Monday, July 27, 2009

This made me wet

In the interest of posting something related to our trip, I'm skipping a few states.  Eventually, I'll share the glorious details of Devils Tower, WY, Mt. Rushmore, SD, The Corn Palace in SD, Madison, WI and Ann Arbor, MI.  

Our story continues as we enter Canada yet again, this time encountering a humourless young woman at the border of Ontario. I thought all Canadians had a sense of fun. Then again, most of the ones I've encountered were comedic performers - Eugene Levy, Mike Myers, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara - so perhaps my impression is slightly skewed.

Customs girl asked me "Where are you going?" to which I replied "Niagara Falls."

She then assumed an intent interrogatory stance: "What are you going to do there?"

"Um...look at the Falls?" Was this a trick question? Was she unfamiliar with that area and its sightseeing potential? She seemed slightly disgruntled, but waved us through.

We zipped along until we reached Niagara Falls and discovered it had changed a bit since our honeymoon 24 years ago. Huge casinos dominated the skyline; even more tacky haunted houses and wax museums and junky souvenir shops littered the blocks. We got a bit lost, carried out the obligatory finger-pointing blame game, and made it to our hotel. The clerk told us we could take their free shuttle down to the falls area, leaving in 2 minutes, or wait an hour.

We opted to dash to the shuttle.  Once it dumped us out near the Clifton Hill area, we quickly walked through the crowds to the Falls.  If you've never been, you should go.  We watched as the sun set and the light show began, illuminating the water with many colors.  Then we enjoyed a great fireworks display over the Falls.  Back to the hotel for much-needed sleep.

The next morning, we lined up for the Maid of the Mist boat ride.  MotM departs from Canadian docks past the base of the American Falls, then into the basin of Canada's huge Horseshoe Falls.  

Professor X and I had taken the boat almost a quarter of a century before on our honeymoon  Cliched, eh? Humph.  We thought it was pretty neat.  

The kids were excited to get spaces next to the railing on the upper deck of the boat.  We looked just like the travel guide pictures of visitors garbed in our "recyclable souvenir raincoat provided free with admission to help keep you dry from the mist and spray" as the boat left the dock.  We were mighty glad that we'd put on our raincoat hoods, as the seagulls flying overhead gifted us with a shower of white poop.   As the boat moved in close to the Falls, the spray was incredibly strong.  Our faces quickly became water soaked, and the raincoats were washed clean.

We headed down the road for our next adventure.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tampering with Memories

We interrupt this series of road trip posts (which have been delayed because we've been super busy with amazing experiences you're going to love reading about) in order to share a few thoughts on the cinema event of 2009: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

Whilst I loved the film, I do question all the emphasis on the characters portrayed by actors other than Alan Rickman. Given the wonderful richness of J.K. Rowling's book, the movie should have been at least twice as long. And it should have had twentyfold the number of scenes with Snape.

There were some splendid visual effects and great acting. I won't force you to listen to the play-by-play analysis in which my family and I engaged. Rest assured that we four can spend a shitload a great deal of time considering every millisecond of a movie and discuss it ad nauseam.

It is how we roll.

Plot point alert follows! Don't read if you want to be totally surprised by the film because you haven't read the book. Otherwise, continue.

Here is something for you to think about.

Dumbledore informs Harry that Horace Slughorn has deliberately tampered with his own memory of an encounter with Tom Riddle. The Headmaster speculates that Slughorn has done so because he is uncomfortable with what happened. Slughorn is loathe to respond to Harry's repeated requests for the truth; he avoids and evades him until Harry convinces him that in hiding the memory, the professor is dishonoring his student, Lily, who sacrificed her life fighting the evil monster Riddle had become. When Slughorn gives Harry the true memory, he tells the boy "Don't think less of me when you see it."

Have you ever revised your own history to avoid confronting something unpleasant or admitting an error? I know I have. As time went on, I told others the falsehood so often that I nearly came to believe it myself. You're not getting the details here, so don't get your hopes up for something juicy you can hold over me. Then, one day, something happened that made me realize it was cowardly not to acknowledge what had really occurred. That this lie was unworthy of the person I wished to be. So I stopped bullshitting and just faced facts. It was a whole lot less tough than I thought it would be.

