Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Okay, something pretty momentous happened in The More, The Messier household yesterday evening. For the first time in over 2 decades, I cooked a lentil dish that received - I kid you not - rave reviews. EVERYONE ate it. And today, for lunch? Unbidden, they ate the leftovers.

In other news, hell has indeed frozen over.

So there you go - anything can happen. This opens up worlds of possibility, doesn't it? Maybe this means that I WILL someday find my waist again. Maybe my children WILL, at some point in their lives, learn to turn off lights and shut doors. Perhaps, even, SOME DAY, Larry and I will manage to agree on area rugs for the newly renovated (hardwood floors!) basement family room.

Actually, that last one? No. No, we will not. Folks, after 26 years of marriage - 26 years of raising children, living together, learning to agree to disagree - we may have finally met our Waterloo.

You see, we need one of the rugs for what we call the fireplace room, which will have some blonde-wood bookcases against the walls, a reading chair or two, the white-brick fireplace, and a large central area left open -- for children to sit and play games on, etc. Hence, the requirement for some comfortable floor covering.

See? NEEDS RUG. Preferably a colorful one...
Now, I have envisioned our walk-out basement family room(s) as an airy, modern-looking space, designed for both TV watching and play. Brian (who actually cares about such things) has even weighed in on the style couch we will eventually (when we win the lottery) buy: a light-colored one with clean lines, modular and up-to-date (as opposed to the dark brown reclining behemoth I dragged home from a neighborhood yard sale a few years ago). We picked a striking color for the walls, to make the white brick hearth pop.

I had a plan, people. And all it would need for completion was a modern, low-pile area rug, with contemporary/geometric design and some color. I spent several hours online, finally spotting a number of reasonably priced possibilities on Wanting to achieve consensus, I put several of them on my wish list so Larry could weigh in on the decision.


And this, friends, is where it all fell apart. When I showed Larry what the kids and I had put on the list, he looked -- in a word -- disgusted. It wasn't just a "Oh, how about a different shade of color?" look. Rather, it was a look that almost screamed, "Who are you and how did you get into my house with your perverse home decorating ideas?" Seriously, he couldn't have appeared more put off had I showed him carpets screenprinted with naked Playboy bunnies.

So, yeah, this problem isn't going to be solved any time soon, I'm thinking...but, hey, I guess there's always hope. After all, he DID eat that lentil soup.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Fashion Alert 2017

Bad news on the fashion front, folks! I mean, not as bad as the (thankfully) short-lived bubble shorts phenomenon, but's bad. Look over there to the right (I mean, if you're reading this on desktop - I have no idea where the pictures show up if you're reading this on your phone) - see that shirt? See the problem?

If you don't, you probably aren't short and round. BANDED BOTTOMS, people. Shirts with banded bottom hems are coming back in style. Go on, ladies, emphasize that post-menopausal Buddha belly with a garment that makes it look even rounder!

Good Lord, what's next? The return of Oxford button-down shirts for women? I mean, I sure miss having to check to see if all those buttons stayed closed, don't you?

IMO, the fashion world hates short busty women. HATES.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Stepping It Up

My present from Anna
Have we talked about Mother's Day yet? No? Well, then, let's do that.

Happily, Larry has learned over the years that the Amazon wish list titled "Gifts for Karen" is a pretty good place to discover what I might actually want for a present. So this year he gave me a new Fitbit, because I lost my Fitbit Zip in Salt Lake City.

Which reminds me, I still haven't talked about our two days in Salt Lake City. I sort of skipped over it and meant to get back to it, but I worried that writing even one more post about that train trip might lose me the few dedicated readers I still have.

Anyway, I didn't notice the Fitbit was missing until I was on the train heading to California, so I have no idea where it went. I had planned to replace it with another Zip, but in a burst of whimsy I put the Fitbit Alta on the wish list instead and left it there, while I was trying to rationalize the extra expense.

So Larry saw it and bought it for Mother's Day. It is the prettiest little thing (which you probably can't tell from this lousy photo I took). It buzzes at me when I sit for too long. It does a little Fitbit cheer when I reach my step goal. It tells me my heart rate. AND it tracks my sleep.

I'm gonna start offering photography classes
Let me say right here that I thought this sleep-tracking function was the most frivolous thing ever. And I still think that. Yet, I love this particular feature beyond all reason. In fact, I've become obsessed. Did you know that 20% of your sleep should be deep, versus 25% REM? I'm nowhere near either of those targets, as I tend to spend most of the night in light sleep. No wonder my brain doesn't work right.

Of course, one reason for my sleep deficiencies might be a spouse who snores. I plan to put the Fitbit on Larry's wrist some night while he is asleep, to prove to him that he is waking himself up probably a hundred times a night and not realizing it. He refuses to believe me.

Technology is very useful in settling marital spats. Although I do feel bad, using the gift he gave me against him.

The other thing that happened on Mother's Day was Anna's graduation party. We were so busy getting ready for the party and then entertaining guests that, as the day wore on, the fact that it was Mother's Day sort of slipped my mind. So when David called in the late afternoon, I reacted as I always do: "What's wrong?" I demanded.

People, he NEVER calls.

When he didn't answer right away, I followed up with an almost frantic "Is everything all right?" Myriad possibilities were dashing through my head, because I'm good at catastrophizing like that.

"Well," my engineering offspring deadpanned, "I thought it was customary on Mother's Day to phone one's mother."

Hey, at least he knows I wasn't waiting around by the phone all day, right?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Time To Bug Out

Ah, it's that time of year when we struggle not to turn on the AC until June. Well, I struggle, anyway. The kids and Larry would gladly make this place a refrigerator from May 1 until October, because they don't understand the value of suffering. Or money.

And really, the heat's not bad, yet - but the humidity is rising. My science-y offspring tell me humidity has something to do with water vapor in the air, but you and I know the truth: it is all the devils in hell coming up here to suck the life force from our bodies.

And this spring? These life-sucking devils seem to have brought some friends.


Now, I already knew that our region experiences Brood X, which is this massive influx of cicadas every 17 years. The last event was 2004, and - as luck would have it - our family was living elsewhere that spring. We were tucked away safely north of this plague, in Rhode Island, while Larry went to the Naval War College. Every morning that spring, I woke up and thanked the powers that be that this was the year we were not living in what was apparently Cicada Central.

