Wednesday, July 28, 2010

He Can Soothe You Like Vanilla, The Gentleman's a Killer

Behind the iron lung in the Allen County Museum basement is a jail cell and two wax figures.  A prisoner, standing inside the cell with his hands around the bars, staring down the sheriff who sits behind a big desk, pouring over the Lima News.  Against the wall in a big glass display case is a records book, forever open to the same page.  Halfway to the bottom, in neat black cursive, a name, a date, and a crime.  1933.  Bank Robbery.  The man at the desk is Sheriff Jess Sarber, which means the name on the page, and the man in the cell, can only be John Dillinger.

If you saw Public Enemies, you didn't see Johnny Depp waiting patiently in an Allen County jail cell, and you didn't hear one character utter the name "Jess Sarber," but this tragic jailbreak is immortalized in Lima.

The placards on the wall tell the story better than I ever could.  Dillinger and his gang swept through Ohio during the summer of 1933, knocking over banks and nearly uncatchable.  Dillinger himself only got caught in Dayton when he stopped to visit a girlfriend in September of that year, and was jailed in Lima to await trial for a bank robbery in Bluffton.

The important thing to know about the Lima jail is that the jail building itself was built on to the sheriff's house as the world's most unwelcoming house addition.  That's why it's not unusual that both Sheriff Jesse Sarber and his wife, Lucy, were present when three men calling themselves police officers from Michigan City walked in to the jail and asked to see John Dillinger.  When Sheriff Sarber asked to see their badges, they drew their guns instead, shot Sarber in his left side, and demanded the keys to Dillinger's cell.

Obviously, these men weren't police officers.  They were part of Dillinger's gang; Charles Makley,  Russell Clark, and Harry "Pete" Peirpont.  While the bullet Peirpont fired at Sarber worked its way down his leg to sever an artery, Peirpont and Makley beat Sarber with the butt of their guns as his wife cried and begged for his life.  She would be the one to find the key that released Dillinger, but the damage was already done.  Jess Sarber would die that night, and John Dillinger would walk free for another year, until that fateful night in Chicago.  But you've already seen that movie.

Makley, Clark, and Harry Pierpont would be tried for murder almost a year to the day of Sarber's death.  Their trial would be overseen by the new sheriff, Donald Sarber, who watched his father's murderers with one hand on the machine gun resting in his lap.  The black and white photograph hanging on the wall that captures that moment belies the tension in the room.  Sarber leans far back in his chair, one leg propped up over the other, one hand holding the gun at a restive, almost jaunty angle, the other wrapped around his chin.  If you couldn't see his face, you might think he was relaxed.  But his eyes are sharp.  Focused.  There are killers in the room, and he knows it.

There's no one else here in the basement with me, so I reach out and wrap my hand around one of the bars.  The metal is cool under my fingers, making my palm feel indescribably hot.  I wonder how it felt for Mr. Dillinger.  Was he hot-blooded and itching for escape?  Or did he know his men were coming for him, and waited here, calm and confident?  His men found him playing pinochle.  I'm inclined to believe it was the latter.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Ones That Mother Gives You Don't Do Anything At All

When you walk downstairs into the basement of the Allen County Museum, try not to get too  distracted by the iron lung (which is a terrifying thing in person, by the way.  Just thinking about being trapped inside a giant fishbowl with this noisy machine breathing for me makes me claustrophobic).  And don't stare too long at the portrait of Phyllis Diller hanging over the landing, proudly declaring her to be a native of Lima, Ohio.  But when you reach the bottom of the stairs, do look left.

There's a display case hanging from the wall.  It's filled with little objects, most smaller than your finger.  It seems innocuous enough, until you read the title plate fixed to the top of the case.    

Objects Removed from Esophagus, Bronchial Tree (Lungs), and Larynx 
of Patients of Drs. Estey C. Yingling and Walter E. Yingling 

The Yinglings were a father and son act, doctors in Lima who often treated the patients at the Lima State Mental Hospital.  It stands to reason that some of these objects might have been pulled from those throats, but the identifying card each object is tied to makes no mention of where the object was retrieved, just when, who, and how old they were.  There's nothing that says why they held on to and so neatly catalogued their findings.  I can only assume one turned to the other and said "Take a look at this.  Isn't this weird?"

It's an impressive collection, if only for the sheer variety.  It's amazing what some people will try to fit in their mouths.  Some of them are to be expected - lots of buttons and coins, bone fragments from steak and chicken dinners.  More safety pins than I expected.  They're all displayed open, their still sharp points glinting evilly under fluorescent lights.  For my own piece of mind, I imagine they went into the mouth closed.  There's also a handful of rusty screws and nails, mostly pulled from children.  I can only hope that they're rusted with age, and weren't that way when they went into the mouths of babes, but I wouldn't put it past a kid to think a brown nail looks delicious.

