Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mea Culpa. Sort of.

I'm sorry, Jonathan. You were right and I was wrong. At least somewhat. Happy is the man whose mother grovels publicly before him in acknowledgement of his wisdom and her lack of same. Somewhat.

Wondering what THAT'S about? :-) 

Jon is my 24 year old son. He is an avid student and observer of history and politics, spending voluminous hours each day reading and listening to the plethora of information to be found on same in the interwebs. 

He is also, well, how shall I put this? He is THE WORLD'S MOST HYPERBOLIC PERSON. 

Perhaps that is an exaggeration. Some might even say it presents a possible suggestion that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. But Jon's prose is surely purple and loud, to say the least. As a person with autism, it is to be expected that he would be somewhat tone-deaf regarding social skills, specifically which topics might be appropriate for X or Y audience and how to discuss sensitive topics. 

For example, perhaps it's not terribly wise to post inflammatory and negative comments about sensitive topics on the public FB page that your public figure father (whose public figure-ness pays the mortgage) maintains. 

Or possibly regular commentary about how you don't understand how anyone with any intelligence can be a Christian when your parents are both members of a mainline Protestant church is not an act designed to win favor at either of their dinner tables. 

And, maybe, just maybe, you shouldn't use the N word in your FB posts. Ever. Even if you are a rabid Democrat making fun of Romney. Ever. Period. 

We've had numerous family discussions over the years about this. Jon says I worry too much about what other people think. And he's probably right. But I am pretty sure that, as an autistic person, he does not worry enough about what other people think.  

And I would contend that I continue to be accurate about the color of J's prose. But the content? Well, this year, Jonathan's been way ahead of the curve on a number of politically sensitive topics, making me re-examine my reactions to his statements.

For example, J has been going on and on about Julian Assange, free speech, and multiple governments efforts to put a muzzle on him. Here is a very tame FB update from him earlier this year:
This week in the news: England threatens to storm the Ecuadoran embassy and kidnap an Australian national in order to extradite him to Sweden, where Americans will imprison him for exposing war crimes committed in Afghanistan.
Much of what he's said has been fairly anti-Obama, as in how can a liberal support a president who is saying and doing what Obama (or his administration) is saying and doing. 

As in the drone attack reports in Pakistan, about which Jonathan has been incensed for some time now. The Obama administration maintains that civilian casualties are extremely rare. I can't find the exact FB comment from Jon, but it read something like 
Apparently, it's ok for Obama to target, bomb and kill innocent civilians as long as they are brown and on the other side of the world.
I assumed Jon was out in left field on this. Appears not. I was wandering the interwebs and found an post by Andrew Sullivan, recounting a study done by Stanford and NYU that indicates one out of four victims of drone attacks are Pakistani civilians. Ugh.

As for Julian Assange, no less than the New York Times published an op-ed by Michael Moore and Oliver Stone in August that indicates Jon isn't alone in his concern for the way Assange is being treated and the threat to free speech held therein. 

The lessons I take from this? 

1. I am more likely to listen and respect news that is reported to me in a reasoned and respectful manner, rather than by a deliverer who expressly designs (or at least enjoys) inflammation. 

2. I need to spend more time listening to informational content rather than the delivery or the deliverer.

3. It is difficult to accomplish 2. with 1. I believe that there may be a mathematical equation involved here. It might involve greater than and less than signs. But math is not in my skill set. And I always found those signs very confusing. 

Sort of like I find wading through loud prose that obscures that facts very worth listening to underneath. ;-)


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Being known

I washed my back door windows yesterday. They are French doors, I think, long expanses of glass. And, perhaps because I don't spend hours keeping them clean, they are rarely the site of bird dazings. Bird dazings are those sad happenings, when you are sitting in a room and hear a soft but significant thud on your window, and look out to see a bird downed by its own reflection.

I may have made up the name, but the phenomenon is definitely real! 

Alas, my clean windows provided the perfect spot for a bird dazing this morning. As I was sipping (no, really, I was slurping--hot coffee is more often slurped than sipped) my morning caffeinated beverage, I heard the tell-tale sound, and ran to the window. 

It happened again, and again, the bird beating against the window! I watched. Finally, it fluttered to the ground. I sat and watched some more. It was a new bird, to me, at least. So I hopped up and grabbed the ubiquitous bird book which, miraculously, was where a kitchen bird book should be when you need it (on the counter!) 

As I began flipping through the pages, I started to berate myself. "You really shouldn't be doing this. You've got Your List. You need to work out, clean up. You need to call caseworkers and email attorneys. You should finish spackling the bathroom wall and paint it. You should, you should, you should . . . ." 

But I looked out of the window and gazed at that little bird. So very tiny. And I wanted to know it. It seemed important, somehow, to know what it was. Someone should know, particularly if it was beyond dazed. Beings that are to be buried should be known.

It was tiny, chickadee-sized. Mostly gray, but with a lovely stripe of gentle yellow on its forehead. And one of those tiny, thin black beaks, which make me think of warblers. 

After much flipping, I found the Golden-Crowned Kinglet. She (for she was definitely female) was a lucky sighting, I think. My bird book notes that "(t)hese diminutive creatures are a delight to watch--if you can follow them." 