I called my friend back home at one point (because people still called more than texted back then) to ask if it were as bad as the Internet was making it look. "Hang on," she said. "Let me walk inside. I can't hear you above all the buzzing."

So, yeah, it was bad. At that point I made a vow NOT to be in our area during the spring of 2021, when this phenomenon would re-occur. I am not interested in masses of creepy bugs. I don't care how fascinating it is. They make me want to throw up.

Where am I going with this? Well, I was outside a few nights ago, talking to a neighbor in front of her house, and she pointed to the ground. "Look," she said. "There's another one."

"What is it?" I asked, in disgust, as this wet, slug-like creature oozed out of the dirt and started wobbling around on definitely not slug-like legs.

"Cicadas," she said. "They're coming up everywhere. It's driving the dog crazy."

That's right - here we are in 2017 and it appears a whole bunch of cicadas did not get the memo - you know, the one telling them to stay underground another 4 years, while I make travel plans? No one knows just how bad this influx will be or why exactly it is happening - not even all the science-y people who think that humidity is water vapor. All I know is that more and more cicadas and cicada shells are showing up everywhere, and it resembles nothing so much as an alien invasion from a planet populated with giant bugs.

If this gets any worse, I am so out of here. Anyone have a guest room? For two - Susie says she is coming with me.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"Seasonal" Means Nothing In Our House

So, the weekend was sort of busy, what with working at the yoga center and Mother's Day and ANNA GRADUATING FROM COLLEGE.

Anna gave me these. See? NICE.
Remember Anna? 10 years ago, she was the teen girl so many of you loved reading about, filled as she was with contempt and loathing for her parents and siblings and the plebeian life into which she had mistakenly been born. Actually, she might still be filled with contempt and loathing, but - being an adult - she hides it better. And, hey, that's good enough for me.

Anyway, Anna (and other teen girls like her) was the one we all gleefully concocted the "Getting a Clue" curriculum for, lo those many years ago. She seems to have passed with flying colors, having lived on her own and worked and gone to school for the past several years; and for that Larry and I will always be thankful. Also, she's turned out to be a pretty nice person, so that's always a plus.

So we had a little party for her. Of course, "a little party" meant that we spent all day Saturday and then Sunday morning going through our pre-party ritual of cleaning up the house enough to make it presentable for outsiders. Theo was here, too (I TOLD you the weekend was busy); he is about to detach from the military, after 4 years in, so any spare time Larry and I had? Was spent dispensing unwanted advice for his future.

BIG CHANGES. Gosh, these kids all used to be so little.

Where was I? Oh, yes, cleaning up. So, some time in the middle of our housecleaning frenzy, Larry said, "Can we do something about this snowman?" And I thought, "WHAT?"

I mean, come on, hadn't I finally rid our home of all winter holiday flotsam and jetsam? Hadn't I, after many tries, finally tracked down the last bit of Christmas/Chanukah decorations? Haven't I been humiliated enough?

Outside temp reads 64. He should be melting.
I looked where Larry was pointing, and there it was: Susie's paper snowman, which she asked me to leave up until the end of winter, and, well, it's May now. He was prominently mounted on the wall next to the thermostat, where (in theory) I should have noticed him, as I check the outside temperature every single day. But, no, I had no idea that snowman was there.

And, yes, he is still hanging up there on our wall. Susie likes him.

Thursday, May 11, 2017


That's how many emails I deleted in one fell swoop today, 9861.

So, uh, if I was supposed to get back to someone and you don't hear from me? That's why. Also, this reminds me that I have never heard back from upnitestx, who won the Yarn Harlot book from me, lo, many months ago and sent me her address, only I deleted her email and had to ask for her address again.

I never received it. Either she quit reading this blog in disgust, or she decided she didn't want to have any further dealings with someone as disorganized as me. I don't know, but I'll try again. I'm not proud.

UPNITESTX: please send me your address. I promise I won't lose it. Knitting Rules has been sitting on my desk for, oh, 3 months now and I'd really like to get it to you!

I just went and checked my email to see how it would feel to see only one or two messages in there, and it was still completely empty, and I got this weird, panicky feeling, like I had lost something. Or like I had completely ceased to exist.

Empty, like my soul....and my photography abilities

No emails, no cards, no insurance policy. No Zuzu's petals...

So maybe being organized is not for me...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Time In A Bottle

Today I spent assiduously avoiding my email, because really some people are NOT NICE when they get behind a keyboard. Oh, not blog readers, you all are wonderful. But in the real part of my life, where I have real responsibilities, sometimes people write emails saying things they would never say to my face. And I'm tired of it. The drama, it's exhausting. And completely unnecessary.

Also, my water heater still doesn't work and I told the company that installed it I want a new one, and they're all, "Problem? We don't see a problem." Which was totally not the right response.

So I looked for something I could have some control over today, and I ended up cleaning out the 2 kitchen cabinets that are always full of stuff. FULL. Every time I try to put something in them, I can't, because STUFF. So I pulled everything out and found several superannuated items that could be discarded.

Did I say "several"? I meant, A LOT.

See that picture, to the left there? From left to right, those items expired in 2015, I-don't-even-know, 2014, and (drum roll please) 2007.

We moved here in 2007. Although, actually, I think I inherited that curry powder from a neighbor who moved away in 2012. Not that that makes any more sense, really - I mean, that means 5 years ago I accepted a jar of curry powder that was already 5 years past expiration date. And then I kept it in my cabinet ANOTHER 5 years. And I never used it - not even once.

Look for me on "Hoarders" any day now.

That salady-looking stuff, second from the left, was foisted on me by Auntie Kate, who bought it from the gift shop when we all went to Monticello. Let me see...that was back in April of 2012. So, yeah, I'm tossing it. Sorry, Auntie Kate! Don't give me things!

I've never used Old Bay seasoning. Maybe that was from the neighbor who moved, also?

