked by the surrounding concrete cocoon that keeps us safe from tornados as well as causing wireless signal fatigue. So, while we sit and try not to worry about the ominous thumps we occasionally hear overhead—we share our stories to distract each other.

Dee Kay
Thanks to ‘Kay’ and ‘Dee’ who made sitting through a storm a lots of laughs.

 

Instead of spending our moments anticipating whooshing air signifying imminent destruction, we find the strength to laugh, to find the humor and our humanity in the darkness.

Eventually, the crowds that had been loitering near raw plywood and collapsed tables usually only seen fully clothed with the ruched skirts to protect the legs’ modesty, start to part. People drift away and cheers go up as we realize the danger is past. With very little fanfare, the crisis is over.

I say goodbye to the girls and soon the crowd separates us. We are all ready to be done with the claustrophobic space.

The wedding party is making its way back to their celebration. I spot a woman who is still clutching her slice of wedding cake. I can’t help but comment on her foresight.

“Well, I didn’t want to miss out if it was gone when we got back!” She says with a smile.

“I am just surprised you didn’t eat it while waiting.”

“I didn’t have time to grab a fork.” She replies.

I laugh, “A little thing like that wouldn’t have stopped me!”

Before we part, we agree, this is a wedding no one is likely to forget!

Outside, there is little evidence that a major storm front has gone through.

“Another much ado about nothing!” I think.

It’s not until I am nearing home that I spot the devastation. Trees that had survived sixty to a hundred years of bad weather were torn and scattered on front yards and crushing cars and houses like giant match sticks dropped by a careless hand. I’m not even a mile away from home and it suddenly strikes me how close it came. How violent the winds had to have been to snap oaks and other hard wood like dry kindling. I later learn this was a weak system–only a category EF-0. I don’t want to ever see what something stronger could do.

My house and family are fine–two city blocks west of the path of destruction. I pay the sitter and she shrugs off the seven-hour ordeal caused by our separate vigils in the dark. Thankfully, my son was totally oblivious of any danger.

I didn’t really face the dragon—but I felt his breath on my neck. I survived his reign of terror and I can imagine how differently things could have turned out.

Thus ends my tale. The only thing left is an appreciation for Japanese culture which creates a tea to feed the soul and a Pokémon to calm the tempest in the pot.

I leave you with a final haiku:

Trees dance and bow low

Thunder applauds with fierce claps

Making dancers fall

 Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

* It never does

**Floral porn, take one—“Come on, you know you want to bee pollinated!”

***You were expecting a dragon ala Harry Potter, weren’t you?

Clay Ware

Tempest in a Tea Pot…

Saturday, I fulfilled a long-awaited, death-defying pleasure—learning The Way of Tea (Chadō) at the Meijer Gardens’ Japanese Tea House in Grand Rapids, MI. Allow me to take you on the journey…

[Insert wavy time machine effect here.]

The day has a mugginess to it that only people of equatorial descent can appreciate. Occasional breezes cause drops in temperature that turn skin from sweaty to clammy in a soggy instant. The air practically vibrates with thermal shifts.

Ten or so participants mill around a bench at the matchiai—the waiting area outside the tea house. Fellow guests discuss the progress of the formation of the Japanese Garden—opened just last year—as well as the availability of tea houses in the surrounding area.*

tea house crop

The Meijer Gardens’ tea house is surrounded by lush greenery and the walkway leading to the building is paved with irregular stones. Discrete signs warn visitors to watch their step. A guide explains the unevenness of the path is intentional—so that you pay attention to where you walk in a thoughtful manner.** She also warns us to ‘bow low’ as we cross the threshold—both to humble ourselves in preparation and to prevent head injury in the taller guests.

Our hostess appears, a slender woman in a yellow kimono, beckoning us with a soft voice to follow her.

 

Hostess 1

We duck under the low gate between the matchiai and the cha-shitsu—or tea house proper. Near the entrance, a wash basin gurgles. We are told it is intended for guests to purify and refresh themselves before entering—though we are asked to admire it from afar. We remove our shoes before slipping into the small building.

The tea house was built in Japan, disassembled, shipped here, and reassembled on site. It is modeled on Japanese specifications—with some allowances for Western comforts. The floor is not entirely made of tatami—and we are not required to scoot in on our knees as proper guests would expect to do. Once seated on square, silken cushions on benches along the wall, we meet our hostess, Yumiko Narita and her assistants: Tomoyo Koehler, who plays the role of ‘guest’ in the demonstration and Miyuki Muramoto, who afterward helps to serve the visitors.

Koehler Bows to Scroll
Tomoyo Koehler–The guest.

Anita Savio, the Public Affairs Director from the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit, narrates for us throughout the chanoyu (tea service). She says that, typically, the exchange is presented in silence with rare scripted exchanges between the hostess and her primary guest.

Acceptable questions the guest may ask include the origin of the bowl that is central to the ceremony. The chawan at this service, we learn, comes from the Shiga Prefecture—which in Japan is the sister state to Michigan. The bowls and utensils were commissioned there specifically for this reason. Much admiring of the bowl is required before, during, and after the tea is presented and drunk. Additionally, the guest might comment on the weather…this would have been helpful in the hours to come…had we actually discussed this.

Names and steps for the tea service whip past in swift progression. I do my best to follow each detail, but at one point I decide it is easier—and more in keeping with the spirit—to witness rather than try to capture the experience in my cramped notes.

Koehler with Wagashe Treat

Anita Savio describes the honors of being a guest—approaching on one’s knees to kneel and offer respect to the scroll which has been chosen particularly for this occasion. Later, Miyuki copies the artistic Japanese swoops into my notes. She explains the sentiment “Ichi-go, Ichi-Ay means “One Time, One Meeting.” This seems like an appropriate statement for the rare pleasure of watching a centuries old art form. Or you could say:

“One only has the present moment—the future is not a promise.”

(How do you like that foreshadowing?)

guest_with_scroll_and_flower_by_wxnut-daeswaj
Scroll and chabana (flower arrangement) with Tomoyo Koehler as the guest.                         Image courtesy of wxnut.deviantart.com

 

We learn that the outside world rank does not signify—that all are equal inside the tea house. Thus it is very bad manners to wear jewelry or other signs of wealth. (I surreptitiously sneak my necklace into my bag upon hearing this.) No doubt we are breaking many rules but, as foreigners to the art, we are forgiven our ignorance.