The bird dazing was her loss and my gain, I guess. Fortunately for her, after several moments of stillness, she slowly turned to look at me, then fluttered off into the trees. 

But our encounter wound into my musings about funerals and death. We've had what feels like more than our share of funerals of late at Grace. And, because I am working at home, I often sing at services. I count this a great blessing. Because these services provide me with a moment to slow down and know these people who have passed. 

Some of them I know, and am personally grieved by their passing. And some I do not know, and can only watch and be saddened by their loved ones grief. But the services offer an opportunity to mourn the loss to their families and community. And to know them. Because the last thing we can do for a being when they've passed is to know them. And isn't that what most of us long for, to be known? 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Oh, snap!

Figuring out a career can be such a challenge. We try to match up likes and dislikes, skills and lack thereof, to an area that would be financially remunerative. Or at least pay the bills this month. 

I am aware that there is a whole field devoted to this matching up people with the right careers. But I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest there is a missing career area that is ripe for development. Or perhaps, more diabolically, there already IS a secret cabal matching up a very select kind of job with an equally select mindset: writing assembly instructions and sadists. 

There are a number of possible scenarios here. After all, I'm not paranoid. It could be that those who write instructions for assembling things like, say, garden hose reel holder thingies, are people like me. People who are not terribly skilled in the visual field. People who must stare at instruction illustrations for 10 minutes before they start to make any sense. If so, this would be akin to the blind leading the blind. 

To the slaughter. 

So, for example, the instruction sheet today started out with the following:
Most parts are assembled by locking a tab on one part into a snap on the mating part. The tab must slide down into the snap. 
 A tab into a snap? Swearing immediately commences. Tabs don't go into snaps. Snaps go into snaps. Male snaps go into female snaps.  Tabs go into, I dunno, holes. Slots. Slits. Not SNAPS. 

And then with the "must slide down into the snap." Slide down? Is that like down as in "south" or down as in "toward the ground"? Did the almighty and powerful instruction writer mean "into" rather than down? "Under?" 

And do my question marks in the above paragraph go inside or outside of the quotation marks?

But I digress. 

The directions go on:
Align parts so tab slides into the snap with the smooth end of tab nearest snap. 
So now we've moved away from "slide down" to "slides into." I find this somewhat confusing. And, for the record, none of the illustrations point out what, exactly, a snap is. They do illustrate a tab. I did not find that particularly helpful in identifying the snap, however. 
Continue sliding parts together. When you hear a click and the tab is flush with the snap surfaces, the parts are locked together. 
So, the theory I developed was that the almighty and powerful instruction writer, suffering from a complete inability to visually describe, decode or understand the instructions she was supposed to impart, instead decided to use the word snap for slot or slit because the parts "click" when put together. And snap is, while not quite an onomatopoeia for click, in the ballpark.

But when I move on to Instruction 1, it becomes clear that being paranoid would not be paranoid in this setting. 
Assemble Frame: Snap frame bar (3) into right side frame (4). Snap frame bar (3) into left side frame (5). Insert frame tube (6) into mating holes of side frames (4 and 5).
So now the almighty and powerful instruction writer decides to shift the use of "snap" from a noun to a VERB? Really? Are you TRYING to confuse me more? Don't you know who you are dealing with, the level of ineptitude your audience potentially possesses? I have trouble consistently identifying my left and right hands. 

And, no, remembering that if I hold my left hand up it naturally makes the shape of an L does not help me. I simply pretend in my tiny brain that I am writing, note which hand moves, and generalize from there. Sometimes, it works. 

Speaking of which, when you use the words right and left in instructions, I believe it behooves you to be a bit more clearer. Whose right are we talking about? Mine? Yours? Stage? 

The sudden and swift change of "snap" from noun to verb, coupled with the wanton use of left and right without further instruction compels me back to the original thrust of this post. Instruction writers are sadists. 

Or, perhaps if they are not sadists when they first begin, they become sadists as they work at their craft. The task of describing in excruciatingly minute detail how to put Some Dumb Thing together becomes so boring that the writers look for ways to amuse themselves. Such as switching "snap" from a noun to a verb. 

But we could take this further. Rather than people becoming sadists while doing this job, we could recruit those who already are sadists. Just as we have professional organizers who use their clinically diagnosed OCD that manifests in hyperorganization to fix other people's clinically diagnosed OCD that manifests as hoarding, perhaps we could advertise in S&M magazines for assembly instruction writers. 

Or, perhaps, I need to explore another tangent altogether: know any masochists that I could hire to assemble all items that require instruction manuals?  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What a difference a year or two makes

I'm in Northfield, Minnesota this weekend, visiting the lovely Annie G on Parents Weekend at St. Olaf College. (The house is still very occupied by a large adult male and a barking dog, though!) What an absolute joy it is to see her so happy and well-settled! Great roommates, great friends, great musical ensembles, great school. 'Nuf said. 

Because my presence was not very required, and because my usual amazing room at the Allen B&B is occupied by its true owner this weekend, I have had lots of free time to wander and explore. 

Annie and I had dinner Friday night. We've discovered a mutual enjoyment of Indian, and are trying out all of the Indian restaurants in Northfield. Yum, samosas and beef vindaloo, washed down with an acceptable shiraz. In nine months, my daughter will join me in a glass of wine at dinner--amazing!