Anyway, these were the top contenders, but a lot of other stuff went also - for example, a rubbermaid container of tapioca and another rubbermaid container of caraway seeds, which I think used to reside in my fridge. 2 little jars of poppy seeds. Some essence of coconut whatever that Larry must have bought during one of his baking binges. An open packet of Jello.

I was thinking it was odd I had all this junk in there, considering how thoroughly I cleaned out the cabinets during our pantry moth invasion, which hey, wasn't that long ago. Then I looked up on this blog when that had occurred and it turns out it was, oh, 7 years ago.

Feels like yesterday.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

I Don't Speak Very Well For The Trees

 I stepped outside today and saw our rhododendron bush blooming, so I know it must be May, but boy, it's cold! And this pic of the bush (which is truly magnificent, because I have never touched it with my guaranteed black thumb) doesn't even do it justice; but I couldn't snap the full view from the front, because that angle is now blocked by a completely dead (really, most sincerely dead) dogwood tree, which expired without any warning whatsoever.

Actually, the tree did look a tad sickly last August, when we came back from Acadia; but we chalked that up to the abnormally dry summer we had had. "It'll come back," we assured each other. "Next spring, you'll see." Only it didn't, so there it stands, ruining our view of our gorgeous rhododendron and presenting a grim reminder of the consequences of horticultural ignorance.

Hey, I know - let's look at some before and after pictures!



I don't know what I did wrong with this tree, since I have benignly neglected it with the same non-zeal as I have applied to our flourishing rhododendron; but I am obviously a murderer of all things good and beautiful. It's a special talent of mine.

In other news, on this blog's Facebook page, I posted a link to a house that is for sale in Canada. People, that link got more views than anything I have ever written myself. At the risk of sounding like a purveyor of clickbait, go find out why! (Really, I don't want to spoil it. Just check it out.)

(Also, trigger warning: CLOWNS)

Monday, May 08, 2017

This, That, And The Other Thing

In news you can use, THIS certainly sounds healthy. Nurses LOVE Cinnabon, I'm sure. In the future, I expect to see similar giveaways, such as free Netflix for a week for librarians and maybe complimentary Uber rides for physical trainers.

Also, a new tick disease! And this one only takes 15 minutes to transmit, so, yes, we ARE doomed, thanks for asking. If you're looking for me, I'll be busy inventing an outdoor shower for my front porch that soaks the kids with DEET each time they step outside.

Results may vary
And, it's happening again - I am being lured once more by the siren call of a new lentil recipe. I hate lentil soup. My family hates lentil soup. Yet every once in a while, I'll become convinced I've stumbled across a recipe (sometimes by another blogger, sometimes just in the newspaper) that will change all of our minds about lentils. I'll let you all know how this one goes.

My having to drive Rachel to a late-night cast party on Saturday turned out better than expected. 2 (2!) friends actually contacted me and said, "I'm up late all the time - do you want me to get her for you?" Which offers I declined because, hey, they were above and beyond (one of the friends doesn't even HAVE kids); but this made me recall that a friend of mine lives near where the party was being held and, hey, she tends to stay up late, too. So I ended up going to her house and hanging out with her and her husband and having a great time. It pays to have friends who are night owls, is what I'm trying to say here.

And then I picked up Rachel and she spent the ride home telling me how great the host house was. "It's so BIG! And CLEAN!"

"Hey," I interrupted her. "I'm sure they threw all their belongings upstairs in the bedrooms, just like we do when we host a party."

"Yeah, but they had all these nice paintings on the walls and the furniture looked nice, and..."

The kid just wouldn't stop. She was apparently very impressed by the fact that these people didn't assemble all their furniture themselves and that their wall decor consists of things other than framed pictures their own kids painted in art class. It's frustrating, because I've told the kids over and over that our townhome is larger and nicer than dwellings in most of the rest of the world; I've told them that amenities like central air and on-demand hot water are actually luxuries, and we are lucky to have them; I've TOLD THEM that we live better than most people have lived since the beginning of time. And I want them to appreciate that.

My kids don't know from yurts

But, being human, all they know is what they see; and in our neck of the woods, they see monstrously large houses with, like, 4 people living in them and seriously I do not know what people do with all that space and how they can afford to heat/AC it. You know, a few months ago I took Susie with me while I dropped Benjamin off at a friend's house for some party and we walked him to the door so I could introduce myself to the parents.

Now, I'm used to this area, I'm used to large houses, some of my best friends LIVE in large houses, but even so...I had to keep my jaw from dropping as I stood in the soaring foyer of this particular abode and chatted with the parents for a few minutes. I sensed Susie at my elbow, however, taking it all in, including - I am guessing - the multiple staircases in the immediate vicinity, the double story family room with a stone fireplace large enough to roast a goat in, etc. On the way back out to the car, Susie said, "Mommy? Standing in that house?" (in a tone of wonder) "I felt like Maria in The Sound of Music."

So, yeah, maybe one kid gets it.

[Lentil soup image: NYT]
[Yurt image: Latitude News]

Friday, May 05, 2017

In Which I Repeat Myself. A Lot.

His dad is very understanding
I worked the concession table last night at my daughter's drama production of Beauty and the Beast. Hey, I thought, why not? Everyone needs to do their part. How hard can it be?

Reader, I messed up the popcorn machine. Lumiere's dad had to clean out all the burned, stuck-on kernels and fix the stirrer thing. Mrs. Potts' mom relegated me to selling just the candy bars and (already cooked) pizza. Also, soda - I'm good at soda.

In other news, it's raining like the dickens out there this morning, which means I don't have to go outside and do my pretend jogging today. Instead I get to sit in my nice cozy den and blog at you. Which beats doing what I should be doing right now, which is paying this enormous bill it turns out I owe to the IRS. They sent me a nice letter yesterday explaining to me exactly how I messed up on my 2015 tax returns and telling me they want their extra money right away.

Cheaper than physical therapy
But, hey, I managed to save $50 on FitFlops at Nordstrom Rack yesterday, so there's that.

I know - it looks crazy to spend $60 on a pair of flipflops, right? But at one point, several years ago, these shoes were all I could walk in without pain. Their arch support, their cushioning, their microwobbleboard technology (whatever the heck that is) - they saved me. I have been a devotee of the FitFlop brand ever since. I WILL BE BURIED IN MY FITFLOPS.