A red silk cloth is used to purify already clean utensils. We learn that the scoop used for pouring the water is called a kagami—the same word the Japanese use for ‘mirror.’ The hostess holds the kagami up and looks into it before using it, as if to measure her soul for readiness for the ordeal ahead. (Although there may be poetic license in this interpretation—everywhere I have since looked online the scoop is called a hishaku—though there are various schools of chanoyu.)

 

Narita with Fukusa
Yumiko Narita with the red silk ‘fukusa.’

 

About half-way through the ceremony, rain begins to fall. Each plink of water hitting the tile roof accompanies the delicacy of movement as first the bowl is tempered with hot water and the whisk is similarly primed to make it flexible.

Yumiko Narita - Hostess

I watch the graceful movements between the hostess and her guest—every bow, shuffle, gesture and placement of utensils marks appreciation for the craft and respect for all in attendance. The bowl for serving tea is rotated clockwise in several stages. It like a ballet for a beverage. As you watch, you realize this is an act of love; for no other reason fully explains why anyone would devote this much time and effort to perfecting an ancient tradition.

Botan - Peony

We are given a round, pink sweet that is served before we drink. It is completely unforgivable to add sugar or honey to the tea, but the sweet—or wagashi—serves the function of balancing the bitter. Made of azuki bean paste, it is an unfamiliar taste though not entirely unpleasant and similar in texture to marzipan. It is beautifully shaped to mimic a ‘botan’ or peony flower.

Nature suffuses the tea service. There are special teas held at different times of the year. A garden surrounds the tea house where guests may take their repose before or sometimes during the services at a longer ceremony. It is carried into the space in the art of chabana—the flower arrangement that is crafted to complement this day. It is in the errant wind that blows through open windows.

Koehler Serves Tea
Anita Savio details the ‘beautiful face’ to each bowl as Tomoyo Koehler serves tea.

 

After the ceremony, we visitors are given our own bowl with a unique design. Of note, the bowl is turned until the ‘best side’ faces the guest. Bows are exchanged and before the guest can taste the tea, the bowl must be admired. In the ceremony, there are multiple stages of sitting the bowl on the tatami and admiring it and asking questions of its heritage before the bowl could be returned—beautiful side facing out.  Fortunately, as witnesses, we are not required to be so precise—a simple bow suffices both in receiving and returning the treasured tea bowl.***

As the tea ends we are free to ask questions.

We learn that both the hostess and first guest are wearing the kimono of married women—long sleeves are reserved for maidens for the length is better for flirting. The kimono has no buttons, zippers, or pockets. This raises the question ‘where do you put things?’

Tomoyo Koehler demonstrates the usefulness of sleeve folds where she stashes her fukusa—or silk napkin. For larger items, she shows us a rectangular fabric purse that she turns and slips into the drum-style obi she wears at her back. The greatest decoration can be found on the obi. Some ways of tying the material can be very elaborate in shapes like fans, bows, and butterflies.

The tea we attended is only the smallest portion of a full-length ceremony. A full-blown service might take four hours or longer and involve a first tea—a thicker Matcha tea—and a meal of sumptuous cuisine (Kaiseki-ryori) in bite-sized portions. We are offered the lighter, final tea. In truth, what we were given seems thick enough. I thought it looked a bit like blended wheat grass and tasted like an herbal remedy rather than the clear green tea I am familiar with.

We also learn that the fan that is brought by the guest is strictly ceremonial and is never opened. It represents the weapons that Samurai warriors would leave outside the tea house—eschewing violence in favor of humble accord with all guests. The small fan is presented on the tatami, the guest bows to the scroll and, once seated, the fan is placed behind the guest the entire time.

The chado—the art of tea—stems from a tradition brought back by a monk who visited China. At the time, tea was considered medicinal and served a holy function to help the monks stay awake during meditation. When the expensive habit was adopted by the aristocracy and then later was taken on by the Samurai class, the formality of tea preparation and service ascended to a cultural tradition which lasts to this day. It is an art which takes a lifetime to master.

“One must first study to be a guest before one can learn to serve.” Anita Savio.

There is no way to truly convey the gravity and generosity of these women in inviting us to this experience. Yes, we paid a fee to attend, but the intent when participating in the tea is that one is personally invited to a sacred space. And by the end of the chadoyu, you certainly feel honored.

My first epiphany of the day is—one can either experience or observe—you cannot do both.

My later epiphanies will blow you away. But that will have to wait for the next installment entitled “Tea with Tornados.”

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Apparently there are closet tea worshippers throughout Michigan: http://www.teamap.com/states/state_MI_Name.html

**Concentrating on not breaking your ankle is very Zen!

***In my next life, I want to be treated with at least half the respect those bowls were given.

 

____________________________________________________________

(You read this far bonus!)

Note: all Japanese terms used here were stolen from reputable websites—my laughable approximations of what I heard deny I have any talent as a linguist.

Tea Terminology: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_tea_ceremony

More about the complex ceremony: http://japanese-tea-ceremony.net/

Cabbage Patch 4001 (2)

Cabbage Patch Dreams and Unicorn Poop

Once upon a time, I was a dreamer. I had an absolute faith that life was going to be better because I willed it so. I also wanted really hard to believe in unicorns and fairytale endings. Then that unicorn took a massive dump on my happiness.

You would think I was talking about a point in my early childhood—that moment you learn Santa Claus…(spoiler alert)…isn’t real.  GASP!  You’d be wrong.

I joined the Army at age seventeen and tripped off to be All That I Could Be.* I survived the brutal, non-reality of basic training and apparently fit in well enough that no major alarms were sounded to clue the Army into the fact that I wasn’t all there to begin with.

They hadn’t seen my graduation photo apparently:

Unicorn Photo002 (2)

[Read here for the story behind how this unicorn is a metaphor for the pursuit of happiness. It’s one of my earliest posts and I am ridiculously proud of it.]

