Sunday, July 25, 2010

Storm Stories, Pt. 3

There are storms and then there are Storms. It’s summer and I live in Tornado Alley—when comes the winter, I will spare you my thunderstorm obsession, but for now, I beg your indulgence.

Here’s the scene: C’s baptism is the reason we’re all gathered in Mpls and it’s the night before (a week ago yesterday). Mom and Dad are camped in the site next to me and our cousins Alan and Susan are camped kitty-corner to us. We’ve all gathered at K2M’s house (M’s mom and sister, and our Gram, are also there) and we had a great dinner, all stretched over two Duncan Phyfe tables, and it was a fantastic time to be together. It’s one thing to love your family because you must and it’s another thing entirely to really enjoy being together.

We left their house about 8:30 or so, about the time C announced, loudly and with much emphasis, that it was waaaay past her bedtime. Mom drove back to the campground with me in the Jeep; Dad drove the truck with Alan and Susan in it. We’d turned off the interstate towards the campground when things got a little dicey—torrential rains, winds from hell, and clouds that looked like they were starting to descend and rotate. Most of the time, storms don’t freak me out, but that one did. We got back to the campground and Dad hadn’t made it back yet, so Mom stayed in the Jeep while I dashed to the Scamp. One of my windows is still leaking—the one over my bed—and I just knew it was going to be bad when I got in there. I’d left a towel clamped to the sill, so at least I didn’t have Niagara Falls in there. But as the storm picked up—and there was a bit where I was actually worried about the Scamp getting picked up, literally, as it was rocking so badly—I sat on the end of my bed, replacing towels as they became soaked (took about three or four minutes per towel). I went through six hand towels—and I’m talking sopping-wring them out wet—in about half an hour. But then the storm started to lighten up and by 9:30, the sky had turned yellow and I knew it was almost over. (I’d learned last week that yellow sky don’t have anything to do with bad weather—it comes from sunlight on the back side of the storm.)

Once things had settled down, people started trickling out of their campers to assess what had happened. One of the people who was out and about was the Good Samaritan who had kindly put down my parents’ awning before the storm started. We’re grateful for their kindness, because that storm would have ripped it apart like it was Kleenex. And somebody pointed out that the huge willow tree that was on the far side of the campsite next to Alan and Susan’s had snapped off at the top. Half of the tree was just gone. Incredible storm. I never want to go through one like that while I’m in the Scamp again. A couple of weeks ago, when Mom and I were in Lincoln, we had a doozy of a storm, but it wasn’t a scary kind of storm. This was different. And it’s completely a different thing to go through a storm when you’re in a solid building or if you’re in a camper. Or even if you’re in a 33-foot fifth wheel like my parents…vs. a 13-foot Scamp.

The next morning, I asked my parents where they thought this storm ranked on The List. I said, if Glendive was #1 and Mount Vernon was #2, where would they put this one? Mom said this one would rank #2, because Glendive went all night. And Mount Vernon wasn’t a scary storm. Maybe because I was a kid, the storm in Glendive, where we were in our pop-up camper, didn’t freak me out. This one made me extremely nervous and uncomfortable.

On Monday, as we were having breakfast with Alan and Susan before they left, we watched the campground crews trying to dismantle the poor willow tree—and once the chainsaws came out, the testosterone hit toxic levels, even across the distance between them and us. But we also decided that if they’d listened to us in the first place, the whole process would have been done a lot faster.

The good news is that after much effort, I've finally fixed the window (I think). There was a lot of junk in the drain channel (I figured that, but up until yesterday, didn't know how to fix it)--and yesterday I pulled a lot out of there: a helicopter, a couple of dead Asian beetles, muddy gunk... No wonder it was clogged. For good measure, I did all the other windows too, but they weren't as bad. I think I'm eventually going to have to replace those tracks, but for now, I'm just glad I didn't have to take it to the factory to have the window replaced.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Practical Scamping

I would say that any time I get to spend in the Scamp is good time. But in the last while, I've come to differentiate between Practical Scamping and The Other Kind. Since I can't have my Scamp here with me (it's being stored at my parents' for the foreseeable future), I was feeling a little depressed about not getting to Scamp this summer.

Which is not to say that I haven't used it this summer. I Scamped out here to Lincoln in May to find a place to live. This is Practical Scamping: towing the trailer so that you have a place to sleep (and cook, etc.). Since it's become increasingly impossible to leave the cats for any length of time (Galway and his annoying separation anxiety, which manifests in peeing on things when I get home), it's just easier (in most cases) to take the cats with me when I go places for a couple of days. So I camped in Lincoln for a week (with Mom, cats, and me in 60 sq ft) and it was great. Saved us a lot of money in hotels. Last year, Practical Scamping was how I got from Ohio to MN and back again (thought I made it into a trip and took my time, going both directions. That's also how I spent some time at William O'Brien State Park in Stillwater--Dad did a wedding down there, so the parents and I camped in adjacent spots.

And this coming weekend, the parents are going to camp in their behemoth 33-foot fifth wheel (and K3's godparents are going to "camp" in their Class A) and I'm going to Scamp in my 13-foot Scamp at the campground closest to K2, K3, M, and C (and Marley), because C is getting baptized this weekend. K2M don't have room for all of us (plus Gram, plus cats), hence the camping. This is Practical Scamping. I really can't wait. I'm hoping we can do some cooking over campfires at the campground, at least introducing C. to the idea of camping and camping food (s'mores, etc), even if she's not old enough to fully process.

The original plan, then, was for Mom and Dad (with Gram) to tow the Scamp behind their fifth wheel up north and I was going to go back to Lincoln. But, as I said, the thought of doing nothing but Practical Scamping was depressing me a little bit, and there was no good reason why I had to go back to Lincoln immediately, so I made reservations for myself on the North Shore for two nights. Get some breathing room on Lake Superior before the fall semester starts. Feel like all is right with my world, which currently has no link to any body of water. Maybe get some writing fodder. My idea for my dissertation, after all, has to do with Scamping. And then I'll drive to the parents' house, drop off the Scamp, spend a day or two there, then head down to the Cities to babysit C., while K2 sleeps off her night shift. Then, we'll head back to Lincoln.

Every once in a while, I'll be a little bit blind-sided by the intensity that the Scamp brings to my happiness. It's something that I absolutely need in my life to be happy, I've realized. Maybe it's the mobility, the freedom, the ability to see new places, the feeling of self-sufficiency, or something else entirely. The point is that it's there. Even though "there" is a couple hundred miles north of "here."

Friday, June 25, 2010

Home and Away

Yesterday marked two weeks since I've become a "permanent" resident of Nebraska. Maybe permanent isn't the right word, because I haven't yet gotten my new driver's license or registered to vote. Or because ever since I left Minnesota after college, I've never felt a part of the places I've lived. I've always felt like my life was in pseudo-transit, just waiting for the day when my address labels would read Minnesota again. It's a weird feeling. And now I'm back to actually being a student again. I'm still working out how I'm supposed to feel about all of this.

The good news is that where I am is actually on the way to other places (unlike BG) and this means that my family can actually come visit me--rather than it just being easier for me to visit them. My mother has already been down here--to help me find a place to live--and my parents just came through here en route to Colorado. My sister, K2, was going to bring C. down here over the 4th, but those plans have changed. But we're looking to make plans for later in the summer. This is good. Very good.

But I've been thinking about what it means to be home and what it means to be away. This morning, I woke up to a very cranky Maeve at 5:00, who was hungry. In the last two weeks, the cats have seemed to follow the same eating and sleeping schedule as their cousin C: up early, eat, then have a morning nap. Afternoon naps for everybody. This morning, Maeve wasn't having any of it. At least Galway is silent when he's upset. So I picked her up and she promptly wrapped her paws around my neck, like a kid and squawked out her problems. I petted for a while, then put her down, and we all got some more sleep. It's been tough to get used to this studio, not just me, but the cats as well. They're not used to having so few spaces to escape from each other. But thankfully, the addition of the brown loveseat has been great--the loss of floorspace actually means more space for the cats to be away from each other. Which makes me happy.

Things are mostly unpacked and put away here, as much as they will be, since I'm moving to a one-bedroom in August. This morning, I made my first pot of tea here and this seemed to signal Home to me, more than anything yet so far. I'm using my Belleek teapot (bought to commemorate C's birth in February), filled with Rose Earl Grey, and sipped out of the teacup the AMR got me as a going-away present. I've been using my green travel mug for my tea needs since I got here and in hindsight, that seem to signal some sort of fugue state, rather than permanence. I could have had the same effect with any of my teapots, any of my cups, but there's a lot to be said for what teapots and cups represent. Sit down, slow down, enjoy the morning sunshine.

There's other inherent memory here, surrounding me in these 300 sq ft. I'm typing this on my grandfather's desk, which he bought in 1953 when he and my grandmother and toddler mother moved to the Cities for my grandfather to start his master's degree in agricultural economics. I'm hoping it will also bring me the same brainy luck. The couch that Galway is currently stretched out on (not in his bed, the twerp) belongs to my sister K3, who has generously loaned it to me, after years of memories in her possession. I built this footstool out of black walnut with a grandpa-type friend when I was in high school. There's the tea cabinet. My recipe box. And more. There are memories here. I'm not reinventing the wheel. The memories stay in these things, whether or not I personally know what the memories are.

