Friday, August 29, 2008

Aware of all internet traditions.

Probably you have already seen the evidence of yearbookyourself.com floating around on blogs and flickr, and I will admit that I spent like an hour last Saturday making yearbook photos of myself and the Brit.

However, none of them are as funny as the ones Em just did for the kids.

I have been laughing so hard that I am crying, and I had to close the door of my office.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fun home.

I know already told you about this, but I can order library books from the educational institution at which I work and these books will be sent to my office via campus mail, which is magically wonderful. I ordered a load of books on Monday and there they were yesterday, waiting for me after a long day of (potentially useful) training. It is so nice to get a pile of books delivered.

Last night instead of mouldering in front of the TV, I made a crazy veggie Reuben for the Brit and then started in on Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. I would have ripped through this book in one sitting, but I've been up late reading too many nights this week and HAVE TO GET SOME SLEEP. So I picked up the book again this morning and finished it on the bus, and guess what that meant? It meant I had to put my sunglasses on before I got off the bus because I was starting to cry. Not like big ugly snotface crying, just the silent eyespill kind.

I had never read anything by Alison Bechdel before, though I knew about her from various interviews and whatnots over the years--nor had I ever read an entire graphic novel/memoir/etc, which is my bad. I can't say enough good things about this book, which is incredibly literate, elegant, evocative, moving, and beautiful. It's essentially Bechdel's attempt to come to terms with her father, who may or may not have killed himself, and the story moves fluidly back and forth throughout Bechdel's childhood and young adulthood. It's illustrated with scraps of family and national history, excerpts from literature, mythological references; it's part essay, part archive; it's a little bit like watching someone's family movies spliced together with a searingly intellectual and achingly emotional commentary. Highly recommended.

Also, if you want to be my friend on Goodreads, shoot me some email.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The list.

I might do a buy-nothing til 2009 starting with my birthday next month. That's not much of a commitment, but considering it encompasses the holidays and I love giving gifts to people, it's pretty serious. Just throwing it out there.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

You probably find yourself wondering whether it is hard being an idiot. In one sense it is easy, since when you are being an idiot, stupid things just keep happening to you without much effort on your part, but on the other hand it is hard, because those stupid things might cause you to hurt yourself. The worst is when you are congratulating yourself for being smart, because for example you made a big batch of concentrated tea for iced tea, and then it turns out that you are actually an idiot because you put the lukewarm glass jug of tea in the freezer for a bit last night and then you forgot about it until today when you were hankering for some iced tea.

By then the jug is split open all down the sides and you are flummoxed enough by this that you disassemble it in two separate bowls that quickly fill up with ice shards, and you spend five minutes wondering whether you can salvage the solid, jug-shaped block of tea you now have in your hands, and meanwhile your hands are getting frostbite because you've run out of places to set the frozen teablock. You finally get rid of the glass, rinse the tea block thoroughly, and defrost it in the microwave, deciding simultaneously to cook a black bean burger on the stovetop, and you promptly forget about the burger while checking your email. Fortunately it hasn't burnt to a crisp by the time you remember it, but still you end up saying to the cat, "it's hard being an idiot."

In addition, you have a bug bite on your ankle that you have scratched so thoroughly, it is now a bruise. This despite the presence of after-bite treatment in your bathroom.

Running with the night, playing in the shadows.

Does anyone know how to get a coffee stain out of superfine merino wool? I did a dumb-ass maneuver with two cups of coffee and a screen door while we were in MT and managed to scald my bosom and possibly ruin a $55 t-shirt (I only paid $30). At least it was good coffee. While I'm on the subject, let me advocate wool t-shirts for a minute. It seems counter-intuitive, but the stuff is so fine and soft you would never know what the fiber was, and it wicks and dries and keeps you warm or cool depending on your needs. Miraculous.

I don't know how things are going where you are, but here the evenings are noticeably cooler and the days are noticeably shorter. These are the kind of details that cause you to feel desperate and fatalistic about the summer, and to start plotting about things like how exactly you are going to get exercise when the snow flies. Realistically, I know I have 2-3 months of biking left before I have to pack it in or buy a whole bunch of cold weather gear, but still: these are the feelings I have this time of year.