I think that's the strength of Rowling's writing; she taps into some critical human experiences in marvelous new ways. Her books are about friendship and love and courage and sacrifice. This newest movie successfully illuminates much of that essence.

But it does need more Rickman scenes.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dodging grizzly bears, eating steak and Guinness pie - our Canadian adventure

Prince of Wales Hotel, Waterton National Park
Photo credit: Professor X

When last we left our intrepid explorers, they were protecting pancakes in the mountains of Montana. This next installment has them journeying north, into the land of Bob and Doug Mackenzie.

The United States' Glacier National Park and Canada's Waterton National Park jointly form the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, a UN World Heritage Site. The black helicopter crowd will be happy to learn that the world hasn't ended as a result. There are still a few kinks to be worked out in the seamless transition to one world rule, since visitors need to pay separate admissions to the two parks. Urgh.

I'd always wanted to check out Waterton, but it didn't fit into our itinerary during our past visits. The Canadians have a spectacular lodge, the Prince of Wales, which sits atop a rise, surrounded by mountains, overlooking sparkling lakes. Here's a shot of Yours Truly and Super Son, pretending we're staying there.

Prince of Wales Hotel, Waterton National Park
Photo credit: Professor X

In fact, we were staying at the St. Mary KOA, for about one quarter the price, with our very own fire pit well designed for roasting marshmallows and making our clothing smell very smoky. But it is good campfire smoke, not yucky cigarette smoke, so that's okay. And we had an awfully nice view, don't you think? Plus the people who worked there were splendid.

Photo credit: St. Mary's KOA Photo Gallery

On the drive up to Waterton, we spied a bunch of folks pulled off to the side of the road, looking into a field. We stopped too to see what they were watching. A medium-sized cinnamon-colored bear was frolicking around. Professor X said it was a grizzly. We were very excited. It ambled off and we moved on.

After we admired the Prince of Wales Hotel and its gorgeous views, we decided against the high tea, because it would have been about $26 per person. Instead, we drove into the little village below the Hotel in search of a nice meal. We found it at Pearl's Cafe. Professor X and I had the best steak and Guinness pies EVER. There was a ton of delicious meat, and the sauce was lovely. The crust was a flaky puff pastry. They were just $8.95. Yay for reasonably priced chow! Then we drove around Waterton Village and spied several Columbian ground squirrels, which looked sort of like prairie dogs, and a few mother deer and little spotted fawns.


Except when Super Son observed in his best educational nature show voice that "scientists have observed prairie dogs engaging in sodomy. I wonder if these squirrels are the same?"

Daring Daughter was instantly inquisitive. "What is sodomy?" my sweet one queried. Thus followed a short explanation by Mama, as Super Son howled in protest that I should not speak of such things to one so young. I pointed out that he brought up the term and I believed in spreading knowledge. Professor X backed me up, telling him that it was better if we told his sister instead of keeping her in the dark, leading her to seek a vocabulary lesson from her new teacher in the fall. That would have been some fun, eh?

A bit of hiking in the park and then it was time for the drive back to the US. We were on twisty roads, not speeding but moving briskly, when, as we rounded a bend in the road, we saw a large brown bear lumber across our path. He scurried into the brush and was gone. We decided to heed the countless warnings to not pet the wildlife, but looked wistfully into the forest before heading south.

Before bedding down for the night, we drove the road to Many Glacier Lodge, a great old lodge with more amazing views, and watched the sunset before heading in to dinner. The food in the pub was okay, and as is typical of many national park lodges, way overpriced, but we enjoyed buffalo and elk sausage, potato pancakes with huckleberry sauce, caesar salad and burgers.

We successfully avoided numerous bicyclists throughout the day. To commemorate the accomplishment, I composed a limerick:

There once was a girl from Chicago

On a cross country trip she did go

Dodging grizzlies and cyclists

Whilst on roads with turns and twists

She was truly a driver gung ho!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Studly Cyclists and Flying Pancakes

Glacier National Park has breathtaking views.
Whether you love mountains (Prof. X) or water (me) the most, they've got you covered.
Photos credit: Professor X

I know you've all been waiting to hear about the first leg of our massive road trip, but we've had sporadic internet access, and have been driving long distances, so this is the first chance I've had to share.