There's history in my pots and cups, which is why they're so important to me. They're not simply caffeine delivery devices. This particular combination brings together my Minnesota family, thoughts of K2, M, and C as they returned from the East Coast from M's family reunion last night (and stuck on the tarmac in Philadelphia for 2+ hours with a four-month-old baby), and it reminds me of my life and friends in BG, because this cup was a gift from a dear friend. A cup I was sipping from as I Skyped with my adopted BG mom, D.

Nebraska may not be home yet, but home is what you make of it. I'm not starting my memories from scratch and that makes me feel like I'm home.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Tragedy of Going Nowhere

My parents are in the final-planning stages of their major camping trip for the summer and I'm so jealous I can hardly see straight. That might also be the result of inefficient caffeine consumption on my part, but maybe not. Because of my change in geographical and financial circumstances, the Scamp is in their driveway, not in mine, and except for a weekend in Minneapolis in July (for C's baptism), the trip from BG to Lincoln will be all I get to call Scamping this summer. It's tragic, in that overly-dramatic way that early mornings without caffeine can be. Especially when one wakes to thunder (good) and the unmistakable noise of Maeve waking up on the Evil side of the bed. Maybe the cats are getting stir crazy in 300 sq ft as well.

The parents are headed to Colorado for two weeks and then to California, to visit the California Babines. All of us were out in CA last summer (with K2 just eight weeks pregnant with C), but it doesn't work out for us to go this year. Maybe next year. But maybe next year, we can convince some of the California Babines to meet us halfway, say in Colorado or in Yellowstone. Because of time constraints, we've flown out there in the last few years, rather than drive, but I have to say that the thought of me driving through San Francisco traffic (with or without the Scamp) gives me hives.

In 2003, right after I graduated with my MFA from Eastern Washington University, my parents came out for the ceremony and then we caravanned to Yellowstone, where we met up with one of my dad's brothers and his family and my dad's sister and her family. We had a great time (my episode with the Buck Knife notwithstanding). But I'd like to repeat the experience, with more of the California Babines. I've got a good mental image of a plethora of Babine campers (and the Scamp!), different family groups sitting in lawn chairs around campfires, babies (of which there are many now) getting passed around to any open arms. Stories being told, memories being made that will be stories for the next time.

I don't know if this will happen. But part of the fun of camping is planning. Dreaming. Even if things never materialize, planning is all about faith. Faith that you'll get out of the driveway--and that you'll return. It's how I'm coping with not getting to camp this summer. I'm planning for three years from now, when I hope to have enough money to fund my dissertation trip to Nova Scotia. I'm planning for next summer, when I hope to have the time and resources to spend at least a couple of nights up on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Planning and dreaming will just have to keep me company until I can have my Scamp back in my own driveway, which is a great many years away.

So I will email my parents, tell them not to forget the tea (which they forgot on their practice run to Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago), remind them of what they should be bringing for me (since they're picking up I-80 here), and try not to be insanely jealous as they go about their own camper tasks to spend the night here. But the thunder is rumbling outside my window right now, the sky darkening at 10:41, and I'm trying not to think about what I would be doing in the Scamp in such weather.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Stormy Weather

When I moved to BG in 2003, I lived in a hotel for about two weeks before I could move into my apartment (thanks to screw-ups with the moving company) and for those two weeks, the tornado siren went off nearly every day. Unfortunately, this resulted in some complacence among my my fellow hotelers and myself, as we would peek outside our doors to see if we could see the tornado once the sirens went off. There was once that a few of us stood in the parking lot, watching a funnel cloud descend and go back up. And now that I've moved from BG, storms seem to be bidding their own farewell: a day or two after I moved, an F4 tornado ripped through Wood County, killing twelve people and destroying more than simple property. It takes away a little bit of the excitement for red on the radar, as it should. I've got memories of other tornadoes: the tornado that ripped apart Gustavus Adolphus College when I was a freshman at Concordia. I went down to help clean up. There is nothing in the world like the aftermath of a tornado. No destruction can even come close. It's fast, it comes out of nowhere, and there's absolutely no rhyme or reason to what gets broken, what gets saved, and who loses their lives.

Since I've moved, the storms have followed. For the last week, we've had thunderstorms here every night, but I don't really consider them storms, since they haven't woken me up. Last night, the storm hit before I went to bed and it was a delightful little mix of thunder and lightning, nothing for me to get too excited about--but no, that's not true either. I get excited about storms of any type. And then I have a moment of "I should not be excited for these storms--look what they've done!" and I'm so conflicted about whether or not I should be excited that it makes me dizzy.

But my father called last night, as he and my mother were spending the night at my grandparents' Cabin, which doesn't have TV or internet, and he wanted to know what the radar looked like. The whip of the tail that Nebraska was getting, the head of it was up in Minot and curled around nearly to Duluth, through MInneapolis, and down to Nebraska and Kansas. My parents had already seen their storm of the night and wouldn't get anymore, so the radar said. I hung up with him and hopped on Facebook, where my friend J,, with whom I worked at camp for several years in college, made a mention of the resort she was staying at said they could go for shelter into a conference room (where there were large windows...) and she laughed. We traded memories of bad weather at camp, getting all the campers into the basement in the middle of the night, wondering if we should go get them from campouts, calling the National Weather Service in Grand Forks and being told to call Duluth and Duluth telling us to call Grand Forks (where we were was about where the satellites overlapped), and many more.

I remember, another summer, another camp, sitting with C., on the steps outside the dining hall, with the campers and counselors safely in the basement. We noted the difference in thunder: rumbles that sound like marbles on a hardwood floor, bass drum booms, and cracks that sound like the sky is being cracked like an egg. With the phone in hand, the National Weather Service on speed dial, we would watch the clouds rotate, rating the thunder on a scale of 1-10, often heckling, “Come on, God, just one funnel cloud—is that too much to ask?” We didn’t want a tornado. We’d seen the ravages they’d left behind. But we wanted to see, really see, the power held in that water and those clouds. There's only been one time where I've gone myself into the bathroom, tossed the cats in there with other important things, and this was a storm when H. was two weeks old and LC was alone in the house with her newborn baby. That was a touchy situation. Memorable.

This morning I woke up, checked CNN as I always do, and there was an article about last night's storms: three killed in MN. Tornadoes touch down in Wadena and Albert Lea. I called my father to get the scoop and he said that their friends' daughter and granddaughter were in the path of the tornado and their four-plex was flattened. They'd basically lost everything they had, but they were okay.

The humility of storms is something I'll never get used to. It's hard not to get wrapped up in the excitement of the thunder and the lightning, the energy in the air, because that energy is really there and it has to go somewhere. There's something wonderful--if only wonderful in a terrible way--about seeing the power of nature, that no matter how hard we try, we can never control it. But then I think of the storms in Wood County and the lives affected there, the lives affected in Wadena and Albert Lea, and it's also hard not to feel guilty about remembering the excitement I feel every time the radar turns red.

It's a tough thing, but it also brings to mind the power of memory. Storms--no matter how destructive they are--always remind me of what's really important and that memory is more valuable than rooms full of stuff. My two favorite storms of all times remind me of that. The first Best Storm award goes to the storm at Glendive, Montana, when we were camping west once. We were in our 1972 Starcraft pop-up and the storm was incredible. Lightning, thunder, rain. The campground's flagpole was within view of our camper and we watched it whip one direction for a while, then the wind would switch and it would whip in the other direction. The best part of the night was not that Dad drove us the short distance from the camper to the bathroom in the Suburban because the water was too deep (and the storm, naturally, dangerous to walk in), but that our father, who loathes board games and things like that, actually played games with us as the storm raged. We set the dinette up into a table and the five of us had a great time, playing whatever it is we played. In the morning, it was like nothing had ever happened. The ground had soaked up all that rain and the sky was as clear and blue as we'd ever seen it. Our camping neighbors would tell us they wondered about us, in our pop-up, when they were nervous in their Class A's, but it never occurred to us kids to be afraid.

The second best storm of all time happened on another trip, this one in 1994, east to Washington, DC. The heat of the city was tremendous and we were Minnesotans, used to excessive heat and humidity. A hundred degrees, a hundred percent humidity. The heat was enough to induce nausea when we moved from the outside to the air-conditioning of the museums. It was also the only time in my memory that our mother bought juice packs--to keep us hydrated. But on this day, we went to see George Washington's house at Mount Vernon. It didn't look like a storm when we got there, but once we got into the house and started touring, the clouds gathered. I remember standing on the main floor, where the windows faced the river, and it was at that point that the storm lost its temper. One minute we could see the river through the drops and in the next minute we couldn't. It took several very large men, pressing against that wind, to get the doors closed--and even then, the water was coming underneath the door. When you're a kid, it doesn't occur to you to be afraid unless other people around you are afraid, and nobody was. The storm didn't last long, but it was potent enough to make it onto my list.

I haven't had many storms in my Scamp, just the one in Lincoln a month ago with my mother, where I discovered that the windows still leaked--and it's really loud in there, the rain on the roof. But part of me still is looking forward to the next one.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Road Construction Game

When my family went camping when my sisters and I were young, our parents had contests between themselves who could hit the most road construction (extra points were added for delays) and who could drive the steepest grade. These were not skill-based contests, but rather they were based on who was driving at the time. I don't remember who holds the road construction points record (I don't actually think there were literal points awarded), but Dad holds the grade record (20% grade, Mount Moriah Cemetery, Deadwood, South Dakota). But as I'm now the driver (I don't trust the cats behind the wheel), I think there should definitely be points.

