Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Trip: Where I Dipped my Hat, Plus More

A couple of summers ago, pre-Twinkie, we flew to Boston, rented a camper van, and spent over a week driving around New England and visiting various friends. I bought a blue baseball cap in Maine, and it became a ritual for me to dip the hat into every ocean or lake or river we encountered.

This year, we left for our camping trip during a heat wave, and I started a travel journal with the idea of recording every body of water we jumped into. As the weather got cooler, I lost my focus and it evolved into general notes: some of the best meals we have, and questions that we wanted to research later, events and impressions and even sketches. Here are a few excerpts (with a shout-out to Badgerbag for the example of her diary-format posts):

7/22: Lake Sylvia. Just outside Mantesanto, WA. Nice swimming area, blazing hot day.
Astoria Aquatic Center: Indoor pool. Nice water slide, SLOW lazy river.

7/23: Beach at Cape Disappointment

7/24: Coffenberry Lake at Fort Stevens. Rented paddleboat, jumped out to keep MG company swimming in lake, she climbed back in but I couldn't! RW had to paddle back to the dock with me hanging onto the boat.
Drove and drove.
Stopped at Tillamook Cheese Factory, the Disneyland of Cheese.

7/25: Dipped toes in ocean. Very windy.
Drove and drove to Bandon: Mediocre fish taco, good ice cream.
MG looks like Jack Sparrow with 5 braids flying.

7/26: Hot chcolate and pop-tarts for breakfast!
RW read Ramona while I re-braided MG's hair. 8 braids this time.
Explored beach--strong winds & fog.
Vertiginous feeling of CA state line: can we really be so far from home and from everywhere familiar? It's 350 miles to SF, even.
Crescent City, CA has great playground near waterfront. Lots of Asian kids I thought, but now I think they were Native American, from the res nearby. Some at least were bilingual in a language I couldn't identify.
Chatted with mom from Gold Beach, OR. She drives her kid 1+ hours to Crescent City for swim team. She was reading a book from the library but stopped to help us with dinner recommendations. I really wanted to hear about her life there, I wonder and wonder what it's like to live in the little towns we drive through and she'd recently moved from Portland suburbs. But just then MG fell from monkey bars & hurt herself & I had to run.
Great burgers & ice cream at unprepossessing joint off 101, near Pizza Hut. Owner chatty and friendly, gave MG free postcard, recommended campsites, gave us a great map & told us about the lighthouse, all the while slagging environmentalists & Latinos ("It's Del NORT county, not Del Nor-tay. Or they'll think you're [hushed voice] Hispanic."). The sometimes-dirty bargain of tourism on both sides: we'll take friendliness/tips where we can get them; he'll take customers, ditto.
Camping by Jed Smith river. Stars, stars, stars.

7/27-7/30: The Secret Campground. Ocean.
While there: braided MG's hair with 16 braids while RW read aloud. Over an hour. I think I can do any number of braids as long as they're an exponential multiple of 2.

7/31: Back in Oregon. Stopped at Cave Junction, at the Info Center. The helpful ranger told RW *everything* and let her take over her computer to look up campsites!
Grants Pass: hot, strip malls, trafficky. RW says: "seething mass of nowhere."
Picknicking at little park outside Gold Hill, huge branch fell off tree overhanging picnic table and just missed RW. Freaky.
Shakes @ Phil's Frosties in Shady Cove. RW had a great blackberry shake; I got a fudge malted. MG thrilled to have own root beer float & refused us sips.
Wanted to visit caves but MG was asleep & so we kept driving instead.

Camping at Joseph Stuart Lake Park, near Prospect. Site right near playground! MG ran on own to play while I made dinner & RW set up van.
Campground is open & grassy, like a huge neighborhood park soccer field. huge RVs on either side of us. Peeked inside one & saw microwave--it looked just like a kitchen in a house.
Boys in tree couldn't get over the fact that I was cooking hot dogs over firepit: "What are you doing? Why??"
On other side: they brought a little plastic wading pool! A whole bunch of people on that side, from WA, OR, & Texas-- big family reunion. One woman called out to me: "You got my steak ready yet?"