Wendell recently did a sprint triathlon and has reawakened my desire to do one, so it's going to be on my list for next year, which list is incidentally going to be called Things to Do in My 35th Year. I'm not sure what else is going to be on the list yet, but my birthday is only a few weeks away, so I'll have to figure it out soon. With a triathlon is on my list, there will be some corollary list items such as obtain a road bike, brush the hell up on my swimming, run longer distances, and maybe get a more cheerleaderish attitude when I'm working by myself. A funny thing about me is that I can get very WE CAN DO IT YES WE CAN when I'm doing physically challenging stuff with people, but in practice I mostly fly solo. Hm. Maybe I should work with other people more, and put that on my list too.

For today, however, I have a short and boring list that I should start attacking. Seeya.

Friday, August 15, 2008

And now he only eats guitars.

Dom made a new karaoke rule last night: any time there is a musical break in your song, you have to rap. This rule was based on the fact that there is a 46-measure musical break in the last song I sang, Cheryl Lynn's "Got to be Real," and I filled it by dancing around like a tool, singing some "zoohoos," and by doing part of the rap from Blondie's "Rapture" and then part of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air rap. Rapping is really an excellent solution because it's funny, incongruous (assuming you bust a rhyme from a completely different song), and precludes standing there nervously looking around waiting for your next singing cue while the backing track plays. You should try it.

I think I have also gotten past the point where I feel like I need to be two beers in in order to karaokeify, which is a good thing.

Em took lots of pictures. I'll post when I can.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I would advise you against defensiveness on principle. It precludes the best eventualities along with the worst. At the most basic level, it expresses a lack of faith. As I have said, the worst eventualities can have great value as experience. And often enough, when we think we are protecting ourselves, we are struggling against our rescuer.
--Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

In the bastard-hottest part of our drive home on Saturday, my AC failed to start up. Through about an hour of eastern MT, the car blew bastard-hot air every time we tried to turn the thing on. I was driving 75 (the actual speeding limit) with the window partway down, the better to blow bastard-hot air at me from outdoors.

The idea of driving across the entire state of NoDak with no AC was horrible to contemplate. I finally pulled off the freeway and stopped the car to go and ask about a service station, but instead started the car back up on the Brit's suggestion, and the AC was back on track. Cool air, voila, you probably saved my relationship and you definitely saved my road trip. From then on it was just baked hills and fields of sunflowers. Wayward sunflowers spring up on the highway median, too, where seeds have blown across fences.

Much later, we were rolling up to Bismarck in the rain and I asked the Brit what he wanted to do, and he said "let's just keep going," and that is how I ended up spending 15 hours in the car that day. We spent a lot of the day listening to Devil in the White City, an account of the architects of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the serial killer who exploited the Fair for his own ends. It is extremely well-written popular history, very fascinating and likely to lead you down a serious Wikipedia rabbit hole, if you're inclined that way. (I am, which is why I never posted this on Monday when I started writing it.) Once the rain blew over, we saw the entire arc of a rainbow in front of us. I actually can't remember the last time I saw a full rainbow.

Since we got back, I've pulled most of the weeds in the backyard, won trivia (along with Team Bootie Queen) and added to my Jagermeister t-shirt collection as a result, and gotten soaked on my bike thanks to afternoon rainshowers. My shoes actually filled up with water, as did my pants. I am reading Zorro by Isabel Allende. I watched a lot of swimming and gymnastics last night. I have not yet scrubbed the cooler. I am still in vacation mode.

Friday, August 08, 2008

My day in the hills has come to an end: part 3.

Today I found a piece of white quartz as big as my head, in the middle of a pile of scree otherwise flat gray and streaked with rust brown and covered in lichens. For about 20 seconds I did think about putting it in my backpack to carry it home, and then I realized how stupid that would be. Not only would no one else ever have the pleasure of discovering it, but my hike back down the mountain would have been very, very crappy with a 25 pound rock in my backpack.

Quartz.

We followed a trail near the camp to get to this pile of scree, which was not specifically our destination. It was just where we ended up, and we didn't know where the trail would take us. The trailhead is very distinct and well marked, with a significant parking lot and informational signs at the beginning of the trail, but there are also two signs specifically warning you that the trail is not maintained. Lots of people had been dismissive of the trail earlier in the week. "Oh Speculator," they said, "that one just sort of peters out." We figured we'd try it anyway. If nothing else, we knew no one would be on the trail, and that was most certainly true.

Cairns, the only way to find the trail.

As it turns out, the trail is just fine. If you follow the cairns through the meadow, you wind up in the forest and the trail from that point on is perfectly distinct, taking you up up up and over the shoulder of the mountain and down into a valley next to the rushing creek for which the trail is named. There are some excellent views of distant peaks and plenty of impressive boulders along the way.