We putzed around horribly on the day we were due to leave, so we didn't get as far as I'd planned. We made it to Kellogg, Idaho and fell into our beds. The next day we had a wonderful drive to Glacier National Park. We all loved the beauty of the Going to the Sun Highway, and made it into St. Mary, MT KOA before dark.

We saw lots of this lovely beargrass! Photo credit: Professor X

While I was checking us into our cozy camping cabin, I met a guy who was traveling cross country. I enacted the "where are you from and where are you going" scene with him. Turns out he had started in NYC and was headed to Seattle, then down to San Diego to meet up with his wife, who was acting in a play there. I felt slightly smug, because although that was a long trip, my family and I will be driving about as much. So I told him our itinerary. Instead of being impressed, he one-upped me.

He was bicycling.
photo credit: Fletch Rides Across America

Holy crap.

We talked a little more, and I mentioned the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, the final stop on our summer itinerary, and he explained that he'd been an actor in numerous Shakespeare festivals around the country. I told him I'd purchased numerous tickets to Shakespeare festivals. But let's face it, he won that round too. Impressive, most impressive.

He told me he had given up acting and was going to law school, to the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. I casually replied "Oh, named for the Supreme Court Justice?"

He was impressed! Huzzah! I'd succeeded in my attempt to show I was smart and thus score a point. But let's be honest, he had the higher score so far. Then he showed his winning card in this competitive game. His business card. Which gave me the knowledge that he was doing the bike ride as a fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

He wins. Way to go, Stephen Fletcher! May your 5,000 mile ride increase awareness and generate donations to the cause.

You can learn more about him and contribute at The Fletch Ride.

The next morning, we ordered some pancakes from the nice ladies at the campground cookhouse and brought them to the picnic tables. The wind was blowing so hard that when Professor X tried to pour syrup on them, the syrup travelled in a horizontal line over the plate, suspended in midair. Gravity finally took its toll, and the syrup landed on the table a few inches west of the plate. We all laughed.

Until the wind picked up so much that the pancakes achieved liftoff and spun off our plates onto the dining deck. Ye Gods, these Montanans have some vigorous weather! We went back to the nice ladies for more pancakes and then ate hunched over our plates, with one hand protectively resting on top of the stack. I am happy to report no further breakfast casualties. I only hope that young Mr. Fletcher didn't get blown off his bike.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

HASAY: Perilous times for patriots

Great news! Casey, fearless leader of Club HASAY (Half As Small As You, a blogger fitness group) has announced members can reduce their post frequency to once a month instead of every Monday. Given the pace of my next 40 days, traveling all over the USA, I appreciate the change.

Now to the moment I've been dreading - public confession that I am not yet ready for the Ironwoman competition. Not even the Aluminum Foilwoman competition. We'll see how I fare tomorrow when we begin hiking in Glacier National Park. Suffice it to say that we won't be doing more than a couple of hours. And there will be no massive elevation gain.

I blame the fourth of July. It is all the fault of Independence Day eating. Never mind the years prior to yesterday which contributed to my fitness level. First I took Super Son to the incredible Vancouver Farmers Market, where he met up with friends and I succumbed to the temptation of the tiny doughnut booth. These little gems can fit in the palm of your hand, hot off the handmade batter-filled fryer. Warm, greasy ectasy. You can keep your Krispy Kremes. It'd be really super easy to forget that they are a kajillion calories - FAT CALORIES - apiece, and eat, say, an entire dozen while talking to a friend at the market.

Yeah, it would be real easy.... it was, in fact. Bad me.

Then it's back to the 'hood, for a fun-filled barbecue with all the families. This could be a terrible weight gaining event, except the other mothers are all really smart about limiting what people bring. I was assigned watermelon. That's a good, healthy choice, right? Yay, me! One neighbor made this amazing homemade potato salad, though...and I had a large buffalo burger. Still, we were pretty restrained. Just one plate of brownies with ice cream, and the portions were really really small to keep everyone from getting too sugared up. So what could have been a pound-packing extravaganza was kept to a very moderate meal level, thanks to the smarts of my fellow citizens.