8/1 Early Start. Had to drag MG away from playground. She made us promise to come back sometime.
Crater Lake! All day I was thinking we'd be able to go for a swim. But it turns out that it's not a swimming lake at all: over a mile from the crater edges down to the water, and the info woman said the water's sometimes 34 degrees. We stopped at lookout points. MG tried to be patient w/my fear of heights.
MG played in snow by the road.
Swam at beach near Diamond Lake resort. Cold breezy air; I had the shivers. Resort strangely empty; eerie feeling around it.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Trip: Secret Campground

The Renaissance Woman discovered this place by accident twelve or thirteen years ago. We'd gone a few times, most recently for our honeymoon in 1998. Mermaid Girl had never been, and we'd never been there in Twinkie. It was time.

To get there from Seattle, you have to drive down the coast through Washington and Oregon, which takes at least a day. Then, because this campground doesn't take reservations and is usually full by mid-afternoon, you have to find another place nearby to camp overnight, so you can get there bright and early the next day.

In the morning, you drive though a tiny town, then some country, then turn right onto a twisty bumpy dusty unpaved road that takes you through miles of redwood forest. RVs aren't allowed in this campground, and couldn't make it down that road anyway. A VW van like Twinkie is about the biggest vehicle that usually tries it, though I saw a slightly larger camper/truck combo while we were there this time.

Just when you think your transmission's going to dump out, you get to the ranger post. The ranger will tell you the campsite's full but that you're welcome to wait in the parking area and see if anything opens up. Then comes a couple more miles of unpaved road. And then you're there.

Now it's time to start schmoozing. Drive around the campground first, to see if anyone seems to be packing up. Stop them and engage in conversation. Ask nicely if anyone else has claimed their spot already. Be friendly to the campers; they'll soon be your neighbors. And be prepared to take any site. You probably won't get one of the best ones, right on the beach; they usually go to people who are moving up from back-row sites. You might be one of them in a day or two.

Don't give up. If no one seems to be leaving, wait in the parking area. Have a stool or some camping gear ready so you can claim a spot with a moment's notice. Creativity and resourcefulness never go amiss, either. We got our spot this time because RW was on top of things; she schmoozed a nice woman who was getting ready to leave, but who had already promised her spot to a group of college students. Her car was all packed, but most of the students were still asleep and weren't ready to move yet. We were willing to share our spot with them when they got up, but they decided to drive on after all. So we had our site.

This might sound like a lot of trouble for a campsite, when there are campgrounds sprinkled all along the Oregon and California coasts. Here's what I wrote while I was there:
When I'm not here, I think "why bother?" There's a chill in the air, it's often foggy, the ocean's too cold to swim in. The campsites themselves are totally exposed and have no privacy. No grove of trees shading you from the next tent. Just sand and grasses and a few wooden stumps and driftwood posts.

It sounds corny to say it's a magical place. But it is. Just a small campground, maybe 25 sites, at the edge of the sea, banked by forested cliffs. No sight of houses or streets, no sound of any cars or people besides those at the campsites and a ranger who comes around once or twice a day in a rusty old truck. If you're lucky, you might see some elk munching through the grass nearby.

Only ocean, ocean, ocean, and sand. And beach grass, and driftwood, and a dozen or two tents poking out of the grasses, looking almost like natural formations.

There's a sound like a distant highway, but it's really the ocean echoing off the cliffs.

No RVs, no TVs. No cell phone reception to speak of. The bathrooms are smelly, the linoleum's peeling. There's one shower, outdoors, supposedly heated by solar panels though basically it's a cold shower. Best to use it in the middle of the day, when it's warmest and you can feel the sun on your bare skin.

There are sparrows nesting in the men's room on top of the lighting fixture, so the rangers put up a sign asking people to please keep the door open. MG and I peeked in the other day, and three baby birds peered down at us.
I went walking along the beach every day, gathering stones. I kept the prettiest ones and left the others on our picnic table. MG liked to run in and out of the waves as far as her knees, but only a few teenage boys we saw were brave or foolish enough to actually swim in that rough, cold sea.