In the meantime, she shipped me off to my hotel room for the night while she resumed her busy social schedule. As best I can determine, this is the first time I have ever stayed in a hotel alone. After all, I've been married for 28 years and a Mom for 24 years. 

So alone was very odd for about, oh, thirty seconds. Then I loved it! Everything was just how I wanted it: bed, pillows, heat/cold, light, television or lack thereof, sleepy-time, wakey-time. Truly, I am discovering the joys of uncoupling, in spite of the challenges. ;-)

This morning, I took a fun hike at the Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve. My bike is in my trunk, but I chose to walk, as I'm planning to ride a bit on the Sparta trail tomorrow. Good choice. Oh my gosh. There were moguls all over the trail! Makes my back hurt to think about smacking the bike seat that often!

The area was pretty, with autumn already on the way here in lower Minnesota. Chilly, too! 

I was soon on my way to one of my favorite Minnesota stops: Fireside Orchard, just outside of Northfield. In spite of the late freeze, they still have an apple crop (no u-pick, though.) So I've got the obligatory bags of Honey Crisp and Haralson. Haralsons are better. I'm just sayin'.

Nothing says fall more than apples. Can't tell you how many fall afternoons I've whiled (or is that wiled?) away, munching on juicy, crisp apples while lost in a good book. Life is good. 

Annie and I met up for lunch. It was SO good to catch up with her. So good to SEE her. I love our FaceTime chats but real life is better. We made the habitual stop at Target, of course. Now she's off to her St. Olaf Band rehearsal, as we'll get to hear the Collage Concert this evening. 

Too much fun. I am very, very fortunate. Happy Saturday, all!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pride goeth before a fall. Or spill.

I enjoy large fonts. I am middle-aged (have I mentioned that recently?) and they are easier to read. Particularly early in the morning when the synapses fire more slowly. 

I have not, however, enjoyed being a large person. Tall? Fine. Obese? Not so much. And, while I know myself as an active and fit person (as I was the first 25 years of my life), most of you know me as a surprisingly active given how overweight I am person (as I have been the past/next 25 years of my life.)

Inspiration to change this waxed and waned but finally solidified when the other important numbers started rising (blood pressure, blood sugar . . . .) So I've been following Weight Watchers for some months now, and have lost 25 lbs. So far.

Yay me! 

There I go again (was that Reagan?), breaking the rules. There are rules about weight loss and the communication thereof, you know. First of all, you are not supposed to mention that you have lost weight. Other people are supposed to mention it to you. 

Actually, other people aren't initially supposed to mention it to you. Directly. First, they are supposed to watch for a while. Because it's very embarrassing to query someone about weight loss, only to find out that they've actually gained 17 lbs this week. Or are struggling with serious illness. 

Then, other people get to say something like "Wow! You look great!" If they are very brave, they may venture further into "Have you lost some weight?" There is some disagreement about this further venture and the politeness of same. See above paragraph. Also consider the opposite query, regarding the baby-bump. Or not.

There are also rules about how the weight-loser is supposed to respond to these varied inquiries and observations. A warm "thanks" is always appropriate. If specifically asked about possible weight loss activity, it may be acceptable to say something like "Well, yes, I guess I have lost a few pounds." Foot-shuffling and a downcast head help project the appropriate modest image that should accompany this acknowledgement. 

It is not ok, though, to loudly embrace your weight loss. Certainly not ok to tell someone just how much you've lost. And really, really kind of gauche to tell someone how much you weighed before and how much you weigh now. 

Those of you who know me in real life will now be noting to yourselves that I have clearly not been following those rules. 

What IS acceptable, though, is to dress in such a way that your weight loss is noted, yea, magnified. Why, yes, yes, I have been wearing the same few dark t-shirts that actually fit me rather well over and over again. Or, why yes, I have purchased an entire new wardrobe to fit my new, sleeker self.

So, with this approach in mind, I dressed for bible study this morning. First colder morning, so I knew I'd have to ditch my shorts (geez, that's the only part of fall I don't care for.) Imagine my surprised and gleeful shock when I pulled on a pair of pants and they just about fell right back off!

Darn. I will have to wear a belt. And, because if I wear a belt and a shirt OVER the belt, it might look like I am 5 months pregnant (because the belt would be sitting on my still very large stomach--this will never leave, no matter how much weight I lose!) I decided to tuck my shirt in. 

Do note, dear reader, that I know I violated yet other rules by tucking in a shirt, too. And wearing a belt that was dangerously close to my natural waistline, as opposed to the more popular near my belly button line sported by my lovely daughter. 

If I had a lovely belly like hers, perhaps I'd do the same. :-) 

So. Belt on, shirt tucked in, pants staying up, I went to church. Feeling very, very good about how I looked, otherwise known as how clear it was to onlookers that I had lost weight. Because losing weight is a sign of inner virtue and goodness, isn't it? 


I was able to wallow in this feeling for about 10 minutes. Then, most likely because I was so busy dealing with my infatuated feelings for my fabulous weight loss (do NOT tell me you haven't noticed, by the way) I neglected to fully secure the lid of my travel mug. Up went the mug to my mouth. Down came the coffee, all over my tucked-in shirt and belt. And I mean ALL over. 