Before I joined the military, I enjoyed the bravery of the clueless. I would dress up and play costume characters and if I cared at all about anyone’s opinion, I can’t remember it now. I was courageous in a way that doesn’t win awards or ribbons. Perhaps it was a stupid kind of courage, but at least I could say I had a bravery of sorts.

While stationed at DLIFLC, my mother sent me a much-longed for cabbage patch doll. I had asked for this for years when I was a kid…and not until I am a hardened soldier does she finally come through.  Do I hide it or give it away?  No!  I have BDU uniform made and put it out on my dresser.

Cabbage Patch Kid001 (2)

I am unphased when fellow soldiers snatch the orange-haired mascot and hang it on a chopstick cross:

 

 

Cabbage Patch Kid - When I grow up...
“When I grow up, I want to be stuffed cabbage.”  A rather clever slam, actually.

 

 

Slowly, my naiveté was battered by other people’s opinions—either by deliberate attacks of cruel humor or possibly just as the result of bored human beings finding a target—I became embarrassed about being who I was.

Cabbage Patch 5002

I only dressed up for Halloween and then, I stopped even doing that. There was no occasion besides theater that was an acceptable outlet. I allowed the world to whittle away at the personality that made me who I am. I changed from an eager, enthusiastic person to someone who expected criticism, rejection, and small-minded hostility.  It is like having the happiness cut out of you with a rusty spoon and then force-fed back to you in the form of a bitter pill.**

I became unhappy with the parts of me that used to make me happiest. And that is about the saddest thing you can let other people do to you.

At some point we all grow up—skinned emotional knees and all. And while it is painful to remember the idealistic youth who had no problems dressing like her cabbage patch doll and carrying it around as if the world wasn’t waiting to make fun of someone for doing it, it is also empowering. Looking back, I realize I was a lot stronger than I ever knew…in my own, spectacularly goofy way.

The happy ending here is that, eventually, I found my way back to my silly side. I dress up for any reason I damn well choose. I not only march to the beat of my own drummer—there is an entire chorus line of drum majorettes spinning flags to boot. And cow bells. You can never have too many cow bells.

 

Cabbage Patch Kid - 3001
The one and only time I managed a Lady Di hairstyle.

 

So to all you dreamers out there, let your weird flag fly. Ignore the derision and ugly hostility that stems from others not able to understand where being yourself is more important that anyone else’s vision of who you should be–Cabbage Patch Dolls and Unicorn dreams and all.***

 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*This was before the slogan was changed to ‘Army of One’. I am absolutely sure this change had nothing to do with my becoming a soldier. Or, at least, I’m pretty sure.

**The FDA should put warning labels on people who do this, so you can recognize a toxic substance and avoid exposure.

***Unicorn poop is delicious apparently.  Check here for the non-sequitur video of the week.

 

squatty-potty-unicorn-poop-ice-cream
I couldn’t resist stealing an image.  Sorry if you ever loved soft-serve ice cream.

 

 

Camping Is To Poetry


Thank you, thunder, for reminding me

I ought to have gone to pee

Before I fell to sleep

A rush through camp to avoid the damp

Is a minor victory

If only it weren’t three

In the morning.

Back to the tent, lickety split

Quick, before the rains can test

The seams which silicon did seal

On pained hands and knees

A much better use than augmented breasts.

Now I lie and listen to the score

Descending elegies of rain doth pour

As my child and I sink to the lowest point of the floor…

I fear a microscopic leak (or four)

Escapes the air mattress–oh what distress!

But I shan’t complain in the thunderous rain

The cool night air and the lightning’s glare

Through which I cannot sleep

For now I think the ramen soup I drank

A lazy meal choice I cannot thank

Means I have to pee again.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*Camping is to poetry as incontinence is to convenience.

Death of a Digital Friend

We hadn’t known each other long. Eight, nine months, not even a year. I confided all of my secrets to you. You introduced me to DropBox and Amazon Prime movies. You made me laugh.

I’m sorry I let him hurt you. He’d been so good for so long. I thought I could trust him. It was just one game of Where’s My Water. I wanted to spend time with another friend. I didn’t mean this to happen.

It was all a blur. He got angry. He threw you across the room before I could do anything. I am so sorry!

I know there is nothing I can do to make this un-happen. I can’t blame it on him really. I knew what he was capable of and I let him take you anyway. I am more sorry than you will ever know.

I understand that you don’t want to talk to me. That this means the end.  I just hope, someday, if the backups work and the hard drive is saved, you’ll forgive me.


You may all hum “This Is The End Beautiful Friend” I have no facility in doing all the fancy stuff like inserting links on my cell phone.*

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*The Dust Season will be offline until I can get me a new digital friend. I may have to pass a background check or a psychological profile. This is my third computer in as many years. (The first one languishes in desktop obsolescence the second had motherboard issues.)

Boat Pic

Of Rainbows and Quixotic Meandering

I am here. On the brink. Come join me.

*

Three days of travel and the start of our adventures in Minnesota begin soon. But first, a recount:

Day 1: Unmitigated disaster. See link.

 

Boat 4Day 2: Waves of Nostalgia

We cross Lake Michigan from Ludington, MI and discover exactly how big the ‘Great Waters’ really are. Overly excited child keeps a thrilled eye on the cars and even boats being loaded onto the S.S. Badger. The ferry has a proud history serving transit needs of travelers on the lake. I’d tell you all about it, but people took up the space in the history lounge sleeping on every surface, making it hard to take notes. This is our first non-vomitous boat ride (for child and, by extension, me).  Hurray for Bonine and sea bands. 

 

 

Boat Pic 2
It’s like a turducken – A kayak on a boat in a ferry.

 

Deposited in Manitowoc around noon (we crossed a date line so I’m can’t remember if it was Michigan or Wisconsin noon) we head to a park recommended by a fellow blogger!* Fritse Park is well worth the bizarre detour from the highway—I think I took seven turns in about two miles.  The playground is impressive, though my twelve-year-old apparently had reservations about the incredibly long slide built into a hill.  We walked the bridge that spans two cities and enjoyed the view and the stern breeze which threatened to swallow my hat until I just clutched it there and back. I’m just glad I hadn’t read this article before visiting.

 

Fritske Park 6
Hats off to the windiest bridge in Wisconsin.