The Rules: Each day is its own. Points accumulate over a day's time and are recorded to be set against the next days' points. Points can be awarded to both the driver or the passenger(s), depending on the item. A notebook for the running totals, kept in the console or glovebox, prevents cheating.

The Points:

1. "Road Work Ahead" sign: 5 points.

2. Speed limit decrease: add 5 points for each 10 mph. (From 65 mph to 35 mph = 15 points)

3. Multiply #2 by 2 if the vehicle comes to a complete stop, due to traffic or construction. (To that total, multiply by 2, again, for every ten minutes the vehicle stays stopped.)

4. Three lanes of traffic (or more) narrow to one lane: 10 points

5. Lanes narrow to two-way traffic: 20 points.

6. Lanes narrow to one lane, with flagger: 50 points.

7. Crossing to other side of the freeway: 30 points. (Add 10 points if the other side of the freeway is torn up to dirt.)

8. For each cop car you see with its lights on: 5 points.

9. For each cop car you see withOUT its lights on: 15 points.

10. Get caught speeding: lose all points, subtract 100 points.

11. For difficult weather (must be mutually agreed upon by driver and passengers; could be rain, wind, etc): add 10 points.

12. If towing something: add 10 points.

More will be added to this game, as I think of things.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fork in the Road...Or is it A Fork and The Road?

There's absolutely no way I can be completely objective about what I'm going to write, so I'm not even going to try. Food on the road is important, not only just while you're in the car (where I survive on granola and whatever tea I've brewed in my cup), but for when you get to your destination--or while you're en route. I've spent the last two weeks up north with my parents, seeing my grandmother, hanging out with my sisters, brother-in-law, and my amazingly awesome niece, C., who turns four months old on Saturday (though her father has forbidden anybody to round up her age, so she's still three months old). I can't stand it. I just adore this kid.

While I was down in Minneapolis with C. and her entourage, I was privy to M. teaching his daughter one of the important tenets of culinary wisdom in his world. We had brats on the grill (for us carnivores) and grilled veggies for K2 and K3. And as C. was sitting on K2's lap, M. held up the mustard bottle so C. could focus on it. "Only mustard goes on tubular meat." This is not-negotiable. Ketchup never goes on tubular meat. (I found out later that this is from the show Ed.) I flagrantly ignored that, since I like ketchup on my tubular meat. Apparently, though, chili is okay, as a text message to M. would reveal, though I wonder how he feels about things like sauerkraut and relish. Hm. But the moral of the story is that some things are sacred.

Since I was only home for a couple of weeks, I wanted to hit all the hot spots of dining on the Hwy 34 corridor. I couldn't get to all of them, but I made a good dent. I will start my love-fest in Detroit Lakes, with dinner at Speakeasy. (There's one in Moorhead as well.) It's mainly Italian in cuisine, but it doesn't feel like it needs to limit itself if it wants to do something else. The decor is pure 1920s speakeasy, all dark reds and blacks and Art Deco prints on the walls. My mother had their Blackened Chicken Rigatoni, which I would adore too, if it didn't have red peppers in it (which cause me migraines, so I avoid them). On this particular occasion, my father decided to have a Caesar salad, with chicken, and sun-dried tomatoes. I honored my Rut. I have a huge rut when it comes to this place: their beef stroganoff is to die for. Sometimes I consider ordering something else (like their calzones, which are amazing--they're not listed on the dinner menu (they're on the lunch menu), but you can still get them)--but what's the point of having a rut if you don't continue with it? The meal is served with a small fresh loaf of bread, with stunning garlic butter. I usually get the salad to go with my stroganoff, but this time, I was craving their minestrone (which was spelled Minnestrone on the chalkboard out front...Minnesota Minestrone, maybe?). Their minestrone is richly flavored, full of vegetables, potatoes, zucchini, and beef. The service has always been attentive and the servers I've encountered in the recent past all have personality, rather than the robots you see at other places. I always get a kick out of them. Maybe it's the hats. But the meal we had was stupendous, as expected, and I can hardly wait until I'm home again and I can have some more stroganoff.

Then we head east to Dorset, which is between Park Rapids and Nevis. This is the Restaurant Capital of the World and it's got the most restaurants per capita of anywhere, or so I've heard. It's also easy to tell the tourists from the locals here, because the name is pronounced DOR-sett. FYI. Dorset is also conveniently set on the Heartland Trail, which is the first Rails to Trails bike trail in Minnesota, and it's a really great bike trail that goes from Walker to Park Rapids. I grew up three blocks from it, back in the day. I've got some great memories of it. But there's so much to eat in Dorset, from ice cream at the Dorset House (with its old-fashioned soda fountain, where my favorite is their ice cream sodas)--but the Dorset House really is another complete story for another time. The General Store has really amazing stuffed French toast. I haven't been to La Pasta, but I hear it's good. The Dorset Cafe has famous broasted chicken. And then there's Companeros. The owners, Rick and Laura, used to babysit me when we lived in Laporte, so they've known my parents a long time. If you wan't seriously authentic Mexican food, this isn't the place. But the food here is so wonderful that I don't even care. Some people don't like their salsa--I really do. I usually mix a little of what they call Hot into the Mild and that hits it right for me. Dad always asks them to bring out the Really Hot stuff. If you don't get a strawberry margarita, you're missing one of the great wonders of the world. I like them non-alcoholic. So, so good. And my rut here is the chimichanga. Beef. With beans and rice. For me, this is There Is A God kind of food. I've learned, though, that the portions are generous enough that I ask for a to-go box right away, I cut my chimi down the middle, and I put half of it away so I don't gorge myself. But it's tough. Otherwise, I won't have room for dessert. And their fried ice cream--or their Mudballs--are so good that you don't want to make yourself uncomfortable before you get to them. That defeats the purpose. The fried ice cream is not terribly unlike that found elsewhere in terms of composition and preparation, but the Mudballs...those are a scoop of ice cream, rolled in Oreos, and then covered in strawberries. When we went--it was my mother, father, and grandmother--we got one fried ice cream and one Mudball to share between the four of us and that was exactly enough food. Here's the thing about service at Companeros. The waitresses are not hired as waitresses. Young to old, they get hired on as bus-people and they have to work their way up. You don't immediately start as a waitress. This means that the waitstaff knows this restaurant like the back of their hands, because they've done everything from refill chip baskets to learning the ins and outs of the menu to even simple things like learning the layout of the restaurant and kitchen. The staff here is superior. They do not take credit cards, so know that before you go.

And the third of my dining triumvirate this trip was last night. Again, it was Mom, Dad, and Gram, and we went to the Brauhaus, which is on Hwy 34 between Nevis and Akeley. I used to babysit for the owners' kids, once upon a time. Gabi is from Germany, so they're seriously authentic. See why I have no illusions towards objectivity? (To continue that theme, we ran into my mother's second grade teacher and a baby shower for the local principal, which included lots of people we knew, including one of my English teachers.) My parents' rut is for the Euro-Goulash, so that's what they got; Gram got the Rinderbraten (roast beef), which was so tender it screamed in fear at the motion of her fork, and I shared Mom's goulash. But usually my rut is just to get the spaetzle, the red cabbage, and a hard roll. This might be, with out much doubt, my favorite food in the whole world. The spaetzle is just the right consistency, the beef gravy is rich and not too salty, the red cabbage shredded to a good size for eating (and won't slop you in the chin) with the right balance of sweet and tangy. Gram is completely in love with their carrots, which are also drool-worthy, for good reason. I didn't try Gram's roast beef, but the goulash was its perfect peppery self without being to peppery. I'm not a big fan of pepper, but this is just enough to wake your tastebuds up, in case they weren't paying attention. Their desserts are also really great, though I haven't had dessert there in a long time. The staff is dressed in classic German outfits and is spot-on. They also do not accept credit cards.

There are a lot of dining options, should you find yourself in Northern Minnesota. Which, of course, you should.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Exit 71: Tea, South Dakota

It’s the third day of driving for me—and fourth day of driving for my father—and my trip odometer reads 1139 miles. My father calls from his truck, behind my Jeep, to tell me that his trip odometer reads 2222.2. It’s what happens when one’s family is in Minnesota, one lives in Ohio, and one is moving to Nebraska. There will be a lot of driving. The new Nebraska home will be four hours closer to the Minnesota family than Ohio, so this is a good thing. Eventually.

