Sunday, April 30, 2017

Day 4 - Buffalo Gap, North Dakota

Today was a long day.  The picture of Josie and Maggie tells it all.  We left Minneapolis at 9 a.m. central time and arrived here nine hours later - definitely their longest time ever in the car, ever.  We were all ready to get out - "Mom - are we there yet?"

Having said that, it was a beautiful drive.  Blue skies, moderate temperature, varying landscapes - all the reasons that we have come West.

Folks here have a sense of humor - I suppose you have to when summer (per the locals) is only June, July and August.

Example: billboard along 94 West - "North Dakota Morning Commute"  - the picture showed a completely empty road.

Example: owner of Buffalo Gap Guest Ranch, our accommodation for tonight: "60 degrees below zero keeps out the riff-raff."

Once we arrived, the most we could manage was drinks on the patio of the ranch - tough, eh?  It was particularly difficult with the view!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Day 3 - Bloomington, MN

Yes, 2 places in 3 days that have the same name - not a typo! 

Today has been a walk down memory lane in many respects, some memories almost 30 years old and some literally freshly born ...

As some of you know, I graduated with a Master's degree from the University of Minnesota in 1988.  I have been a Christmas correspondent with several of my fellow students during the last three decades, but we have not been together in the same place in all that time.  Until today.  I was so delighted to have dinner with a fellow graduate that came all the way from Duluth for the occasion.  We had a delicious meal and even better conversation.  I am so grateful for relationships that can pick up where they left off, even if that was many moons ago!

This stopping point also presented an opportunity to visit with a former member of my HR team and his wife, who are celebrating 8 weeks with a newborn.  It was a blessing to rock the baby to sleep and give the parents a break to enjoy their lunch.

In the meantime, the cats are adapting to life on the road.  Maggie (left) has realized that this means she can sleep on the bed, even at night, which is a luxury she never has at home. 

Josie explores every inch of each hotel room the moment we arrive.  She is a Houdini cat, looking for an escape route.  Tonight, we were convinced she had gotten out of the room, since we could not find her anywhere in the 25x15 space.  Turns out she had found a hole in the box spring and crawled inside.  Fortunately, she is a slave to her 11 p.m. wet food, and she came out as soon as she heard the spoon tapping on the ceramic dish.  Needless to say, that hole is thoroughly blockaded now! 
And now your fun facts about Minnesota:
Minnesota is infamous for its cold winters. Luckily, Minneapolis residents can stay warm with the Minneapolis Skyway, an indoor pedestrian walkway system that links many downtown buildings. Spanning 69 blocks and seven miles, it's the longest continuous skyway system in the world.
Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was born in Minneapolis and grew up in St. Paul.
The Honey Crisp Apple was named the Minnesota State Fruit in 2006, and for good reason – it was invented by the University of Minnesota as part of an apple breeding program.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Day 2 - Cedar Falls, IA

Today offered a little more sanity. Up at 8 am for a leisurely quality breakfast at the Extended Stay .... not.  We took a walk down the street to the Starbucks - Spicy Chorizo sandwich for me and Bacon, Egg and Gouda for the Spousal Unit.  Along the way, we passed a local fun park.  It was deserted on a Friday morning at 9.30 am, but I can imagine it jammed with children licking dripping ice cream cones after the mini-golf and the kiddie rides.

Next thing I know we are crossing the mighty Mississippi - I can never get over the width of it.  On the other side?  The great state of Iowa - and home to the World's Largest Truck Stop - Iowa 80.

A few important facts about Cedar Falls:

It was originally named Sturgis Falls but was later re-named Cedar Falls after the Cedar River.  However, there is not a waterfall anywhere near the town.

There are more than 100 miles of scenic trails in the Cedar Valley.  We enjoyed part of  lovely trail along the Cedar River.  We saw a variety of birds, including a small hawk.

The Blackhawk Hotel in downtown Cedar Falls is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Iowa.

