Summer Road Trip, part three

So, who’s still interested in the vacation we took last summer?

Okay, so here’s what I figure.

1.  There’s another summer coming up and people are trying to plan their vacations and might need some pretty pictures for inspiration.

2. That son of a bitch Trump has decided to start taking away our national parks and monuments because he’s the worst person in the world.

3.  I still want to show off our trip.

And that’s why, here we go again…

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Grand Teton National Park was up next.  After the heat of the Utah parks, the cooler temperatures were welcome.  Green!  Snow capped mountains!  Bears!  (Wait, what?)

We swapped the deathly heat for grizzly bears.  And black bears.  And bear attack warnings and instructions on what to do if one charges at you and bear spray.  As one way to avoid an attack is to make sure you don’t sneak up on a bear, we were told to make noise so as not so surprise a Mama bear and her cubs.  That was E’s job, as he’s the chatterbox of our bunch.  He talked the whole hike.

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Our hike brought us to a beautiful mountain lake where I would have happily spent hours relaxing with a bottle of bear spray but we still had more hiking to do.

That evening, as we were headed back to our hotel room, we stumbled on an animal jam, a traffic backup caused when one of the bigger animals can be sighted along the road.  In this case it was a grizzly and her two young cubs.  We pulled over to the side, pointed our eyes in the direction everyone else’s very long camera lenses were trained and squinted at the edge of the forest.  There they were!  And at a good enough distance that the spray could stay in its holster.  Binoculars were necessary to get a good view (my camera couldn’t even do the job) but we got to see them.  Check!

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The next morning we had breakfast with the most spectacular view you could ask for, then headed north just a bit and drove into our next national park, Yellowstone.

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Yellowstone, the original national park, has the weirdest natural features I’ve ever seen.  I mean really, truly weird.  Everyone knows about Old Faithful, the famous geyser, but that’s just the beginning.  The park is packed with geysers, bubbling lakes, escaping steam, acidic streams, petrified forests, and the largest lake within the park is settled inside the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano in North America.  At any moment, the entire park could blow into the air, which signs warn you about, so don’t say no one told you.

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Other things that might kill you, even if you escape an explosion that blows apart northern Montana include wolves, bears, herds of bison, forest fires, earthquakes (reported hourly), boiling to death in any of the hot springs, or dissolving in an acidic pool.  Yeah, they’ve all happened.  We stayed on the paths.  Close to the bear spray.

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You could easily spend a month in Yellowstone and never run out of paths to hike, colorful pools to marvel at, bizarre burping springs to wonder about, or elk to stumble on.  It’s huge and wonderful and I hope we get to return.

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Yellowstone was as far north as we would make it on this trip out west.  So we turned our rental car south and headed back toward Utah.  As there were still so many parks to see….

Summer Road Trip, part two

 Utah is full of national parks.  In fact, the area has such amazing scenery that it seems almost arbitrary as to which parts became protected parks and which parts are just… Utah.  Moab has not just Arches nearby but also Canyonlands just a few extra minutes up the road.  So that’s where we went next.


I have to admit, coming right on the heels of a trip to the Grand Canyon, I wasn’t thinking I’d be too impressed with yet another, lesser known, canyon.  I was wrong.




The temperature was intense.  Again.  This part of the world is brutally hot, dry, and at high altitude.  I was really surprised how effected I was by the elevation.  Hiking up hills is hard enough in 100 degree heat.  Add in elevation and breathing is that much harder.




Evidently, it’s not just the heat that can get you.  Canyonlands is the park where the guy fell in the crevasse and had to cut off his own arm to get out.  I’m telling you, it’s rough out there.




Even outside of the parks the scenery is beautiful.  And prehistoric.  Utah is famous for its fossils and rocks.







The next morning we said goodbye to Moab and continued north, through a town named Dinosaur, on our way to Dinosaur National Monument which sits across the Utah and Colorado border.  See?  Dinosaurs are big out there.




With only a short amount of time to see the area, we chose to see the most interesting part of the park.  We hopped on a shuttle and took a short ride to the Quarry, a partially excavated wall with a mix of dinosaur fossils visible.




The next part of our trip would send us out of the heat and desert-dry conditions.  The elevation would stick with us, though.