One warm day we washed all our underwear, and hung it up to dry on a line, like a multicolored kite tail.

The first time RW and I went there together, we stepped out of our tent and walked on the beach one night at low tide and everywhere we stepped in the wet sand, there was a glowing sparkle from the phosphorescence in the ocean. We danced up and down in the dark, brightness at our feet.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Trip: Green and Brown. And, the Mystery of Sisters

It's been almost two weeks since we got back from our Big Twinkie Vacation, and every one of those days I have wanted to blog about it. I even kept a journal on the trip, partly so I would have something to say when I got back. Because unlike, say, Jo(e), who (unbeknownst to me) went on almost exactly the same route we did and who writes about it beautifully in posts like this and this and this, I have a hard time remembering or writing about nature. I loved our trip, but even while we were still travelling, the places we'd been a day or two before became just a beautiful green-and-brown blur in my head.

Whereas Renaissance Woman would have no trouble--even now, or a year from now--detailing, say, each campground's strengths and weaknesses, the scenery, the specific site we stayed at, other and possibly better sites that we might try next time we go to that campground, the nearby bodies of water, the road we took to get there, and quite possibly the exact latitude and longitude.

We're different, that way.

An even bigger problem, that comes up all the time but especially when I get back from a vacation, is the Middle Ground of Detail issue. Somewhere between: "Yeah, great vacation, we camped in Twinkie and jumped in the water whenever we could, it was all green and brown and beautiful" and "Well, first we did this. Then we did that, and then we stayed there, and then the second night we ate at this great little place, and then we drove for a while, and then, oh! we saw this incredible sight. And then there was this really cool interpretive center, and I thought it would be boring but it wasn't. Then! We had lunch! Here's what we ate. And then..."

So for the next few posts, I'll just tell you a few specific things I remember. Because it was great, and I don't want to forget it, and there were some good stories. And I also don't want you to stop reading because your brain has gone numb from the sheer overwhelming amount of detail.

So, this is the story about Sisters, Oregon.

Our route took us down the Washington Coast, down the Oregon Coast to the very north end of Northern California, then back up into Oregon to Crater Lake and a hot spring and Portland, before heading home to Seattle.

Now, the Oregon Coast is gorgeous and rugged and wild, and it's all public beach. Almost every mile of the highway is right along the coast; you can see the ocean all the time and can pull over to beachcomb every few miles in some stretches. The State of Oregon has a good thing going, and they know it; they maintain and protect the coastline and put real money into the campgrounds. And the northern part of it is very touristy and cutesy, with little shops and restaurants and hotels and B&Bs.

Then, about halfway down the coast, it changed. The towns got further apart. The campgrounds were emptier. There were fewer cheery shops, and more "for sale" signs: on restaurants, on motels, on trailer parks. And when we headed inland, it was even more like that. You could just about see tumbleweeds rolling down the middle of the streets, or whatever the Pacific Northwestern version of tumbleweeds would be. It was obvious that this used to be a tourist area, but that the tourists just weren't coming in sufficient numbers any more, and there was little other industry. "Where did everyone go?" I kept asking, with the inexcusable morbid curiosity of a big-city visitor.

One night we pulled in late to a city-owned campground in Sisters, Oregon. Each of us had visited Sisters, separately, years ago; I'd been there on my first trip West with my friend Nora in 1989, and remembered it as a small but friendly place. Nothing special, but a good feeling about it, bright and hot and Western, almost more like Idaho or Wyoming than Oregon. I had a vague memory of going to the library there, a tiny shabby brown building with well-thumbed paperback romances lined up on the shelves.

It was dark by the time we got to Sisters this time, and we were tired and crabby from driving and driving and looking for a place to sleep. The campsite was sparsely populated, mostly by huge RVs. There had recently been a big forest fire nearby, and nobody had any campfires going. Nobody was out walking around. It was slightly creepy and lonely. We stumbled around in the dark with our flashlights and found the bathroom. To keep MG busy while RW set up the van, I read to her from a local newspaper I'd found at the payment station; a 21-year-old college student had been commissioned to paint a mural in the children's room of the new library; that kind of thing. And then we went to bed.