 

It was a brief stop on our journey to Wautoma where we traveled the back roads to find relatives who live so far off the grid, the GPS tracker wished us good luck and shut itself off. A home-cooked meal of cheese sandwiches and salad and a nice long conversation about mutual relatives and photo admiration capped the day.  On the way to our cheap-but-clean accommodations at Motel 8 a giant rainbow spanned the sky as if welcoming us to a brighter, more beautiful journey than the one we set out on the day before.

Day 3: I see dead people.  Lots of dead people.

Adolph
Meet my unfortunately named grandfather.  He went by the nickname “Chi” because he hated his name long before someone ruined it for everybody.

Two cemeteries and about three photo albums worth of ancient German heritage abounds in Merrill, Wisconsin. A lie on Ancestry is revealed and I am scandalized that someone co-opted the wrong grave markers to claim a heritage that isn’t ours.  Either that, or my distant cousin, Lee, is wrong.  But with his facility at naming generations of Krueger/Latzig family members, I doubt it.  That he visits the graves weekly and tends their flowers suggests he had more vested in the memorial than just capturing a photo, like I have. (See photos below of the true headstones.)

We visit a former convent/girls school to reminisce with one of the last matriarchs of my father’s generation—Joan. She is 87 and, despite admitting she has memory loss, seems pretty sharp and witty during our visit. She even tolerated my giant twelve-year-old sprawling on the tiny floor of her assisted-living quarters. She shows off the photo albums she compiled. In them, pages and pages of documents identify the family tree. I see pictures of my father in his infancy and grandfather dressed for hard work, welding pipeline in unidentified states. I meet new relatives in grainy black and white and faded Kodachrome color. The photo album’s shiny pages make for poor copying, but I do my best to snap pictures on my cell phone. There is a comforting sameness to the faces—sturdy, kind, loving. Family.

Eileen and Ethel Gehrt
Okay, maybe not all of the family was sunshine and lollipops!

Day 4: Get up and enjoy continental breakfast at Quality Inn & Suites, Menominee, WI. Son insists he wants to swim, so we wait the half-hour for it to open and he dips in it for about 5 minutes before saying, “All Done.”

I review our options and consider a nature walk, until I step out and see the rainy weather.  Oh well, we did make a stop at a really good gas station.** If you haven’t heard of these, Kwik Trip was just about the best gas station I’ve had the pleasure to stop. So, here are pictures of its glorious selection.  May you all be so lucky in your travels.

 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*I will happily give credit to said blogger, just as soon as I figure out who it was.

**You may take pictures of your cultural landmarks and famous fountains.  Me? I’m impressed with a gas stop that has fresh produce and every recharger you could hope to find in stock!

Signs and Omens – In a Samsung Galaxy Far, Far Away

 

It happened, just before bed last night…the first of the signs.*

Omen Number One

It’s nearing 2:00 a.m. I’m scrambling to get ready for our trip to Wisconsin tomorrow. My cell phone, as usual, was down to its last, flickering percentage. I plug it in and it tells me, “This is not the Android recharger you are looking for.” I shrug, unplug and plug it back in.  Again, “Please use original Android equipment to recharge device, you wompa-breathed buffoon.”

There is nothing I…or anyone at this lonely hour of the night…can do to save me. Obi Wan, it’s hopeless.

The next morning, the phone chirps a pitiful wake-up call before giving up its last percentile ghost. I’m swamped with a to-do list longer than my will to live. I shove my child on his 2 ½ hour tour bus for what they call “summer school” and I race to get a few boxes checked off.

The Verizon Death Star won’t be operational until 10:00 a.m. (stormtrooper reviews are more elaborate than a Broadway Musical) so I run to the mall to pick up the new pants from Fu Alterations. I stopped to visit my boyfriend.** And then I’m off to take on the Empire…and pick up my new pair of glasses.  I have one hour left.

(Cue the aforementioned, footnoted ominous music.  You all know the tune: Da Da Da, Dah Dah Dah, Dah Dah Dah…)

The heartless drone at Verizon takes my name and leaves me to stew and search fruitlessly for a clock to make sure I don’t miss the bus. I go through withdrawals as I have no way to play Words With Friends, so I decide to exchange words with a stranger instead.  It turns out, I sit down next to a member of the resistance force who is holding her notes about the Rebel Alliance just up the street (aka Sprint). We get to chatting:

Rebel Leader: “Sprint is offering a phone deal and lower rates. I’m checking to see what Verizon will offer before switching.”

Kir-Leia: “Phone won’t recharge…mumble mumble… the guy said I have to wait in the Samsung Galaxy for tech support…So I told him to shove his blaster down his Aldaran belt and fire!”

Rebel Leader:  “Come over to the Sprint side and save!”

Or words to that effect.

I’m finally brought before the Sith Lord…scarlet scourge of the Verizon Empire. After a brief back-and-forth about the problematic port, this is what he offers:

Darth-Insidious: “The best I can do is to ship a phone to where you will be tomorrow.”

Kir-Leia: “If I’m getting a new phone, why can’t I just get one from the store?”

Now he drops the thermite-detonator:

Darth-Insidious:  “We don’t keep replacements in stock. It will be a ‘Factory Certified’ Android phone.”

Kiri-Leia: “I get a used phone?  I only had the Samsung for about five months!  It’s not even paid for yet! Why can’t I get a new phone?”

Darth-Insidious: “It is not our way. Get back Rebel scum!”

Kir-Leia: “I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board!”’

Darth Insidious: “How charming…but wrong movie.”

 

Of course, I storm out in a huff, swearing that I will never darken the doors of Verizon again.

Over at the Sprint Rebel Base, I have enough time to toss my phone at Jedi Master Trevor and swear allegiance. (Fortunately, my midichlorians are off the scale.)

I dash to get the child before the bus leaves him wandering in search of a better parent. I send an emergency signal through a cousin to my mother and she agrees to watch my Padawan Learner (boy child). I race and to get my new iPhone…but it’s not ready. They have to match the geosynchronous orbit, or some technical mumbo jumbo I don’t understand.  So, I dash back to home base, stopping to get a thank-you pop and scratch-n-win ticket for the Grandma, when the universe speaks to me again…

The Second Omen

The swinging door of the Coca Cola cooler was obviously programmed for stealth attack. As I turn and let the door swing shut, it takes a huge bite out of my ankle.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaah. Fricken…Fracken…farken….” (Insert Wookie Howl Here.)