Summer Road Trip, part one… Headed West

Our grand plan to continue traveling once we got back to the United States quickly fizzled.  It wasn’t that we didn’t want to take adventures, but life got in the way and “travel” turned into “visiting family” and that’s kind of far from adventure.  But then winter hit, with its cold, and long work days and long school days and the doldrums that include laundry and the grocery store.  A travel plan was made in order to have something to look forward to.  Something to organize that didn’t revolve around dinner menus or school clothes.

We chose a part of the United States that was as completely different as our current living situation is.  We wanted to come back from this trip, look around and think, “Man, Ohio is dull.”  Pack your bags, kids!  We’re headed west!


We flew to Las Vegas.  The kids were not impressed.  Who can blame them?  Las Vegas is adult world but then we got them to the pool, which, in typical Las Vegas fashion, was empty.  People don’t swim at a Vegas pool.  They lounge.  More water space for my kids!



Asian tour groups document everything.

From Vegas we rented a car and hit the road.  First stop, the Hoover Dam.



We explained to the kids that the Hoover Dam provided all the power for Las Vegas and that without it, the city wouldn’t exist.  They seemed perfectly fine with a world with no Vegas but they were impressed with the dam.

We got back in the car, pumped the air conditioning, and drove back out into the desert with a goal of seeing at least part of historic Route 66.


Somewhere along the road, Ben mentioned that it seemed patently ridiculous that there is actual talk of trying to colonize Mars when there is clearly so very much space left in the American west that absolutely no one touches.  Because, while the land out the window seemed pretty inhospitable to me, compared to Mars?  Paradise.



The old Route 66 and other, not quite major highway roads that weave through the west really are just as you imagine them.  Mostly deserted, peppered with tiny towns that have seen better days, dusty and dry.  About ten years ago they all tried to capitalize on the movie Cars so at every gas station you’ll find an old tow truck with two big teeth painted on the front as an ode to Tow Mater and dying gift shops that have renamed themselves some form of Radiator Springs.




That evening we reached the first of seven national parks and monuments that were part of our itinerary.  And it was a big one.  The Grand Canyon.


Of all of us, I’m the only one who’s ever seen it before and I was looking forward to everyone’s reaction when they first got a glimpse.  Truth be told, there is nothing leading up to it that would even hint that there’s a really, really, really big hole in your path.  You’re just walking down a trail in a scrubby forest and BAM!  Big hole.


We took a walk to the rim just before sunset on our first day in the park.


Our second day at the Grand Canyon saw us attempt the Hermit Trail, a rather steep path down into the canyon.  A trail that had just that day reopened after a small rock slide had made the path impassable.  The team of rock movers was still there as we climbed over the boulders that hadn’t yet been pushed aside.  We didn’t make it too far down the trail before I had to stop that madness.  This was not the best way to start off two weeks of hiking.  A description of this path calls it a “challenging route for more experienced canyon hikers”.  I turned us around.



After crawling our way back up to the top, with a few Mommy-requested rest stops, we walked the rim trail back to the village.  As we had taken the shuttle all the way to the end to reach Hermit Trail, it was a long, hot, beautiful hike back.  But the boys weren’t finished.  While the girls went back to the cabin, Ben took E back down by way of the Bright Angel Trail.  (A much easier path.)  Three miles down, which is just about halfway.  And then, three miles back up.  How that little boy didn’t drop from exhaustion is beyond me.




The next morning, we loaded up the car (Ben had already figured out the puzzle of fitting all the suitcases in properly), made sure we had enough water just in case and started the long drive toward Moab, Utah, with a stop at the Four Corners because you might as well, since you’re there.


The Four Corners is really, truly in middle of nowhere.  The entire northeast corner of Arizona is set aside as reservation land and is, for the most part, empty.  While the idea of being able to stand in four states at once is quite novel, feel free to skip it if you’re low on time.

We arrived in Moab to find we had fallen into a sort of hippie civilization, if hippies spend their days riding mountain bikes or 4-wheeling along trails through the red rocks, their evenings slacklining wherever they can hook up their strap, and their nights loitering barefoot outside the local restaurants that provide a constant cooling mist blowing from the edges of their outdoor patios.  But never mind the sport-hippies, we were here to hike our second and third national parks.