Among the stranger things in the display is half of a set of false teeth (the top half, I think), and about five inches of rubber tubing, pulled from a teenage girl.  There's nothing on the i.d. cards that says just how these objects ended up in anyone's throat, but I think, when it comes to rubber tubing, I'm grateful for the mystery.  I don't think I want, nor to I really need, to know how or why a young lady ends up with that much tubing in her mouth.

In case you were wondering, the oldest person in the display is Herbert Painter, who had what looks like a piece of T-bone taken out at the ripe old age of 83.  Thomas Hermiller swallowed a two inch screw at 3 months, which proves you really can't let them out of your sight for anything. 

And my favorite?  Well, I'm partial to the false teeth, but I'm utterly charmed by what looks to be a heart shaped plastic dog tag hanging in the corner, extracted from another Herbert, Herbert A. Norld, aged 8 months.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Letters To A Baby Tourist 8

This is it!  That last of the Baby Tourist Letters.  I hope you've enjoyed reading them as much as I've enjoyed rediscovering them.


Dear Baby Tourist,

It's a slow day at work, so I'll use the time to get caught up on my letters to you.

I can't get over what a funny little girl you are!  You really are a sweet natured kid - most of the time.  It's a very frustrating time for you now because you want things, or don't want things, and you have no way of telling us except by squealing.  You get so mad at us sometimes - it's almost funny to watch you.  But as soon as we figure out what you want and help you get it, you are our smiley little angel  again.

You really are a beautiful little girl.  Lots of blonde hair, big blue eyes - a really pretty light blue like mine - and a beautiful pink and white complexion.  You little body is so beautifully proportioned and strong.  I love letting you crawl around naked just to watch you.

Lately, you have taken a great dislike to your socks and you full them off at every chance.  It will be nice when the weather gets warmer so you don't have to wear them.

Last night Dad and I played the guitar and piano and sang for you while you rocked and bounced on the floor.  You thought the music was great fun.  You like playing the piano yourself.  I can't play unless Dad is home to watch you, or you're in your pen, because otherwise you are all over the keyboard.  You bang the keys and then sing a little, then bang again and sing again.  You are very proud of yourself and lots of fun to watch.

The biggest news, Baby T, is that come the first of November you will become a big sister!  Dad is very excited.  He loves you so much he is looking forward to having another baby.  

I want another baby, too, but I worry about being able to love anyone other than you.  I love you so very much.  

Grandma M says there is always more love, that having babies helps you love more.  I guess that's true.  I use to think I couldn't love anyone more than I loved your Daddy, but then you came along and I learned to love both of you equally.

I know you will enjoy having your own kid to play with.  You love playing with other kids, so having a playmate of your own will be fun for you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Ate That

 Or rather, I ate there.  If you couldn't tell, that's fried shrimp served out of the back of a truck.  It's actually not totally uncommon in Hawai'i.  It's not that different from buying a hot dog out of a push cart, only this Plate Lunch comes with two scoops of rice.

The truck is parked next to a shrimp farm, though I don't know if they get their shrimp fresh from the man-made pond.  They have about five different shrimps on offer - lemon-garlic shrimp, spicy shrimp, and 'original', just to name a few.  One Japanese woman hangs out the back of the truck to take our order, while the second busies herself behind the deep fryer built in to the space behind the driver's seat.  I wonder if the truck still works, if they drive it home every night and back every morning.  Probably not.

Not pictured are the shanty-style awnings spread out over a handful of picnic tables, complete with a portable hand washing station and restaurant ketchup bottles full of soy sauce.  And the shrimp itself?  Delicious.  Best I've ever eaten out of the back of a truck. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Two by Two in a Big Skidoo

The sign above the door says "Noah's Ark."

"Do you want me to turn those on for you?" asks another Allen County Museum docent, sneaking up behind me.  I try to politely decline, but she's not having any of that.  "It doesn't take hardly anything," she says, barreling past me into the small room. 

Four big wooden cabinets, one pressed against each wall, each with a brass plate carved with the name "J. E. Grosjean" screwed to the top.  No one seems to know much about Mr. Grosjean, or why he devoted so much time to collecting and stuffing the animals crammed into these display cases.  He was an undertaker, once, according to the newspaper clipping hanging next to the door.  An embalmer.  Perhaps he just loved dead things.

"We don't turn that one on anymore," says the docent, pointing to the display closest to the door.  It's full of stuffed birds, all with the same fixed glassy expression, tied to a ferris wheel.  "The feathers are too dry," she explains, "so the movement does too much damage.  But this one works just fine!"  And she pushes a button on the back side of the case marked "Special Albino Collection."

The old cabinet rumbles to life, and so do the animals inside.  Sort of.  A handful of birds spin on a turn-table, and the pink eyes of a white badger moves closer to the glass as the animal darts in and out of its burrow.  The docent makes sure I notice the little bird's nest at the bottom of the display.  "See how it opens?" I do.  "There are little baby birdies inside."  There are.  

(She calls it a nest.  It's actually a human skull, allegedly from Cuba.  I wonder if she knew that.)