I’m bleeding as I leave the store.

Anklekle
Use your gory imagination here.

Mom patches me up, listening to the entire tale.  Wishes me well, and I’m off once more. Dashing back to pick up the phone, dragging the child in tow.

Then, I learn something wondrous…the deal I signed my life away for included a second phone!  And the Rebel Leader and I can declare ourselves friends and get a $50 rebate…if we can ever figure out how to sign up for it.

Things are looking marginally up. I’m battered and limping, but I have my new phone and…shit….look at the time.

The next few hours are a blur of manic packing, driving, and arriving at the RV Park & Campground where I have reserved a teepee for the night.

You heard me a teepee.  Did I mention it’s raining?  Have I also mentioned it is an authentic structure with a hole in the center and the floor has running water? (But the bathrooms are located in another building.) No matter.  I will find the fun in this.  I will overcome a most inauspicious start to our vacation. I will ignore the dreadful music that implies otherwise.

I’m trying to tell myself that I can relax about the small stuff.  So, there’s a little water on the floor?  So what? I move the electric cords to a table to remove the possibility of a third and fatal sign.  No electrocution for me, no sir!

The Third Omen

As I’m leaving the teepee to gather the bedding for the unauthentic mattresses, I don’t clear the odd lower lip of the oval door way. I trip in a most graceless fashion, landing hard on my left wrist and both knees. I break a blood vessel in my hand.

 

Handd

I raise my uninjured fist and shake it at the universe.

“Why?  Why? For the love of all that is Jedi…why?”

Somewhere, the dark side is taunting me. Or it could just be the croaking frogs. I’m not sure. It sure sounds like the universe laughing.

*

So, if I die on the boat crossing tomorrow, you’ll know why….

 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Why does no one ever heed the signs?  In real life, I blame the lack of ominous music.

**One of these days I’m going to write the blog post to explain this remark, but this is not the day.

***I should have gone with Kirbaca as I did scream like an enraged wookie today, but it did not fit the scene.

 

Saug - Shop View

Signs Along the Way

Sometimes, you just need a little encouragement. Welcome to a journey I’m calling “The unintended road trip on the serendipitous path of lung-wrenching discovery.”

*

It is the Fourth of July and the crabby son needs quelling; so into the car we hop. My child barks directions: “left,”  “straight,” “more” from the back seat. We drive south along Highway 196 headed nowhere in particular–when someone suggests ice cream.*

Saugatuck Tea Co

We brave the lovely town of Saugatuck packed to the gills with red-white-and-blue spangled holiday goers. Quirky shops nestle along the Kalamazoo River. While the pre-teen scarfs gelato as if  I hadn’t fed him in weeks,  I manage a quick interlude at the Saugatuck Tea Company. Decorative teapots and art-inspired mugs lure shoppers in. A huge Russian Samovar painted in bright, enameled colors squats in a corner behind a room divider–the space manages to be bright and airy despite its modest dimensions.

In addition to tea paraphernalia, one entire wall offers loose-leafed teas with elaborate names like ‘Dragon Tears’ and ‘White Monkey Paw.’ I exchange words with the proprietress. She waves me to the wall of glass jars and lets me sniff the various contents. When I mention a favorite tea I purchase from a rival gang Teavana and how expensive it is, she suggests I get the list of ingredients next time I’m there and she can try to reproduce the results.

After smuggling my score out of the store in an attention-getting paisley bag, my child and I meander. With no great plans, we are unbound by expectation. It is very carefree and relaxing. I suspect this is what leads to the eventual cacophony epiphany to come.

We pass the gazebo in Wick’s Park and I can’t help myself, I have to stop and photograph the beautifully painted cinder block building that houses the public restroom. Who wouldn’t want to pee here?

Then, it is along the water to the nearby point of local interest–the chain link ferry.  I brought my son here many years ago, when he was just a little guy. In a fit of nostalgia, I drag him to recreate the experience.

Saug - Ferry 1

College students busk for tips, joke with passengers, and lure small children into photo ops turning the hand crank that churns the small boat across the river on a rickety chain. It is a swift journey and we are deposited on the other side to seek the experience that will make our day: the climb to Mount Baldhead.

Saug - Boy Crank Boat

As we leave the small boat, the crew encourages us to: “Be careful as we disembark.”  And in passing, they say, “Oh, enjoy the 302 steps up! Don’t worry, it doesn’t get hard until the last two!”

Saug - Vertiginous Climb
No, the photo is not distorted–it really is that steep…and sideways.

Join me in the ascent. And like the experience itself, I will let the view speak for me…mostly because I am wheezing and turning magenta as I make my way up the vertiginous climb.

My son quickly leaves me in the dust. He prances ahead a spastic, loping blur of red–I am struck by the fanciful notion that for once, the sun/son rises in the West. Hypoxia sets in very quickly it seems.

As if climbing a sheer-faced cliff, the higher up I get, the less oxygen there seems to be–despite the valiant effort my lungs make imitating a wounded bellows. I get dizzy by the fourth flight and feel as though the signposts are talking to me***:

Cautionary warnings mark the trail, if only you know where to look:

Saug - Tears Ahead
At first, I thought, “How nice. Tears ahead-zero!” then I realized…it was a drawing of a tear.

 

Saug - Post - Watch out for Ticks
With artwork like that, how will anyone tell a tick from a hollow raisin with bad hair?
Saug - Warning Prepare to Die
My name is Iniego Standish, You killed my father…

 

I pause frequently to admire the view/find peace with the inevitability of death.

Saug - 97 Steps
A 12-step program sounds much easier in comparison.

Before long, the signs of the prophets speak their words of wisdom–no subway walls required:

Saug - Keep it Up
Try not to infer sexual innuendos as you go.  It’s hard…see…but try.

 

Many have come before us…

Saug - L & E 2015
We marvel at cave drawings–why not this?