The tale of the move starts early on Monday morning, with one of the worst headaches I’ve ever had, and that’s saying something, considering my lifelong struggle with migraines. This one brought a friend: full-on nausea. I had so much to do on Monday morning before my father arrived with the trailer in the afternoon, but even the smallest movement brought dire consequences. By the time AMR and FD knocked on my door at 3:00, I had been able to keep three bites of a banana and three Excedrin Migraine down—which was the most progress I’d made all day—but I still didn’t have enough strength or energy to do more than sit and even that was iffy. Other friends arrived later—and I have never been so grateful for them, since I couldn’t do anything. We got everything packed up and cleaned up and locked up and then Dad and I discovered that not only did I not have brake lights on the Uhaul, I had no brake lights on my Jeep. This was not good news, especially since I’d had the Jeep rewired the previous Thursday. So we showed up on the mechanic’s doorstep at 7:30 the next morning, right when they opened, and they were able to get me in right away. Dad and I left everything there, walked across the street to Kroger, and got some tea at the Starbucks there. Earl Grey for me, Awake for Dad. I was feeling better, in that strange stage where I wasn’t feeling icky and shaky, but where I could feel icky and shaky. Some granola and some Earl Grey later, I was good to go. Still trying to replenish my nutrients for energy, but on the right track. Earl Grey just makes me happy (the bergamot has scientifically-proven anti-depressant qualities and caffeine just makes me happy, since I’m awake), so that was a nice counterpoint to what was going on inside of that garage. It took them two hours to find out what kept blowing the brake fuse and $150 and another hour to fix it. So we were three hours late getting out of BG, three hours late into a twelve hour drive that was going to be hellish as it was. Before we left the parking lot, I went back into Starbucks and got another mug of Earl Grey. I was going to need it.

It’s nice to travel with my father, for many reasons, but the part where we don’t even have to discuss the tea element is especially nice. We didn’t even have to say anything about going across the street to get our tea—it was just a given. He’s the one who always responds to an offer of coffee with “I never touch the stuff—I always thought it would stunt my growth.” And since he’s 6-5, it usually gets a chuckle out of people. But both Wednesday morning in Des Moines and Thursday morning in Sioux Falls, I brought in with my travel mug two tea strainers and two tins of loose leaf tea, one of Assam and one of Earl Grey Supreme. We knew that the continental breakfasts of the hotels would not include decent tea—and we were right. But it was another one of those things, another of the tea variety, that I didn’t even have to discuss with him. The tea was just a given, automatic. But it brought up something that has burrowed into my brain, a tiny germ of an essay idea: people who drink tea like coffee. We loaded up our tea strainers, put them into our travel mugs, and walked down to breakfast. Bad tea is almost worse than no tea at all. At least I came prepared—and Dad was grateful. Of course, I held it over his head whenever he got to be too much: if he wasn’t nice to me, I wouldn’t share my tea. It made him laugh, because he knew that I would always share.

Last week, before I left, a couple of friends and I went up to Maumee to Clara J.’s tea house and we had a delightful little lunch, with tea. It was very girly and a lot of fun. We each had a different kind of tea in our pot and each of our teacups was different. I picked mine up—empty, of course—and looked at the bottom to see what kind it was. All three of my companions laughed when I did it. AMR and I both chose the Queen Catherine tea, which had enough bergamot in it to be interesting, but not enough to be a serious Earl Grey. And it became obvious, in that sort of duh way, that tea in a teacup is a completely different way of drinking tea. It’s slow, cultured, refined, requires a certain set of manners, which suits a certain kind of occasion and company. Certainly the majority of my tea cabinet is filled with china teacups that were passed down from my great-grandmother as well as those I’ve collected myself. Ironically, when we all graduated from our masters’ in Spokane in 2003, all my friends and I had a high tea at our friend Verlinda’s house. So much fun. There’s a time and a place for that kind of thing and when my mood is right, I’ll use my china pot and cups even when it’s just me drinking tea. Sometimes the everyday pottery pot just doesn’t suit the mood. The pottery pot and the pottery cup (not as big as a mug) is for practical drinking, which is not to say it can’t be special, but sometimes there’s just something really nice about slowing down to drink your tea out of the good china.

But the way that my family drinks tea, we drink tea like coffee. We fill up our 16 oz travel mugs with it, we run hot water through the Bunn coffee maker at our parents’ house (rather than use a kettle on the stove) because we’ll drink two or three carafes of whatever tea we’ve chosen for the day. At my sisters’ house, we’ll make two pots of tea at a time. Just now, I’ve run another pot of water through the Bunn, the second time through the East Frisian tea leaves we had for breakfast (now, it’s decaf) and I’ll drink that in the next hour. I’ve dropped some ice cubes into my travel mug (it’s spillproof, so excellent for having tea near my computer) and this pot of tea won’t last very long. I’ve long held the belief that there’s no real point in just one cup of tea. If you’re going to do tea, you might as well do a pot—or at least a big travel mug.

So all of this came into focus as Dad and I are driving north up I-29 and I see this sign, at Exit 71, for the town of Tea, South Dakota. Sometimes I just have to laugh at town names on signs. Atlantic, Iowa was one that caught my eye on the way past. I like the signs that offer two town names, but the two names work really well as a first and last name. As we neared Fargo, I got pretty excited when I saw the signs for towns I actually recognized and knew—rather than towns I’d just heard of—and I knew that we were getting close. And that after many days of driving, double-digit-mileage (Dad’s being twice as long as mine), we were almost done and the next morning, we’d be having our tea in a place we wouldn’t have to leave anytime soon.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Tunes for the Road, Pt. 1: Tab Benoit, “Whiskey Store Live” and “Sea Saint Sessions”

It’s obvious that music is personal, that there’s a very specific personality match to music that must also match whatever activity you’re doing. Some music pumps you up, some puts you to sleep. Some music you play when you’re angry, some music you play when you cook, some music you play when you’re grading papers, some music you play when you’re on the road. Playing the right music at the wrong time just doesn’t work. This is obvious. But for me, there really is no wrong time for blues—and absolutely no wrong time for Tab Benoit. To say I love this guy is not exactly accurate. It’s something closer to lust, but it’s not precisely lust for the musician—it’s lust for the music. Check him out on Pandora or YouTube, if you want. This is sexy music. (Okay, he's also seriously hot, but that's beside the point...) Maybe it’s not the right place to be listening to swamp blues on the flatlands of the northern plains, driving the twelve hundred miles from Ohio to Nebraska to Minnesota (moving is such a pain in the ass), but I’ll take Tab Benoit anywhere I can get him. Blues are all-occasion music: if you listen to it when you’re down, you know that there’s somebody out there who understands; if you listen to it when things are going well, you know that your life could always be worse. And it also makes me crave ribs—so I had ribs at Outback on Wednesday night and ribs at Famous Dave’s on Thursday for lunch.

AMR has a knack for really good driving mixes (post to follow on this subject soon) and since I couldn’t have a book on CD to listen to for the really long drive, I traded off between her 2010 Mix (not to be confused with the seriously awesome 2009 mix) and two new Tab Benoit albums that I didn’t have. They’re not new albums, but they’re new to me. I love this guy. This is Cajun swamp blues and it’s visceral and spectacular and from a place of dark voodoo magic. This is “oh, hells yeah” music. And, for me, that fits nicely with the road.

Benoit often teams up with other musicians, to really great effect. For “Whiskey Store Live,” he shares the stage with Jimmy Thackery. The “Sea Saint Sessions,” though, is just him, though he’s joined by other musicians on a few of the tracks. “Whiskey Store” is on fire, absolutely explosive on a musical level. The roughness of Benoit’s voice (though Thackery’s is rough as well, I just like the quality of Benoit’s), the guitar solos, the addition of alto sax (which also hits me in a good place). There’s always just something really right about gifted musicians playing their instruments like nobody else can.

Most of the songs here are covers, but that doesn’t really detract from anything. He’s working with classic blues (Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howling For My Baby”) as well as blues interpretations of other songs. Whatever he does, it’s well done. Favorite songs on the “Whiskey Store Live” album: “Bone Pickin’,” “Whiskey Store,” and “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.” Favorite songs on the “Sea Saint Sessions” album: “Howlin’ For My Darling,” “Solid Simple Thing,” and “Darkness.” Benoit is a gifted songwriter as well and it’s well worth checking out his other albums that feature more of his own songs. "Lost in Your Lovin'" is tied for my favorite song of all time. (Best version is on the "Night Train to Nashville" album.) I’m no good at getting terribly technical or specific with music reviews (mostly because at this point in my blues education, I don’t know very much about it or its history)—but I do know what I like. But I may be biased: I would listen to this guy sing the alphabet song.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Rearrangement

I've been thinking over the past couple of days, as I've been packing (and missing my Scamp, which my new landlord assures me is "alive and well"), that I'm going to shift the focus of my blog a little bit, especially as I'm not going to be able to spend as much time with the Scamp as I thought I would be able to when I started this blog. It's still going to focus on small-space living, but the domestic as well as the mobile. There will still be a lot of overlap, because the Scamp kind of thinking will definitely find its way into my new shoebox of an apartment.

So, instead of just cooking in the Scamp, I'll write about cooking in a kitchen that's smaller than the Scamp. I'll write about life in 300 sq ft, which will be an adventure for everyone involved. I don't have that much time left here and I'm stocking up on bubble baths and closing my bedroom door with the cats on the other side, since I don't have a bathtub or a bedroom at the new place. It will be interesting. Very interesting. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How Much Do I Love My Scamp? Let Me Count the Ways...

I'm up to $250 reasons why I love my Scamp. Today, I left the house to go to the office and I turned on my right blinker and it stuck there, making the blinker noise in fast motion. I turned it off, then turned on the left blinker and that worked fine, but when I tried the right again, it got stuck again. I turned off the engine completely and that seemed to reset everything, so I didn't think anything more of it. I came home at noon, took a nap, then intended to continue packing, but ran out of packing tape. So I hopped in the Jeep and the right blinker was still on. I simmered at it for a minute, then called the mechanic, and he could see me right away, so I went right over.