After a minute of watching the animals jerk about inside their case, the docent cuts the power, and bustles over to the display titled "Noah's Ark."  "This one lasts about seven minutes," she says, hand disappearing behind the cabinet.  "I'll just turn it on, and you can watch," and she disappears as the motor gurgles to life.  

What happens is a display of first-rate 1901 electric technology, supplemented by a static-filled soundtrack added during a 1966 restoration.  The ark rests on a pile of dirt, twisted vermin carcasses, and snake skins, helpfully identified as "Showing Everything Dead and Destroyed After Deluge."  Little light bulbs flash, and the Voice in the Box pops and hisses the story of Noah and the Ark.  A little set of doors opens on the ark, and out flies a raven, up and up, disappearing behind hand-painted rain clouds.  More lights, more reedy thunder.  A second set of doors opens, and here comes the dove, twig already in beak.  It flies out to the far side of the display, then turns around and flies back into the ark, doors closing behind it.  The big doors of the ark open, and out come the survivors.  In the first row, pairs of carved human figures and stuffed toy animals, like elephants, horses, and lions.  The second row is real stuffed birds, walking two by two.  Together, they all march behind Mount Ararat, where a stone tablet carved with Bible verses swings away to reveal Noah and his family burning a sacrificial lamb.  One last round of flashing lights, and the crackling music tries desperately to sound inspirational, and the whole things hiccups to a stop.  That was weird.  That was wonderful. 

The last case isn't wired.  The card at the bottom of the display reads "This Case Contains Specimens Soon To Be Extinct."  The display was created little over a century ago, but the contents may surprise you.  A number of animals have gone extinct in that time, but more than half of the animals in this case are still around.  Certainly the Duck-Billed Platypus, of which there are two, mounted near the bottom and almost looking over their shoulders at visitors.  Neither is the African Hornbill, nor the Andean Condor, though the latter is still considered 'near threatened.'  Only the lone Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is critically threatened, though not officially extinct, so at least Mr. Grosjean got one right.  

A group of teenagers come in (with the docent, naturally), and since the room is barely big enough to hold just me, I make a hasty exit.  Though I can't help the feeling I'm being watched while I leave.

Have Creek Stomping Fun on a Day Trip to the State Park

Authored by Raymond Whitney

One of our favorite family activities is to take a day trip at least once a month. One of our favorite destinations is Beaver's Bend in Oklahoma. There are quite a few activities to take part in. The last time we went to Beaver's Bend, we rented some paddleboats and played in the water with them. The water is so clear where we ride the paddleboats that you can see the bottom of the creek. There are turtles in the creek everywhere you look.

We also like to go on hikes through the mountains and in the creeks. We never fail to have a good time when we go to Beaver's Bend. There is also a wildlife museum that the kids love to visit. They usually have hawks, squirrels and an array of reptiles in the cages.

We usually leave our house early in the morning, making sure we set our adt security cameras before we leave. It takes about an hour to get to Beaver's Bend. Most of the time we just make it a day trip but we have been known to take the camper and stay for several days.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I got this tip from Roadside America.  Things Swallowed! it said.  Death Masks! it said.  Taxidermy! it said.  It didn't come right out and say it, but it heavily implied that the Allen County Museum might be a Things in Jars museum, which, of all the museums, might be my favorite kind.  All of that weird stuff right at my fingertips, and all it takes is the short drive up to Lima, Ohio (yes, Glee fans, it does exist!).

The Allen County Museum is a museum of gifts.  Every artifact comes with it's own little placard, finished with the words 'Donated By,' or 'Gift From.'  I wonder how long some of these pieces were left in Lima attics, gathering dust while the family puttered around below thinking, "Oh, we can't just throw Grandpa's gramophone away.  It's practically historic!"  Did the artifacts demand a museum of their own?  Or did the museum send out the call for Lima's near forgotten relics?  

19th Century Homestead says the sign on the wall in the first big room.  The big display of an 1800's kitchen dominates the room, and really makes a show of how much the kitchen was the woman's space.  There's a spinning wheel next to the fireplace, far enough away that the wool won't catch the embers, but close enough that the prairie mother can still be productive when she's doing something as trivial as making dinner. 

I get a bit waylaid by a display case full of 19th century cutlery.  Some of the pieces look very familiar (you'll be happy to know that forks, knives, and pie crimpers have remained unchanged by time) while others sound familiar, but look much different than expected (the nut cracker looks...problematic, while the baby bottle looks a bit like a dalek).  Still more look charmingly archaic.  Who uses a butter mold, anyway? 

At the end of the case is a collection of tiny little irons, matching with tiny little dresses, and a tiny little washboard propped up in the corner, all perfect for tiny little girls who need to learn how to be tiny little homebodies.  

A docent corners me next to the covered wagon.  He's just itching to tell me all about it, and that pack of children that just went racing through the exhibit aren't likely to listen, so I let him.  He rests an elbow on one of the wagon's big wheels and describes a family pushing everything they owned into the wagon, then walking along beside it.  "No riders on the covered wagons," he says with a grin, then wanders away.  I never quite know what to think about docents.  Do they just have incredible amounts of knowledge tucked away in the corners of their brains, or do they collect informational odds and ends and then wait to spring it on unsuspecting visitors, whether they want to hear it or not?  Watching the docent hover by the covered wagon with an eye trained a young couple that's just wandered into the room, I suspect it might be the latter.