Some found love to hold and keep them strong–quite recently it seems:

Saug - Hanny & Maddie
It’s been less than a week, I wonder if they are still together?

Some return with their love to mark the passage and constancy of their union:

Saug - Yes We Did It
Remember what I said earlier about not finding suggestive interpretations: “We did it!” At least their initials are not S & M.  That would have just nailed it.

Some are a bit defiant about it:

Saug - Janna and Todd Were Still Married
Note: It is 2016 and they have been silent for three years. One hopes it is not the end of love for Janna and Todd.

Step-by-gasping-step, life lessons are revealed…though the truth is somewhat debatable:

Saug - I have never Left any of you
“I have never left any of you” is crossed out to read “I have always left of you.” Personally, I’m going to agree with the one who has a better grasp of the present perfect tense.

Some who wander the path share their pain with the world:

Saug - I may be sad but I m not weak
A brave girl, that Summer Weersma.

She has a lot in common with a fellow traveler:

Saug - I beat breast cancer

 

And then, there is the impetuous voice of youth speaking to the ages:

Saug - Dick & Balls
We may  never know all of life’s mysteries, but at least we know someone has much love for “Dick & Balls.”

The stair treads pass slowly. I pause more frequently and try not to feel as if one quick shove would send me over the edge. The signs urge me on….

I reach the top victorious where my son hands me his lemonade to open. I stagger over to admire the view which is truly spectacular–if somewhat buried in the surrounding trees.

Saug - View 1

I get mere minutes to enjoy the splendid view before my child hares back down the path as if gravity has no greater significance than a propellant to urge him onward. I am more cautious–and cognizant of how difficult it would be to get a gurney up to retrieve my broken ass if I fell.

Saug - Back Down Again

There you have it. Wooden aphorisms mark a trail for the intrepid explorer to follow. You can be your own Magellan–circling the world to find answers to life questions. You can take the wisdom of others–picking and choosing to see what fits.

You can wear your epiphanies on your chest–much like my son’s perspicacious porcine persuasion.

Saug - Eat Bacon
My son’s love of bacon has led to a variety of pork-related t-shirt slogans. He no doubt has bacon epiphanies.

 

Or you can wander off the path to make new discoveries and record them in out-of-the-way places to be discovered or not as the universe sees fit.

As for me, I follow the signs that speak to my heart:

Saug - Gelato

 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*It might have been me.

**I now have ‘connections’–so, if you need some prime, illicit loose leaf, you know who to call.

***Actually, I did not see most of these signs until I was making my way back down. Call it ironic hindsight.

Dating Myself

Dear Me:

I know it’s been a while. Sorry ‘bout that. I get busy.  I know, I know. It isn’t an excuse. That’s why I’m going to make it up to you. It’s time for a girl’s night out! Even Kirsten said she’d come—her hubby will watch the kids while we frolic! Go ahead, get gussied. I’ll wait.

Butch's Dry Dock

Surprise! We’re heading to Holland for dinner and a show—Kirsten is meeting us there for a Saturday night on the town! Can you believe it?  Hang on. “Hello?” (It’s Kirsten.) ” Holland Brewery is overflowing? No problem!”

Kirsten suggests Butch’s nearby—so convenient as it is one block west. We whisk off for an alfresco dining experience at Butch’s Dry Dock. You’ve a perky step that wasn’t there earlier in the day.

Have I told you how nice you look? The earrings are a nice touch.

You saunter through the sublimely bland concrete exterior, pretending to belong. The interior hallway displays expensive looking clothes—a well-heeled, faux brick shopping plaza.

Kirsten & Kiri Go Out!

The host leads you to a patio where giant sunscreens shade quiet, well-dressed patrons. Kirsten ‘Woo Hoos’ for you to join her; it’s a bit noisy with the rustle of seating and umbrella adjusting to keep us from drowning in the sun as we eat. You can tell middle-aged moms don’t get out much—we laugh as we decipher the cryptic menu. The rest of our meal we are the table to be! Laughter races from topic to topic. Our neighbors’ conversations never rise above a murmur the whole evening! How do they know when they’re having fun?

This is the fine dining portrayed in rich television dramas. The menu offers carpaccio ‘dusted with cocoa nibs’.  Confit, chutney and cipollini are scattered on the menu in the same casual manner a fast food worker would ask, “Do you want fries with that?” The napkins on the table are cloth, lovingly scrolled in their own holster mid-table. No more McDonald’s cubed food for us! Now you can say you’ve risen to the hoi polloi at least for one meal!

Sexy Leg Martini

Kirsten orders probably the sunniest looking martini you have ever seen—the Sweet Georgia is a slice of pink-orange froth accented with lemon. It tastes like a promise of eternal youth, almost masking the sticker shock of $11.00 with each tangy swallow. One sip is your reward for eyeing the drink like a thirsty spaniel. Kirsten is such a marshmallow!

Our waiter is sufficiently aloof to make a British butler proud, we warm much faster to red-haired Jack (of our hearts) who checks to see our glasses never empty. We dub him the ‘water boy’ as he obviously isn’t a waiter. He fixes our wobbly table and, with a furtive look, first left, then right, promises to provide a diversion so you can steal the menu.

The meal arrives in stages. We share the most exotic spinach salad ever concocted. Spicy bites of candied ginger pair with the grapefruit—but do challenge the palate with pepitas and a rough-ground mustard vinaigrette. The avocado is neutral and balances the whole. The table votes that it is a winner! Huzzah!

Spinach Salad

 

The meals arrive just in time to keep us from hunting down our waiter—though we do dragoon Jack into getting us some salt and pepper.* The verdict on the entrees is mixed. Kirsten braves the ethnic dish ‘Bahn Mi’ and concludes that, “It’s a good pork sandwich, but it doesn’t taste as good as the Bahn Mi served at the more authentic Huyen’s.” Even a dash of balsamic doesn’t fulfill the umami bite she’s looking for.

“You got the best dish of the three of us.” She says, eyeing your flatbread a little wistfully.

Go ahead gloat, I know you want to.

The brandade is good, but a tad salty.  The brandade….you know, the smoked whitefish topped with bread crumbs served in a ramekin on a gold-edged plate?  What? Ramekin.