After sitting in the waiting room for an hour and a half (with a cell phone battery dying down to nothing, a nearly-dead iPod, and no book), the mechanic tells me that some of the wiring had come in contact with the exhaust system and shorted. Okay. Something about the Jeep being wired to be towed behind something (like a Class A) and then last summer, I had it wired to a 7-pin to tow the Scamp--and I wondered if it was the wiring I had done last summer that was the problem and the mechanic said yes. I wondered, because last summer (and I had this done at a RV place) when I picked up the Jeep after having the wiring done, it was backwards: I would turn on the right blinker and the left blinker on the Scamp would come on. So if they weren't paying enough attention to get that right, what else did they mess up?

The bottom line is that I have to have the whole freaking thing rewired, because not doing it would potentially cause massive problems down the road (no pun intended). So that's what I'm doing tomorrow. As if I don't have other things to do.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Adventures in Scamping: Lincoln Pics

On the first try. I'm starting to get really arrogant about my backing-up capabilities.


Maeve to Galway: "I see you!" (Also, the dinette, as a dinette.)


Another Scamp in the campground!


Hoboes: The addition of parsnips was an excellent idea.


Galway, deciding whether it's worth it to move Maeve from "his" spot on my bed. I think he decided to leave the sleeping beast alone.


Mom, on the new dinette, made back into a bed: "And my feet don't even touch the wall!"

New Adventures in Small Space Living

I never realized how difficult it is to post from the road. And this trip, I was even horrible in writing in my camping journal. The last week, in Lincoln, was good and successful, but I got home last night (it's a twelve-hour drive from Lincoln to BG) and I was in that stage that's beyond exhaustion. It's what happens when you're required to be assertive and social for a week, when that's not your natural state--and then you drive twelve hours at the end of it. But there is much good news:

First, Mom and I survived the Scamp. As I suspected, my mother's saintlike tendencies saved us more than once. Especially concerning the furballs, who seemed to think that the only place to get up onto the couch/bed where she was sleeping was up by her head. I don't think I know anybody else who would have endured that without a single complaint. But on the sleeping front, she did really well up there (or so she told me) and I think it'll work again in the future, should I need it. I don't think I'll need that bed very often, but having the option is nice.

Second, I found a place to live and in doing so, I sacrificed pretty much everything on my Want list, but I seem to be okay with it for now. I can't believe that I'm going to be living in a 300 sq ft studio for the next while, but I'm trying to concentrate on the good things. Cheap rent (and cheaper to heat and cool). Hardwood floors. Nine foot ceilings. I can paint the walls if I want (which I might, even if I only live there a couple months, because it's currently painted a hideous shade of blue--and I even like blue...) Gorgeous tile-work in the bathroom (even though it doesn't have a bathtub, which is a drawback). Walking distance to school (which means I don't have to pay a fortune to park AND it'll be good for my figure). The kitchen is nice, but it's not made for a cook (which I am). I'm already mourning the loss of my washer and dryer and I'm harboring the hope that someday, someday, I'll be able to have a washer and dryer of my own again. The good news is that I can move between apartments as they come available, so I'm hoping to make do with the studio for a couple of months until the apartment I would be happier in comes available (maybe January). It's a one-bedroom and it's laid out better than some of the other apartments I could move into.

But this also means that a lot of what's in my two-bedroom apartment right now will NOT fit in my new place, so I'm going to buy some different colors of duct tape tomorrow to label that which is going to Lincoln and that which will go up north with Dad until I have space for it. I've never lived in a studio before, but I think as long as I keep thinking "dorm room," rather than "house," I'll have a better time trying to get things in there. All the books will be going in there, because I can't survive without my books. All my Mason jars and canning stuff will be going north, which hurts, but I can survive (maybe) without canned food for the winter. We'll see, I guess. But the bottom line is that I like the Scamp, so my love of small spaces should translate here. It's just going to take a different way of thinking and I'm okay with that.

The other sacrifice I had to make was the Scamp itself. As I mentioned before, it's going up north to stay at my grandparents' for the next few years and the camping I do will be up north. Could be worse. But I did leave it in Lincoln for the next week, parked in my very nice landlord's off-street parking space, and I was surprised how much it felt like I was leaving my child for the first time with a babysitter who wasn't a relative.

So, I've got eight days left in BG and I don't like that I'm down to single-digits. But Dad had sent down a zillion boxes with Mom, who transferred them to my Jeep, and I should have enough boxes now to pack up the rest of my stuff. Whew. Almost there.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Small Spaces: Mobile and Domestic

Several things of note happened yesterday. And several things of note have happened today.

First, Mom arrived safely. Right after she got here and the cats got some love from Nana, I put together "the bridge" that makes it possible to turn the front dinette back into a bed if I want. Dad had cut all the pieces and even sent screws and the right bit. (He's so thorough.) Putting the side pieces on was no problem, but when I went to put the inch-thick piece of plywood on the supports (the foam would go on top of that to make the bed), I realized that when we screwed on the seat tops last summer, we didn't screw them in square, so it took a little bit of maneuvering to get the bridge piece in there. Smacking it with a hammer didn't do it, but I sat on it, and that worked. I put the bridge foam in place and covered the whole shebang with a sheet. I laid down on it and it worked fine for me, but Mom's the one who's going to be sleeping on it, so she laid down on it--and her feet don't even touch the end. Hooray! Success! I don't expect that I'll need the extra bed much, but it's a nice option to have.

Second thing of note: we had a humdinger of a thunderstorm. The Weather Channel called it a Severe Thunderstorm--and they actually delivered on their promise, unlike the weather around Bowling Green. It was delightful. Mostly. I never realized how loud it gets in here when it's raining so hard, but then, I've never tried to carry on a conversation in here when it's raining before either. (The things you don't know when you camp alone...) Galway's been through lesser thunderstorms that scared him more, but last night, he was curled up at my feet, oblivious. I don't understand that furball. But I suspected that the window over my feet would leak, and I was right, so when it started, I took a hand towel, folded it a couple of times, and then used one of my C clamps to clamp it to the windowsill. I was glad that I checked it later, because the towel was sopping wet and starting to drip on my bedding. I changed the towel to a dry one and the second one didn't get as wet. I'm thinking that the Scamp is going to the doctor up in Backus (the Scamp factory) when I get up to MN this summer. Arg.

After the rain stopped, the four of us settled in pretty well. Maeve curled up with Mom on the front bed, Galway with me on the back bed. I think they changed positions sometime in the night, but for me, it's hard to tell when. Mom might have a better idea of that, since they seemed to jump on her head when they jumped onto the front bed. Mom said this morning that the funniest was when Galway fell asleep on her side, as she was laying on her side. About 4:30 this morning, the antics started, which pissed me off more than it usually does, simply because if it's just me, that's one thing, but Mom's here. It was not a pleasant half hour. But then things calmed down and we all went back to sleep for another three hours.

Which brings us to this morning: what a gorgeous day. The clouds were still our skyscape when we got up this morning, but it didn't take long for them to clear away and now we've got beautiful blue sky and sunshine. I have hopes for a fire tonight. Our purpose for being in Lincoln is to find a living space for me. I hate apartment hunting. I've gotten picky in my old age and now that it's Day 4 of this Herculean task, I'm only holding onto the tiniest shred of hope that the perfect place will fall into my lap. I am enamored of small-space living (hence the basic appeal of the Scamp), so moving into a smaller place that fits my new PhD student budget is not particularly problematic. What I find problematic is that I've gotten very picky in my old age: I need a place that allows cats, has a washer and dryer in my apartment, and has space to park the Scamp. After four days of searching, my priorities have rearranged themselves and then decided to play Rubik's Cube among themselves. Also among my priorities: walking distance to the university (because parking is a nightmare) and not living with undergrads.

Right now, here's how it stands: nothing has all of my wants, at least not in my price range. So I'm about ready to say yes to an old house that's been converted into several very different apartments (very, very cool)--but I can't move into an apartment that will work for me right away. I would have to move into a studio until August, when I could move into a one-bedroom (the problem isn't that it's tiny, the problem there is that it doesn't have a bathtub and I like baths). There are two apartments that will come available either in December/January or March and I could very easily move again into one of those that I would be much happier in (and conceivably stay there for the next five years). Obviously, the thought of multiple movings is not appealing. But it seems to be my best option right now.

There's really no options to park the Scamp anywhere at any of the places I've looked at, which nearly triggered a panic attack as Mom and I were driving around. But Mom's got the patience of a saint (which is why any of this week will work out at all) and we talked through my options and I think what we've decided as my best option for the Scamp is to bring it north in July (the time of my niece's baptism) and store it in the garage at my grandparents' cabin. And there it will stay. I think that I will have to confine my camping to northern Minnesota for the next few years, come up north for a couple of weeks in the summer, take the Scamp somewhere for a short trip, and bring it back to the Cabin. That might have to be the sacrifice I have to make, because the thought of selling it is abhorrent. This way, I won't have to pay for storage and I'll know it's safe in a place I can trust.

So, at least at this point, overwhelmed and mentally exhausted as I am, I'm trying to put the best spin on things. I can handle this, it will not be the end of the world, and everything will work out fine.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Twelve Legs, Sixty Square Feet

My mother will arrive from MN this afternoon and she will be bringing with her the necessary ingredients that will allow us to turn my front dinette back into a bed. My father cut two supports that will get screwed into the existing dinette seats and a piece of plywood that will span the distance between the seats. He also got a piece of foam that will set on top of the plywood, effectively turning the dinette into a bed, which can be very easily turned back into a dinette. I'm pretty excited about this. And there isn't anybody I'd rather be my guinea pig for this than my mother.