A line of Burma Shave signs hung from the ceiling draws me in to the next room.  

Dear Lover Boy
Your Picture Came
But Your Doggone Beard
Won't Fit the Frame!
Burma Shave

There's a big, horse-drawn hearse in the next room, and I can just see the glass eyes of stuffed birds peeking around the corner.  This might just get interesting.

No pictures in the museum, I'm afraid, but come back all this week to learn about Noah's Ark, John Dillinger, Mt. Vernon, and the rest of the Allen County Museum.   

Monday, July 19, 2010

Letters To A Baby Tourist 7

Dear Baby Tourist,

Nine months old, and what a big girl you are!  20lbs 5g and 29 1/4 in long.  You do so much now it's hard to keep up with you!  You are getting very good at feeding yourself something at every meal.  You love potatoes, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, eggs, and bread.  You are learning to feed yourself with your spoon, too.  You grab it right away from me and put it in your mouth.  Lots of it still ends up on your face, but you're getting better every day.

There is not one place in the house you can't get.  You cruise all around the furniture and your little face crinkles all up with pleasure when you reach your destination.  Dad and I walk you between us a lot and you love that!

Everything now is "Da Da."  I hold up Baby Mickey.  "Who is this, Baby T?"  "Da Da!"  But it makes your daddy so proud when he comes in to get you in the morning and you jump up and down in your crib and say "Da Da!" and hug and 'kiss' him.

My favorite time with you is in the morning when you are in bed with us with your bottle.  Your blondy is all tousled and you look all porcelain and pink from your night's sleep.  You snuggle up with your baby self and look just like a Ruben cherub.

We are so proud of you, little girl, your every triumph is also ours.  We love discovering life again through your eyes.  The love we feel for you and that you return to us continues to grow daily - I am always amazed at the depth of my feelings for you and for our family.

Every day the miracle of you is there for me to wonder at.  Even on the days I am tired and cranky, you 'fish face' at me and I laugh.  Or as we snuggle for a nap, you reach out and pat my face, and I know you love me, full of shortcomings and mistakes as I am, and my heart feels so full I could bust.

Thank you for your sweetness - for you.

I am fighting a cold today, so I am going to put myself to bed early.

Love you, sweetheart.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

I Ate That

They only ever called it...French Pizza.

I'm sure it had a real name.  I'm sure they even told us the real name, but it was still our first day over there, and our first meal, and we were all still a bit "Blarg!  France!" to pay too much attention.  But when they called it French Pizza, we all seemed to understand.

It's not pizza, not quite.  It lacks a certain pizzaness, that distinctly pizza quality that makes a pizza so, so good.  I don't know for certain that there's a sauce between the cheese and the bread, or if it was just the moisture from the cheese making the top of the crust a bit doughy, but there was an unusual, sticky texture to the thing that raised a couple of eyebrows.  The less adventurous among us took a few small bites, and discretely pushed their piece to the side.  They didn't know it, but they'd be sorry later.  

You have to understand that we were at the beginning of our European food journey.  The group we were traveling with had...well, we'll call them ideas about what American teenagers would be willing to eat.  Nearly every meal we ate was a chicken dish with some form of potato side.  Those who picked apart their quiche dinner that first night in Paris were crying for a little variety after the first seven days of chicken and potato.  Verdun?  De poulet et pommes de terre.  Vienna?  Huhn und Kartoffeln.  Monticatini?  Pollo e patate.  We were elated during our Austrian home stays.  Could hardly spell 'wienerschnitzle,' but I couldn't wait to eat it.  Ashley's joy at getting a little bowl of pasta in Venice was quickly over taken by near tears when it was followed by yet another plate of chicken and potatoes.  Oh, how we yearned for French Pizza then.

So I ate it.  It wasn't bad.  Cheesey, bready, a touch of hammy and just a little chewy, but not bad.  Not the best pizza I've ever eaten, but then, still not actually a pizza.

Oh, French Pizza.  Mystery of ages.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In The Shadows When I Come And Sing To You

You can pretend you've never done it, but we all know the truth.

It's a distinctly touristy thing to forget to turn off your camera.  And the best part is, you don't even realize it until way after, after you've come back home, and Aunt Susie drops by for a visit and you decide the thing she wants most in the world is to watch the video of your trip to St. Tropez.  And things are going great, until you're halfway through and suddenly there's fifteen minutes of your feet in the sand that you don't remember filming.

Sound familiar?  I thought so.  Don't feel too bad, though.  I mean, yes, I laughed when my folks came back from Hawai'i with footage of the floor of the Bishop Museum, but that doesn't mean I've never done it myself.  The only difference is, now I do it on purpose.