I'm a champion spiller, and truly don't mind doing so, even publicly.  But I just had to laugh at myself for being so obnoxiously pleased with myself one moment then having my comeuppance delivered in such a warm fashion. :-) 

I'll be wearing a tent to choir this evening!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Westward, Ho! Day 7: The End

I hate goodbyes. When faced with one, even a daily, run-of-the-mill parting between friends, I tend to want to schedule the next meeting. Right then. My deep psychological insight tells me that this may be significant: I'm afraid people won't come back!

The Red River, where GG Grandma Ida's first husband drowned. He never came back--see, it happens!

Bison: not a cause of unadulterated terror
Really, why am I wasting my time trying to become a lawyer again? Clearly, analysis is my calling. Or at least professional navel-gazing. Alas, this requires yet another degree--and another license. This is a prospect which fills me with unadulterated terror. 

Which probably is another topic in need of deep psychological insight. But we will say goodbye to that conversation and return to my not liking goodbyes. 

I think I really just don't like a good thing to end. And this trip was absolutely a Very Good Thing. But all good things must come to an end. So here it is. 

We drove 12 more hours, from Mitchell, South Dakota, to Oak Park, Illinois. We determined that North Dakota is more attractive than South Dakota; that rattlesnake warnings tend to inhibit walk-abouts at rest stops; and that the newest fast food fad is sweet potato fries. 

We listened to an Amelia Peabody Emerson mystery, which was quite droll. We worked on Mom's smartphone skills. And we gloated over the fact that we knew exactly what time it was. 

And then we were done. :-) 

I am so grateful to my Mom for making this trip with me--and for making this trip possible. This was one of the best weeks I've ever had. Thank you, Mommy--love you! And I am so grateful that my Dad was hanging out with Jonathan back at the ranch in Oak Park, so that I could enjoy myself without worrying about Jon being lonely. Thank you, Dad, and thanks for all the handyman work, too--love you!

And, finally, thanks to all of you who have been reading. 

Mom and me at Yellowstone :-)

The End. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Westward, Ho! Day 6

Day 6 was The Big Driving Day. 14 hours with no tourist or genealogy stops. Oh my. But it truly didn't seem all that long, until the last half hour or so, when I was almost unbearably struck with ants in the pants.  

Perhaps our perception of the amount of time spent in the car was somewhat skewed by the fact that we simply did not know what time it was for most of the day. Wyoming and Montana, of course, are in the Mountain Time Zone. I believe this is because they have mountains. 

South Dakota, which has large hills that some might call mountains, is in Central Time. Mom hails from Michigan, the western edge of the Eastern Time. There are a few large hills that some might call mountains in Michigan. And Oak Park is in the eastern edge of the Central Time. There are no hills anywhere in the state of Illinois, and certainly nothing that ANYONE in their right mind would call a mountain. 

Not that I have an issue with Illinois being flat or anything. 

Even further parenthetically, when I first moved to Central Time, I was quite enamored of it. In my early days, I was a tv news watcher. And I loved getting to watch the evening news at 10pm--or the early news on WGN at 9pm. 11pm is too late to hear bad news. Impinges on the sleep process.

The downside of Central Time, particularly on the eastern edge, is that in the winter, it grows dark shortly after 4pm. People who work in windowless offices can go for days without seeing natural light. Kids just barely get home from school before the sun (it's still there, hiding behind the permacloud) goes down. 

But I digress. Let us unparen and move on. 

So we had several time zones with which we were dealing on this trip. We determined that we would be proactive. We would change all available clocks whenever we moved from one zone to the next. How hard could it be?

Well, geez. At one point, Mom's phone said time A, my phone said time B, and the GPS said time C. I consulted the map, to determine exactly when and where we switched from Mountain to Central. It seemed to indicate a switch at the state line between Wyoming and South Dakota. Additionally, one of our phones switched times as we crossed the line. 

So we changed the clocks. But it was wrong, wrong, wrong! Later googling provided us with the fact that Central Time doesn't occur until midway through South Dakota. So why did one phone automatically switch at the state line? And then why did both phones switch at the time zone line? 

And at some point, we thought the CAR clock had switched times. But the car does not have satellite connection!! Oooo. 

We asked people throughout the day what time it was. But, in all honesty, I really didn't trust them with the answer. By the end of the day, I was fairly convinced that there was a vast conspiracy going on, trying to brainwash us into thinking that we had spent either way more or way less time than we'd have liked DRIVING. 

However much time we spent sitting, we were mostly busy flapping our ruby red lips. Even after a week together, Mom and I still had plenty to talk about. More family history, for starters. 

Selfish GG Grandfather Alex begat G Grandfather Emmet, as previously mentioned. Emmet first married Wilhelmina Caroline Schlief, of Arcadia, Michigan. 

 Doesn't Minnie look like she had a spark or two in her? She looks like she had spunk and, unlike Mr. Grant, I love spunk in a girl. 

She and Emmet were married at Trinity Lutheran Church in Arcadia, in the same sanctuary where I enjoyed a Carl Schalk hymn fest held over 90 years later as part of Camp Arcadia. 

Not that I'm bragging or showing off my scant Lutherans roots or anything.