First, my mother is the most amazing person on the planet. I say this without bias. I have friends who met her for a only a few minutes, many years ago, and who still talk about her. She's one of those people who is too nice to be believable--but, no, she really is that nice. Really. She's one of the most genuine people I have ever known. So that's going to work in my favor with this experiment--I've never had more than one person in here. And the other qualification that will make her a perfect guinea pig is that she's 5-4. She should fit on the new bed without too many problems (fingers crossed). I don't think I'd try to put anybody taller on that bed.

But then, we will not be the only two organic life forms in these sixty square feet that will shortly be getting smaller. We do have, of course, Galway and Maeve. I expect that Galway will continue to sleep with me, expecting that I will save him from the evil machinations of Miss Maeve. But she prefers her blue cat bed on the dinette, so when she's dislodged from that location, we'll see if she'll be happy in the blue cat bed on the floor. Maeve doesn't sleep well with others and as amazing as my mother is, I don't think Mom will change Maeve's preferences. This morning, Maeve was awake, again, at 4:30 and wouldn't settle back down, which made me nervous for Mom's arrival. I can handle badly-behaved cats, but I don't want my mother to have to suffer. Then, as I was still wrapped up in my electric blanket, Galway asleep in a puddle at my feet, I talked to Mom (she was at mile marker 171 in South Dakota) and Maeve hopped up next to me, obviously hearing Nana's voice through the phone. When I hung up the phone, Maeve slunk down to Galway, put two paws over his body and prepared to take a chunk out of him and I saved him in the nick of time. Oh, dear. What have I done?

This is a dangerous experiment, I know. But it's just for a couple of days and it's not supposed to rain anymore, so we could, conceivably, spend some time outside, perhaps around a fire. If it goes badly, though, I'm relying on my mother's innate kindness and I'm hoping that she's still speaking to me at the end of it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Modern Camping?

Last summer, I determined that if you travel with a satellite dish, you can't call what you do camping. My parents' camper has hookups for a washer and dryer, so I don't think you can call what they do camping either. I felt a little self-righteous about Scamping as being a more pure form of the sport, cooking most of my meals over a fire, not filling the water tanks, or having a bathroom. But that's just ridiculous. I'm typing on my computer, taking a break from a movie through my instant Netflix, I reheated my leftovers in my microwave, and I'm sitting cozy under my electric blanket, waiting for my feet to thaw and waiting for my parents to Skype me if calling my phone doesn't work (it seems to be having issues).

Maybe the difference between camping and traveling isn't one that needs to be made. After all, I'm camped in a campground that's full of big rigs and big-ass fifth wheels, most of which seem to be semi-permanent (which prompted my brother-in-law to ask who vacations, long-term, in Nebraska?)--and though I'm used to being the smallest camper in any given campground, there seems a different line to be drawn here, though I'm not exactly sure what it is. And maybe it doesn't need to be made either.

There's no method of travel (whether that is "camping" or not) that's better or worse than any other. Each type, whether it's Class A, tent, or Embassy Suites, has its own set of purposes and agendas and is based on a certain grouping of priorities. My adopted BG mother, D., always says that her idea of roughing it is a Super 8. (That always makes me laugh.) My mother, when discussing camping with my father before we got our pop-up, refused to sleep on the ground (though I always heard that as she refused to go without her electric blanket). I figure that I'm not going to camp anywhere that doesn't have electricity or a convenient bathroom, so if that's the case, I might as well bring my own electric blanket (nearly freezing to death--or what felt like it-- last summer at Mackinac prompted that necessity). And I just like to have a door I can lock, the absence of canvas that I shouldn't touch if it's raining, and the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want (mostly true), and not worry about what I'm leaving behind at the place where my mail will pile up, because I can take the cats and know that even if I'm not parked in a campground in some exciting location, I'm parked in somebody's driveway and still sleeping in my own bed, and that can be just as exciting.

Although I still feel like the satellite dish is cheating.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tales from the Road: Nevada Barr

I'll be detailed about my travels later, but right now, as I'm cozy up in the Scamp and Maeve and Galway and the space heater (the electric blanket will be employed later), Tab Benoit on my iTunes, sitting at my absolutely perfect front dinette (constructed with Dad last summer), I'm so glad not to be moving, I could do a crazy dance around my campsite. (I won't, because that defeats the purpose, but that's what I'm doing mentally right now.) But I'm also half a CD away from hearing the end of Nevada Barr's Endangered Species, but it's in the car and I'm not going to go out and get it. This time of the evening is to start winding down, not wind oneself up with the end of a very good mystery. (Anna Pigeon is fighting with the killer, as we speak.)

Not too long ago, on one of my ubiquitous trips from BG to either my sisters' in Minneapolis or my parents up north, I discovered that books on CD were the best way that I could get from Point A to Point B with some sort of sanity. Music didn't always do it for me, especially as I got towards the end of my 12-hour trek to Minneapolis. Somewhere along the line, I learned that listening to books on CD was enough to keep my mind occupied so that I wasn't counting mile markers, but not so much that I was a danger to those on the road with me. I like mysteries best.

And so it was that I got hooked on Nevada Barr. I'd seen her name on the shelves--in print--but had never been tempted to pick up one of her books. I knew from the back blurb that her main character, Anna Pigeon, was a middle-aged park ranger, working for the National Park Service in all kinds of different parks. I think I read her A Superior Death first, because I was working on an idea--which I haven't written yet--about reading things in the places where they were set. Since A Superior Death was set on Isle Royale in Lake Superior, and I was driving that last summer, it seemed apt. But then, I was hooked. Hook, line, and sinker.

This is fluffy reading, but a literate kind of fluffy reading. It doesn't require much brain activity on the part of the reader, but beyond the intricate plot twists, Barr's writing is just plain beautiful. She doesn't lose her language just because she's writing mainstream mysteries. Strangely enough, I get more of a sense of just how beautiful her sentences are when I'm listening to it, rather than holding the book in my hands. I like Anna Pigeon, too. She's smart, but she's not perfect. She gets beat up a lot. Wrong place, wrong time. Snooping around. She gets in trouble for not doing things the way she's supposed to. It seems real, not just fiction. I probably should have started the series at the beginning, but I didn't, and I'm still skipping around, which makes for an interesting puzzle of what happens to whom when, but each book still stands alone. I'm just guessing it all makes more sense if you read them from the beginning.

It didn't occur to me until today, as I was driving, that I'm getting a double-dose of travel here. Not only am I on the road myself, but mentally I had divorced myself (a bit) from the road--and the monotony of driving the freeways through the Heartland--and I was sucked into the denseness of Cumberland Gap National Seashore in Georgia. I could feel the ticks, the chiggers; I could imagine the warm ocean, the absolute thickness of the summer air. So not only have I been, at least in a mental way, to Cumberland Gap, I've been to Isle Royale (twice), Yosemite (though I have actually, literally, been to Yosemite), to the Natchez Trace in Mississippi. And that's just kind of neat. There are some books, set in different places, that can do that. But in reality, it's sort of rare. My real reaction makes me want to go find those places and read these books again, just to see if anything changes.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Serious Annoyance

On one hand, if I think really hard, I could convince myself that I'm grateful. Because if I hadn't suffered some leaks on the Maiden Voyage, I would never have had to learn how to fix them. Duct tape fixed those particular leaks, but I soon got a crash course in how to use silicone. I sealed up all the windows--twice. When the front window was still leaking, I caulked up the inside edge between the window and the rubber, not just the outside. All of the leaks were fixed after all of that.

Except for one. The window that's at the foot of my bed.

Last fall, before I put the Scamp into storage, a couple of friends who are also campers came over to help me try to solve the problem. Our conclusion was that the ducts (no relation to the duct tape) in the window itself were clogged and the water had nowhere else to go but down the channel that the window sits in--some of the water would go outside and some would go inside. We cleaned out the ducts as best we could, but it seems like I'm going to have to do some more of it.

Tonight we had a wonderful series of thunderstorms. The Weather Channel promised lovely colors of radar--and for the most part, they delivered, for the first time in a couple of weeks. But knowing that the Scamp has had issues with hard rain in the past, I went out there to check on it. Small rains don't seem to trouble that window anymore. It's the hard rains. And, as I suspected, but hoped not to find, the end of my bed--freshly made with newly washed bedding--was wet. Not soaking, like has happened in the past, but enough to know that my window problem hasn't been solved.

So it looks like I'm going to be spending some quality time with a wire and that window in the near future. I guess it could always be worse. I wasn't sleeping in the bed at the time. But on the bright side, where else in my life would I have had to learn how to caulk a window properly? (That may be overly optimistic, even for me, but there comes a point in your life when the alternative and being pissed off about things isn't going to solve anything or make you feel better.) Part of what I love about this whole Scamping thing is learning things I would have never even considered otherwise. Build a fire in the rain? Breaking off a jack? Leaky window? Bring it on.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Windshield, the Rearview Mirror, and Blue Duct Tape

There's an old adage about the proportions of the windshield and the rearview mirror, that the rearview is smaller for a reason. I think the idea is a load of crap, because what's behind you can--and often is--just as important as what is in front of you. Right now, I'm sitting in my office, my empty campus office, drinking my delightful Earl Grey Supreme, and trying to pretend that what's churning around inside of me is a caffeine overdose, not emotions. For the past month, I've known intellectually that "this is the last time I'll do this" for a lot of different things, but it hasn't meant anything. But last night, somewhere around midnight, as I was tossing and turning and listening to the rain and thunder and unable to sleep, the lightning shattered the shell around me and this morning I woke up, ankle-deep in the mud of "what have I done?"