I am mighty.

There was some deadfall on the trail, but nothing we couldn't just step over or limbo under. Next to the creek, things got a little bit more swampy and the fallen logs were much bigger--in short, the going was rougher and the trail got harder to follow. This was after almost two hours of hiking, though. So the pile of scree became our stopping point. We found a big table of a rock and ate our lunch on it.

Self-portraits.

It's so easy to feel good while you're hiking up a hill.

We missed all the bad weather while we were hiking. Once we got back to camp, though, there were a few lightweight rumbles of thunder and steady showers until dinner, the first real rain of the week. We hung out on the porch with Willa and my sister and brother in law for awhile, and then got under a sleeping bag and snoozed the afternoon away. When the rain let up, after supper, some of the clouds detached themselves and settled right in the valley, drifting down into the trees and billowing up over the river like smoke. The sky opened up and lit the peaks in time for sunset, and we walked up the road to the beachlet and I picked rocks. I found what I think is petrified wood, and then I just filled my pockets with a bunch of other stones. I pick up rocks wherever I go. There's probably still a box of them in my parents' attic.

In camp.

Willa has been off the chain today. She says "hi" very distinctly, and at the appropriate moments. She sings ba ba ba and trills her lips and basically just has her own walking music, except that instead of walking she is doing that exact loopy crawl that Henry had, one leg folded under so as to come easily to a sitting position and the other one loping along straight up like it would rather be walking. I said "getchu" once in casual conversation and she squealed and started hustling away. Today she bit her own foot hard enough to make herself cry. When her dad peeled off her Robeez, there was an imprint on her toe.

Bebe.

The boys, meanwhile, have basically been feral this week. It's nice for them to be able to get up in the morning, go outside, and essentially be safe anywhere they go on the grounds. They've got freedom here that they don't have at home. Tonight after dinner they actually smeared themselves with mud, head to toe. It was the fourth grade girl's idea. She must be enjoying her power.

Last night was the variety show and I belted my way through a song from Carousel, picked out of an aged and crumbling pile of sheet music from the compound up the road. A woman I remember babysitting played the piano for me. My bro in law wrote and read a lovely poem, and Henry told jokes, and Jude did his song (easily the tightest act in the whole show), and the traditional choral stuff got trotted out and there were some other acts. There was nothing *truly* embarrassing in the whole show, which was both a relief and a disappointment. The Brit managed to get through it all right, which is saying something. He even sang with the men's group. My dad emceed in his kilt.

Today was our last full day. Tomorrow is breakfast, then checkout, then the long drive home, never as fun as the drive to your destination, especially when you are driving across the relentless plains. We toyed with going through SoDak for a change of pace, but fear that Sturgis will mean not only wacky traffic but also no open motel rooms along the way. So I think we're pointing Golden Large (my car) toward Bismarck, where I may start, at long last, deploying these belated vacation posts.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

My day in the hills has come to an end: part 2.

As it turns out, the wireless internets at this place is jive. I asked the manager if there was something special I needed to do in order to be able to get online. "Yeah, you know," he said, in pleasant, spacey bewilderment, "it just doesn't really seem to be working." Full stop, no elaboration, no plans to correct the issue. Dude's main job seems to be moving the sprinklers to the appropriate locations and overall maintenance of the irrigation system, which runs constantly here. Oh well. I said I had mixed feelings about the availability of wifi out here in the wilderness anyway. For five days I haven't even thought about the fact that I have a job, or jobs, if you want to be accurate about it. Haven't missed my phone. Haven't missed being online.

Here are some things I have been doing instead.

Fishing.

Today was the first day of the Brit's two-day fishing license. I'm not interested in fishing, really, even though I suspect I would love the zen oneness and supreme focus of the activity itself--so I rode along on the first two outings (post-breakfast and post-lunch) and spent the entire day sitting on the river in my Crazy Creek chair and reading my book, and occasionally photo-documenting the day. The Brit caught an enviably large rainbow trout within his first hour, like the biggest one my dad has seen in these parts in years, thereby gaining for himself fairly instant notoriety throughout the camp. My dad cooked it on his camp stove and they shared it out at lunchtime. I took lots of pictures.

The catch.

The post-lunch trip was less successful for the Brit, but we nonetheless passed hours in and next to the river. I'm working on a Wally Lamb book right now and will probably be done with it tomorrow. If I do another day of accompanying the fisherfolk and watching, as my dad calls it, The River Channel, I'll need to start in on another book. I'm working my way through the pile my mom brought me after she read my post about her book-pushing.