Robert Waller, the author of The Bridges of Madison County, is from Cedar Falls.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Day 1 - Bloomington, IL

Well, we made it.  Our day started at 7 am (hard for retirees who aren’t used to getting up until 9 am!) in order to be ready for the movers at 8.  And they were right on time!  Almost nine hours later, we left the house in Troy on our way to Bloomington, IL, our first stopping point. 
As I write this, I am still coming down from the adrenalin rush – the Smirnoff Ice Screwdriver is helping!  I remember that we crossed into Indiana around 5.30 p.m., and that Josie complained as we went through Indianapolis, but most of the five hours to Bloomington is blurry.  There are a couple of notable exceptions.
Mile 200 on 74 West in Illinois – there is a sign for a Scuba School, with a number to call.  I am pretty sure there is not a body of water deep enough for scuba diving within 200 miles!
We had an unparalleled opportunity to experience MULTIPLE instances of the great American past-time – road construction.  My personal favorite was the piece of construction that closed a right-hand lane for only 500 yards, and yet resulted in a 5-mile tailback and a 30-minute delay.  There has to be a better way!
So, I promised a few fun facts about each watering hole – so here are some notable notes about Bloomington.
The Kickapoo Indians were the first to settle the on the land with the first non native settlers arriving in the 1820's. The first settlers were farmers attracted to the land for its fertile soil and almost perfect farming conditions.
Bloomington got its name in 1830, before that in was known as Blooming Grove, and prior to that Keg Grove.
The namesake for The Wizard of Oz is buried here in Bloomington.  Dorothy Gage was the niece of author L. Frank Baum, known for his successful book and later movie, The Wizard of Oz. If you've ever wondered where the namesake of Dorothy came from, it was his niece and she is currently buried right here in Bloomington's Evergreen Memorial Cemetery.
I will close with a picture of pin art created by #1 Daughter – she designed it to show the intersection of Cleveland, Ohio and Kalispell, Montana with a heart, and then she created the design with nails and embroidery thread on a background of reclaimed wood.  It speaks volumes …

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Bound for Montana

Tomorrow is the day.  We start our seven-day journey from Ohio to Montana. So much has led to this point in time.  Selling the house in Cleveland.  Moving into temporary digs near Dayton.  The retirement gatherings.  Flying #1 Daughter to San Francisco for her summer internship.  Taking the cats to the vet for a final check-up. Transitioning the computer and Rav4 to #1 Son. Supervising the packers who boxed everything to be loaded on the truck tomorrow. It has been a whirlwind; we are ready to get on the road!
Josie among the boxes

As I have been preparing for this and thinking about blog posts for our trip, I studied other westward journeys and I learned a few things (or re-learned my eighth-grade history – take your pick).
The Louisiana Purchase occurred in 1803, opening up western territories. 
Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition to map the newly acquired area, to find a practical route through it, and to establish an American presence in this territory before European powers tried to do so.  The expedition also had a scientific and economic agenda: to study the area's plants, animal life, and geography, and to establish trade with local Native American tribes.
From May 1804 to September 1806, this was the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States.
My lesson from this? If not for the Louisiana Purchase, we would be moving to France!  I fancy ourselves as modern day explorers, and I welcome the prospect of divulging fun facts about the places that we will visit over the next seven days.  Watch this space.
Starting in 1830, many pioneers launched from St. Louis or Independence, Missouri onto the Oregon Trail in order to cross the Great Plains.  At that time, Cincinnati, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Minneapolis were brand new towns; the “frontier” was beyond the Mississippi Valley. Note: amazing to consider how much has been altered in these previously untamed spaces, all in less than 200 years. I am grateful that Montana still has significant wilderness.
The Oregon Trail is a 2,170-mile east–west, wagon route and emigrant trail that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon. The eastern part of the Oregon Trail spanned part of the future state of Kansas, and nearly all of what are now the states of Nebraska and Wyoming.
The journey from Independence, MO to Oregon along the Oregon Trail typically took 4 to 6 months. 
Wagon Trains had large numbers of livestock such as cattle and sheep. Note: I have been known to complain (mildly) about the upcoming challenge of transporting 2 cats across 1,895 miles. (I will have Maggie and Josie in the 4Runner; Spousal Unit will have the company of #1 Son’s parakeet, Tom, in the Audi.) Having now refreshed my memory on the nature of the trek for the pioneers, I will keep my pity party to myself.
The pioneers who set out from the Eastern United States were looking for new homes, seeking their fortune, or both.
Thousands of the pioneers were relatively recent immigrants; between 1845 and 1847, one and a half million people emigrated from Ireland due to the famine. Note: John Gerhard Nickolaus, Maria Elizabeth, Heinrich Jacob and their parents boarded the ship Cassander on August 22, 1834 to sail to America from Germany.  John Gerhard Nickolaus was my great, great grandfather, who settled in Northwest Ohio.  A bit later - May 3, 1990 - the Spousal Unit emigrated from England – is it just a coincidence that is the same day we will arrive in Montana?  In my imagination, we are completing an emigration that was put on pause … 
My great, great grandmother is in the center.  My great grandfather is second from the left in the front row
Many people did not survive the journey, due to heavy rainfall, diseases such as cholera and smallpox, and blizzards.  10,000 people died on the Trail between 1835 and 1855.  (Contrary to popular belief, attacks by Indians were rare; the local tribes often welcomed the wagon trains for the trade.)
The Bozeman Trail was an overland route connecting the gold rush territory of Montana to the Oregon Trail. Note: the Montana state motto is Oro y Plata, which means Gold and Silver in Spanish.
It has occurred to me, as I sit here writing this, that I have not mentioned any sense of loss for leaving Ohio.  I reckon this is because I have had so much time to prepare for this moment, I am emotionally ready.  It could also be explained by this quote from Rick Godwin: “One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up, instead of what they have to gain.”  Like the pioneers before me, I am seeking a new home and the adventures that will inevitably come my way, and this makes it easier to let go.
Wagons ho!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Life and death. So far and yet so close.