Minnie's oldest daughter, my Grandma Dorothy, most definitely did NOT have spunk. She had a difficult life: lost her mother Minnie when she was 10; lived apart from her father for 4 years after that; had to adjust to a step-mother; and finally made a rather disastrous choice in husbands. 

I suspect that Dorothy was never very happy, regardless of the circumstances (standing, below.) On the other hand, Dorothy's little sister, Marjorie (on Minnie's lap), was known as "Little Happy." 

So, when we weren't discussing the time, Mom and I spent most of the day discussing Emmet and Minnie, Dorothy and the disastrous husband (otherwise known as Mom's father and my grandpa, who was bipolar), Great Aunt Stella (murdered in Big Rapids) and Great Aunt Grace (alive and kicking at 96 but still prevaricating about her middle name, as she likes Ann rather than Agnes.) 

We also discussed my other Grandma Dorothy (Dad's mom), whose mother died when she was two and the mystery surrounding Dorothy's name. There is no birth certificate for Dorothy Jean Porter. There is, however, a birth certificate for Eulalia Porter, born the next day, with the same mother and father. 

Were they twins? (No death certificates were found.)Was there no one alive who knew her correct date of birth, since she was orphaned before she was three? Did the rather proper Scotch Great Aunt who raised her prefer the name "Dorothy Jean" to "Eulalia"? And, if so, could you blame her? 

We pondered these things for 14 hours. We think. Then had filet mignons that absolutely melted in the mouth at Chef Louie's Steak House in Mitchell, South Dakota. And went to bed. :-)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Westward, Ho! Day 5

What an incredible day! We were up god-awful early. That would be around 6am in my vernacular. Grabbed some coffee and donuts and went to the lobby to await our tour.  After consultation (which means after Mom realized that we could pay someone to drive us all day instead of driving through the mountains ourselves) we decided to take the “Yellowstone-in-a-Day” tour offered by one of the many tourism companies.

We waited with four others for the bus. They were, um, interesting. We surmised that the three women were sisters. Two were very unhappy with the third who was, by their standards, unhealthily engaged with some event happening back home. The disengaged one seemed, well, disengaged throughout the trip, disinclined to emerge from the bus to see the wealth of Yellowstone.


The bus came. Our tour guide was Doug. Who was a Character. Really, would you expect anything else from someone who was a Yellowstone Tour Guide? Doug combined a voluminous knowledge of the history and geography of Yellowstone with the bullshit-stretching of a born storytelling teacher. He was great! 

I don’t even know what to say about Yellowstone itself. The many different climes and scenes and topography and breathtaking vistas don’t quite defy description, but completely exceed the limits of my writing skills. Read John Muir instead. 

And I'll quote Theodore Roosevelt, who saw with stunning clarity over one hundred years ago the need to preserve and conserve our national treasures: 
"Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying the 'the game belongs to the people.' So it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The 'greatest good for the greatest number' applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method."

The many waterfalls were amazing, with white roaring rapids and splendid thousands of feet of falls moving into to white-roaring rapids down sheer rock cliffs. 

The geysers and paint pots were incredible and weird, all bubbling and colorful or bleached white. 

Old Faithful was faithfully oo and ahh ish. The anticipation was so much part of the fun, sitting with others, chattering about “is this it?”  I was close enough to feel the spray.

I took a million photos, of course. But, while I see and appreciate good photography, I can't create it! All my photos can do is remind me of the brilliance of the day. Mostly, I tried to stay present every single second. To blink and then really see the myriad beauties. The mountains, the grasslands. The water. The never-ending sky. 

Oh, and the animals. Of course, I didn’t get to see a bear. I will never get to see a wild bear, of that I am convinced. There have been a number of incidents during which I thought I saw a bear. I particularly remember a trip to the U.P. during which I ordered someone to pull over late one night, as I was convinced I had seen a bear on the side of the road. 

And I had. A plywood cutout of a bear. Sheesh.

Other than bears, I am really good at spotting animals while driving between 70 and 80 mph. It's been my family job for many years to point out deer and various raptors along I-94 as we travel to Michigan and along I-90 to Minnesota. 

I'm even better at spotting animals when NOT driving. I was the only spotter of a porcupine up a tree on this trip! We also saw elk, prong horns, mule deer, pelicans--and lots of bison. We had several up close and person experiences with a male elk with a spectacular rack. I managed only to memorialize the moment with a lovely shot of the behind of said male.   

I tried to imagine GG Grandpa Alex leading Yellowstone tours here 120 years ago, couldn't transform him from a faded photo to a real being. He and his father-in-law, Nelson Richmond, also helped build some of the initial park buildings. But Nelson and Celia’s life took a turn when their daughter, Emma, died in birthing her and Alex’s only child, Emmet. 

While Nelson and Celia took their grandchild back to Michigan, to raise him on the family farm, Alex stayed on out west. As I've already noted, he was hardly a stellar human being. Yet he went on to marry two more times, have other children and live a fascinating life: gold mining in the Klondike, running a hotel in Montana, and homesteading in Oregon before settling in Livingstone and Grass Range. 

Ah, I digress into genealogy, the reason for the season. 

We came back from the 12 hour tour exhausted. Had a reasonably decent meal at The Antler (Angus burger for me, elk and bison burger for Mom), drank too much, caught up with the news from home, and slept like logs. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Westward, Ho! Day 4(b)

Because this is a travel journal written by a middle-aged woman, it's okay that I forgot something. I really, really wanted to post a photo of the cemetery in Grass Range. 

No, we didn't actually have any personal dead bodies in Grass Range. But we thought we'd check out the cemetery, just in case. You never know when a related Young might pop up. Because, as you've probably noticed, Young is a relatively unusual name . . . .

Anyway, the Grass Range Cemetery was by far the most singular cemetery I've ever seen--and as a genealogist, I've seen a few! The grave decorations (is there a funereal-centric industry term for that?) were quite personal. And kitschy. And amusing.

The above photo is Dad Flaherty's resting place. I confess to wanting to memorialise what I initially saw as highly amusing cemetery decor. But the longer we wandered, the more embarrassed I was by that impulse. 

Dad has been gone a little while now. But his people still miss him. And that wrought-iron "Dad" sign? Well, I imagined it over my own Dad's grave and received a faint echo of the kick in the gut it would be to lose your father. 

Rest in peace, Dad Flaherty. You are not forgotten.

But I am still going to laugh at the chain link fences (see upper right corner of the photo) around many of the graves! Do fences really make good neighbors in a cemetery?!

The afternoon drive to Lewistown was, again, quite beautiful. Lots of high plains full of cattle and grasslands and so very much sky. One particularly interesting sight was an area of construction in the middle of a new wind farm. There were probably 50 huge windmills out there. They weren’t operating yet, so it was impossible to assess  just how much noise was going to be generated, in addition to power.  

But the presence of the windmills was quite eerie, making the land look like a scene from another planet. Or maybe that was just me!

We reached Lewistown again in mid-afternoon, having lunch at The Empire Café. It was similarly unprepossessing as was yesterday’s Café, but did have good reviews on Yelp. Mom said her BLT was the best she’s ever had! I had a very light and yummy fish sandwich. There were extremely large cinnamon rolls, which we heroically eschewed. 

Luck was with us, as we managed to stumble upon Emma Richmond’s tombstone at the Lewistown Cemetery. It was sweet to see that the otherwise selfish Alex had installed a very nice gravestone proclaiming Emma as a “Christian Woman and Devoted Wife.” 

Afterwards, Mom noted that perhaps he didn’t do that at all, that perhaps the Richmonds put up this monument to their daughter, instead. That would be more in keeping with Alex’s general reputation!

Next stop was Livingstone, where there were lots of Young sites and sights to see. We had hoped to take in several museums which would have been rich in the history of the time of our ancestor’s stay, but it was too late in the day.

First stop was, of course, the cemetery. Because I didn’t manage to get the exact locations of any of these graves, we wandered, looking. This time, it took a whole lot longer but, with some guidance from a worker, we found the Youngs all clustered together. 

GG Grandfather Alex was there, with his brother’s family. Alex and his 3 brother emigrated to the US from Canada. Their parents immigrated from Scotland and Ireland (my one Irish ancestor!) to New Brunswick. The father died young, and the family eventually was lured to the American West. 

One of his brothers, George Young, was an interesting character. He was Sheriff of Livingstone and died in a shoot-out in 1900. He has the coolest gravestone. Apparently he belonged to a fraternal organization called Woodmen of the World. More here. It was also noted that he was “faithful to the end.” Quite true, since he died doing his job.

Interestingly enough, this cemetery was also filled with Japanese-language headstones. We wondered, initially if they had been from World War II internment camps but the dates were 1900 to 1920-ish. Later googling indicated that many first generation Japanese immigrants helped build railroads across the north and northwest. Who knew?

We ended our day with an absolutely breathtaking evening drive to Gardiner, MT. A late dinner at the Yellowstone Mine was followed by a very early bedtime. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Westward, Ho! Day 4(a)

Thursday was an incredibly full day. As such, I'm going to break this journal into two posts. I've heard that not everyone is all that excited about genealogy, history and dead people. And this was really the Genealogy, History and Dead People Apex of the trip. 

The Young brothers emigrated from New Brunswick to Montana in the late 1880s. My Great Great Grandpa Alex Young was among them. 

Alex was, as far as this descendant can gather, a prick. Doesn't he even look just a touch full of himself in the above photo? His first wife, GG Grandma Emma Richmond, died a few days after giving birth to their only child, Emmet. Emma’s parents took Emmet back to Michigan and raised him. As one of Emmet’s sons said, “The only time Alex seemed to remember he had a son after that was when he could use him.” Alex didn’t see him again until Emmet was 15, when he sent for him. Emmet was then sent to Kalispell, MT. to prove up a homestead claim through the winter months. Alone. Did I mention that he was 15? 

Emmet returned to Montana later with his wife, Minnie. Again, his father asked him to come help, offering a job. Emmet’s son explained: “When they got there, Emmet found Alex to be very penurious—paying very little and expecting rent for their house. Emmet found there was better pay in Kendall in the mines so they upped anchor and he left his ‘papa’ for greener pastures.” 

So, back to Alex and Emmet’s descendants: After an early rising, we went backwards (otherwise known as east) to Grass Range, MT. We had photos of Emmet and Minnie living there, as well as a photo of Alex’s Young’s Hotel (on the right), so we definitely wanted to see it in daylight. 