Yesterday we did one of the easier hikes, a long series of switchbacks that brings you up to a spectacular overlook, a meadow, and then another meadow. In the second meadow, we stopped and ate our bag lunches, sandwiches and chips and food service grapefruit sections, which are delicious. They're pre-sectioned, membrane-free, verrry slightly sweetened, super-refreshing. I ganked them from the breakfast bar. All around us were evergreen mountains, snowy peaks, blue sky, and golden meadow. Had I been wearing a dirndl, I would have spun in the field singing "the hills are alive."

Our destination, more or less.

As it is, I've had the song in my head for days. I foolishly left the sheet music at home and will have to sing something else at tomorrow night's variety show. A variety show at which, I should mention, Jude is planning to do "rock-n-roll Itsy Bitsy Spider." He was asked if he'd be doing the hand motions. "No," he said, "because I have to play air guitar."

Henry has lost yet another tooth. He spent today receiving and transmitting ghost stories about the camp, completely fabricated by a fourth grade girl--by which I mean there is no tradition of these stories in the camp, and they could not be corroborated. He is going to be worried about going into the buildings and, let's face it, trying to sleep tonight. Molly tried to do damage control, but I think it's too late. Sleeping has been bad enough without the threat of the supernatural. Every night has been like Christmas Eve for Henry, and if he wakes up as he invariably does in the wee hours, he starts thinking about all the things there are to do. Between that and Willa getting a few more top teeth in addition to the chiclet-looking front ones she's sporting, I don't think my sister's gotten many hours of sleep.

Boyses.

Best. Ever.

Down in the field, some of the older kids are playing softball. My dad and his cousin, Cuz (whose Pittsburgh accent does my heart good), and the Brit have all gone off for another round of fishing, and if I knew what was good for me, I'd walk the mile or so down the road to meet up with them. The food here is carby and abundant; I leave just about every meal feeling stuffed if not bloated, and lard knows I didn't get any exercise today. I console myself with the fact that merely subsisting at this altitude requires more calories than usual.

Tomorrow I'll try to hike again. After we got above the second meadow yesterday, we were having to stop every fifty feet or so to catch our breath. Under normal circumstances I can push my muscles if I'm tired on a climb, but when you can't get enough oxygen, you pretty much just have to stop. Plus, whatever was growing in the meadow practically felled the Brit, allergically-speaking. I was glad we turned around when we did. On the road back to camp, we ran into my dad and Cuz fishing on a little rocky beach. "Bring some beers down from the car and pop them into the river for awhile," he invited us, which is pretty much exactly what you want to hear if you're hot and sweaty and footsore.

Chillaxing.

We parked our asses next to the river and stripped off our wool socks. Dad had driven a family friend from Bozeman--someone I persist in thinking of as a kid even though he is in his late 20s--upriver to kayak down through Hell's Canyon. The kid's dog was placidly keeping watch next to my dad, waiting for his person to surf in, and occasionally snapping at and munching on flies. We drank the beers and loafed and watched the kids from the camp--the ones who work here--swimming in the frigid water and getting up the nerve to jump off the rock face on the other side of the river. My dad wedged himself comfortably between several rocks until it looked like he was sitting in a la-z-boy.

Dad.

So you see, I am not really feeling the loss of the internet, or wondering what to do with myself. After meals, for example, I could sit and watch Willa breakdance on the floor for hours, and that would supply half the day's entertainment. Sometimes I wish we all lived in a commune.

Monday, August 04, 2008

My day in the hills has come to an end: part 1.

[NB: I'm deploying these posts after the fact. Turns out camp wifi was but a dream, which was just as well, since spending the whole week unplugged was definitely in order.]

Picturesque parking lot.

I'm now blogging at you from our destination, which is right on a semi-harrowing unpaved road much better suited to a 4 X 4 than to my low-slung floating sofa of a vehicle. The drive is a little bit white-knuckley, and when it's not white-knuckley it's still slow and jarring. My sister and brother in law wound up with a flat tire, but fortunately not until their minivan had reached our destination and sat overnight in the aftermath of being cruelly punctured. We discovered it today, which is preferable to discovering it on the day you want to leave.