Arches National Park is unbelievable.  As an East coast girl, the arches and spires and balanced rocks and fins that make up this part of the country are so foreign to me that I couldn’t get enough pictures, couldn’t stop staring, and cursed the fact that I don’t have eyes in the back of my head because there is just so much to take in.  The colors are so unique, and change throughout the day.  Late afternoon was my favorite time at Arches, as the shadows started to get longer and the colors deeper.




We drove to each area we wanted to see, then took walks amongst the arches.  With only one day in the park and so much to see, we did less trail hiking, which was fine by me.  Because it was hot.  Like, really hot.  And it was only May.  I can’t imagine doing these parks in July.  Here’s a hint… be prepared for heat when the park you’re in has features with names like Devil’s Garden and the Fiery Furnace.


One little boy I know was enthralled by Utah.  Because hiking.  And fossils.  And dinosaurs.  And Indiana Jones.  He loved it.



But we weren’t done with Utah (or even Moab) yet.

October Weekends

 (This post is about October, therefore will not contain anything about the election. Also, because I don’t want to talk about it because it’s just too…. embarrassing? Depressing? Scary?)

Ahem. So, yes, October was a wee bit ago. Why it’s taken me so long to get these thoughts and photos recorded is beyond me. But here we are.


October started for us with a road trip to Annapolis. We hadn’t been to a Navy football game since before we left for Belgium so we had to remedy that. With family and friends in Annapolis it’s always fun to return to my hometown and Ben’s alma mater. Game day was a complete wash out. Cold and rain didn’t keep us away from tailgating or the hill to watch Navy beat Houston. The rest of the weekend was rounded out with geocaches, crabs and phrase frenzy.



What would October be without pumpkins? We headed out to the fields and each chose a carving pumpkin, another experience we haven’t had in years. Should you ever visit Jacquemin Farms in the fall, do yourself a favor and pick up some apple doughnuts. Oh my lord, so good.

Oh, you thought we were done with pumpkins? No, no. The Circleville pumpkin show has been going on for 110 years and this was our first year to join in. Man, there were so many people there. But we powered through and got ourselves all the pumpkin food!  Pumpkin chili, pumpkin soup, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin pie, pumpkin trifle. If we weren’t eating them we were checking out the heaviest award winners, strolling past towers of them, examining the blue ribbon baked goods made with them and children’s artwork dedicated to them. It was like a small town fair times ten.



Somewhere in there, L gained herself one of those stories that you get to tell for the rest of your life.  While making graphs about running speeds in science class, she fell and tried to catch herself with both hands resulting in two (!) broken wrists.  Let’s just say, her friends were not at a loss of space to sign their names.

Which brings us to Halloween.  As you know, we love a good group costume.  (See here and here and here) and we couldn’t let a new Star Wars movie slip by without paying it some respect.


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All in all, exactly the kind of October I had been waiting for (minus the visit to the emergency room).




September Weekends

Hello there.  Remember me?  Yep, I’m still here.  Let’s just say this fall got away from me.  With school and tennis lessons and horseback riding and homework and two, count ’em, two broken arms, I’ve had my hands full.  So let’s start fresh, shall we?  But first, a quick review is in order.


Fall “started” on Labor Day weekend, two weeks after the kids began school. The Blue Angels were flying at the Cleveland Air Show and, since we haven’t seen them in four years, we made the trip, then added a night spent at “the beach”, in quotes because the ocean is still really far away but Lake Erie stepped in with sand and water.  And sunsets.






Fall also means apples.  Lynd Fruit Farm replaced our Belgian apple orchard, Culture Fruitiere du Point du Jour. A decent substitution, though a much bigger operation.  In Belgium we were usually the only people there save for a tiny dog.

Ben and the kids joined E’s Cub Scout pack for his first U.S. camping experience.  I stayed with them for the first few hours but left before the real “camping” began.  Because I like beds.



A review of October is next in line, including our annual family Halloween costume. Aren’t you excited?

October Martha

Allow me to apologize if you’re here to read about our recent family adventures. This is all about me.

I love the idea of Martha Stewart. I have read Martha Stewart Living for, get this, twenty one years. Long before she met Snoop Dogg, went to jail or was even online. I’ve only missed one year of my magazine delivery, because I got mad at the threats to renew when my subscription was about to lapse. But I couldn’t stay upset and eventually asked for forgiveness. I use Thanksgiving recipes approved by Martha, I hand make Christmas gifts that she designs and I drool over her clam bakes on the beach, especially when the Navy has sent us somewhere without a coastline near. But not one single issue all year tops my love for October.

