Sunday, September 27, 2015

Elyria Pattern Co.

During our summer road trip, we saw more interesting sights that I could squeeze into my real-time posts. Now that I'm back home and have fished all 548 photos off my devices, I have a few more road trip stories to share. 

To catch up on the rest of the trip, start here.

* * * * *

Somber was the mood in the car as we drove out of town, passing by the familiar streets and well-known family landmarks of my husband's Ohio hometown. Now that both of my in-laws have passed on, who knows when - or if - we will next have occasion to come around for a visit. 

The people who made us feel at home here are gone now and nothing is left but a place.


We took the usual tour, slowly cruising past the three homes where my husband grew up, our sense of satisfaction that all were in good repair seesawing with that uneasy queasiness one feels when facing with the fact that strangers are now living in your childhood home. 

Then my husband suggested that we drive by the shop.

^ My father-in-law, son of a dairy farmer, broke out of the cow business as soon as he came of age. He chose instead to learn the trade of a pattern maker, and set up shop with his colleague and friend,  Leonard. Over the decades, through much hard work, they built themselves a fine business where my husband was offered the opportunity to sweep floors on Saturdays. 

For his part, my husband eventually followed the family tradition of finding one's own path and chose to become... a dairy farmer.

Just kidding. That would have been deliciously ironic, but he studied chemical engineering and then became an accountant. No floor-sweeping required.

Anyway, when the time came for Dad to retire, he sold the shop to a young man of promise named Jim.

So as we pulled into the drive of the Elyria Pattern Co. and I predictably hopped out of the car to snap a few photos, it was Jim's sixty-something cousin, Marlene, who saw me climbing through the bushes and stuck her head out the door to ask if there was something she might do to help me. 

^ Two minutes later, my husband was striding across the workshop floor to shake hands with Young Jim - Jim's son - who now runs the place. They began talking over the business like they were the ones who'd been partners for forty years, which left me with my first-ever opportunity to explore this place of myth and legend.

^ The various presses, saws, and other intimidating machines are the old originals, dating back to the 1940s, I suppose. Though the staff was mostly working in the back room of the now-expanded workspace, the air thrummed with industry, and my father-in-law's hearing aids suddenly made a lot of sense.

^ I didn't need anyone to tell me who built the worktables that lined the walls. An identical twin to this model used to stand in my father-in-law's basement and now lives in my garage. Handmade, sturdy enough to survive the zombie apocalypse, full of secret compartments and hidden drawers, this is a workbench for the ages and I'm glad a half-dozen or so versions exist.

^ More overpowering that the sights and sounds of the shop, it was the delicious fragrance of wood that fulfilled my fantasies of what the shop would be like. Sweet and spicy, filling the air with delicate dusty variations, these lumber piles drew me like nectar to a bee. We brought home a few small samples in a feeble attempt to capture and preserve that incredible aroma, but they are a pale comparison to the real thing. 

^ I got a little emotional about these floors. Honestly, I craved nothing more than to sand them down to pure perfection, stain them with loving care, and then buff them to the beauty they so richly deserve. I wanted to rip them up and carry them across the country to my house on my back.

We visited for only ten minutes or so when I heard my husband say to Jim, "Well, I'll let you get back at it." Dang. I wasn't ready to go.

But on our way out the door, as I stopped to give a big thank you to Marlene for her quick-thinking hospitality, I noticed a photograph. Handsomely matted and framed, hanging in a place of honor in the center of the office wall was a shot taken way back in the day, of my father-in-law (left) and Leonard mulling over one of their masterpieces.

I have to say, that really touched my heart. 

And suddenly, the old hometown didn't seem so empty after all. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fall Colors

Fluttering feathers of gold.
Velvety brown.

Cheery yellows.
Deep burgundy reds.
Purplish greens and all the shades of orange.

When I realize that my sweet sunny days of summer are slowly slipping away and fearsome fall is definitely in the air. I have found a remedy. Taking a moment to pause on my way into the grocery store, I drink in the fresh colors of the new season.

And I really must say, I admire their spunk.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

My New Record Player

It was another of my late-night come-to-Jesus moments.

Suddenly, clear as a bell, an idea burst into my mind not in stages or increments but in a single flash of inspired brilliance.