Oh my, it is still a gritty little town. Lots of old buildings with lots of crummy additions, there were a few buildings that definitely dated back to Alex’s time. Because Mom was willing to chat up the natives, we learned a lot. Found out that Alex’s Hotel had been moved by a Hutterite colony a few miles up the road and was still in use. 

We hit the local Mercantile after a friendly woman informed us that there was a big history book of the area for sale there. The owner of said Mercantile, whose name escapes me at the moment, was one of the writers of said book. He was very helpful, showed us a small squib about Alex in the book, which we promptly bought. The book, not the squib. 

Wanting to see if the old Hotel still stood, we next visited the Hutterite Colony. Their history is interesting (Anabaptists, communal living and pacificism); go here to read more about them. This Colony's main occupation is meat processing. Richard Stahl, a middle-aged Hutterite with lovely blue eyes, spent a half an hour with us, regaling us with stories of his meat processing. He sent us to the older woman who had raised her children in the Hotel building. Turns out it had fallen down some time in the past 10 years or so. But he thought she might have a picture of it. 

So we visited with Old Woman Hutterite and her family for 30 minutes. She was very sweet and funny, showing us a bunch of family photos (guess they aren't the flavor that avoids graven images) from the 70s and 80s, many of which were shot in the building in question. We did get to see one photo of the outside of the building. It was made of tin—or tiled with tin, probably more accurately. Very, very cool!

The Hutterite woman all dressed very modestly, with heads covered and in dark clothes. Their pretty dark purples and blues reminded me of the Amish. But the old woman had a cell phone, and told us all about the film that National Geographic was showing about the Hutterites (which they didn’t much care for!)

She had a grandson, Cardell, hanging about who had Down’s Syndrome. He really wanted our attention, which we gladly gave him. He wasn’t terribly verbal, but we managed to make friends.  She also had a teenage granddaughter, who wore the Hutterite clothing, as well as makeup and mismatched socks. And she said “Holy Crap!” The Hutterite Detour took a hunk out of our day, but was interesting and fun, and an adventure. 

We traveled on to the ghost town of Kendall, Montana, where Grandma Dorothy Young Streeter (aka Mom’s mom) was born. It was remote, remote, remote. Nobody around for miles and miles. I think Mom was a little bit freaked as we followed the directions to Nowwhere! But, eventually, we reached Nowwhere. 

As the descriptions had indicated, there were a number of ruins at the site, which was fun to see and use to imagine Emmett and Minnie’s life there with their children, Dorothy and Norm.

Kendall was a gold mining town. As mentioned earlier, Emmet came there to work in the mines, after his attempt at working with his dad didn’t pan out. Mines? Pan? A little Gold Rush humor there . . . . He worked in the mines briefly, then began working in the mining office, which was a step up and a raise in pay. 

Minnie, meanwhile, was home with Dorothy and Norm. Emmet praised her as a “crack shot” bringing home not the bacon, but the muskrat and rabbit.

The gold mining here was accomplished by blasting rocks with cyanide. Amazing. But the town, and the mine, died in about 20 years. The only current residents were several herds of cattle, who were clearly were not happy with my photographing presence. They stared and disappeared.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Westward, Ho! Day 3

Wednesday was a long day of driving. But the day flew by faster than the miles. Or perhaps because of those miles, as gazing out of our windows was wonderfully engrossing. North Dakota is beautiful. Montana is beautiful. 

Why do people ever move away from these places? Why (other than the blizzard-weary Lintemuths) did the rest of my ancestors leave the west and go back to Michigan? Family and money, not necessarily in that order, seem to be the only rational explanations. 

The drive provided abundant demonstration of why Montana is called the Big Sky. OMG. Really. (Yes, we’re serving fine writing here at the middle-aged woman travel journal.) I have always, always longed to see these endless skies of the upper West. I didn’t realize how much I’d talked about it until Annie reported back to me after her trip to Fargo this summer that the vistas made her think of me and my longing. 

Well, my longing has not been sated. More like teased, I’d guess. The sky made me feel small. Not in an “I don’t matter” kind of way, but in a perspective-giving, my-problems-are-relatively-small kind of way.  

We spent the day ooohing and ahhing and discussing family history. Which was a very lovely way to spend a day. 

We lunched at the exceedingly plain and thus quaint Medina Café in Medina, North Dakota, where everybody knew everybody else’s name. The food was adequate to good, and it was fun to surreptitiously ogle the locals.  

We reached the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and attendant northern badlands in the later afternoon. Again, we were glad to have internet access, as I read aloud lots of materials on badlands and other geological features of the area. Got out and took lots of photos, of course, none of which do the slightest justice to reality. 

Did you know that cattle have tunnels? I didn’t. The tunnels ran right under the expressway. And we saw a LOT of cattle. And grasslands. And rolling grasslands. And more cattle. Wow. Black Angus. Made me hungry for a good burger! 

We switched off driving pretty steadily throughout all of these days. Poor Mom tried hard not to rip the car door off its hinges with anxiety while I drove too fast. She leaned a lot. And I spent some time biting my tongue, wanting to see the speedometer move up a bit during her turns! 