The windshield is a pretty compelling place. There's a lot outside that view that pulls like gravity. But I've never been a complete nomad and I don't think I could be happy completely full-timing it in the Scamp. I need a home base. I need a pivot point. I need to be grounded somewhere. And right now, leaving BG behind me and not yet being firmly established in my new place, I'm in that stringless nomadic place. I don't have a problem with strings. They bind me to some pretty important people and it's the people that's making leaving hard this time. I remember coming back to BG from Minnesota last summer and by the time I got to Mackinac, I was ready to be home. As much fun as it is to travel around with your home on your back like a turtle, there's just something great about sleeping in your own bed, being able to stretch out and not hit your feet on anything. Being able to close the bedroom door with the cats on the other side. I missed my friends. I missed the memories that were being made without me. Can you really appreciate being Away without having a point from which Away is measured? Maybe the rearview mirror is attached to the windshield for just that reason.

I spent most of yesterday packing and didn't stop until I ran out of boxes. The control freak part of my personality likes packing--and yesterday's aha! moment was putting a stripe of bright blue duct tape on those boxes that should go into my Jeep or the inside of my father's pickup (the extra special or the extra fragile), so that whoever helps load will know where to put them. We're fans of duct tape in my family. My grandfather has more colors of duct tape than I knew existed. I got this roll of blue duct tape from Santa this past Christmas. I wondered if I could justify buying a roll of different colored duct tape to color code a different set of boxes, but stopped myself before I went completely nuts. One of my students this past fall wrote a paper on why duct tape was the greatest invention of all time--and I happened to agree with him. Duct tape is amazing. They used it to hold helicopters together in Vietnam, for crying out loud. And duct tape brings back memories of being in the car with my parents and sisters and whenever the bickering got to be too much, Dad would always threaten to stop the car and get out his duct tape.

But what I see in the rearview mirror, out the back window of the Jeep, is equally compelling. I know where I've been and I like it a lot. It's not just that what is behind me is familiar and comforting because of its familiarity. I have no fear of new places and I have no fear of this new place in particular--and I'm thrilled that it's five hours closer to C. than Bowling Green. But it's twelve hours away from people who have become my family in the last seven years. Family isn't always about blood. Sometimes it's about blue duct tape.

Food is completely inextricable from memory for me--not just past memories, but the making of memories. When I want to spend time with my adopted BG parents, D. and B., I'll go over to their house and cook them dinner. I wanted to cook them dinner tomorrow night (and even had the menu planned in my head: Crock Pot pork roast with sage and fennel, roasted purple heirloom potatoes with garlic and rosemary, and sauteed kale with lemon. It's making me drool just thinking about it)--but that doesn't look like their schedule will work out. It's why most of my Scamping memories have to do with food, like I can't talk about camping--or my family in general--without talking about food. (Or tea.) Sometimes our family is comprised of people who are related by blood, but what's just as amazing are the family members we adopt by choice. D. and B. have stood in for my parents (who are 800 miles away) and AMR and LC (who moved to Chicago last year) feel as much like my sisters as K2 and K3. LC's daughter, H., is as much my niece as C. And my favorite memories of the time that AMR, LC, and I spent together have to do with food, particularly the Twilight Going Away party we had before LC moved, where I made Ed Welke's stunning three-layer chocolate cake, which we paired with a wine AMR found called "Vampire." We laughed ourselves silly over that.

Often certain dishes are described as being "comfort food." Food is more than simple nourishment, a vitamin and protein delivery device. It's a way of being connected to those important things around us--and it's not the food itself that's comforting. It's all the things that food represents. Unfamiliarity isn't bad. It just is. But it's the reason that my recipe box is one of those things labeled with blue duct tape that should be loaded very carefully into the cargo area of my Jeep. Right there, between the windshield and the back window. Where it should be.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Scamp Food, Sort Of: Last Night, at Revolver

Last night, my dear friends AMR and FDR and I went to Findlay to Revolver for dinner. I know it's their favorite restaurant, but for me, Revolver is more than a favorite restaurant. It's the place where my concepts of food became something completely different. It's not that I'm a picky eater, but I grew up in rural northern Minnesota, the land of meat and potatoes. It's not that I didn't like kale, but I just hadn't ever had it before. My concept of cheese didn't much go beyond Kraft singles or the parmesan in the green can. But then I started watching the Food Channel. Found myself in love with Jamie Oliver, which did wonders for my culinary skills. Then, in the last couple years, AMR and I got to be better friends--and since we only live one street away from each other, we started trading food. And my culinary horizons expanded again. Our philosophies of locally-grown food (not just vegetables, but meat as well) found harmony and our trips to the Toledo Farmer's Market during the summer were more than grocery shopping trips--they were exercises in possibilities. I never knew about heirloom varieties of tomatoes, or any other vegetables--and how cool are purple potatoes? And Revolver was a place where I saw those kind of things on the menu, like they were nothing out of the ordinary.

When we sat down in the coolness of Revolver's dining room--I love the blue and the white--we pored over the menu, wondering what they would have for us. One of the reasons AMR and FDR love this place so much--over and above the amazing food--is that Revolver uses local ingredients, organic whenever it can get them. Our amuse bouche was a warm popcorn soup that I'd had one other time when I'd been here and like that time, I wondered if anybody would notice if I licked the bowl clean. Our server brought out Revolver's amazing rolls, with butter and sea salt in the middle. Michael, one of the owners, came out to talk to us, since he and AMR and FDR are friends, and we wanted to know the difference between a "dry aged" steak and a "dray age" steak--and he laughed, knowing that there was a typo when he printed the menus, but not willing to print them all again. I told him not to feel bad. If three English teachers didn't catch a typo, we didn't deserve to eat.

So among our starter options last night were locally foraged morels, sauteed with something or other, and then layered over brioche. The mushrooms had just been brought in that day, which is why they weren't on the menu. FDR and I had those, while AMR had a salad of organic greens, with bleu cheese, beets, and pistachios. She said it was amazing, but it couldn't possibly have been as good as the morels. I'd never had morels before, but it was one of those moments that was more of an "of course" rather than a "why not?" Seems like a great approach to life, I thought, in the kind of hindsight that brings a philosophy not a part of the original thought.

For our entree, AMR and I both got the dry-aged New York strip steak, which came with their creamy polenta (to die for) and we both got brussels on the side. FDR got goat, which he was really excited about. I can say that steak was the best steak I've ever had in my entire life. No exaggeration. And combined with the polenta and the brussels...a writer and English teacher finds herself without words. I couldn't eat it all--underestimated how filling the morels would be--so I'm excited for the leftovers. (I also wondered if I could do brussels in a hobo, so I might have to experiment with those.)

I didn't really have room for dessert, but this might be my last trip to Revolver (ever), so I decided that I might as well have no regrets. I had the chocolate creme brulee with sea salt and AMR had the Elvis ice cream (a scoop of peanut butter ice cream, a scoop of banana ice cream, and bacon toffee bits). Both were stupendous. FDR and I reminisced about last year's AWP in Chicago, where he had a waffle that had bacon mixed right into the batter, and we gave that waffle the moment of silence it deserved. Sweet, salty, crunch, and smooth. Never underestimate what contrasting flavors and textures can do.

AMR and FDR also gave me a going-away present--and I'm not the most outwardly emotional person, but I'm not sure how I got through that bag without bursting into tears. (And here's the real reason why this post is on a Scamping blog, beyond the out of the box thinking about food that I hope to take camping with me this summer.) The Ohio-shaped cookie cutter was brilliant. I love that. Next, a paper-wrapped package that seemed fragile: it was a teacup and saucer, Royal Albert Orange Blossom pattern. I have an extensive teacup collection, most handed down from my great-grandmother, but all my teacups are different. My great-grandmother got a teacup as a souvenir whenever she went somewhere, so she could remember a specific place each time she used a specific cup. AMR didn't know this. But I'm so thrilled I can hardly stand it. I already know it's going to be one of my favorite cups and it's going to go well with my Belleek teapot. She also included a StoryPeople book, Going Somewhere Soon, knowing how fond I am of StoryPeople (even though she doesn't like them). :)

But there were also two tiny bottles in the bag, from The Olive Tap. Last year, AMR had given me a bottle of red wine vinegar from them in my Scamp Survival Kit, and not only was the vinegar amazing (and got me away from thinking of vinegar as only the stuff Mom used to keep under the sink), the vinegar made the Scamping food much more interesting. It was the key ingredient in the Amazing Tomato-Onion Salad. This time, I'll get to experiment with "Wild Mushroom and Sage" extra virgin olive oil and "Sicilian Lemon" balsamic vinegar. I looked at the tags and was speechless with the possibilities. Wowww. Who says you can't take the special oils and vinegars camping? What'll happen to the Tomato-Onion salad if I use lemon balsamic vinegar instead of red wine vinegar? What happens when I use this mushroom and sage oil in my hoboes?