I needed a record player in my living room. 

Not wanted. NEEDED.

I have digital music coming out of my ears, but suddenly I craved records.

The epiphany hit me just before Friday midnight, and all the pieces immediately fell into place.

My first-born owns a turntable - a Christmas gift from several years back - but has never been able to find the right place to set it up in her bedroom. She often loans it to me and I knew if I asked real nice, she would let me take that little gem downstairs and give it a permanent home.

Next, I would need some records.

As a child of the 70s, I collected a goodly number of albums during my formative years. That's what we called them back in the day - albums. Never "vinyl." Despite the successive waves of advancing technologies - cassette tapes, compact discs and digital music - I held on to those old crumbling cardboard covers and scratched black discs.  

Believe it or not, the better part of my childhood musical archive has been living in my attic, just where we stashed it when we moved into this house almost three decades ago. At least a hundred albums were up there, still stored in the original moving boxes - oh yes, they were - and all I needed to do was haul those boxes back downstairs for a long-awaited reunion.

Only one important matter remained. This dream required a small piece of furniture to a) support the turntable out of harm's way and b) hold my album inventory. I considered and reconsidered every piece of furniture we own, and concluded that nothing would work.

Oh darn. I would have to buy something new.

Twelve hours and one trip to IKEA later, I was the proud owner of a bitty KALLAX unit and now all that stood between me and my dream was a set of assembly instructions and an alphabetizing project.

Eight p.m. on Saturday evening found me lying alone on the living room floor, listening to one album after the next, as sweet memories flooded my mind and filled my soul.

Music from a turntable is different. Rather than jumping around all ADHD-like between albums and artists, as I often do with digital music, albums coax me to listen through a full side, five songs flowing seamlessly into a single unit. Once I drop that needle, I'm transported and rarely lift the arm until it's bouncing against the inner rings.

I love the creativity of the cardboard covers and paper liners. Double albums, single albums with double covers, notes from the band, lyrics on the inner sleeves. This lovely inconsistency make opening up each album an individual and highly serendipitous experience.

Though I've listened many times to this same music on other formats, nothing compares to what I feel when I listen to my albums. This, for me, is how music is meant to be heard and, thanks to my new record player, my heart - and ears - are completely content.

^ Ranger is a big fan of my new record player too. 

Napping With The Prince

The golden days of summer are fading, sliding down toward the cool chill of autumn, and change is afoot at my house.

My kittens, who have spent nearly every afternoon of these past few months dozing under luxuriously shady bushes in the backyard, are now creeping into the house to take their naps on our cozy beds, draped across the pillows and blankets like little princes.

Cedric has certainly mastered this art form.

The cute factor is enough to make even me - the ultimate summer devotee - toss aside my gardening tools and curl up next to this guy for a little nap of my own.

Happy almost fall!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Cloud Gate

During our summer road trip, we saw more interesting sights that I could squeeze into my real-time posts. Now that I'm back home and have fished all 548 photos off my devices, I have a few more road trip stories to share. 

To catch up on the rest of the trip, start here.

* * * * *

Its proper name is Cloud Gate.

But almost immediately upon its construction after the turn of the millennium, Chicago's new stainless steel sculpture was affectionately nicknamed The Bean, in honor of its undulating kidney bean curves.

I think both names are worthy and accurate descriptors of this amazing sculpture. Not only does the piece reflect the sky in infinite variety, but it also seems oddly familiar and comfortingly organic. Which is no small feat for a gigantic hunk of steel.

I fell in love with it long before I ever saw it in person.

Still, when we stopped by Millennium Park for a quick visit on the eastbound leg of our family road trip, my devotion was doubled. I love everything about this art work - the massive scale, the surprising delicacy of the shape, its contradictory curves in delighted defiance to the square-shouldered skyscrapers that stand at attention in the periphery.

But even more, I marveled at the way my fellow visitors responded to the piece. Like any good outdoor sculpture should, this shiny spectacle drew people in and invited them to explore and experience the artwork up close.

Mostly, everyone stood around and took photos of themselves and their loved ones, reflected and distorted in the mercury-like surface.

And while the outside surfaces provided endless entertainment, the inner archway with its dimpled contours took the photo opportunities up by several notches. 

