Browsing Archives for August 2010


Over the past few weeks, I have been involved in something of a reading frenzy.  Especially last week where I managed to swallow three books whole and that was in the midst of a heat wave at the Garden Center that melted my brain to the sides of my ribs.  All I can tell you is that books have always been my balm, my healer, my personal shaman medicine man and after our insane trip to Yellowstone, I needed a hefty dose of book therapy.   I read like some people empty bottles of booze into their bellies.  I read like a crack addict, like a person stranded in the desert for seven days and the book is my last cold bucket of water.  I also watch movies when I am freaking out.  Movies and books… and I purchase unnecessary items at Target – like throw pillows and hand towels and hair clips and experimental snack food with clever packaging that never turns out to be very good and new kinds of soap that are always disappointing, but look cute sitting on the sink.

This is how I deal…

This is one of my recent recovery books…

I love to read stories about home renovations/building/projects. I am pretty sure that if they offered a PhD in the subject about either ‘country life books’ or ‘books about people building or renovating a house’ I could earn it without ever setting foot onto a university campus. Because I have read all of them twice – except for this one, The House on First Street by Julia Reed.  I found it in one of my favorite sections of the library a few weeks ago and I sucked it down like a drunk just out of jail after two days in the tank.

In this book, Julia Reed, a journalist who writes for Vogue and Newsweek among other well known magazines tackles the renovation of a 6,000 square foot Greek Revival in the fabulous Garden District of New Orleans, but right in the middle of her project, Hurricane Katrina arrives and the entire book shifts course and charges into the muck and mire of post Katrina New Orleans telling the story of the storm from a very unique perspective.

Because Julia is a journalist, she was allowed back into New Orleans (after the city is evacuated) to cover the story.  She paints a picture of the aftermath of Katrina that is warm and heroic but punctuated with just enough crime and crack and bureaucratic ineptitude to keep it real.  I think if there is one word to describe this book it would be – unflinching -  because Julia describes the events that occur around her multi-million dollar house project unabashedly in the midst of a scale of human upheaval and loss that just doesn’t happen in America.  So while the poor folks in New Orleans have lost everything, are camping out at the Super Dome and being shipped to Texas to live in FEMA apartments and while the working class, the waiters, the bus boys, and the dishwashers at all of Julia’s favorite upscale restaurants are trying to find a school to enroll their kids in and find out if there is anything left of their homes, Julia is sitting high and dry in the Garden District, throwing back lobster and champagne, pissed off that her contractor failed to fix the roof on the sun room of her mansion which has now leaked all over her custom made sisal rug.

But Julia recognizes her situation for what it is.  She diligently jumps in to help the city, tell the story to the American public, feed the workforce that is cleaning up and maintaining order in the city, as well as making sure everyone who ever worked for her, cooked for her and cleaned for her is taken care of – even if it means hiring a lawyer to bail them out of jail over and over again.  Julia is a good person who just happens to be extremely rich and if her book is anything close to the truth (and who really knows with an autobiography) it is very difficult not to wish you knew her personally by the end of it.

Thanks to Nanne for leaving the link to Julia’s house.  You can see photos of her home at Visual Vamp.

First of all I need to say that I was pretty lukewarm about this trip to Yellowstone.  The CD and I went to Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Mount Rushmore fifteen years ago on our honeymoon and though it was a nice trip, I hesitated to go back because there are lots of other places to see, so why re-visit one to which I’ve already been? On the other hand – it’s Yellowstone! There’s no other place even remotely like it on the face of the earth and we have kids now and how can they possibly limp through the rest of their childhoods without seeing Old Faithful shoot off at least once? Besides, my husband and I are nothing if we ain’t determined to always take vacations that are harder than everyone else’s. Right before we left, I asked my husband to tell me exactly why we were going to Yellowstone.

“Why don’t we just go to the lake or rent a condo on a beach somewhere?” I said.   “It seems like we are always trying to impress someone with our vacations. Who exactly are we trying to impress and what do we get when we impress them enough and how do we know when we’ve reached the critical ‘impressed enough’ quota so we can go to the beach?”

He didn’t have an answer to my question.

It reminded me of when we were in Europe and after a couple of days of frantically marching from one side of London to the other and back again according to the frantic pace that my husband set,  I asked him a similar question.

“What is going on here?” I said, “Are we on a scavenger hunt with a million dollar prize at the end?”

He also did not answer that question either.

Which reminds me!

Yellowstone is kind of like visiting Europe.