I do enjoy an open highway. And the western states have wisely bumped up their speed limits to 75mph. I felt quite justified, nay, encouraged to 80mph. I believe that driving as fast as one can safely do so is a God-given right possessed by all Michiganders. I'll be happy to pass the right along to all Illinoisans, too. :-) 

The Rule (by me) is that I can drive 8 mph over the posted and designated speed limit on Interstate Highways. Except in Wisconsin, where lurks the State Police around every single frickin' curve, just waiting to catch someone with Illinois plates speeding. 

The Addendum to The Rule (by me) is that I cannot purposefully drive over 80 mph. 81 is Just Too Damn Fast. It makes my heart race past the vroom-vroom stage to the I'm-going-to-die stage. 

Have you noticed that this travel experience seems to be producing a unusually high percentage of dash/hyphens and over-Capitalizations? Just another example of the fine writing served here at the middle-aged woman travel journal

We drove into Lewistown, Montana, quite late. No time or light to search out cemeteries. Landed at the again very adequate B&B Motel and crashed into sleep in moments, after a late and supremely unsatisfying Micky Dee run. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Westward, Ho! Day 2

Between Annie’s eagerness to get to St. Olaf and our eagerness to get driving, we were up and out of Rochester by 8:00am. Annie was positively levitating--when she wasn’t on the verge of an anxiety attack. Love those mixed emotions. But levitating won out, and she ran SCREAMING out of the car to the dorm to greet friends and roomies. 

She’s in a quad this year, and the room is massive. Much fun will be had, as she loves her roomies, and has the Fearsome Foursome to watch her back. I am so glad for her.

Mom and I stayed for about 20 minutes. Then I started to get REALLY antsy. We were clearly extraneous, as much as Annie would have liked for me to stay all day long and schmooze with her friends. We took off after long hugs and assurances that I’d see her in three weeks.

Time to pull out my precision maps and itinerary!  We took a few moments to figure out what we were doing. We attempted to figure out how to work the brand spanking new GPS. We stopped for more coffee. Then, zoom! Off to North Dakota. 

Well, first we had to drive through most of Minnesota--lovely, beautiful, hilly Minnesota. I like it there. We took turns driving. I enjoyed playing with technology, as I figured out how to use both the GPS system and Mom’s new Android. It was much fun having internet access while driving through new territory. Lots of questions to Google!

Internet access meant we could use Yelp to find great (or at least palatable) restaurants along the way. We stopped for lunch at the kitchy yet good Viking Café in Fergus Fall, MN where we had yummy chicken dumpling soup. 

Before dinner, we made our first genealogy stop. My Great Great Grandparents (Lewis Lintemuth and Ida Laser) homesteaded outside of Grand Forks. And my G Grandmother, Anna, was born on that homestead. I found the original plat and, eventually, figured out the exact location of the two acres Lewis and Ida bought in 1886. 

Lewis and Ida only stayed there a few years. The winter of 1888, memorably recounted in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The Long Winter”, discouraged them. They went back to Michigan, where both of their families lived. 

It was impossible to recall those blizzards on the warm and sunny afternoon, as we walked the property. It is still mostly farm country. I took photos of Mom, and thought about how much she loved her Grandma Anna.

Later, dinner was great at The Blue Moose Bar and Grill in Grand Forks, with walleye, gimlets and sweet potato French fries. Shortly thereafter, Mom literally dropped into bed upon arriving at the really lovely Spring Hills Marriot in Grand Forks (fresh and new, with the best breakfast buffet I’ve had on this side of the Atlantic.)  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Westward, Ho! Day 1

I am into genealogy. Enough into it that Annie once asked me if I loved genealogy more than her! Along my maternal line, we have a passel of relatives that, like many of their time, went west to seek a better life. Also on my mind of late has been travel. I’ve never taken a driving trip west beyond Minneapolis, and have had a deep yearning to do so pretty much forever.

Combine these two enthusiasms and stir in a conversation with my mom, who shares my enthusiasm for related dead people, if not quite my yen for big skies, mountains and prairies and the result? Two weeks later, we were in the car for 7 days, clutching a hastily planned itinerary to see sites and sights. Thelma and Louise ride again! I’ll be posting my travel journal in small doses during the next week, starting today.

Day 1: Monday, September 3
So the day started out on a surprisingly timely note, as Mom was already up and drinking coffee by 7:30am. This is NOT her normal time of rising—nor is it mine! But we all got moving in a relatively orderly fashion, and left the house only 15 minutes later than planned, which was 15 minutes earlier than I had anticipated.

Annie, of course, fell asleep the night before without packing. We were all grateful that most of her college stuff was still at college, as she spent the summer in Northfield, so packing in an hour was achievable.

Having Grandma traveling with us meant that I behaved in a more civilized fashion than usual. No, her presence didn’t keep me from driving like a bat out of hell. But it did mean I stopped at restaurants to eat, rather than eating salad out of a bag while driving.  

Don’t ask. J

Our drive was uneventful and, by late afternoon, we were receiving the enthusiastic (and moist) greetings of Ruby and Penny, the Allen dogs. Fortunately, Ann, Paul and Grace greeted us less moistly and with a satisfactory amount of enthusiasm.

Much humorous conversation, good food, and generous drinkage followed. Such is always the case during a visit to the Allens. An early bedtime ensued, as we all wanted to start our adventures well-rested.