Now the challenge will be eating light while we sit on our butts several days during this road trip. I'm determined to keep it down as much as possible while still enjoying regional specialities. We stopped in The Dalles, Oregon on the way to Idaho today. A billboard for the The Dalles Burgerville is a warning sign to drivers that it is the "last Burgerville for 24337 miles."

We had to stop.

The fam just listened to an audio book version of Fast Food Nation, and we've all vowed to try to stay away from fast food places. But Burgerville is different. It's got lots of locally sourced food, really good quality stuff, and engages in sustainable business practices, including treating their employees a bit better than the average burger place. Even the kids' meal toys are better than other places' - Daring Daughter got a little pot no, not that kind! and tomato seeds.

And they have Walla Walla onion rings!

I will have to hike a LOT the next two days to make up for these tastes of goodness, but it's well worth it.

My name is Fantastic Forrest, and I am a foodie.

But hopefully, I'll be a more fit foodie after this summer.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Putzing vs. Packing: Gaslighting by Offspring and the Joy of the Interweb

Luggage Art Sculpture, Santiago Airport / Aeropuerto de Santiago, Chile (Dec. 2005)

We're now down to hours (admittedly, a few days' worth) before the departure for our epic adventure.

I should be packing.

I am not.

I am putzing.

In my defense, I am doing useful things whilst putzing.

Washing loads of laundry, some of which I strongly suspect are completely unnecessary because Daring Daughter has a nasty habit of taking the clean clothes I give her to put away in drawers and hang in her closet and putting them directly into the laundry hamper.

When they are clean. Unworn. Unsullied.

I know, it sounds crazy. But it's the truth. Because she has ADMITTED it. She takes laziness to a whole new level.

To maintain my equilibrium, I have been reading these things:

1. Humorous analysis of the religious underpinnings of the Mark Sanford story.
I couldn't stop giggling. In fact, I laughed so hard I cried. But not for four days. Or in Argentina.

2. The news that, at long last, Al Franken will be seated as Minnesota's senator. It's about f*#@'n time!

3. The Courage Campaign efforts to support Lt. Dan Choi in his fight to continue to serve our country although he is - gasp! - a gay man. Pretty bold, eh? I say he should be thanked for all he's done and allowed to remain in the military. "Don't ask, don't tell" is dumb. It's time to acknowledge the reality that not all men and women are heterosexual and that it's okay. They should not be treated as second class citizens. I encourage you to sign the petition supporting him.

And listening to these:

1. RT and son Teddy performing Persuasion. It is beautiful. I've played it about 10 times in the past two days. It never gets old.

2. Johnny's Far Away from the Sweet Warrior album. I can't find a full rendition online - there's a tiny sample at the Amazon site. You should buy it. It's great. The music sounds like a rollicking old sea shanty. Professor X and Super Son really liked it, but they hadn't paid attention to the lyrics, and they were shocked at how racy and cynical the song is when we heard RT sing it in Santa Cruz. I'd known, because I'd previously listened carefully and found the words amusing in a raise-your-eyebrow kind of way. Remember, I told you RT was like really good bitter dark chocolate. Occasionally, he's surprisingly spicy, infused with chili pepper.

Things which tempt my tongue:


The song begins
Johnny’s joined a ceilidh band, They’re known quite well throughout the land, The Drones The Drones are signed up on a cruise
Then we learn a bit about his faithless wife, and tap our toes to the chorus:
While Johnny’s Far away on the Rolling, Rolling
Johnny’s Far Away On The Rolling Sea
And learn more about what shenanigans he's up to:
Johnny’s cruising out to sea And he believes in chastity - for some The wealthy widows bill and coo He fends off one or two, and then succumbs As they’re turning hard-a-port in the Bahamas He’s turning her right out of her pyjamas He’s turned her every which way to the rhythm of the sea He says, I can’t express myself with my old lady
Poor guy. Sounds like he and Mark Sanford had a lot in common.

3. Professor X on the phone trying to buy a collapsible car top carrier to hold all of our extra junk that won't fit in the back of the vehicle. Four sleeping bags, four pillows, four towels. We are traveling lean and mean, but luggage space is tight. And speaking of luggage....

I guess I need to start packing.

I'd better make sure all my RT CD's make it into the Forrestmobile.