There really aren’t very many Americans in the park.  Especially in the parts where you have to climb steep metal steps to get to a waterfall or climb the side of a mountain to see a waterfall or hike around a lake on a path that is strewn with huge boulders to see a waterfall.  Every path in Yellowstone eventually leads to a waterfall or to a geyser than will never go off while you are there.  But you will generally find only Europeans and Asians at the end of these arduous paths – and our family.  The rest of the Americans at Yellowstone are shopping in the gift shops or eating at the lodge cafeteria… or at Disneyland.

Is that the problem?

Is my husband simply a European?

Then why the hell am I living in Kansas!

It was especially hard to miss the hordes of French-speaking people who were crammed into every crack and crevasse in the park. Everywhere we went … more French people. “Hey!” I wanted to tell them, ” I went to your country last year!  Remember me? I was the one who wanted a French glass bottle of coke but you wouldn’t give me one because I ordered it at the bar instead of sitting at one of tables outside on the patio where every item on the menu mysteriously costs more? Remember?  Hey guess what! In America coke costs the same no matter where you sit. So maybe you should take that idea back with you to your country and stop being so mean to Americans when they try to speak your language and fail badly!  All I wanted was a coke!  A coke!  It’s not like I was asking for you to saw a piece off the Eiffel Tower and gift wrap it for me!”

But I didn’t say that.

I just smiled at them and listened to the music of their language and the pretty names of their children and remembered when we visited the Eiffel Tower and I watched all the Asians and Europeans and my sons and husband climb the stairs to the top while I hunted around for a gift shop and a cafeteria at the bottom.

As you may know, the Country Doctor and I have very different philosophies when it comes to vacations. When I think of a vacation, I think of sitting on a deck or perhaps a veranda with a beverage and a book, overlooking a beach or maybe a mountain or maybe a body of water. I eat food that others have prepared. I sleep in a bed that someone else has made. I pee in a toilet that someone else has cleaned. Only good food or great coffee or large glasses of booze will lure me from this spot.  There is no pop-up camper in my vacation picture and I am not cooking over a propane stove worrying that it is going to explode and wondering if the next campsite might possibly offer the thin luxury of a hot shower.

My husband views vacations as triathlons, disguised as dissertations, disguised as a climbs to the top of Mount Everest, disguised as relief work in Haiti, disguised as brain surgery, disguised as Rubik’s cubes, disguised as training for every event in the Olympics at the same time.  And then, in order to make my husband extra happy on vacation, we also have to pretend like we are poor.  Really, really poor.  Like we are homeless, and have only ninety five cents left in mama’s greasy paper sack hidden insider her grand-mammy’s thread bare quilt where all the babies was born.  Any type of purchase is regarded as a sign of weakness and results in a public shunning.

If my husband is happy on vacation, I am languishing near the point of death and if I am happy, the Country Doctor is hunting around for a razor blade so that he can slit his wrists.

Here is how it all played out…

We borrowed a friend’s pop-up camper for this little adventure.  It was nice to not have to sleep in a tent on the ground for seven days and I was able to comfort myself occasionally with the idea that a grizzly bear might have a harder time breaking into a pop-up and eating one of my kids as opposed to breaking into a tent and eating one of my kids.  But then I would look at the fabric walls surrounding my children while they slept in the pop-up and my comfort zone would rapidly deteriorate.

Crossing into Nebraska where the sign describes it as ‘The good life”.

Authentic Mexican cuisine in a little hole-in-the-wall cafe halfway through Nebraska. Good cheap food making both the CD and I both happy at the same time.

We drove all night to reach the Tetons starting out at around 2 p.m. in Kansas and arriving at our campsite in Wyoming around 7:30 a.m the next morning.  That’s eighteen hours of driving.  The Country Doctor was coming off  24 hours of call, so I drove almost the entire way.  I saw lots of elk and deer in the middle of the night in the mountains of Wyoming.  One of them was just standing in the middle of the road staring me down.  When I saw him I didn’t swerve the car, but kept it pointed straight towards the deer, slamming on the breaks managing to slow down just in time.  The deer watched me come to a halt and then moseyed off the highway as if he were disappointed that we all survived.  I kept seeing deer all night long in ones, twos and sometimes small groups wearing lots of leather, metal studs and covered in tatoos.  They were gathered around a keg in the ditch of the road.  Or maybe I was just hallucinating from having driven fourteen hours straight.   I slowed down to forty or fifty miles an hour wanting to be able to stop if one of those wild party deer decided to spring out in front of the van.  There were dark looming mountains piling up all around me and I was really hoping to watch the sun come up as I drove, but right as the light started to change from black to silvery gray, I knew I had to stop.  After fifteen hours of driving, I woke up the CD and he took over.  He got to see the sun come up in the mountains.  I fell asleep as soon as I sat down in the passenger’s seat and didn’t wake up until the CD was purchasing a pass from the ranger’s station into Grand Teton National Park.