This is not a sponsored post, by the way. I simply love me some FitFlops.

[Aaaand, I just noticed I already talked about my expensive FitFlop habit in this post here. Apparently, I am becoming one of those old people who repeat themselves a lot.]

For something completely different, let's talk about my coffee table, shall we? It's GONE. Larry says he asked me before he took it to Restore, but I don't remember.

I never even got to say good-bye.

We bought this table (and its two matching end tables) in pristine condition almost 20 years ago, from an elderly gentleman who was downsizing. He must have assumed they were going to a good home. These pieces were 40 years old, solid maple, and they gleamed. They looked as if they had been built just the day before, not almost half a century prior. They were the nicest furniture we had ever owned.

And then? We brought them home. To a house that included 3 young children, all of whom were captivated by the wide gleaming surface of the table, a surface wide enough to slide across on their stomachs. Whee!

Unfortunately, one of those children was wearing a belt. With a metal buckle. So, not 24 hours after these cherished, well-cared-for marvels of wood craftsmanship entered our house, we had a 6-inch gash down the center of the biggest one. And it only got worse from there.

There it is, in all it's tarnished glory (ignore the yarn)

A belated adieu, my derelict friend! You served us well all these years. May you go to someone who can not only restore you to your former splendor but also keep you that way. We didn't really deserve you, we know that now.

[Aaaand, after realizing I was repeating myself about FitFlops, I searched on "coffee table" in this blog and realized, yup, I've already talked about that, too. I may have to hang up my blogging hat at this point. Sorry.]

I have no idea why, but I seem to form emotional attachments to my furniture.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A Lot Of Drama

Party Train!
As you may have guessed by now, Susie and I finally made it home. Let me note here that the train from Chicago to DC was the ONLY ONE where the club car attendant deemed it necessary to announce that, while there was beer and wine for sale on the train, passengers should remember that it was a limited supply and that they should leave enough for their fellow riders. He also informed us that anyone who became over-intoxicated would be escorted off the train at the next stop.

I guess people heading into DC these days feel the need to become completely inebriated. I wonder why?

Poor things - they don't know they're doomed
While we were gone, spring happened. I wandered around the neighborhood for 2 days exclaiming, "It's so green!" And "Look at all the trees!" The Farmers Market opened right after our return, so I was able to buy some of the plants I'm going to end up killing this summer. Susie was just glad to get back to a full fridge and not having to pull her suitcase around strange cities for miles and miles.

As soon as we returned, Theater Arts Madness started. Rachel was at rehearsal for Beauty and the Beast until 10 every night that week. Then there were the weekend shows and Sign-Up Geniuses appearing in my email every other minute to cajole me into working shifts at the concession stand and the ticket office and I don't know what all.

You know, my hat is off to all you non-homeschooling parents. How do you DO all this? I have to admit, I was looking forward to the fact that the last performance would be this Saturday evening - that is, until I saw today's email, which cheerfully announced that the cast party would be held in the next town over from 10 PM until midnight on Saturday night.


Are Theater Arts parents vampires or something? I don't know about anyone else, but I have a packed day this Sunday, and the thought of staying up late to retrieve Rachel from a party Saturday night makes me want to cry. I tried foisting the job off on Larry, but he reminded me he would be getting up even earlier than me on Sunday, to drive Rachel to some 5K for Lyme thing she is running in.

The sad one had to do the late pick-up, I'm guessing

Teens are exhausting, is what I am trying to say. Or else I'm just too old for this - that's a distinct possibility.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Look, It Was A Long Trip, Okay?

Oh, my gosh, you poor people - just one more post about that Amtrak trip and then I'll stop, really.

Anyone here?

Bison statues are a thing in Montana, apparently
Oh, well, we left Seattle, I avoided killing someone on the way to Spokane, and we had the best car attendant EVER so I gave her the fingerless mitts I finished knitting before we got to St. Paul. Also, we crossed Montana, including Glacier National Park, and then crossed North Dakota in the dark, so I didn't see ANY of it. We arrived in St. Paul, Minnesota, at 8 AM, exhausted. But did that stop me from saying, "Hey, our AirBnB is only half a mile from the station! We should just pull our luggage there!"?

No, it did not.

I uttered those words to poor Susie, completely disregarding all the times that "just pulling our luggage there" ended badly on this trip. Luckily for her, it started to rain before we left the station. "Looks like we'll have to call Uber!" she chirped. Heavens, they get tech-savvy early, don't they?

So we Ubered to the bookstore where the key for our apartment was kept (and let me just give a grateful shout-out to the owner of this apartment, who let our travel-weary selves check in several hours early) and then we set out for the place itself, which was only half a block away, only we went in the wrong direction, in the pouring rain, with our suitcases, and had to text the owner (who I think was somewhere in Europe?)...let's just say this whole process should have been way more uneventful than it actually was.

But we finally got there. Now, understand that we had 2 days to spend in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and I had a full list of things I wanted us to see. Not a minute to waste! But the moment we set foot in that comfy apartment and let go of our wet luggage, it seemed like a great idea to spend our rainy morning doing absolutely NOTHING but washing our clothes and watching The Dick Van Dyke Show on the Netflix service thoughtfully provided by the owner.

This was a very good decision, coming as it did after 10 days of travel that included 4 different cities. I highly recommend this approach.

Better than a museum
So we lounged on the cute little couch and watched Rob and Laura Petrie (and really, wasn't that fitting, watching Mary Tyler Moore while in the Twin Cities?), until our clothes were done and the rain tapered off; and then, savvy travelers that we are, we figured out the bus system and took a bus (SO EASY AND SO CHEAP! I LOVE YOU, MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL!) to Grand Avenue, which has shops and things, because Susie is allergic to museums. We saw gorgeous old Midwestern houses, and we stopped in the yarn shop, and then of course the ice cream shop, because there is no sense in visiting a city if you're not going to eat its ice cream. The whole time, I kept my eyes peeled for Garrison Keillor, but he never showed up.

The ice cream shop had a huge display on its wall with photos of a visit there by President Obama in 2014. So I have walked in the steps of greatness, people, and I have even eaten the same ice cream. That is what travel can do for you.

There was an adjoining pizza shop, and we decided to order a calzone and some salad to take back to our lovely Netflix-endowed apartment for dinner. The owner, it turns out, was a genuine Minnesotan man. I know this because he spoke EXACTLY like the guy on Prairie Home Companion who imitates the genuine Minnesotan man. Truly, I had always thought this imitation was an exaggeration, but I can now tell you that no, it is not.

Either that, or this pizza guy just puts it on for tourists. I don't know.

It's real
The next day? It rained. Again. So I tossed my list of tourist sites in Minneapolis out the window, as it were, and we grabbed a (CHEAP! EASY!) bus for Mall of America. This turned out to also be a very good decision. See? 10 days of travel, and I become a pro. And, for the record, there is indeed an amusement park in the center of the Mall of America (see photographic proof to the left). Even though everyone had told us this, Susie and I were still dumbfounded to actually see this 8th Wonder of the World.

Much to Susie's satisfaction there were 2 (count them, 2!) full food courts, plus several candy/chocolate/fudge stores, to enjoy. There was also an aquarium (which we didn't go into, because Susie is allergic to those, also - anything educational, really). And a mini-golf course. The top floor had a movie theater and what looked like the adult version of a Chuckie Cheese (essentially, a nice bar with lots of games and not-so-fabulous prizes, and really, isn't decent alcohol just what Chuckie Cheese needs?), with the added enticement of a bowling alley in the back.

There were a lot of these beautiful contraptions.
This was, in short, the perfect place to spend a rainy day in a strange city. The icing on the cake was the overabundance of decent elevators, centrally located, to transport us from floor to floor. Susie has a long-standing aversion to moving staircases, so to be in a mall where we didn't have to hunt for a smelly service elevator in the back of a department store was a definite plus.

According to Susie's Fitbit (I lost mine back in Salt Lake City somewhere), we covered 4 miles walking around that mall. So, great food, great exercise, no forced escalator use - it earned a 2 thumbs up (does anyone even say that anymore?) from both of us. And then we went home to our AirBnB, packed for our train trip home, and enjoyed us some more watching of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Really, another darn near perfect day...

Friday, April 28, 2017

Sometimes? I'm Judgmental. Also, Seattle!

I broke down and cleaned Rachel's room myself this morning, because the electrician was coming to install a new ceiling fan and it was too embarrassing to leave it as it was. Her high school's big show is this weekend and next, and there have been a zillion rehearsals, and she's been keeping up with her schoolwork (I think), and overall managing pretty well. So I don't blame her (much) for the mess, but there will still be a housekeeping charge deducted from her allowance this month. I need the money, anyway, after blowing the bank on that train trip I took with Susie.

No granola bars here!
Ah, yes, the train trip. After our tourist-y day in San Francisco, we took the train to Seattle. Unfortunately, we missed seeing the redwoods, because we rode through northern California during the night. Other than that, it was a spectacular trip through the Cascade Mountains, and we saw Mt. Rainier, from a distance. In fact, it would have been thoroughly pleasant, what with the excellent provisions we had laid in for this leg of the trip, if it hadn't been for the parents from hell, right in front of us.

Now, as you can tell by glancing at my profile in the sidebar over there, I have 6 kids, and they have done their share of making us look really bad in public. REALLY BAD. So I didn't think I had it in me to judge other parents. And for the first, oh, 12 hours of the trip I didn't. It's rough, taking a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old on a train. I felt for those people, I really did. Even when the older child woke ME up in the middle of the night, looking for his parents, who for some reason were both asleep in the seats across the aisle, instead of each sitting/sleeping with one kid apiece.

Really, I should have known right there.

And then along came hour 13, when the older one was whining and the younger one was crying, and the older one started hitting the younger one and the younger one started yelling and hitting back, and NO ONE DID ANYTHING. The dad was somehow managing to snooze through all this, and the mom was ignoring them until it got really bad, and THEN she would intervene. Halfheartedly. This happened repeatedly over the next 9 hours or so.


You know, they could have headed this behavior off at the pass, before those poor kids (who really weren't bad) were fighting and crying. They could have taken the kids to the Sightseer Lounge and let them look out the big windows and maybe eat a fun snack. They could have walked around the train with them. They could have NOT BEEN SNOOZING while the rest of us suffered. I swear, by the time we arrived in Seattle, I hated these people more than I have ever hated anyone in my life.

This is yet another example of how train travel can turn you into a person who contemplates murder. I'm not proud of that fact, but there you are...

We stayed in a hostel in Seattle. I'll admit, I had second thoughts about this adventure when we arrived around 9 PM on a Saturday night (via Uber, because I wasn't stupid anymore) and the common areas were full of drinking 20-somethings. LOUD drinking 20-somethings. But Susie had a look on her face that all but shouted, "We're NOT going to pull our bags all over Seattle looking for a real hotel, are we?" The poor girl was traumatized by our California experience, that's for sure.

Our hip room in the hostel
So we stayed, and it turned out that this place (shout out to City Hostel Seattle!) was excellent. We had a private room (with a wall mural by a local artist), and the shared bathrooms weren't communal, and everything was clean, clean, clean. Also, unlike a hotel, it had a few washers and dryers (and free laundry soap!), so we were able to wash our clothes the next morning while we ate the continental breakfast they set out for the guests.

Of course, I did feel like Grandma Moses, sitting there surrounded by fresh-faced young adults, people who you could tell just bounded out of bed in the morning, ready for whatever adventure the day had in store for them. People who no doubt could sleep comfortably even on coach cars in trains and rise refreshed. People who traveled with only a backpack, rather than with 4 pieces of luggage and an 11-year-old in tow.

We went here TWICE.

Carefree, is what I'm trying to say. They all looked so carefree. It made me feel old. Old and careworn. So, yeah, that was the only downside to staying in a hostel. Feeling a hundred years old.

The hostel held our bags for us while Susie and I spent a good 5 hours wandering through Pike's Market. Luckily, Seattle is pagan enough that almost everything was open, even though this was Easter Day. We pretty much ate our way down the street, what with the Russian piroshky place and the Thai place and I can't even remember what all. We saw the original Starbucks. The yarn shop was open, too, and the independent bookstores. There was also the neatest maps store that I couldn't believe was still in business. I mean, who uses maps anymore?