In the morning, we explored a little. The Sisters Mountains rose up on the horizon, and the campsite seemed more welcoming in daylight--there was a stream and a footbridge--but we needed to get going; we were heading to the hot springs that day, and we had a reservation there. And RW needed her coffee. So we buckled into the van and hit the streets. And blinked. And blinked. Because this was not the Sisters we remembered.

There were espresso stands, and wine shops, and charming bakeries. The no-frills rural Western buildings were gone, replaced by self-consciously "rustic" exteriors. Flyers advertised arts festivals. There was no money anywhere within a hundred miles, but somehow there was money in this town.

A few blocks from the campground we saw a house for sale, old woodwork, nice porch, corner lot. For a moment, RW and I were consumed by the Great Yuppie Fantasy: we could sell our overpriced Seattle crackerbox, buy a place like this outright, live a life of leisure and natural beauty...I took a real-estate flyer.

The house was selling for half a million dollars.

"This is Jackson," RW said. "It's turned into Jackson Hole."

We stopped at the new library on the way out; I was curious about the mural we'd read about. It was a gorgeous building, bright and airy, with thought put into it. The Children's Room setup and collection were as good as or better than what I've seen in Seattle and KCLS. There was lots of summer reading programming. The main room had new, hardcover books on display: chick lit, The Kite Runner, Blink, that kind of thing. It was all so snazzy my eyes hurt.

I buttonholed the checkout clerk and asked her about the old library. "The little brown one? Oh, we've moved two times since then," she said. "I've been here thirty years, and it's changed a lot. It is, it's amazing." She asked me about the new downtown Seattle library, told me she'd heard there were some problems with the layout. She was friendly and knowledgeable, but when I asked her, as politely as I could, where all the money was coming from, and why it was coming to Sisters and nowhere else nearby, she had no ideas.

We speculated about it for miles afterwards, driving past new subdivisions on the edge of town, then through trees and countryside and the return of "For Sale" signs. Software millionaires, retiring off the beaten track? But why there? "Skiing," someone suggested, when we told this story later. But then why didn't skiing make the other towns rich? It's too far away for easy weekend trips from Portland, and it's not near much else that would pull in tourists.

Did they market themselves? Was it developers? Or was it just that a lot of other people, enough to make the cash flow, got the sense that I did seventeen years ago, that this was a nice little town, pretty mountains in the distance, hot and bright and Western?

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Remember mix tapes?

In the first flush of romance with Renaissance Woman, eleven years ago this summer, I made her a mix tape to take to music camp with her. This was in the olden, olden days, before you could just download music to your computer and burn it onto a CD with the click of a button. It took days to put together; it was a labor of love, and she loved it, to my pride and gratification.

Some years later, it got stolen off our front porch. I hadn't made a backup copy, and by then I had a full-time job and didn't have days and days to sit around making mix tapes--the songs were from a huge variety of sources, including some CDs from the library--but I eventually found a draft of the list of songs in my room. I put it in (wait for it) a Special Place so I Wouldn't Lose It. And it went into the ether where everything goes that gets put in A Special Place So I Won't Lose It, and I never saw it again.

Until today. RW and I have both been engaged in the huge endeavor of cleaning and packing our rooms so that we can exchange office spaces, and I was digging through an old "To Be Filed" box, and there it was.