I am sad to say that our family experienced a sudden, unexpected death this past week.  Such times inevitably result in personal introspection – what is the state of our relationships with others? Are we at peace with God if tomorrow we should meet our Maker? During these moments of self-examination, I often turn to nature for consolation and inspiration.

The crabapples in our neighborhood are in full flower this week, but those flowers are susceptible to the wind.  At one house, so many petals had fallen that it looked like a drift of snow up against the grass.

On our patio, the scattering of petals mimicked snowflakes.  So delicate. 

It made me sad to think that so quickly the spring beauty of the trees would be gone.
Then I looked at the crabapple that donated the petals, and saw the bumblebees that were working overtime to collect the pollen before the impending thunderstorm stripped the tree.  The flowers may pass away, but they will be replaced by the miniature apples that will feed the birds and the squirrels through the fall and winter. The bumblebees would convert the pollen to honey.
My lessons from these observations? 
1: Enjoy beauty in the moment.
“Flowers that are offered for the dead, do not know the difference of where their beauty will be placed, they do not say, "This is not a palace" or "This is not a garden"; they just are. They are just beautiful, without giving regards to whether they are placed on a grave or in a castle. Flowers are just beautiful, whether they grow by the wayside or in a manicured garden. If we were all like flowers, then we would all be beautiful, with no regards to why or how. We just are. We are just beautiful.” C. JoyBell C.
2: Life goes on in an unending cycle that benefits different groups at different times; we all have a role to play in living a life that matters.
At the end of life, what really matters is not what we bought but what we built; not what we got but that we shared; not our competence but our character; and not our success but our significance.  Live a life that matters.   Live a life of love.  Author Unknown

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Spotted Along the Byways

One Christmas, the Christmas tree that we had painstakingly tied to the roof of the Chrysler mini-van flew off onto the roadway behind us, narrowly missing the car that was in our wake.  Of course, we quickly braked and then reversed to retrieve the precious cargo.  (As a result, Spousal Unit jammed the tree into the back of the van to avoid another catastrophe. As Number One Daughter tells it, she was pulling pine needles from her hair for weeks after this event since the tree was practically in her lap.)  Anyway, the point is – we didn’t leave the tree on the side of road.
Apparently, we are alone in this practice – our recent road trips have presented numerous opportunities to observe trash on the highway.  Ever wonder about the various belongings that are smashed up against the concrete barrier?  Take the metal frame of a table – did someone see that fly off the back of the truck and think ‘thank goodness we don’t have to take that to the landfill!’ Or the mattress – who just leaves a mattress on a four-lane highway?  And then there’s the red Coleman cooler.  Do you suppose some guy arrived at the Keith Urban concert and said “Oh, damn, I lost my cooler.”?   Perhaps the 40 pieces of clothing scattered on the off ramp are akin to Hansel’s bread crumbs, to point the way home.

Our byways deliver entertainment in other forms as well, from the sublime (church on the hillside) to the silly (Dinosaur Kingdom II).  