Let me get one thing straight: it's beautiful here and no one really cares what you do while you're in camp. You can hike, fish, or do nothing, and all will be appreciated equally if you tell someone else about your day's activities. However, this is not really where you come to vacation if you're not interested in talking to strangers, eating communally, or being somewhat flexible about sleeping arrangements. I remember thinking, when I came here with my family two years ago, WHAT did I get myself into? I, who once showed up in Aspen for the summer with no place to live, who lived in a retirement community with a 75 year old globetrotting butcher's daughter in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for a few weeks, who slept in a dilapidated old house atop a former cemetery in a Colorado mining town for 3 months, who once camped alone on the shore of Lake Superior--even I was sort of overwhelmed by the old-home-dayness of this place. I mean, it's someone else's family reunion, after all. Some of these people have been coming here for close to 50 years.

Anyway, it's a camp. Did you ever go to camp? If so, your memories of the layout and sleeping quarters are probably pretty accurate. The first place we were assigned to sleep (along with my parents) looked, as the Brit said, like the set of a horror movie: dripping water, chewed foam mattresses, decrepit bunks, spooky paint. We were properly horrified. The second place, where we slept last night, was much cleaner and better maintained, but oh man. Have you ever tried to sleep while people walk in and out of an open-plan, uninsulated wooden structure? Everything is amplified, even someone rolling over in his sleeping bag in the next room. It's impossible. This circumstance led to urgent whispered consultations in the night, complete with threats of leaving the next day.

This morning, however, I got some help in scouting out new sleeping quarters, made possible by the last minute shuffle of other people. Thank you, other people. You have spared us further conflict and/or exhaustion, I hope. We're in a wee cabin, very LHOTP, with electric lights but no water, plus a woodburning stove, and actual beds with firm mattresses (in that way unlike LHOTP). Next door, my sister and her family are cramming into roughly the same amount of space, except they have the random toilet right in the single room, across from Willa's Pack & Play. I think their cabin has been designated a "no dumping" station, if you know what I mean.

Home away from home.

A few yards away from our front stoop, a streamlet meanders down to the Boulder River. We spent a good half an hour with Jude earlier today sailing rubber duckies down the stream and racing to catch them in frog nets. This is really good fun, maybe even better than using the nets for their intended purpose. The duckies get caught in the pipes beneath the walkways, and then get pushed out and rush on down toward the road. We also played Wellie Tossing, which apparently those wacky Brits do over in the old country (or the alt country, as I like to call it). Jude liked his boots better in the air than on his feet.

Wellie tossing.
(That is a wellie in the air, and the Brit, having hurled it.)

We were thinking about doing a hike today, but after racing around with Henry and Jude it became evident that we're not acclimated to the altitude yet. No big deal. I bet we'll eat our brown-bag lunch as an evening snack, and we'll spend the day loafing around, and get our hike on tomorrow. Critter count so far is 2 rockchucks and one snowshoe hare. Fortunately none of them were in our cabin.

I see the wifi signal but can't connect to the internets yet. That I am blogging at you at all is evidence of my total confidence that I will eventually get online.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

You are here.

I'm blogging at you from Glendive, Montana, which means that I decided to go ahead and bring a laptop along on my rustic vacation. If nothing else, it will enable me to get pictures off my camera as I take them, and since I'll apparently have access to a wireless signal when we're in camp, that means I'll be posting photos to flickr just about every day I'm gone, even if I'm not giving you blog-style updates.

Glendive is all about the dinosaurs. We're going to Makoshika State Park in a bit to check out some dino bones and break in my new boots. I am a little bit tempted to go to the creationist dinosaur museum, but I think I would have a hard time not scoffing audibly. I can't find anything about it on the interwebs, but our hosts here at the B & B said that there was one in addition to the regular paleontology museum. Have mercy.

Anyway, we walked around town last night, fending off clouds of gnats, checking out the depressed and boarded-up and vandalized businesses, and could not help but take note of the dino sculptures and murals everywhere you look. Even the courthouse boasts a painted t-rex munching a bloody carcass in its front hall. Let that be a warning to offenders. As we walked, a pair of soggy teenagers carrying innertubes, fresh out of the Yellowstone River, pleasantly said howdy and offered us a beer from their duffel bag.

In short, there's not much going on here, but the accommodations are awesome.

It was 105 degrees yesterday, and today won't be much cooler. After the state park, I want to hit Terry, MT, home of 19th century Wild West photographer Evelyn Cameron, who sounds like an amazing character. Then we're off to meet up with my folks along the Boulder River. It won't be quite as comfortable tonight, since we'll be sleeping on the ground, but we'll have the sound of the river right next to us. I'll report when I can.