The possibilities are making me hungry.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Tea and Scamping: Earl Grey Supreme

Harney and Sons’ Earl Grey Supreme is my Regular Day Tea, as if any day that starts with this tea could merely be described as “regular.” The bergamot is more pronounced in this blend, a consistent punch of power to the morning. This blend uses a little higher quality leaves and a bit more bergamot flavor than its standard Earl Grey blend. While I may add a little simple syrup to the Maritime Mist, it would just be wrong to sweeten this tea. This isn’t a sweet tea. This tea makes me smile, like a good friend who shares my sense of humor, one I’ve known forever but who can still surprise me. One who is dependable, but never boring.

This Earl Grey Supreme is a powerful tea, one that should never be used simply to caffeinate yourself. That would be a disservice to both the tea and yourself. I have other teas for that purpose—Tazo’s Earl Grey, tea dust in a bag, which is good for nothing except quick caffeination. Tazo is the friend I take on a road trip—a very specific personality match. I have good friends who I would never want to travel with. When I make the semi-annual pilgrimage from Ohio to northern Minnesota (which starts when I leave the house at 4:00 am), I’ll fill up my big Stanley Thermos and my travel mug with tea strong enough to take the varnish off a table. By the time I’m halfway through Indiana, I’m so caffeinated that I’m shaking a little and singing at the top of my lungs, simultaneously grateful for the darkness that surrounds my Jeep and that there’s nobody around to hear me sing. It is possible, I’ve learned, to be drunk on tea. It’s not the same intoxication as that caused by alcohol, but it is intoxication nonetheless.

The story of Earl Grey itself—and himself—is rooted in movement and travel, the story of the 2nd Earl Grey who, on a diplomatic mission to China in the early 1800s, saved the son of Chinese mandarin from drowning and was rewarded with the recipe for this tea. Of course, Earl Grey never set foot in China and the Chinese are not especially fond of black tea, but it’s a nice story for a road trip.

There’s more to the timing of tea than how long it should steep and it’s especially obvious in the mornings, whether I’m driving to or from Ohio or watching the sun come up in my fourth floor office before my early classes or waking up to the sun in my camper. Few things are more enjoyable to me than brewing a pot of Winter White Earl Grey in my hand-thrown pot and drinking while I’m reading. Or making a pot of Maritime Mist to sip while sitting at my sisters’ dining room table before they’re up or perching at the peninsula in my parents’ kitchen with my father’s stainless steel Bredemeijer pot full of Earl Grey Supreme when the only souls moving around are the cats. And then as the light in those spaces changes, as the movement in those places changes, the tea and the purpose of the tea changes as well.

A day can never seem ordinary and regular if you’re awake early enough to register what happens internally between the colors of morning, watching the clouds change as the angle of sunlight changes, what happens with your internal composition as it changes with the caffeine consumption and equating sunlight with bergamot. If I brew myself a cup of tea later in the midmorning, it’s just not the same, and I usually end up watering my plants with it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Scamp Food: Tomato-Onion Salad

“All Summer Long” is playing on my iTunes and since I spent some memorable days in northern Michigan last year, I’m on a memory trip that’s tripping my taste buds. I’ve bought a pint of grape tomatoes and a medium-sized red onion, both of which are ready to get intimate with my knives. My olive oil and red wine vinegar are ready to be whisked into submission and I’ve got two bottles—one of freeze-dried garlic and one of freeze-dried salad herbs (onion, dill, etc)—ready, should I want to add them.

AMR gave me the recipe for this tomato-onion salad, which is nothing more than tomatoes, diced red onion, red wine vinegar and olive oil, and seasoned with coarse salt. The first time I made it, it was on a picnic table in Mackinac, Michigan, with a great view of the bridge, being stalked by three very brave seagulls, on a Scamp-sized cutting board and a Scamp-sized colander, whisked with a Scamp-sized whisk. I hadn’t gotten to the main portion of my meal yet, as it was still cooking on the fire, and while I waited, I kept picking at the salad. It was like vegetable candy, I decided. When my dinner came off the fire, I was too full to eat it. I’ve made this salad nearly every time I go camping and I never get sick of it. Sometimes I’ll add the garlic to it, sometimes I’ll sprinkle it with those salad herbs, sometimes I’ll use some lemon juice. This may be camping, but there are some things I refuse to leave at home. Good olive oil, good vinegars, and herbs and spices are some of them.

Of course, part of the fun of this recipe is all the Scamp-sized utensils I get to use.

I like to cook, so the preparation of food is part of the fun. In the Scamp, of course, it takes on a completely different dimension, especially as far as space is concerned. What I like most about this recipe is that it makes me think very hard about what I consider essential. My parents wouldn’t think of taking olive oil and red wine vinegar camping. I wouldn’t leave without it. Freeze-dried spices? Essential. (And they won’t spoil…) I prefer coarse salt to the finer salt. This year, as I’m contemplating revisions to my pantry, I’m thinking of taking some sesame chili oil and ground ginger to turn plain vegetable hoboes into something better. Although, really, I have yet to get sick of any of my staples. I could live on potatoes and onions. I could live on this tomato salad. So far, as long as it’s working, why mess up a good thing?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Gravity

The introduction to W. Scott Olsen’s 2003 essay collection Gravity begins this way: “Imagine northern Minnesota, late summer, late at night. Highway 200 between Floodwood and Jacobson is a dark path of broken asphalt lit by a waxing moon.”

I don’t have to imagine it. I know that road.

Or John Keeble’s short story “The Chasm”: “In winter the glazed bunchgrass and wild oats tuft the sides and edges of the fields. In spring the exhausted grass will be there still, a blond whiskering to the green. Through summer the dry stalks of last year’s grass memorialize winter, the pale of the dead fringing the alive in this place that has become Jim Blood’s country. In the heat of summer, it takes a powerful leap of imagination to remember the snow that covered the fields. Usually, the winters in eastern Washington are kind enough, but not too many years ago the cold came early.”

I know what that looks like too.

One of the things I'm interested in these days, both as a writer and a reader, is the juxtaposition of reading a book in its setting. What happens when you read William Kent Krueger up on the Minnesotan Iron Range? What happens when you read Bill Holm in Iceland, Gretel Ehrlich in Wyoming, Bruce Chatwin in Australia?

Kathleen Norris in South Dakota, Debra Marquart in North Dakota.

I know some of these places because I’ve been there. Some of these places I’ve been long enough to change my address labels. I know what the land looks like. I know what the air smells like, I know what the grass feels like. I know the angle of sunlight and how it differs from the other places I know. In 2005, I sat on the bare expanses of Inis Mór bedrock with Tim Robinson’s Labyrinth in hand and realized that there’s something wonderfully seductive in reading a book in its setting. It’s one of the most intimate experiences a person can have with a place and a book. There must be something here, something special. Somebody picked up on it once, put it to paper, and here you are, sitting in this same space. Maybe you feel it right away, maybe you don’t. But the fact remains that there is something here that inspired great words and you’re right there. What will you pick up from those pages that can’t be discerned when away from the original inspiration?

Faulkner in Oxford, Hawthorne in Salem, Longfellow in Nova Scotia.

I remember when we'd pack up the Blazer (or in later years, the Suburban) for our trips to California or elsewhere, Mom would help us pack a monster box full of books. I'd go through them at least twice before we got home. Of course, this was in the days, the Dark Ages, before kids got their own portable DVD players and iPods. We had two tape players to share between the three of us--and you can probably surmise how well that went over. We were readers, raised to be readers. Even now, I'm grateful for it. Of course, there's a lot of territory we covered that I have no memory of, because my nose was buried in a book, but better that than lost in a movie. Nancy Drew, after all, was responsible for me winning the spelling bee in sixth grade, with "espionage."

I remember sitting around an unlit campfire in the afternoons on our camping trips when my sisters and I had already explored the campground playgrounds and designed obstacle courses for each other (which would turn into timed races), played in the pools if it was hot enough, or finished putzing around the camper itself. It was usually in that space between play and dinner, when it was just a good time to read. Our parents would be reading Louis L’Amour—the only books they both liked, so that cut down on half of the books they needed to bring—and we’d read whatever we’d taken from the box (and I never considered until now what it was like to read L'Amour while in the West). The chairs were not particularly comfortable. And so when the time came for me to consider my own camping chair—in which I expected to spend considerable time reading—I knew there had to be something better. I found it at Gander Mountain, one of those stupendous zero-gravity chairs and if you haven't sat in one of these, it will be impossible to convey in words how amazing this chair is. You might think that "zero gravity" is a trick of advertising, but it's not. Gravity flees at the sight of it. It’s magical. Really.

Eiseley in Nebraska, Kittredge in Montana.

It's obvious that there is something in these places that inspires the writer to write, something that is so compelling that the words can't stay inside. Something important that they feel absolutely driven to put to the page. But while this relationship between writer and place and reader may be very successful when read away from the original setting, what happens when gravity brings the reader closer to the original place? What will the reader internalize that couldn't be found when reading anywhere else?

What is the effect of that gravity when one is reading in a gravity-free chair, next to a fire that is burning down to coals for dinner, surrounded by wind that blows conversations from neighboring campsites into pieces too small to hear, when a connection is deep enough that even the laws of nature are unsure of how to react?