One of the Seven Wonders, I guess

At some point, we decided to look for a grocery store to stock up on food for the train (again), as we were leaving that afternoon. We found an IGA a few blocks away that was notable in that it was actually underground. "This is such a neat city!" Susie said, happily full of pyroshkies as she went down the stairs and into the store. "What'll they think of next?"

And that's the beauty of traveling with an 11-year-old, folks; I'm sure one of my world-weary teens would not have derived nearly that much enjoyment out of Russian pastries and oddly placed supermarkets.

Not to mention that they wouldn't have been caught dead staying with Grandma Moses at a youth hostel...

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Very Best Day

I am TRYING to adjust to normal (i.e., not itinerant train-traveling) life around here, but it's hard. Last night I went to bed at 9:30, exhausted. Which is always a mistake, because then I am wide awake at 1 AM.  Oh, well...

Never knew what these were called before
Also, Rachel basically welcomed me home Friday with "I have rehearsal Saturday morning and then you need to pick me up and take me to buy character shoes. Also, can we go to Target tonight to get the makeup I need for the play?"

Yeah, she missed me. Sort of. So I put those driving shackles right back on and drove to Target, and the next day to the special dance shoe store for the shoes she needs to be part of the ensemble for Beauty and the Beast. She will also be playing the part of a spoon, but thank goodness someone in the drama department took care of those particular wardrobe requirements.

I'm just not that good at silverware costumes.

Surprisingly non-PC for California...
All this driving is making me look back with longing at my days of riding the train and wandering around strange cities, which only goes to show you how deceptive nostalgia can be, right? But, truly, once I called Amtrak from our hard-won hotel room and realized I still had one segment left on my rail pass that was good for taking the bus into San Francisco, our California trip brightened considerably.

The next day we used Uber (FINALLY) to go to the train station and take the Amtrak bus straight to Pier 39 (Fisherman's Wharf). We saw sea lions, which delighted Susie; and we (well, I) enjoyed clam chowder in a sourdough bowl while Susie satisfied her vegetarian self with grilled cheese (on sourdough, natch) and onion rings. Susie bought saltwater taffy. Also, a little wallet that said San Francisco on it that was probably made in China by 10-year-olds locked in a windowless factory 15 hours a day. But Susie thought it was pretty, so there was that.

Literally PILES of sea lions...
Then I looked at the city map and realized there was NO WAY we could walk all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge (especially after what I had put my daughter through the night before) and still enjoy our day. And this, dear reader, was the point where I let loose my inner tourist and plunked down an obscene amount of money for tickets on one of those double-decker Hop-On, Hop-Off buses that will take you around the city.

It was worth every penny.

Free chocolate bunnies from Ghirardelli
We rode to the Golden Gate bridge where we got (nay, hopped) off and wandered around for half an hour enjoying the scenery and also desperately looking for an electrical outlet to charge my phone. Then we hopped back on the next bus, and I managed to persuade heights-averse Susie to ride on the open top where we experienced a fantastic tour of most of the city - the Presidio, the Haight, the Painted Ladies, Chinatown, Union Square - you name it, we saw it.

We finally disembarked at Lombard Street to walk all the way up and see the cars zigzagging their way down the steepest part of the hill (and I have NO pictures of that or of the view because my phone ran out of charge, and really I will regret that forever). Then we inched our way down the hill and over a block or two to Ghirardelli Square, where Susie ate THE MOST EXPENSIVE SUNDAE I have ever had the privilege to buy (she did share a little with me) while I (finally) charged my phone.

Probably, at this point, Larry was sitting at home, watching the credit card charges mount up and regretting he ever encouraged this adventure.

We don't have these at home
And we weren't done! We meandered along the wharf all the way back to where we had started, watched a lady making bunny bread and turtle bread and alligator bread (because San Francisco is wonderful like that), picked up dinner to eat later at the train station, and then spent another small fortune to Uber back to Emeryville. (Yes, there is BART, but one look at the bus maps and schedules and I knew I would never figure it out in time to make our 10 PM train north. Seriously, San Franciso, WTH?)

In San Francisco, even doggies use Uber
Being pros at train travel by this time, we had the Uber drop us at Trader Joe's so we could stock up on food for the ride. Then we summoned another Uber (poor Larry, sitting at home, shaking his head) to get us back to the hotel (where they had held our bags all day, thank goodness) and then to the train station.

Susie was enamored of the palm trees - "Just like Dr. Seuss!"
Seriously, it was a perfect day. We did everything we had planned and we didn't get lost even  once. And then we got on the train for Seattle where we sat directly behind the parents from hell for 22 straight hours, but that is a different story for a different post. Let us leave this day alone in its pristine perfection, one beautiful shining memory, okay?


Monday, April 24, 2017

STILL Talking Amtrak Trip: Part Three

For the past 3 days, every time I wake up (in the morning or from a nap) (yes, I am still exhausted from the trip), I'm confused. I'm looking out the window and thinking, "Huh, things aren't moving out there. We must be at a stop." And then I roll over and think, "Hey! There's a green wall over there! This is my bedroom! Why is it on a train?" Also, the bed is rocking.

This is a little scary. I can see it happening once, but 3 or 4 times?

Donner Lake, in the Sierra Nevadas
Speaking of things rocking, let's talk about California. We got off the train in Emeryville (which is on the other side of the Bay Bridge, which is not the Golden Gate Bridge, and who knew there were so many bridges?); but, unlike all the smart travelers who immediately boarded a special Amtrak bus for San Francisco, Susie and I pulled our luggage about a mile (shades of the Chicago death march, I know) to our AirBnB, because it was so much cheaper to stay in Emeryville than in the big city.

No one was there. So we stood outside while I phoned and texted and Susie marveled at the "weird" plants on the West Coast, and no one responded, so we pulled our suitcases back toward the hotels near the Bay Bridge (because, why? I had never heard of Uber?), which turned out to be further than the train station, and there were all sorts of weird detours for pedestrians (Powell Street, WTH?) until we staggered into one of the hotels I managed to pull up on my phone.

There was no room at the inn, essentially. Only, while I was standing at the desk being told that, the floor was rocking up and down beneath me. Earthquake? I glanced around to see if anyone was running for doorways. No, everyone seemed calm. Maybe they were used to this?

Puzzled, I led Susie back outside and we sat down on a bench while I called all the hotels which we could see from where we were sitting. The bench was rocking, too. I could only stop the rocking by pacing back and forth, which was sort of hard after dragging suitcases for over 2 miles. I finally found a reasonably priced room at a decent hotel. "We just have to walk over there," I told Susie, pointing at the sort-of-distant tower. She looked at me doubtfully. "It will be easy," I insisted. "Look, Maps says it's only a third of a mile!"

Have I mentioned it was now evening rush hour, at the eastern end of the Bay Bridge? Don't anyone be asking me to plan your trips, is what I'm saying.

Proof that we made it to SF eventually...
In short, we spent close to 2 hours wandering around Emeryville (read, NOT San Francisco) with suitcases in tow, looking for a place to stay, while our fellow train passengers rode in comfort all the way into the city and were dropped off near their hotels. We eventually did make it to our hotel room and collapsed. And of course the room was moving as soon as I stood still.

Reader, I Googled it. It had a name! What a relief! But still freaky.

Susie and I dined not-so-elegantly on microwave popcorn and Nestle Crunch ice cream bars that evening, because that was the only affordable food in the hotel. Again, professional trip planner is probably not going to be one of my future careers. But here is the joy of traveling with an 11-year-old: Susie didn't mind. She was too enamored with the large bathroom and the real bed to care much. Also, I think she was relieved we weren't sleeping outside somewhere, huddled together under our luggage. Frankly? So was I.

I'm realizing I skipped right over Salt Lake City here, with its two yarn stores and majestic mountains and awesome food. That's okay, I'll get back to it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Train Trip, Part The Second

I'll tell the truth - I am regretting my decision a week ago to wait until the end of the trip to blog about it. Because, really, I am seriously overwhelmed now. But, boy, was I tired, plus it was harder to experience the trip if I was constantly processing it via writing about it, if that makes any sense. So I decided to experience it and THEN write about it.

Beautiful, right? No idea where it is. Utah, maybe?
Naturally, the entire trip I had a list of travel tips running through my head, alongside amusing anecdotes of people met along the way, all of which I jotted down on the notekeeping app on my phone, confident that I would turn it all into a brilliant recounting of my travels. Unfortunately, what this means is, I'm sitting here staring at cryptic notes such as "Scottish twins" and "Cheeseburger lady" and wondering what the hell I was talking about.

I bet this never happened to Mark Twain.

Why is "Mark Twain" the only travel writer I can come up with at this point? My brain is completely addled. The trip, which I envisioned as being a super-easy jaunt across the country by rail, actually required quite a bit of energy. I am tapped out. I went to bed early last night (my bed! My beautiful bed!) and headed out to yoga this morning, where it turned out that a 2-week train ride can really mess with your balance. I came home and slept 2 more hours.

This all supports my "I'm not 20-something anymore" discovery that I talked about earlier.

Oh, my Lord, stop gabbing and write already. How about a list?

Train Travel Tips

1. Comfort

Luckily, Susie and I were smart enough to bring blankets - some lightweight down throws that pack down small - but what we also needed were a couple of those goofy-looking U-shaped neck pillows whose purpose I never understood before. All the cool travelers had them. We didn't, so we settled for bunching up our sweatshirts and stuffing those under our heads. This didn't work well. So buy the weird-looking pillows - you'll be glad you did.

2. Irritation

Not a hospitable environment...
Apparently, there is an Amtrak rule that there must be one weird guy who ALWAYS sits in a corner of the sightseer lounge and talks loudly enough that you know WAY too much about his life. Every single train, this happened. It's enough to make you (well, me, anyway) start hating humanity. The first train, it was the guitar guy. The second train (the one from Salt Lake to San Francisco), we had a guy who reminded me of the obnoxious up-and-comer on Scrooged - you know, the one after Bill Murray's job? The one who says, "There's no I in T-E-A-M" in an irritating voice? In addition, he was remarkably self-centered - he believed (in a car FULL of people using earbuds) that there was no problem setting up a small speaker to listen to his music with.

We didn't have to ride with him long to realize he had obvious personality issues - to the extent that, if there had been a sudden train breakdown high in the snowy Sierra Nevadas, he would have been the first passenger to freak out and try to get rid of all the old people - you know, in order to make the food last. And I would definitely have been one of those old people, particularly after I told him to use earbuds so I could hear the train's Park Service ranger give his spiel. The one about the Donner Party, ironically enough...

The regular coach cars had their issues, too. Mostly - MOSTLY - people talked in undertones, so all you would hear was a low murmur all around. Because that's what people DO in public, unless they are unsocialized cretins who have never been told by anyone that they are obnoxious individuals who should never consort with other human beings.

I mean, not to put too fine a point on it or anything...

In our coach from Seattle to Spokane, the entire car had to listen to someone of this ilk discuss finances with his seatmate, then endure his talking LOUDLY on his cellphone to some other victim. The entire car was thinking, "Dear Lord, please let this guy fall asleep. Please, please..." Which he finally did, around 10:00, and we all drew a sigh of relief - until he started snoring. I mean, these were Richter-scale snores. If his seat ticket hadn't indicated that he would be getting off in a couple of hours, there may have occurred a scene reminiscent of the Orient Express.

Suitable for knitting AND garrotting, I'd bet...
This is what extended train travel can do to you, people - it can turn you into someone who wonders how effective a murder weapon her 47" circular knitting needles would be.

3. Food

These taste heavenly on a train.
As noted here before, it took only a day and a half for Susie and I to become heartily sick of granola bars and dried fruit. For some reason, train travel makes you crave fresh food. So, on our second morning, we threw our budget out the window and took breakfast in the dining car (omelettes - yum!). On the train, they seat you with strangers, so they can keep all the tables full. That day we were seated with 2 gentlemen who hailed from Scotland, who happened to be twins, which made me feel as if we were about to be part of a weird Monty Python skit.

I literally couldn't understand what one of them was saying, so thick was his brogue. His brother, who had lived 20 years in England, was more intelligible, to my American ears anyway. I asked them how they were enjoying Brexit (politics at breakfast - what a great idea!) and he said, "Not so much - but you folks aren't doing much better here." So we got along, is what I'm saying, and it wasn't nearly as awkward as you might think dining with perfect strangers at a tiny table would be.

We did this again on our last morning, because we had been living on cheese and crackers for over 24 hours at that point, and sat with an older couple from Indiana. No, Wisconsin, they got on the train in Indiana. No, wait, Michigan - Michigan is above Indiana.

See? Train travel is excellent for learning geography.

These people were dedicated train travelers. I met quite a few of that type on the trip, actually, and it is interesting to note that they all paid the extra money for the roomettes. I would mention that we were traveling coach, and they would say, "Oh, yes, we traveled coach - ONCE." I would like to be rich enough one day to be one of these people.

Was this category about food or people? I'm terrible at staying on topic.

4. Conductors

She earned these.
People, if you are on a train, conductors are gods. They hold all power. You DO NOT want to irritate them. We had one conductor from Seattle to St. Paul who felt sorry for me (I told you I looked haggard) and said, "Grab those 2 empty seats tonight - I won't let anyone else sit there." And I was able to lie horizontally and actually get some sleep. That lady earned herself a pair of homemade fingerless mitts, I'll tell you.

But woe to the people they don't like. One conductor regaled us with the story of a roomette-dweller who buzzed her at 2:30 in the morning because he wanted a cheeseburger. "A cheeseburger!" she said. "I told him, I said, 'Don't you be asking me for no cheeseburger in the middle of the night!' and then I turned off my buzzer so he couldn't bother me. I said, 'You buzz me again, I'll have you meet my 2 brothers - Smith and Wesson!" At this point the other conductor was practically falling on the floor, laughing. "Girl," he said. "You go too far!" And she said, "Hey, I'm very assertive. People think I'm being rude."

We loved that woman.

Okay, enough about the train. Tomorrow (or Monday), we'll talk about the places we visited, once I can decipher some more of these notes. I mean, if anyone is even still reading this...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Train Trip, Part The First

Whew! It took me 10 minutes just to figure out how to use this keyboard and sign into my blog on this IPad. Maybe not quite as hard as attempting to record the entire trip on pieces of birch bark, but still...and forget about pictures - I can't figure out how to get them from my camera to my IPad.

Hey, Lewis and Clark didn't know how to do that, either.

So, we made it to Salt Lake City. You know, a few months ago, when I read that 20-something's blog post about how easy it was to cross the USA by rail, I never once stopped to consider the fact that I myself am not 20-something. Or that, unlike this devil-may-care traveler with his RailPass, I would have an 11-year-old daughter in tow.

I mean, I'm betting that blogger didn't spend half an hour at one of his stops attempting to contact Amtrak about a lost stuffed elephant, you know?

That guy managed to travel light. My toiletry bag alone weighs 5 pounds, what with the shampoo and conditioner and the moisturizer and make-up - in short, all the accoutrements required to keep my appearance from frightening perfect strangers on the train. So, when we stopped for our layover in Chicago, it was sort of a big deal when we learned that the lockers at the station had been torn out the week before. You see, the original plan had been to leave our 4 bags at the station and meander through downtown Chicago, checking out the Lake Shore, a yarn shop, and of course a Chicago pizza place.

With 2 rolling suitcases and 2 backpacks in tow, this meander turned into something closer to the Bataan Death March. We made it down to the lakefront (I sensibly jettisoned the yarn shop plans), but it wasn't a stellar experience. The way back was, of course, even worse. By the time we reached the station, my legs were shaking.

I believe it was at this point that the refrain "I am no longer 20-something" began running through my head.

It became my constant companion. Turns out, in your 50's? It's no longer so easy to sleep sitting up in a train, even with a reclining seat back and a nifty leg rest. Also, those fluorescent lights in the teeny-tiny bathrooms are not kind to a middle-aged person's face. I'm telling you, there is not enough make-up IN THE WORLD to fix what I saw there. And not sleeping for two nights didn't really help matters. Haggard would be the kindest way to describe it.

Also, applying mascara on a moving train requires a special kind of skill set, I'll tell you that right now.

Still, there were fun parts. There was the lounge car on each train, with the huge windows and swivel seats, where you could sit and watch the scenery. We saw the Midwest, and let me just say right here that Iowa wins the prize for rocking that Americana vibe. I mean, we rode past the farmer on his tractor and the children playing ball and the miles of rolling fields and all the cute little houses and wondered if this were an Amtrak version of The Truman Show, all set up near the tracks for our viewing pleasure.

We drove through miles and miles of flat Nebraska fields in the dark, with the full moon shining down on them the whole time. The sun rose and gave us light just in time to see the Rockies looming in the distance, snow-capped and magnificent. We jumped out of the train in Denver at 8 AM and ran into the (perfectly gorgeous) station, looking for some fresh food to buy for the rest of the day (we were going to be riding until 11 PM). Quite honestly, it turned out that our plan to subsist on granola bars and dried fruit while on the train itself was a VERY BAD IDEA.

I swear, I can't even look at a granola bar without gagging right now.

So there you have it - the first part of our trip, the good and the bad. There's more, but this post is too long as it is.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Packing Is Hard

Harder to do than it looks
Well, 15 minutes to leave for the train station. I've spent the last 5 hours packing. Yeah, I don't know why, either. I mean, the knitting did take a bit - looking for the right size needles, choosing the yarn - and I had to make sure everything fit and I wanted to arrange my clothes so I wouldn't have to go into my main suitcase until Salt Lake City, but 5 hours? If I had been with Lewis and Clark, they would never have managed to leave St. Louis.

Anyway, I've bought a keyboard for my IPad (oooh, fancy!) so I can blog at you during our trip. And hopefully I will leave this cough behind me at home, because seriously, someone on that train tonight might just kill me if I make the racket that I did last night. But have Robitussin, will travel - that's me. I'm so darn plucky.

Westward, ho!


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