R. A. M. E. K. I. N. 

No, it’s a little dish to serve small souffles or dips like this one in.  Why would you think I’d be talking about a Norwegian elf? It sounds Norwegian? Just eat your flatbread.**

So the banh mi that’s not a banh mi and the white fish are a smidge disappointing but the flatbread rules. The real draw is the bonhomie, under a hot sun, inviting warm exchanges.

“Will you look at the time!”

We’d better hustle if we’re going to make the show. But of course, there’s always time for a little detour…Chocolate

I see you! You’ve spotted the candy store next door.  So that’s why you skipped dessert! Okay, one…maybe two truffles, but then we’ve got to go!

Nibbling our chocolate, we head to the Holland Civic Theater for live entertainment in a new production: The Lies the Bind.

Kirsten warns us, “It’s a tearjerker.”

I know, I know, I should have checked with you, but I wanted it to be a surprise. Okay, so it’s a drama. I know, you like comedy, but a little drama never hurt anybody, right?

The Holland Civic Theater is located in a corrugated gingerbread house of a building. It even has the curlicue decorations along the eaves.*** It looks like a former church and we, the penitent, file into the pews awaiting the Southern discomfort to come.

Holland Civic Theater

Turns out the small venue is perfect for the family on the brink of tragedy. The space is intimate—you are knees to neck with the audience member in front of you. The line of sight is a bit awkward.

“Someone should tell management to stagger the chairs.” What do you mean, shush?  You shush. Oh right, the show is starting.

TWO HOURS LATER…

SPOILER ALERT

Okay, so next time, we do comedy.  No, I know you don’t like it when bad things like that happen…especially to children. Yes, yes. You get to pick the next one.  A musical? You know how I feel about musicals!  Okay, Galavant was an exception; who doesn’t love a good spoof musical? What about Ella? You mean the movie based on the book Ella Enchanted?  That wasn’t really a spoof musical, now was it!  No, it wasn’t good either. But you’ll admit, Anne Hathaway did her best to save it. Yes, yes. The book is turning over in its grave. Right, no more theater tickets without your express approval.

What? Yes. You can use my hanky. I’m sure you just got something in your eye.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*The subtle hint by condiment omission is that everything the restaurant serves is delicious without question. Only a hairy-knuckled troglodyte would add a thing!

** This is why we don’t go out for fancy dinners—one sip of martini and we’re lost.

***Alright, alright. I don’t know architecture terms.  What do you call that bric-a-brac found along Swiss chalets?

__*__*__*__*__

The Lies that Bind
Veni Vedi et Mortuus Est (We Came, We Saw, Someone Bit The Dust)

 

tree

A Farewell to Kitsch

Saturday, we over-nighted in Bear Lake – a tiny town 22 miles south of Frankfort, Michigan—the place my son randomly picked on the map that, surprisingly, did not have any hotel rooms available the night before a three-day holiday weekend.* Some people might thrive on the uncertainty of housing and the joi de vivre of impromptu journeys–it gives me hives.  Fortunately, we found succor at the Bella Vista Inn. As it turns out, the relief of making the 2 ½ hour journey was to be compounded by Fate wagging a playful finger in our direction.**

Bella Vista Hotel - Bear Lake
My son can mess up a hotel room faster than I can take a picture!

Bear Lake is a blip of a town, but that is part of its appeal; it isn’t intended as a huge tourism destination. The lake is placid and shallow fairly far out. Kiddos can splash in the water by sandy beaches. Gnarled trees of indeterminate species grow along the lake’s edge. The trunks dip and bend toward the water as the earth crumbles away in gradual increments.

Bear Lake

We’d navigated our way to the tiny motel and decided to walk across US 31 to admire the lake. Our access beach was a sliver of sand in a small crescent carved out from the neighboring trees. But it was sufficient for a quick dip. I opted to stand and watch while my son dabbled in the water. Now that he is older and can swim a bit, I’m less afraid of imaginary undertow currents taking him to Davy Jones’s locker.*** I snap a few quick pics with my phone and upload a selfie-free greeting to all my peeps on Facebook. My son scampers around in the water, barely bothered by his mom’s admonition to “Pull up your shorts, your butt is showing!”  (Time for a new swimsuit, I guess the elastic is blown in this one.) We stop at the gas station/store/pizza joint on the way back to our hotel to grab some dinner. I’m standing in line waiting for a sub sandwich when I get a phone call:

Vacation Reenactment Players present:

Peculiar Coincidence or Celestial Serendipity?

*BrrrrrrrRing* (Honestly I don’t know what noise my phone made, my son changes the ringtone daily.)

Me: “Hello?”

Caller: “K…where are you?” (Names abbreviated to protect the clueless who think this will keep serial killers away.)

Me: “M? We’re at Bear Lake.”

Caller: “I know. I saw your picture on Facebook.  We’re at Bear Lake.  Where are you exactly?”

Me: “Uh…” (I stop to look around for the name of the gas station.) “We’re at a BP across from the Belle Vista Inn. The kid is getting some pizza and I’m waiting in line to get some dinner.”

Caller: “We’re down the road at a campground. We’re grilling hot dogs. C’mon over.”

Turns out it was walking distance from us. This is the kind of adventure you can’t plan.  (Okay, maybe you could plan it, but it would then lack romance—or whatever the parenting equivalent is!)

Pizza and sugary drinks in hand, we followed her directions to what had to be the smallest campground I have ever seen. It was a slice of beach carved out behind the town, lined with camper trailers and crawling with dogs and children.  Friend M was corralling her herd—she has three, which is enough for a herd in my opinion—with equal parts humor and no-nonsense parenting. She could write a book about it if she wasn’t so busy. We exchanged chit chat and delighted in the coincidence that brought us together.

“I grew up here. My grandfather planted trees along this lake.” She stops, looks around and points to a nearby tree. “He planted that one.”

There is pride in her voice. You can tell she is happy to be from a small town and has pleasant memories.  I’ve often wondered what that felt like.