Halloween is by far my favorite holiday. I have more Halloween decorations than Christmas. We dress up, as a family, in costumes every year. Our fall vacations for the past two years were to Transylvania and Loch Ness in Scotland, respectively. Fall is my favorite season.

I’ve kept them all. All my October Martha’s. And I reread them every year, like a ritual to start the Halloween season. I admit I skip over articles like the one about the evolution of the table in the 1995 issue. Or the one about succulent gardening in 1997… I zip through the more recent issues. Anything that involves glitter gets passed by quickly and anything past 2010 may not even be picked up but the early issues are meant to be savored. Why? Maybe because that was the beginning of Martha for me. When I was first becoming interested in setting up a home rather than a dorm room. The first years that I bought decorator magazines rather than fashion ones. Martha was my guru and Halloween my favorite holiday so having Martha give Halloween tips and decorating advice? Spooky recipes? And when her famous column “Good Things” gets renamed “Bad Things” for October? I couldn’t ask for anything better.


Why Martha, and not, say, Country Living?  Or Better Homes and Gardens? Martha keeps her Halloween geared mostly toward adults. There are no kid friendly parties or what to do when your child is afraid of ghosts. There are occasional kid costumes but mostly it’s adult beverages and decorations that would scare most kids away. And it’s not dumbed down. Her Halloween is for the adult who really appreciates the holiday. Like me.

So while the Navy moves us again and again, Martha is a permanent force in my life. Luckily all those walls painted in rental-house-white match my Halloween decor to a t. And Martha would think that’s a very good thing.


Quaker State 400

When my daughter was much younger, her favorite movie was Cars.  It played constantly in the background as she colored and pretended and ate snacks.  I still have a good 80 percent of it memorized, which is a good thing as a few weeks ago we were offered prime tickets to a NASCAR race and the movie script was all I had to rely on for knowledge about what was going on around me.

We have an old friend who works for NASCAR and he enjoys seeing his friends around the country when he visits various tracks.  Our closest race was the Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway so off we went, deep into horse country with Ben’s mother in tow, to visit Jim and take in a race.



We picked up our “Hot” passes and draped them around our neck, feeling very special indeed.  Hot passes (plus the Senior VP of Race Operations) get you pretty much everywhere including into the pit row while the race is going on.  What?!  “Hey, Jim.  Can I help fuel up the Target car during the race?”  No, but we did get a tour of the garages, then to go to the driver’s meeting then wait behind the scenes as the drivers got announced to the crowd, picking up autographs left and right, then present a pre-race award (which I was really hoping would be a giant check but wasn’t).  And the race hadn’t even started yet.




When the race began, we took our seats to watch from above for a bit.  Luckily, a very nice seat neighbor let us have some ear plugs.  Oh, my lord are those cars loud.  Hearing loss averted, we enjoyed the first 100 or so laps before heading down to make use of the hot part of the hot pass.


With the amount that happens in the pits, I can’t believe they let people just wander around inside during a race.  It’s intense but also oddly quiet down there while the cars are racing.  The action, when it does happen, is swift, but the wait for action is long.  Minors aren’t allowed on pit row when the cars are racing so the kids hung out on the other side of the fence, just behind the Target crew.  Because I made them.


Thank you, Jim!  It was such a treat!


Summer in Pictures

This was the summer of suitcases.  If ours weren’t lined up, ready to head out the door, then bags belonging to other people were filling our guest rooms and other empty spaces.  The summer seemed to speed past in a blur because we were just so busy.  But it wasn’t just E-ticket adventures.  While we had plenty of those, it was the continuous stream of spur of the moment events that brought us back to the first day of school so quickly.



A visit from Nana and John, the Dayton Air Show, a return trip to Hocking Hills, strawberry picking




Fourth of July in the neighborhood, visit from Patty, butterflies and a farmers market, visit from the Marinellos




Visit number two from Patty and the Marinellos, fountains, food truck festival



More summer wrap up to come!

Summer Travel, part two: The Cape

This was the summer of reliving past summers.  First, we spent time in the U.P., replaying Ben’s childhood summers.  Last week was my turn to return to my youth.  And after a grand total of 21 hours in the car we arrived on Cape Cod.