And here it is, or as close as I can reconstruct for (I hope--ptui, ptui, ptui) posterity:

Side 1: "A Little Mystery to Figure Out" [and it is a mystery--I only have an early draft of this side]
  1. Something to Talk about--Bonnie Raitt
  2. Almost Kiss--Ferron
  3. Love and Affection--Joan Armatrading
  4. Passionate Kisses--Mary Chapin-Carpenter
  5. Something Good (excerpt)--Julie Andrews, "Sound of Music" soundtrack
  6. Something So Right--Paul Simon
  7. Good Thing (Angels Running)--Patty Larkin
  8. Let's go Bonding--2 Nice Girls
  9. Like a Big Wheel--Whatsisname, folkie guy who did "My Name Joe"
  10. Things We Said Today--Beatles
  11. You're gonna Make me Lonesome When You Go--Shawn Colvin
  12. Dream a Little Dream of Me--The Mamas & the Papas
  13. Whatever's For Us--Joan Armatrading
Side 2: "Like a Rose" [this side I'm more sure of]
  1. If I Were a Bell--"Guys and Dolls" Soundtrack
  2. Aftershock--BETTY
  3. Have a Good Time--Paul Simon
  4. Bellybowl--Ferron
  5. Ice Cream--Sarah McLaughlin
  6. Watermelon Song--Poi Dog Pondering
  7. I get a Kick out of You--Louis Armstrong
  8. In France they Kiss on Main Street--Joni Mitchell
  9. I'm Easy--"Nashville" Soundtrack
  10. I'm Lucky--Joan Armatrading
  11. Atsababy! (Life is Great)--Tom-Tom Club
  12. Magic Penny--Rosalie Sorrells
  13. Like a Rose--Lucinda Williams
One day I'll put it all on a CD. But at least we can play it in our heads now.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I am not allowed to tell you this

First, some background: In Shakespeare's play "A Midsummer Night's Dream," one of the many plots involves two fairies having a fight. Titania, the Fairy Queen, has custody of a human changeling child, and Oberon, the Fairy King, wants the kid for himself, to be one of his servants/attendants. (NB: a changeling child is a human child who is taken to live with the fairies, generally in exchange for a fairy child left with humans. In most stories this exchange is a trick on the part of the fairies and is involuntary on the part of the human child and his/her parents, but in this play the child's mother was a pal of Titania, and when the mom died in childbirth, Titania took the child to live with her out of the goodness of her heart and prizes him as a companion.)

Right. So, the "Changeling Child" is an optional part when producing"Midsummer." The child doesn't have any lines, and since kids are notoriously hard to work with onstage, many directors choose to let the characters just refer to him (he's a boy) and avoid casting the part at all. Sometimes, though, a director who's very brave and/or has a particular kid on hand to show off will include the part and have the Changeling Child show up with Titania in one or two scenes.

So. Let's just say someone has a friend whose job is teaching teenagers to perform Shakespeare over the summer. And that friend has a kid, so he casts her as the Changeling Child in his group's performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." But his kid is only not-quite-five, and gets tired of doing all the performances, so he calls his friends--let's call them the Beeland family--and asks if their daughter would like to fill in as the Changeling Child for a few performances. The parents, like most, are stage parents at heart and are thrilled! The child, who has a dramatic bent anyway--let's call her, oh, Water Sprite Child--is also quite excited. Her parents find a terrific picture-book verson of "Midsummer" and read it to her several times, at her request, until she understands the plot. Her mom takes her to see the first performance so they can watch her friend and see what the part entails, and she says she thinks she can do it.

Then, a few weeks later, on the morning when she's supposed to perform, this anonymous child--oh, the hell with it: Mermaid Girl flipped out and was struck with terror. We pleaded, we reasoned, we guilt-tripped, all to no avail. She cried and cried and insisted that she hadn't seen it enough times, she would do something wrong onstage and that she couldn't, just couldn't, do it. The director would have to find someone out or leave the part out altogether. We were insistent that she had to do it; for our own selfish reasons (not wanting to let down a friend we'd made a commitment to; wanting to see our child onstage) as well as For Her Own Good (because if she backs down every time she gets scared, her fears will just get stronger).

Finally, RW said: look, you don't have to take our word that you can do it well enough; just go to the rehearsal before the show, and let the director decide. He's been doing this for a long time, and if he doesn't think you can do it well enough, he won't put you on. It's not your decision or even ours; it's his. Also, we pointed out that since the director's daughter wasn't available that morning, MG was the person who knew the part best--certainly much better than some random kid pulled out of the audience--even if she didn't feel she knew it perfectly.