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I really wanted to stay at the Jenny Lake campground in Grand Teton as it was my favorite stop during our honeymoon, but Jenny Lake is a ‘tent only’ campsite.  So we camped up the road at Signal Mountain which is also nice, but has a ‘lake vibe’ as opposed to a ‘mountain vibe’ and was filled with recreational vehicles that ran their generators off and on all day long.  It didn’t really matter though.  There’s no hanging out in the campground if you are on vacation with the Country Doctor.

After eighteen hours of driving and then setting up our campsite, we immediately headed to Jenny Lake for a hike.  I was anxious to see if it was as beautiful as I remembered.

It was…

We hiked around the lake.

The boys found Wyoming’s version of a bridge to nowhere.

The hike took a few hours and although it wasn’t a super hard hike, we were all pretty tired by the end.

Well – all of us except for the Country Doctor.

He wanted to hike back, but once I saw a sign that said we could catch the boat back across the lake, there was only one way I was getting back to camp.  And it wasn’t on foot sister.

Besides!  The boat offered an entirely different perspective of the Tetons!

So see!

It was a meaningful choice after all!

Next stop was the Jenny Lake store.

I had left both the bread and the coffee for our trip sitting on the kitchen counter at home as I was very concerned that the bread would get smooshed and wanted to pack it last and that the coffee would get lost and I can’t deal with lost coffee first thing in the morning.  Instead, I ended up leaving them both behind.  So I spent a few minutes shopping in this store.  I could have spent an hour.  In fact, I could have spent the entire vacation there.  I want to work there.  I want to be the coffee attendant at the Jenny Lake store.

So far this was turning out to be a fantastic vacation!  I had visited my favorite spot on our honeymoon.  I had hiked, but managed to ride a boat back and now I was shopping in a cute, woodsy camp store and clutching a cup of hot coffee to boot!  I love this vacation!  This is the best vacation ever!

These are the Grand Tetons as we drove back to our campsite.  Grand Tetons means big boobs.  A couple of French men came up with the name.

Those French people are all over this place!

We then went back to our campsite, had some lunch and took naps.

And for our evening’s entertainment we decided to drive into Yellowstone.

We walked around the West Thumb Geyser basin which is by far the prettiest of all the geothermal areas at the park.  It”s on the lake and there are some trees so it doesn’t feel quite so inhospitable and ‘died and gone to Hades’ like the other geothermal areas tend to do.

This is one of the famous fishing cones where fisherman ‘back in the day’ before Yellowstone was a huge tourist attraction, would stand and catch a fish in the lake and then turn around and boil their fish right on the line in the simmering water that is inside of the cone.  Those fisherman were clearly the Country Doctor’s ancestors.

Here is one of what seems like thousands of pretty hot pools of water colored by various minerals and bacteria that litter the landscape of Yellowstone.  Some of the bacteria that grow in these simmering pools only exist in that one particular pool.  They are found nowhere else on the face of the earth.  In fact there aren’t any geothermal features anywhere in the world that have been as well preserved and are therefore still producing interesting and useful organisms like those in Yellowstone.  This is probably because the geothermal features at Yellowstone have not been tampered with for commercial use.  Some of the bacteria they have found in Yellowstone hot pools have been used in the medical diagnosis of AIDS and forensic science such as DNA fingerprinting.

Then we drove to see Old Faithful.

When we arrived, people were already congregating waiting for the next eruption.

We joined them.

After watching Old Faithful we walked around Yellowstone Lodge a bit.

Jack bought a wolf in the Lodge gift shop.

We shunned him.

Then we drove over to Yellowstone Inn and inquired about dinner reservations.

We discovered that the only dinner slots left over the next three days at Yellowstone Inn were after 9:30 pm.

We bought the kids some ice cream instead.

The Country Doctor passed.

And then he shunned all of us.

And I bought an eight dollar plastic cup full of wine.

“Do I get a free refill?”  I asked the bartender.

She didn’t answer me.

I think she was French.

While my kids text-ed their friends back home, I drank my wine and soaked up the atmosphere in this beautiful old building and then we drove back to the campsite and ate sandwiches.  Except I didn’t eat anything.  I just went straight to bed.  I was so tired I couldn’t even summon the will to worry about bears breaking in to the pop-up and dragging one of my babies off for a midnight snack.  And that is pretty darned tired for me.

Mister Mule Train

August 15th, 2010

On our last day in Wyoming…

We rode horses up into the mountains outside of Cody.

We met a mule train coming down as we were going up.

Strangely, I never noticed the mules.