Not the first time.  The first time was definitely a proper accident. Knocked my finger against the record button while stomping through Rome and ended up with a short series of pictures of my shadow on the cobblestones.

Sure, I was embarrassed when I first discovered them, but I kind of like the effect.  Now I do it whenever I remember to.

Here I am with my sister at the top of the Punch Bowl in Oahu, Hawai'i.  

Here I am in Uganda, with my cousin Malia.  It's a bit of a cheat, since we're sort of in the picture, but try getting a toddler to stand still for anything.

Here I am with my sister again, in the courtyard of Salisbury Cathedral.  It was spring break, but FREEZING (C'mon England, be more temperate!), which is why we look that size.  But look!  You can see the outline of my shaved head!

And here I am at the Tower of London.  I've left it on its side so it doesn't look staged, but between you and me?  Totally staged.  And when I stand it upright, it looks a bit too much like the cover of a penny dreadful, what with all the trench coats and cobblestones.

Someday, this will make the best vacation slideshow ever.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It Gets So Cold When You Look At Me That Way

You can't drive up to the edge of the cliff.  Obviously.  So we park our car  in the makeshift lot, and direct our way through the many signs warning us to bring water, to watch our step, to mind the sulfur levels in the air, and to mind our bladders now, because there are no restrooms beyond this point.  As we get closer to the start of the trail, the signs start screaming at us that it's a mile and a half walk to the viewing area, and that we shouldn't attempt to get out there if we aren't of able body, and seriously, there are no bathrooms out there, so go now or don't go at all.

There's a congregation of tourists gathering around the security shanty, asking the same questions and adjusting their fanny packs.  I wonder what the neighbors must think.

Yes, though it looks like the wasteland from some forgotten 80's disaster flick, there are people living out here.  It's strange to see the houses out here, perched delicately on top of the hardened lava flow.  There's no ground for gardens here, just black rock as far as the eye can see in every direction.  Every now and then you'll see a spot of green where baby trees have heroically pushed their way through the cracks and crevasses, reaching for the light of the sun.  I wonder when they built here.  I wonder what they lost.

"It's better at night," one of the volunteer security guards says from her temporary lean-to.  "Then you can really see the glow." (We do come back that night, and she's right.  When the sun sets the angry red glow lights up the lip of the cliff, and we can easily see when the explosive meeting of lava and water rockets cooling fragments up into the air.  It's also raining furiously, almost hard enough to sting.  Our shoes squelch dangerously over the uneven trail, and even with umbrellas our pants are still soaked up to the knees.  And still there's a strong handful of watchers when we get to the viewing area, and more a pulling in to the parking lot when we're getting ready to leave.  We tourists are a hearty bunch.)

The hike feels a bit like a pilgrimage, all of us following the signs, knowing where we're going but not quite sure how to get there.  The hardened lava is not all-together tricky to navigate, but you do have to watch your step - the toe of my shoe clips the rock more than once.  It's a miracle I never landed on my face.  And at the end of it all is the tall, white, billowing pillar of smoke.

Technically, I don't think it's smoke.  It's steam from the lava hitting the cool waters, and there's a lot of it.  I've never seen a cloud that big in person.  Not even when that gas line exploded and a fireball ripped through my old neighborhood.  That was big.  This is bigger.

Looking up, I can see little black specks circling the plume.  Birds?  No.  Helicopters.  Full of tourists, probably.  Any opportunity to take your money, I suppose.  Back in town, we find that a boat will take you to see the lava spill from sea level for a cool thousand.  I can only imagine what one of those copter rides would cost us.  

We're only allowed to get so close.  It's for the best, I suppose.  Otherwise we'd all be falling to our deaths, trying to get the best picture of the lava flow.  If you stand at the very edge of the viewing area, and crane your neck like this, you can only just imagine you can see the rush of lava flowing out of the earth and into the water.  The island is growing with every passing minute.  Under the roar of the wind, we can nearly hear the hiss of molten rock in the air.  Every so often there's a brief flash of brown at the base of the cloud, when the cooling rocks explode up the side of the cliff.  It's all a bit hypnotic. 

"They say it's better at night," someone says, and we all agree that when the light goes away, it must be quite a sight.  So we'll go back to town for dinner, we decide, and drive up here again after the sun sets.  We drive back down the mountain, never noticing the storms clouds gathering above our heads.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Letters To A Baby Tourist 6

Nov. 25, 1987

Dear Little Tourist,

You won't be a "little" tourist much longer, you are getting so big.  17.5 lbs and 27 1/2" long.  You've gained 9lbs and 6 1/4 inches since you were born six months ago.  What a girl!

A month from today is Christmas, and I can't wait to share it with you.  I know you will like all the colors and lights.  And with your fondness for paper, you will probably pay more attention to the wrapping paper than the presents.  We will be in Michigan for Christmas. I'm looking forward to sharing it with you and my family.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  We will be driving to Arlington Heights to have turkey dinner with Daddy's family.  We will go to Grandma and Grandpa P's first and visit with them and Aunt Jan and Mike, and then drive to Sheryl's house where we will see Great Grandmother Woody, Debbie and Art and Artie and Paul, and Sherrie's husband Bob, and their kids Robin and Mark.  Mike is your cousin, and Artie, Paul, Robin, and Mark are your Dad's cousins.  They haven't seen you since you were three weeks old, so they will probably be surprised at how much you've grown.

We will stay overnight in Palentine, and then on Friday we will visit Great Grandma P.  She has never met you before, and I think she is eager to see you.  You can never tell with her.  She's a funny, tough old bird and you never know where you stand with her.  Buy you have a way of charming everyone you meet so she can't help but love you.

Tonight we three are going to get our pictures taken at Sears, to give as gifts for Christmas.  I hope you'll smile.

Well angel, since you are taking a nap, Mom is going to rest, too. 

Love you so much

Saturday, July 10, 2010

If there's one thing you need for a road trip, it's a road.  If there are two things you need for a road trip, it's a road, and a working car.  Of course, the car that works today may have different ideas tomorrow, and who knows where you'll be when Ol' Bessie decides to take an extended vacation?  With, you can find a service shop wherever you are.  If you need Dallas, Louisville, or San Francisco auto repair, can help you find it.

Did Steve down the street just get a new Honda Accord, and you don't know if you should be jealous or not?  Use to get candid, real life feedback from real life car owners.  They'll tell you if Steve got a sweet deal on that Honda, if he got suckered, and what car you could buy to be the envy of all of your friends.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Friday is for Fearsome Critters

So I've been reading lately about the Fearsome Critters.

Fearsome Critters came to live in the 19th century, during the American progression westward into unknown lands.  Mostly lumberjack tales, the Fearsome Critters could be anything.  Stick fall on your head?  Oh, that's just the Argopelter.  Did you follow a mysterious shape into the mists?  Probably chasing the Wampus Cat.  Some of these critters would turn out to be actual animals (drawings of the Hugag are, perhaps, a bit moose-like), while others are clearly elaborate stories told to frighten or tease new members of the fold (the infamous Snipe hunt is rumored to have been born out of this very tradition).  Most are pure invention.   

I shouldn't keep doing things like this, because it makes me nostalgic for an era I never lived through.  The time we told stories.  Sometimes I think the world was so much bigger then.

The thing of it is, I miss fairy tales.  I miss that feeling of hearing something out there in the dark and knowing it must be some fantastic and terrifying beast.  I miss cursing pixies for stealing away my precious things, and blessing them for finding the thing I though I'd lost.  I miss the magic of folklore. 

Maybe it's because I'm American, and all of our lore was either killed or left behind.  Maybe it's because this is the information age, and we no longer need to create explanations for the unexplainable, we can just take two minutes to research and then know.  Maybe we're just too cynical for imagination anymore.

I don't believe in Big Foot, but I watch every special on television, because sometimes it's fun to believe in monsters.  I high school, I used to write my papers about Santa Claus, not because I believed a big fat man came down my chimney every December 24th, but because the magic of that moment made me so happy I couldn't not share it.  (You can laugh if you like, but I got an 'A+' on every Santa paper I ever wrote, so I'm clearly not the only one with a fondness for whimsey.)  I don't believe these things, because I know too much, but I wonder sometimes what I would be like to live in a time when I could.  I imagine it would be fun.  

Tonight, I think I'll thumb through that book of Cryptozoology, and dream of Atmospheric Beasts.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Breaking Apart My Pictures of You

Curious thing happened last week.  My card reader decided to shuffle off into that good night, but chose to wait until I was mid-download.  There are all these rules about "properly ejecting the device" that you have to follow if you don't want to corrupt your files, but apparently there's nothing to be done if the device decides to Hari Kari itself for the greater good of throwing a monkey wrench into my machinery.

I jiggled the thing back to life for one last ditch attempt at recovery.  I managed to save about 95% before it finally, permanently, gave up the ghost.  As for the rest...

I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a little devastated.  My last computer died before it occurred to me to back up my photos on CD, and suddenly all those things were gone, just like that.  Like they never happened.  Now my memories are color-blocked.  

(That was a pun.  You're allowed to laugh piteously.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

People They Come Together. People They Fall Apart

It's the first week of August at Macatawa, and the sun is setting.  We rent a cottage up here for one week nearly every summer, and we lucked out this year by getting into one right on the waterfront.  As we gather on the front porch to watch the sun dip under the horizon, someone says, "The Perseids start tonight."  The meteor shower.  We've been here almost a full week - we know how dark it gets out here on the beach, when the only light for ages is Big Red, the lighthouse at the end of the channel.  We scurry upstairs to grab our sweatshirts, pillows, and extra blankets, and run out onto the sand.

Well, most of us run.  I put a stick through the heel of my bare foot almost immediately, and hobble after the rest of them, trying to keep the stinging sand out of the wound.