Now, for those of you who actually read what I write about our travels, you might recall that the kids and I visited the Cape this past spring.  You are remembering correctly. Good on you.  But Cape Cod in the spring and Cape Cod in the summer are two very different animals.

Cape Cod summer means warmth, swimming, beaches, mini-golf, and lobster.  The summer means everything is open, from my grandmother’s beach club to our most favorite ice cream place of all, the Four Seas.  It also means so many people.

This summer for us meant a quick family reunion with relatives who I hadn’t seen since before leaving for Belgium and younger family members who I had never actually met.



This summer also meant we had to make time for more swimming in Crystal Lake than I have done since I was twelve. Now I know how my grandmother felt when we begged to go to the lake rather than sit on the real beach where there was gross seaweed and no raft.
Sorry Gran.



We also managed to squeeze in a visit to the new pirate museum (Have you ever touched real pirate treasure?  Because I have.), a bit of “real beach” time, s’mores by the bonfire, biking, rope bracelets, fried clams, visits to the Country Store (home of penny candy brought home in a tiny brown paper bag) and a quick trip to a flea market.  That last one was just me.  And whale watching for most of us.  I wasn’t there so no one took any pictures.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.






Thank you, summertime Cape Cod.  For never changing.




Summer Travel, part one: The U.P.

Living on a different continent than most of our American family members has meant that we haven’t seen most of them for the past three years.  We chose this summer to begin catching up.  Our first traveling vacation of the summer was to the upper peninsula of Michigan, better known as the U.P.

Life is different in the U.P.  The residents call themselves yoopers.  They have their very own accent and vocabulary. The opening day of deer hunting season is a holiday, closing down schools.  They have learned to peacefully coexist with endless winters but, when summer does arrive, they hold on with two hands, enjoying every last minute before the sun goes down, extremely late in the day.  Being so far north and as the furthest west that you can go and still be in the Eastern time zone, sunset in late June is just before 10:00.


Ben’s grandmother lives in Escanaba, a small town to most but a bustling metropolis by U.P. standards.  It’s the town where his mother grew up and one of the only American towns he regularly visited when coming to the States as a child.  Escanaba was Ben’s America.

Visiting with Ben’s grandmother was a part of every day but we also squeezed in some other U.P activities.  Strawberry picking season, while over for weeks in our part of Ohio, was just beginning in Escanaba so we herded Granny Gran into the car and off we went to the fields.

Ben’s family owns a little parcel of land right on Lake Michigan.  While no house currently stands on it, it’s the perfect spot for sunbathing and splashing around in the lake, and bonfires and fireworks once the sun finally goes down.  And drinking beer, from a can, wrapped in a Green Bay Packers coozie. (Belgians would be mortified.  And then they would laugh and laugh because there’s nothing more American.)




We also got to spend a day at a good friend’s “camp”.  Camp, in yooper-speak, is a house in the woods, generally used as home base for deer hunting.  Though, of course, a house in a large area of northern Michigan woods can be used for lots of fun stuff, not just shooting things.  Four-wheeling, turkey-spotting, kite-flying, chatting and drinking were the activities of the day.  (Thank you, LaBonte’s!  I’ve been hearing about your camp for years.  So glad I finally got to visit!)



We chose to break up our ride home with a visit to Mackinac Island.  The island, accessible by various ferries, is car free.  To get around you walk, bike or horse and carriage it.  The smell of horse manure can be intense on the main street but, otherwise?  Totally quaint.



After a quick ice cream break, we visited Fort Mackinac.  Definitely stop for a visit if you’ve got history fans with you (I always travel with a few) but also for the views.  Then we rented a few bikes and off we went to explore.  There is an eight mile, paved loop around the whole island or you can do part flat, paved road then follow your husband up and up and up, on dirt and gravel paths through the woods, on the three speed cruiser that you rented which you get to walk up the steepest parts.  Then, just when you think you’ve reached the top because, just how tall is this island anyway, you start going up again.  THEN you hit pavement at last and get to speed down past everyone going the other direction, hopping off their bikes to push them up.  And you get to see the Grand Hotel, with the longest porch in the world (really) as you zip past, hair flying out behind you because, who rents a helmet when you’re going to be pushing your bike half the time anyway?


And now we’re home again, but not for long, because Summer Travel, part two is just around the corner.