She offers us canvas chairs at her parent’s trailer.  It is a cozy niche just down the road a ways from her childhood home. There, the grandparents are doting on a precious little girl who has decided to wear a batman mask, it slips off repeatedly as she toddles around. It is a bit incongruous with the pigtails poking out on either side of her head. Everyone is laughing or joking about Bat Girl.  I have a feeling I’ve accidentally wandered into a Norman Rockwell life tableau, except that M’s husband is on the road and she isn’t sure when his hectic schedule will bring him back into the family orbit. I comment on the peacefulness of location and she nods.  “This is my oasis—I can relax here.” She hands me a cream-flavored, alcoholic ginger ale. “I could stay here all the time.” Taking a sip of mellow intoxicant, I’m finding myself in agreement.

During the visit, her children are in constant motion—her son is off at the little playground beside the beach. Her daughters are crawling in and out underfoot. M is the serene center of a frenetic buzz of activity.  We stay as long as my son will tolerate and M hands me a plate of potato salad for the road. We hug before parting and I thank her for a wonderful time.  She smiles and says, “We’ll be coming up for a long week around the 4th of July, if you want, you could rent a tent space and join us.”

I’m touched.  It is a generous offer to be included in a family trip. (With a special needs child, it is especially nice to be invited anywhere.) I may question my sanity when I take trips with my son so far from home, but it is moments like these that make it worth the effort.

The rest of our weekend is a blur of touristy moments:

Frankfort, MI

Frankfort has a beautiful grassy park and nearby playground for kids to run around on.  My son looked especially appropriate in his yellow slicker standing on the mock prow of the playground ship.

IMG_3611
Obligatory kitsch tchotchkis.

 

Portabella and Pesto Sandwich - Crescent Bakery
Portabello, Pesto Panini–you can’t say it without drooling, can you?

In town, many shops devoted to the American spirit for shopping and dining abound. The Crescent Bakery & Cafe served about the best pesto/giant mushroom panini I’ve ever eaten. If I hadn’t forgotten my purse and had to schlep all the way back to our car, we might have avoided a major meltdown moment! One caveat if you dine here—it’s a popular place and the service can be slow, which is a bad combination if your son is starving to death before your very eyes. (Cell phones pay the price for such inconsideration.)

Phone Destruction
Farewell Good Friend

 

The death of his favorite entertainment hits my son hard…even though he was the one to throw it in a fit of hunger-induced rage. After lunch, we mourn with ice cream served up at the ever-so-festive The Scoop—a local joint that serves up Moomers Ice Cream.

Scoop Cropped

We are surrounded by candy and sugar on all sides—it is very cathartic. It is also just about the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

 

 

Ludington, MI

We drive to Ludington to spend the night at a Best Western.  Despite being tired from the day, I decide to take the internet’s advice and hit the popular local restaurant: The Old Hamlin.

The Old Hamlin Restaurant

Above the door as you walk in, the sign says “Family Restaurant Since 1926.” They must be doing something right because the place was doing pretty good business despite the later hour. The décor suggested its roots might be as a Greek diner—the dusty murals and ancient faux wood roof tiles suggested a warmer climate. Old Formica tables and naugahyde padded seats welcomed weary travelers; the furnishings’ sturdy qualities matched its customers perfectly. The food was the standard eclectic American Diner fare—good and plentiful. And as a local had suggested, the homemade bread made it worth the trip.

Dinner at The Old Hamlin

Stuffed to the gills, my son and I walked to visit the beautiful nearby Lake Michigan shoreline and enjoy Stearns Park where my son dragged his paper and crayons to every single piece of playground equipment to write numbers in a new, exciting location while his mother climbed sand dunes to get a picture of the lighthouse against the backdrop of the sparkling waves. It was reassuring to learn I wasn’t too old to enjoy a good sunset. (Although I wisely refrained from investigating the skater’s park nearby—one hip replacement is enough for now.)

Ludington Lighthouse Sunset

We walked a bit and discovered another sandy pleasure—beachside cuisine.  At The Sunset Side Concessions, I was momentarily tempted to order Deep Fried Oreos, when my better senses prevailed.

Despite having eaten enough pancakes and bacon to sink a battleship, my son happily gorged on yet another scoop of ice cream (What is a holiday without overindulgence and stomach aches?) before returning to the Best Western, splashing in the pool, and then conking out for the night. (If you are tired out reading this, imagine how exhausting it was to cram all this into a weekend!)

Best Western of Ludington
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like a home away from home!

Sunday heralded the end of our vacation. After barely making it under the wire for breakfast, we packed and visited the lake shore one last time before heading home.

Ludington Lighthouse.jpg
Apparently to be called a “Lighthouse”–you have to be able to live in it!

I managed to lure my child to visit the light-not-a-house via a long walk down the concrete breakwall to the Ludington North Breakwater Light. It was tricky going as he desperately wanted to fling himself down the slanting embankment to investigate the giant, no-doubt-slippery rocks framing the walkway. At the lighthouse–sorry, I can’t break the habit–I was dismayed to discover that, this far north, The Square™ is a tricky device that doesn’t always work if the wireless connection is iffy.  I’d spent the last of my cash leaving a tip for the hotel staff—and on the electric massage chair in the lobby. (The only way to travel.)  The volunteers graciously let my son pell-mell his way up the stairs to take in the view. Since they couldn’t get the credit card taker to work, they handed me an envelope trusting in the honor system to see payment received by check later that week. What a gift that was to a weary mom and an overly excited child.

Ludington Lighthouse View

We snapped a few pictures—my son insisted on photographing the graffiti—enjoying the sun and the boat wakes creating liquid contrails and a mock surf at the water’s edge. All in all, it has been a postcard-picture perfect visit. As the tourism ads voiced by Tim Allen would say, “It’s Pure Michigan.”

Don’t you wonder if Missy & Bob are still together? I like to think they are!

*

So that was our Memorial Day Extravaganza. Mostly unplanned and as spontaneous as I can ever get with my oh-so-special life. I hope you enjoyed tagging along; you’re welcome anytime.

 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Did you catch the sarcasm in that one?

**Not THAT finger, thank you very much.

***One flavor of paranoia—imagined parental fears.

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Yay, you actually read this far BONUS: Crayon Disaster Number 3

The ill-fitted swimsuit of the above story met its demise later that week in a tragic crayon-related incident. Totally not on purpose.  Who checks the pockets of a swimsuit?