We spread our blankets out half-way to the water line, away from the row of cottages lining the beach front, and especially away from Party House next door, their CD player, and their endless supply of Pearl Jam albums.  The sand swallows most noise - all we hear is the gentle brush of water against the shore.  We lose the light quickly out here, where there are no street lamps or traffic lights, just the steady flash of the lighthouse above our heads.  The lake is empty as far as our eyes can see - most of the day sailors have called it quits for the night - but Big Red spins dutifully on.  You never know what might come ambling in or out on this clear summer night.

It's cold out here, and we pull our blankets tighter around our shoulders while we wait.  And wait.  And wait.  

"Are we sure this is tonight?"

"That's what the paper said."

"If they don't show up soon..."

"Is that one?"

"That's a plane."

It's like that for a while.  The group of us smooshed together on the blankets, one of us with her foot stuck in the air, staring into the night sky, waiting for something, anything, to happen.  And then: 

"There's one!" someone cries, excitedly.  And the rest of us twist our heads around on our blankets, asking, "Where?" and they who saw the star points their finger up at the night sky as if to say, "It went that-a-way!"  

It's a silly thing to do, really.  The star's not there any more, and it's certainly not coming back, but our eyes are fixed on that spot as if maybe, just maybe, it might double 'round and surprise us all.

"There's one!"



"Where there?"

"Well, it's not there now."

"Then why am I - ooh!  There's one!"

And suddenly, it's as if the night remembers that we're down here, all of us.  The stars come quickly and freely, blue-white fire burning hot trails across the sky and disappearing into the dark blue after.  It's the closest thing to magic I've ever seen.  

We stay there, watching and pointing, until it gets too cold, even for stars.  We pack up and wander back to the cottage, where there are band-aids, and s'mores over the barbeque.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I Will Buy You a Garden Where Your Flowers Will Bloom

The flowers are in bloom in Wegerzyn Gardens, yet another part of the Five Rivers Metropark system.  As the parks go, it's not as vast as Cox Arboretum, or as deep as Carriage Hill, but there's a simple elegance to the flowers, and on this stuffy July day, it's refreshing to get out in the fresh air and hear the buzzing of the bees.

It so colorful.  Reds, blues, yellows, whites, and strange combinations of every color you can't name paint the walkways.  Little flying creatures buzz from one blossom to the next, bumblebees defying physics yet again, dragonflies zipping past your head so quickly you can't hardly see them, and the ever-present butterflies that were so exciting to see weeks ago and are now a lovely coincidence.  It's mostly quiet, save for the chirping insects and the odd, delighted squeals from the kids splashing around in the Children's Discovery Garden.

The garden feels like every book you ever loved as a child.  Over here, it's Alice in Wonderland.  With that lamp post, it's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.  That barren field where the Ash Trees used to grow might just be Great Expectations, if only a bit more abstract. 

(You might not have loved Great Expectations as a child.  I wouldn't say that I loved Great Expectations as a child.  I can't even say that I love Great Expectations now, but it seemed, somehow, so appropriate.  Sorry.)

Next to the gardens is the boardwalk that takes you through the swamp.  It's cooler under the trees, but the branches hang on to the air, and the humidity clings to your skin like spiderwebs.  As do the actual spiderwebs.  Silk strands strung between the beams glisten under a captured ray of sunshine.  I do my best to avoid them, but I still feel the ghostly dance across the back of my hand, tugging on the hairs of my arm.  It's an eerie feeling, on of the reasons I hate spiderwebs.  (The other reason being SPIDERS.) 

Dirt paths lead away from the boardwalk, deep into the woods.  It's tempting, but the mosquitos are out in full force today - I've already got a bright red welt swelling on my pinky finger.  Perhaps another time, when I'm better prepared.

Like all good things, the children's Discovery Garden is infinitely cooler than anything else Wegerzyn has to offer.  Someday, when I'm rich and famous, I'm going to build a park where adults can get wet and dirty and stick their fingers into strange places and find little secret hidey-holes that they can crawl into and spy on people.  And a dinosaur.  Discovery is not just a child's medium.  I still like to play.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Letter to a Baby Tourist 5

Oct. 22, 1987

Dear Baby Tourist,

I haven't had the chance to write to you lately, so I will try to make up for it now.

You are now five months old, and just as funny and cute as can be.  Recently, you have started to become more of a little person, and really asserting your own brand of baby independence.  We know right away if you like or dislike something.  You either squeal with frustration, or coo and talk with delight.  And when you want to get something, you get it!  Not by crawling, but by rolling to it.  I can't leave you alone on the floor anymore because you really roll all over.  I have Aunt Joy and Judy's old playpen that I fixed up for you, and you play happily in there for 20-30 minutes at a time.

You also have a new tot wheel.  It's a walker - you can't walk in it yet by you like being able to sit up and watch life around you.  It's especially nice at dinner time.  Mom and Dad can eat while you sit next to the table and play.

Your favorite toy is still your stuffed terry-cloth elephant.  It's red and has a rattle on it.  If there is a choice between another toy and the elephant, you usually go for the elephant.  The poor thing gets chewed on a lot.  It must feel good on your gums.

Standing up is a favorite thing to do and you would stand for HOURS on our laps if we didn't get tired.

One thing that intrigues you the most right now is the baby in the mirror.  You talk and talk to her and reach out to touch her.  Recently you've been trying to "kiss" her and can't seem to understand why she's so cold and hard.

In just this last week, you've really started to be very vocally expressive.  You kind of went through a period of time where you didn't have much to say about anything, but recently you've really opened up and have had a lot to say about everything.  Laughing is also a new past time.  We can really get you going sometimes and you just giggle and giggle.

Dad and I can tell that you've started to recognize us, because you are always ready with a smile for us, when you see us.  So far you are doing well with other people - you are not afraid of them, and will smile for anyone who talks to you.  You always look very serious when first confronted by someone new, but as they talk to you and are nice to you, you will smile and talk to them.

You really seem to enjoy being at Linda's.  The other little kids really like you and play with you lots.  I can really see a difference between Joey - who is rarely around other kids and doesn't really know how to act - and you who are very accepting and not afraid of other children.  I think it helps you a lot.  Today, when I dropped you off, you started talking and smiling right away.

Last weekend, you stayed overnight with my friend Monica.  She had lots of fun with you, and it was good for Mom and Dad to have an evening together.  We enjoyed our time alone, but were very glad to get you back!  You had a good time with Monica, and were completely spoiled, I'm sure.

Next weekend we go up to Michigan.  Everyone will be surprised to see how much you've grown.  I'm afraid they won't let you come home with us.  You're so cute and fun to have around.  But I can't do without you, so I won't let them have you.

Grandma and Grandpa M. are going to be moving into their new house in 3 weeks, and we have to go up to move out some furniture.  It will be very sad to have to move them from the Grand Pre house.  It's the house I grew up in, a house I always dreamed of having you know, but Grandma and Grandpa need their own house, and I am happy for them, but sad for me.  It's sort of like watching you grow up.  I am glad you are being a big girl, but I miss you being a baby.  It's very bittersweet, and sometimes it hurts my heart.

Well, little girl, you mom has to got to get to work.  You are a good girl, and I love you.


Friday, July 2, 2010

A Flag Appears to Thunderous Cheers

Fourth of July weekend is upon us!

Enjoy your cookouts, friends.  And your fireworks, and your family gatherings, and your celebratory viewings of 1776. 

And for our non-American friends, enjoy the World Cup Quarterfinals!  Here's a daisy, for your troubles.

See you on Monday!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lost Inside Adorable Illusion and I Cannot Hide

I told you yesterday that every room at Franklin Park Conservatory has at least one piece of Chihuly glass in it.  I'm not exaggerating.  From the second you step into the lobby to buy your tickets, you can't help but be distracted by the twisty yellow flutes peeking out from the wall sconces, or the red and orange fans climbing up the far wall, or the explosive and curvy blue chandelier hanging just outside the Garden Cafe. 

Chihuly at the Conservatory premiered as an exhibit all the way back in 2003.  Intended to be just a temporary fixture, the exhibit increased visitation by nearly 182 percent, and in 2004, when the works were meant to be removed, the private, nonprofit support group Friends of the Conservatory made a bold move.  At a price of nearly 7 million dollars, the group purchased 3,000 of the glass pieces, almost the entire collection.  Now each exhibit has a permanent glass fixture adding a hint of fantasy to the atmosphere.

Tucked away behind renovating exhibits is the Hot Shop, another fixture carried over from the Chihuly days, where a nice young lady named Linda charms us all by blowing a pair of delicate, colorful bowls.  The open furnace in the corner glows orange, and we can practically see the heat spilling out onto the concrete.  On a day like this, I don't know how she can stand it.

Walking into each room is a bit like Christmas - where will the glass be this time?  What secret corner will it be tucked away into, just waiting for us to discover it.  In some areas, like the Himalayan Room, you'd miss it if you weren't paying attention - it's hidden in a cave ceiling, and the family behind us pushes right through without even a cursory look up.  They don't even seem to wonder why we've all stopped to take pictures.

In other rooms the pieces brazenly cry for attention.  In the Pacific Room, colorful globes float in a water fixture, nudged along by koi, while a huge, twisted, red and yellow blossom grows up through the center of the exhibit, demanding that you come and wonder just how all the pieces fit together.  Those ever present butterflies dart between the tubes, pausing only to rest on the delicate glass.  

If you've never seen a Chihuly piece, this is quiet a way to see them.  They aren't oppressive, they don't take away from the experience or distract you from the flowers; the pieces add a certain extra element, something indescribable, that might just say "This world is more fantastical than you had ever dreamed."  If anything, the glassworks enhance the natural beauty of a flower, because for as delicate as the pieces may be, a petal is softer, more fragile.  For as colorful as the glass is, the flowers are unmatched in their vibrancy.  As eye catching as the glasswork is, it truly is just an exciting supporting player to the floral stars of Franklin Park.