So, we went to the park where the performance was, and the second she met the actress playing Titania, she was fine. More than fine: totally entranced. They ran through the part a couple of times, and then she went off with Titania and the fairies until her scene, which came early in the play. And she did great job, romping with Titania for a minute and then cowering under her skirts when Oberon comes on the scene.

Afterwards, I went back to look for her. The performance was outdoors, and "backstage" was just an open area behind the audience, in full view of them. When we went to see the first performance, our friend's daughter had simply gone back to where her grandmother was sitting, stripped off her costume without any fanfare, and curled up to take a nap. We'd assumed that MG would come find us in our seats after her scene, but there was no sign of her.

I found her hanging with Titania and the fairies in the back, still costumed in her purple and gold finery. She shooed me away, hissing "I'm fine, Mommy! Go back to your seat!"

"Well, I have to stay here where I can see you. It's not fair to ask the actors to look after you; they have to go back onstage soon; they have to focus on being actors."

MG drew herself up to her full 46 inches. "I'm an actor'" she said.

She finally agreed to let me stay in back, several feet away, after I explained that even professional child actors have to have someone on-set whose job it is to keep an eye on them.

So. Success! Kvelling. Victory over fear. She's got a couple more performances to go, and she's looking forward to them.

Only, she won't let us tell anyone she's doing them. When my mom called the other day and innocently asked about the acting gig, MG clammed up and handed the phone to me, shooting me dagger looks.

I mentioned it to several people, including the whole internet, before I knew there was an embargo on the information. So, I figure I can give you this follow-up explanation. But if you should happen to run into us in the next week or two: this conversation never happened. Ix-nay on the angeling-chay ild-chay.

But, privately, and just to you: I'm so full of pride, I could plotz.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Trip, Part 1

Almost two years ago, I had a little run-in with a Mack truck on the way to work, totalling my car and bringing Twinkie into my life. Who could have known that one fateful accident would change my world forever? At least, my World of Vacations. No more setting up tents and sleeping fitfully on the ground! No more cheesy roadside hotels! No more Dennys meals! Best of all (because of the refrigerator), no more cooler leaking icy water into all the food and around all the surrounding bags in the trunk!

Twinkie is our vacation car, tent, and cabin/playhouse. She's our roadside restaurant and ferry-terminal waiting room. Because there's a level surface next to Mermaid Girl's seat, she can spread out her toys and dolls and drawing supplies and occupy herself for hours. The top pops up to make a double bed, and the back seat folds out to make another one. There's a stove and a fridge, and many cute little storage cabinets. It's fair to say that all three of us are united by our common love for the camper van.

Renaissance Woman, The Vacation Planning Queen, has Twinkie set up most of the time so that we can take her out for the weekend at a moment's notice, and we've done so several times. Last year we took the van up to Canada and visited various relatives living in B.C. But this past vacation was the first time we've gone on an extended trip in Twinkie, just the three of us, with no other agenda: no relatives to visit, no conferences or festivals to attend, no nothing, for two weeks. Just us, and our trusty camper van, driving down the coast from Seattle to Northern California and then back up.

It was the best vacation I've had in years.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


I keep wanting to post, this summer. I mean, I really, really, want to post. But I keep doing things, which leads to the double dilemma of me being too busy to post and the piling-up-of-subjects thing: stuff keeps HAPPENING and I want to post about that instead of, or in addition to what I wanted to post about before. And then I want to post about something else, and then something else.

I mean, first I wanted to post about my trip to LA, then I wanted to post about RW's tie-dye birthday party, then I wanted to post about my week as a soccer-camp mom, then I wanted to post about how we all went to see "Pirates of Penzance" and MG said it was better than Disneyland, and now I want to post--really, truly--about our 2-week Twinkie Vanagon vacation. But this morning I want to post about how MG is holed up in her room in a fit because she committed to playing the Changeling Child and now doesn't want to do it.

So. More later. Soon. I hope. If only nothing else happens for a while. I need one of those Nicholson Baker things where you stop time for a while, only instead of using it to untie people's bathing suit tops I would use it to POST SOME FREAKING POSTS.