Literally everyone was running around, brandishing cameras and snapping endless shots of this amazing interaction of humans and art.

I was no exception to this phenomenon.

And while I can totally get behind both Cloud Gate and The Bean as sweetly suitable titles for this gem of a sculpture, I would like to propose a new name that most accurately captures its effect on human beings.

The Smile Maker.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Bridges Of Madison County

During our summer road trip, we saw more interesting sights that I could squeeze into my real-time posts. Now that I'm back home and have fished all 548 photos off my devices, I have a few more road trip stories to share. 

To catch up on the rest of the trip, start here.

* * * * *

It wasn't the first time I woke up from my car nap that I realized something was amiss. Sure, I sensed that we had veered off our proper route on the interstate and were now prowling the back roads of Iowa. But I just assumed my husband was performing his usual mid-morning Starbucks hunt and fell right back to sleep.

But it was ten minutes later, when my body woke me up a second time, that I realized this unexpected detour was more than just a coffee break. Rubbing my eyes and tilting my seat back to its upright position, I took in the winding hills of the two-lane highway, lined with well-kept homesteads and lush cornfields as far as the eye could see. Before I could gather my thoughts to pose a reasonable question, my typically predictable and totally by-the-book husband could contain himself no further.

"We're going on a side trip!" he exalted, giddy with his own cleverness and derring do.

Turns out that when the sign announcing our entry into Madison Country, Iowa, popped up along our route, he decided that a tour of the local covered bridges was in order.

Thus began an interesting morning adventure around this famous patch of green, and a series of new discoveries for me.

^ The bridges of Madison County, popularized in story and a 1995 film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, really do exist. What's more, they are big, barny, brawny affairs, much larger and sturdier than their New England compatriots (or at least they seemed that way to me) and totally in keeping with their midwestern surroundings.

^ My two younger daughters were entirely smitten with not so much the bridges themselves, but the countless and infinitely varying messages penned on the interior walls. Notes, love letters, and autographs from local old-timers, love-struck teens, and a surprising range of international visitors offered my girls entertainment aplenty and I swear they read every one.

^ For his part, Ranger would have NOTHING to do with the bridges. Time and time again, I tried to casually lead him into the big red mouth but as soon as my boy approached the shadow of the structure, he hit the brakes, dug all four feet into the wooden planks, and resisted further forward movement with every ounce of his being.

So he went swimming instead.

^ As we wandered from one bridge to the next - there are six still standing and we visited four - our senses were dazzled by the Iowan countryside and small town scenery. I for one could not get enough of the hay rolls dotting the landscape, and was perfectly willing to wade through foot-high grasses lousy with grasshoppers to get a good shot.

^ Winterset, Iowa, is the county seat and gem in the crown of Madison County and also the birthplace of famed cowboy actor, John Wayne. A surprisingly affluent and hipster-licious city, I hung out the car window snapping shots as we rolled through town.

^ At our second bridge, Ranger displayed a further development in his frantic covered-bridge phobia. Not only did he refuse to set paw anywhere near the big red beast, but he cautioned me - with the full range of his vocal chords - to stay away too. I brashly ignored his yelping and walked through this one, but when I came out the other side and looked back at my noisy dog, I saw that he had stepped around the bulwark to keep an eye on me.

Look carefully at this photo and you will see his red head at the opposite end of the bridge. Squint your eyes and you may be able to make out his offended facial expression and open mouth. Yes. He was barking at full volume.

^ More bridges, more bridge graffiti. The interior of this bridge was filled with light from the cut-out windows which, despite the monstrous oaken timbers, created an atmosphere that felt strangely light and ethereal.

^ Two other unexpected discoveries from my day in Madison County:

First, there were a surprising number of other sightseers visiting the bridges on this ordinary August day, including apparently international tourists. The foreign tongues and European soccer jerseys pretty much gave them away.

And despite the many jokes and references made among us visitors, at least on this day spent among the bridges of Madison Country, Clint Eastwood was nowhere to be found.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Last Day Of My Summer Vacation

Tick tick. 

This past weekend, the last days of my summer break were winding down rapidly, and I was bound and determined to make the best of every minute. So what to do with my dwindling hours of freedom?