I also enjoy reading bumper stickers and magnets.  As an avid runner, I am proud of my 13.1 magnet.  So, you can understand that I am scratching my head over the 0.0 magnet!
Springtime driving through the mountains of Tennessee, the Carolinas, and the Virginias is nothing short of delightful.  Eye candy abounds – redbuds and dogwoods pop against the still-brown background of the hillsides.  On the last few days of our trip, splotches of misty green appeared among the trees, and I thought at length about how to describe the look of it.  My best shot?  It’s as though Jack Frost picked up the wrong paint can and had a dizzy night sprinkling drops of color here and there.

"I opened two gifts this morning.  They were my eyes." Author unknown.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Report: Week 5 of Retirement (or Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen)

Another one of my ‘goals’ for retirement has been to start cooking again.  Spousal Unit (chief cook and bottle washer for the last 20 years) welcomes this, but with a bit of smirk that becomes more and more understandable as time passes.          Exhibit A:
Me: “Why can’t I get the ice cubes out of the tray?”

Spousal Unit: “Try twisting the tray.”

Me: “Wow – it works.”
Spousal Unit: “You have so much to learn.”

Of course, my “rookie” status has led to some gentle hazing from the expert.  One morning, I offered to help with breakfast.  His response?
“Can you make the toast?”

Me: “Retirement is going to be fun – we better keep sharp objects out of the kitchen.”
Since then, we have partnered together to make several items (with no calls to 911). 

Pineapple Carrot Cake
Salmon Quinoa

Philly Cheese Steak Sloppy Joes
But I don’t think I am out of the woods yet.  As we prepared the shopping list for the sloppy joes, Spousal Unit remarked: “Do I need to draw you a map to Kroger?”

Monday, April 3, 2017

Paradise ≠ a Parking Lot

What is the wellspring of my love of gardening?
It could be my Dad – throughout his life, his lawn and garden was an art form to be perfected through back breaking work, often involving his crew of seven kids.  Late in life, he found an ideal outlet at a garden center and earned money on the side trimming trees.  You know, pruning the trees was not really about the money - he saw it as a labor of love, both for the tree and especially for its owner.  I learned so much from Dad about how to employ pruning to shape a tree, how to cut

In our neighborhood
the branches to keep the specimen healthy, how to look at the tree with a critical eye – Spousal Unit would say that all of the kids inherited the ‘family stance’ – we stand back from the yard or the tree, put our hands on our hips and lock our knees – all with a view to determine if perfection has been obtained, or if something is still out of place.

Volunteer pansies in the back yard
It could be the wonder I experience when I look at the simplest of creations – such as these pansies; the placement and variety of delicate markings on the faces are awe-inspiring to me.  I have a strong desire to be part of that creation and to further it. Maybe this is also why I feel such a profound sense of loss every time I see trees that have been cut down to make way for a new building, or even worse, a parking lot.
It could be that my faith is renewed in moments in nature, when I am inspired by such simple beauty.  “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you?” Luke 12: 27 – 28.  

It could be my Mom, who has a green thumb with African violets - the pictures below are just those that are blooming at the moment!  She can rescue the most sickly patient and within weeks, it seems, it is producing vibrant blooms to brighten her dining room window. 
It could be that my yard contains the possibility for me to be in control.  I can define the start and finish.  I can define ‘complete’ and actually complete something.  In the past, in the world of work, so many actions were ‘to be continued’, never quite finished.  In my yard, I get a sense of satisfaction that is important to me somehow.
It could be the therapeutic value I derive from being outside in the sun and unsullied air, putting my gloved hands into the dirt.  There is a simple joy I experience just by being outside.  During hours and weeks and years of being constrained by office buildings, I longed to be in the fresh, open spaces of my yard.  It’s there that you can hear the birds chirping, and the wind in the trees.
Blooms on our block
As we make our move to Montana, I have been giving a lot of thought to our plot of land.  At the moment, apart from looming larches, a thicket of aspens and a large pond, it is a fairly blank canvas.  I am rubbing my hands with glee over the possibilities.  To aid the vision, I have been gathering ideas via Pinterest, and my pins are multiplying like rabbits.  This very process of data-gathering has given me pause.  It has made me mindful about my stated desire during retirement to let go of my old definitions of perfection.  As much as I might admire classic mid-western landscaping, I don’t want to re-create it – I want something that fits our new environment.  This is about working with nature to enhance and perpetuate what is natural and good.  You can be sure it won’t be a parking lot.
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