Weed the garden?
Paint the back steps? 
Tackle one last spray painting project? 

Yeah. Did all that on Saturday. 

Which left me exactly one last precious day of freedom. Which I decided to spend at my favorite summer place on this earth. 


This wild Washington beach has been our family's favorite camping spot for decades. But we had no time for cook stoves and camp sites at this late date. So bright and early on Sunday morning, my three younger daughters and I embarked on a highly unorthodox day trip to the coast. 

Oh. And Ranger came too.

And here is the story of our long, lovely day at the beach.

^ After a six a.m. wake-up call and a four-hour drive, our first moments on the beach were a dream. The clouds parted, the sun shone with abandon, the tide ebbed, and a flock of gulls stepped up to greet us. Out came the cameras to capture the moment.

True, we were wearing multiple layers of fleece, but in the Pacific Northwest, these are the makings of a perfect summer day.

^ A peek-a-boo view from the campground revealed a long line of clean, white breakers between me and the infinite blue.

^ This beach trail overflows with memories from the days when my girls pretended that the paths around the campground were Mario Kart tracks. This one always puts me in the mind of Rainbow Road and I see myself careening over the edge into the murky depths below.

^ Ranger and me at the edge of the mighty blue Pacific.

^ Where Kalaloch Creek enters the Pacific is a place of freshwater magic that we call the lagoon. Gnarled and bleached beach logs decorate the landscape like climbing structures, the flat stones alow for fantastic skipping, and all of us - Ranger included - consider this an ideal playground.

^ I do not understand everything that my daughters do. I have also learned to stop asking questions.

^ Ranger, on the other hand, exhibits highly predictable and self-explanatory beach behavior.


(Runs along the lengths of the logs with his nose skimming the sand, drinking in delicious if invisible scents.)


(Stops abruptly. Lifts leg and liberally marks his territory.)

(Repeat endlessly.)

^ As the sun arced from its morning hiding place among the trees over the campground, to high above the water during the long afternoon, the sunlight played against the ocean in a variety of angles and intensities. Capturing each subtle difference became my obsession, and I've got the camera roll to prove it.

^ This suspended tree offers a living cross section of itself and, along with the tiny freshwater stream that trickles out from underneath, presents an irresistible place to explore. My daughters still find themselves drawn to this imaginary "cave" of their youth, though Ranger has always regarded the closed-in space with trepidation. He is not a fan.

^ A long hike down to the north end of the beach at low tide rewards us with a rare opportunity to adventure among some rocks that are typically surrounded by water.

^ After exploring around the main bulwark, Daughter Number Three decided the only way to go was up. Numbers Two and Four soon followed, all climbing monkey-style up the steep incline to the top. As usual, Ranger would have no part of such foolishness, so he and I stayed safe on the sand.

^ Well. Ranger took it upon himself to wade while we waited for the rock climbers. But still, that sand was solid beneath his furry feet, just how he likes it.

^ The sun drifted down the sky as we walked back to our base camp in the sand.

^ Where freshwater streams cross the beach to join the ocean, these sharp-edged sandy min-cliffs form and present an irresistible invitation for someone to sully their top edge. Each footstep crumbles the fragile border and causes both a load of sand and the offending foot to crash down to the lower level of the stream. This too is an age-old game for my family, though this is the first time that Ranger has joined in on the action.

^ A girl and her dog, walking back. We found our outbound footprints in the damp sand, and all took turns trying to walk backwards in our opposite-direction steps.

^ Settled back at our spot, we conferred with our timepieces and concluded that our time was just about up. The girls requested a few last minutes to hop in the waves; Ranger and I sat back to drink in the last wind-blown moments of peace. 

^ Sadly, there was no rest for poor Ranger, who smelled the impending change in the air. So keen to our habits is he that he sat on pins and needles through these final moments, knowing that something was about to happen.

^ Which, of course, it did. Shortly, we gathered up heaping armfuls of towels, books, snacks, jackets and shoes, and slowly, contentedly made our way back to the car and the long ride home.

^ Making our way up and away, I turned around, as I always do, for one last look.

Goodbye Kalaloch! I promise we'll be back soon.

* * * * *

My family and I go to Kalaloch a lot. Here are stories from our trips over the years: