Friday, August 31, 2018

Gracie’s Field

Behind my daughter’s apartment complex is a field.

Once upon a time, it was most certainly part of narure’s Great Hardwood Forest; later most likely a farmer’s corn field. Eventually, this place will probably be developed into some kind of space for suburban living.

But for now, it’s nothing more or less than a field. Butterflies flit among the grasses and. birds swoop just above them. Rabbits may run in the longer bits of grass, and deer come out of the nearby woods at dawn and dusk to graze.

Gracie loves this field. We took her there multiple times each day and every time, she leaped and pranced and strutted with delight.

And it makes me happy that I can make her happy with such a simple thing as a field.

Cleveland Beer and Coffee

We were making plans for our last day in Cleveland when I had a big idea, “Can we do something Cleveland-y?”

For all the times I’ve visited my family in the area, there have been precious few outings around town. Mostly my time here has been spent in my mother-in-law’s kitchen, chatting on backyard patios, and hanging out at the pool. Finally we parents had some time to ourselves.

So my brother- and sister-in-law put their heads together and came up with a great plan.

^ First stop: Edgewater Park

This gorgeous crescent of shady grass and sandy beach swoops along the shoreline of Lake Erie just west of downtown Cleveland. The script letters have been positioned just so for a perfect capture of the skyline and the effect is irresistible. We called some strangers over to work the cameras and rocked our best Cleveland pose.

^ Second stop: West Side Market

Tucked up close to -you guessed it- the west side of the city stands this gem of a farmers’ market. Offering fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, baked goods, pastries, candies and who knows what all else, the market has been a center of deliciousness since 1840.

I was overwhelmed by the incredible magnitude of food options - my husband picked out a vendor and suggested we buy some of his beef jerky. “You pick the flavor,” he said. There were at least a dozen.

So I calmed myself by taking photos of the pleasingly symmetrical and sedately ornate ceiling.

^Third stop: Great Lakes Brewing Company

Near the market, in the quickly gentrifying Ohio City neighborhood, we stopped for a bite to eat. Despite the 90 degree temperatures and 90 percent humidity, our outdoor table was cool and breezy and a perfect place for a Midwest lunch.

^ My salmon BLT was delicious and a lot to eat on such a hot day. I savored every single bite anyway.

^ And this little princess sat quietly between our chairs as we ate, relaxing in her little puddle of shade and watching the people passing by just inches from her resting place.

Our wait staff served Gracie a bowl of fresh cool an upside down red plastic Cleveland Indians batting helmet. How cute was that.

^ The flower baskets near our table were absolutely exploding with lush summer color.

^ As we reluctantly left our comfortable seats and headed back into the glaring sun, my sister-in-law found this sign and quickly claimed the quote as our new family motto.

And while I don’t really drink much beer or coffee, I love our new mottto. Because I am definitely all about good ideas and getting them done.

Adventures At The Pond

My husband’s youngest sister has lived in the same lovely Cleveland-area suburban neighborhood for twenty years now. We’ve visited many times and strolled often along the sidewalks and around the community pool.

But it was only this past weekend that the thought dawned on me to walk my dog over to the neighborhood pond.

Gracie quickly went all in with my idea. As usual, when she is presented with any body of water larger than, well, her body, she rushed right in, lay down in the shallows and began lapping up the water with gusto.

She doesn”t really care to swim per se, but boy, does Gracie love to lie in water and lap.

Now this particular pond is well populated with ducks and Canada geese. For the most part, the water fowl kept their distance from us. Each day, they waddled out from under their shade tree as Gracie happily approached, and paddled off to the far side of the pond.

But on one of the days we visited, a small contingent of female ducks organized a counterattack. Almost in military formation, they pursued my amiable redhead, quacking their indignation and clearly attempting to scare her off their turf.

You can see the effect of their intimidation campaign on Gracie.


Because there is nothing - not even a fleet of angry mama ducks -  that is going to ruin my dog’s happy adventures at the pond.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Welcome To Stump

Talk about gentrification. This gorgeous sleek store is literally surrounded by buildings slated for demolition. You do you, Stump, and let the neighborhood do whatever the heck it’s doing. 

Ok, let me be honest. I love a bougie plant store more than I can say.

And even though we found plenty of healthy beautiful specimens at the local big box stores, my daughter suggested we check out a gorgeous and wildly aesthetic curated plant store called Stump.
And I fell madly in love.

Even as we crossed the street, wondering how our destination could possible be found in this ratty little heap of broken-down buildings, our eyes slowly tuned into the front windows of one that was filled with glossy, rich foliage. Inside, we noted the artisan crafted pots and legitimate, um, stumps upon which the plants posed.

And let me tell you right now, we were smitten.

The interior of the shop screamed quirky cool from every corner.

A black leather Chrsterfield couch lounging among the leaves.

Live edge floating wooden  shelves adorning the walls, overflowing with sparkling specimens in less-is-more pots

Clear glass cylinders hung here and there, showcasing air plants on crushed sandstone or leaves resting in crystal water.

Honestly, I was overwhelmed. Too awestruck to even point and click my camera.

Then I walked out on the back deck.

I ogled
I gaped.
I turned in giddy circles and snapped photos of everything in sight.

And I decided that surely this Stump store must be the cutest plant boutique ever

* * * * *

Not that I was exactly proven wrong, but a few days later, I was pleasantly surprised to find my conclusion challenged.

There are two Stump stores in Columbus

I had visited the one in Italian Village

There is another store  in German Village

(And a third in Philadelphia. But that one is off my grid for the time being.)

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before we headed to German Village to check out this second Stump.

I hope you will not be shocked to hear it was an equally gorgeous experience.

Just look. I have no words.

Again, my camera roll failed to capture the essence of this magical place.

All I can say is, if you ever find yourself in Columbus (or apparently Philadelphia), check out the beauty that is Stump.

And I will say, you’re welcome.

Destination: Family

^ In case you can’t tell what you’re looking at, this is a shot looking down on Gracie as she lies on the couch, where she patiently lay as her one-year-old human cousin covered her back leg with stickers. 

Though there’s much to be said for an ambling circular ramble around the countryside, every Streicher Family Road Trip has a defined goal.

And ninety-nine times out of one hundred, the goal is family.

We are West Coast transplants; the rest of our extended families live east of the Mississippi; most of them in Michigan and Ohio.

And now even our second-born lives in Ohio.

So after our four-day 2400-mile road trip across the country, we pulled up, hopped out, and walked into our loved’ ones’ open arms.

^ Gracie knows how to work the pillows on my daughter’s couch to make herself feel right at home. 

Specifically, our visits involved:

Hanging curtains, potting plants, and building furniture for my daughter’s apartment.
Browsing bougie plant stores.
Adoring Gracie as she flounced around every house she entered as if she were the queen of each castle. .
Marveling at my brother-in-law’s best-ever grilled flank steak.
Taking Gracie for dips in the neighborhood duck pond

And yes, watching with delight as my little grand-niece made friends with my big furry dog.

These are the moments for which we traveled all those miles across the country. And every single inch was worth it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Going Back

^ Travel west on Interstate 80 through the heart of South Dakota, and near the middle of the state, the road comes over the top of an enormous bluff and drops precipitously down a steep hill. At the bottom lies the sleepy and well-kept town of Chamberlain, and just beyond that, the mighty waters of the Missouri River. This scenery unfolds in a breathtaking rush; for those who want to savor the landscape, there is a rest area poised at the top of the bluff and it’s a favorite stop for a Streicher Family Road Trip. 

A stiff morning breeze blows chill off the Missouri River far below us. My husband and I huddle in our warm car parked at the rest area at the top of the bluff. Munching our toasty Sausage Egg McMuffins, we stare in awe at the huge sculpture looking out across the powerful landscape. Installed two years ago, this beauty is called Dignity of Earth and Sky, and she is meant to remind us of our shared belief in the sacred nature of this place.

^ I wanted to pose Gracie in this scene to give some perspective to the size of this artwork. But the wind was so unrelentingly cold that my dog and I cowered in the car while my husband ran out to take this photo for me. Suffice it to say that the golden stone at the base of the sculpture is designed as a bench for normal-sized humans. When seated, a tall person’s head would barely reach the top of Dignity’s moccasins. 

Our minds tumble back through the years, and we remember several times during our daughters’ childhoods on other Streicher Family Road Trips, when we stopped at this same rest area. Spilling out of the car in a flurry of half-tied sneakers and bagel crumbs, our little girls squealed with delight and ran back and forth across the then-empty grassy knoll where Dignity now sits. The same crazy winds blew their blond pigtails every which way and sent them running back to our picnic table for food and sweatshirts.

As they grew older, we pointed to the river below and told our girls stories about Lewis and Clark paddling their fleet of canoes right past the very place where we stood  Fighting the currents and dreaming of what they would find in the unknown reaches of the continent, these explorers became very real to us, and  the countryside took on a new richness.

Our minds drift  back over more years, My husband recounts once again the famous story from his childhood: on one of their own family road trips, his father’s car broke down on the interstate near this rest area. Luckily they were able to coast down the big hill to the town of Chamberlain, right there on the banks of the Missouri River, and roll right into a garage for repairs.

The story goes on that a special part had to be ordered and brought in from Denver, and the family was stranded in town for two days. Concerns grew that they would not make it to one of the highlights of their trip, the Calvary Stampede, but in the end, they did and all was well. Still, my father-in-law held a grudge against that old station wagon, and after returning home, they soon after got a new car.

 * * * * *

Though there isn’t a whole lot that is inherently special about this particular rest area in the middle of South Dakota, it has become a special place for us. There’s something powerful about going back and back and back to the same specific place, over the course of generations, that creates layers of sweet memories and a genuine connection to the land..

And that is yet another wonderful thing about a Streicher Family Road Trip. We can always go back.

Monday, August 20, 2018

How We Roll

This photo was taken shortly after dawn this morning as we headed east through central South Dakota, the sun a tiny orange disk burning through the weight of distant wildfire smoke still hanging heavy in the sky.

But wait.

How is it that a delayed sleep phaser such as myself is on the road bright and early, when every ounce of my biology should be demanding that I sleep?

The answer to that question is perhaps the most amazing key to success for the Streicher Family Road Trip:

While I am an extreme night owl, my husband is a total lark.

Long ago, we perfected a system in which he gets up at the crack of some unholy predawn hour. He finalizes our route, arranges our maps, fills water jugs, and takes the dog out for a top o’ the mornin’ stroll. Twenty minutes before he wants to leave, he calls me and my owl-leaning daughters out of our slumbers.

Just barely.

We don’t actually wake up. With eyes mostly closed, we toss on our clothes, do a bare minimum of personal grooming, zip our suitcases, and then sleepwalk out through the brisk Western morning air to the car. A pleasing array of pillows and blankets are waiting for us, and we snuggle in and drift back off to sleep.

My husband always, always drives the first shift.

Once I’ve properly napped and tucked into a mid-morning breakfast, I’m ready to actually wake up. I take over the wheel around 10:30 or 11 a.m., a much more manageable time for me, and we roll on.

By mid-afternoon, the situation reverses. My husband finishes his post-lunch shift, slides to the passenger seat and zones out. I’m usually responsible for bringing us into the barn, and on the occasions when our schedule pushes us into driving after dark, there’s a 100% chance I’ll be driving.

Thus from our two extreme sleeping preferences comes an ideal and mile-maximizing road-tripping dream team.

And that, quite literally, is how we roll.

Road Trip Sunset

^ Twilught skies over our first night’s stop in Butte, Montana 

At the end of a long day on the road, maybe as I am shlepping in one last load from the car to the hotel room, or waking my stir-crazy dog around a grassy back field, or carrying bags full of take-out food up to my hungry family, I often get a chance to see the sunset.

And I think about how, for all the people who live in this place where I’m passing through, this is how a normal sunset looks.

Then I think of my sunsets at home, with towering, triangle-topped Douglas fir trees and the sunlight reflected on the waves of Puget Sound, lapping up on my rocky hometown beach, complete with a tiny lighthouse and a rumbling ferry boat.

I think how lucky I am to be me.

I wonder if the people in this place feel just as lucky to be who they are.

And I marvel at what an amazing thing it is to be alive and a part of this tilting planet.

And then, as the sun sinks low, dusk begins to gather, the bird calls quiet, and I realize it’s time to head inside, I think about how all that thinking cane from a simple road-trip sunset.

Crazy, right?

Sight-Seeing Side Trips

A proper Streixher Family Road Trip does not operate on a set of rigid rules, but does indeed make use of time-honored traditions that not only streamline the operation but also maximize the fun.

* * * * *

The primary purpose of almost every Streicher. Family Road Trip is to visit our extended families and ancestral Midwestern roots Criss-crossing the country toward our destinations in Michigan and Ohio leaves precious few resources for our own family vacations. So we have come up with a plan to make the best of both worlds.

Within each massive mega-journey, we plan sight-seeing side trips to interesting places along our route. Not only do these daily excursions give us a chance to break up our long road-tripping days with a curious diversion, they also give us a sense of our own private family vacation sandwiched into the sprawling family reunions.

^ Yesterday we swung by The Little Bighorn Battlefield, a National Monument to Custer’s infamous last stand. Just off I-90 in southeastern Montana, the skies above the monument were filled with smoke from distant wildfires and the eerie gloom settled over the sights - including the National Cemetery shown  here - with spine-tingling drama. 

In the early years, my husband and I planned the outings, and first we hit up the. Auto all Parks. Drawing from a wealth of famous and not-so famous options:, we spent a day here and a half-day there at a number of fantastic parks, including

Great Basin
Crater Lake
Rocky Mountain
Teddy Roosevelt
Mount Rushmore
Grand Canyon and
Wind Cave.

^ In addition to the hundreds of American military men and Natice Americans, quite a few horses lost their lives on that June day in 1876. These happy modern-day grazers made me smile and wish that wars would finally cease. 

Over the years, we’ve seen

all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House homesteads;
every Oregon Trail landmark, museum, and set of existing wagon tracks we could find;
and countless points of interest along Lewis and Clark’s journey.

We’ve waded in the waters where the Mississippi River is born, dipped our toes into all five Great Lakes, stood on the Four Corners of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona; and seen first-hand the headwaters of the mighty Missouri Rivers.

^ A quick sketch of the battle goes like this.  Native Americans, frustrated and fed up with constant treaty violations and countless assaults to their nomadic way of life, went off their assigned reservations. Camped in the cottonwoods along the Little Bighorn River, they gathered in numbers and waited to see what would happen next. 

Meanwhile, American military companies sent out to round up the runaways stumbled upon the encampment and attacked. Unfortunately for the military men, they did not first take the prudent step of assessing their enemy’s strength, and in an instant, the Native Americans counter-attacked. Those who did not instantly retreat were killed, including Custer and his entire command. 

As my daughters grew up, they began to play a part in the planning phase of our side trips. We ate venison jerky in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, strolled through an Ontario arboretum, posed for pics under a giant bison statue, and roamed the street of Old Quebec after midnight. By sharing the task of planning them, our side trips became all the more interesting and far-ranging; we now give everyone in the car a chance to plan at least one day’s side trip.

^ These white markers indicate the places where the military men fell on the soft Montana grasses. I wonder who had the terrible job of pulling aside each body to plant a temporary marker in its place, and I wonder how often his dreams were filled with this horror.

Probably the biggest challenge to our side trip sight seeing has been dealing with our pets. Sadly, our furry friends are often not allowed to fully participate at these stops, so we either have to choose another locale, or - as we often do - break into two groups so that half the family stays back with the dog (and sometimes, cat!) while the other half explores the no-pet zone. When the first group is done, they come back to babysit and the second group takes a turn.. This option can be time-consuming and frankly, quite annoying. But we have found ways to make it work and that’s what matters most.

^ This is the monument at the top of the hill where Custer and his soldiers took their last stand. About forty of them killed their horses and used the bodies as a bulwark, but the Native American warriors were an unstoppable force. The military men were quickly buried here and the stone later erected, but many of the bodies were exhumed and moved to cemeteries in the east.  

I’m a huge fan of sight-seeing side trips. Not only do they break up a long road-tripping day and entertain the troops, but gosh darn it, they are a great way to build memories and maybe even learn something . Many times have the moans and groans gone up when a side trip is announced - just imagine a car full of severely sunburned teens being told that today we’re doing a four-hour auto tour of the battlefield at Gettysburg! - but in the end we almost always experience a sight-seeing side trip worth remembering forever.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Picnic Lunch

^ Got these plates and napkins as a wedding gift and have been using them for road trip picnics ever since our honeymoon. 

A proper Streicher Family Road Trip does not operate on a set of rigid rules, but does indeed make use of time-honored traditions that not only streamline the operation but also maximize the fun.

Roadside picnics are a perfect example. Heaven knows it is entirely feasible to hopscotch across the country on a steady diet of McDonald’s, Subway, and Taco Bell, and I’ll be the first to say there is no shame in that game.

But for my money, a proper road trip lunch break happens only when we ease the car off the pounding interstate to a lush green rest area. We check out the picnic table options as we cruise to a parking place; we lug the cooler, grocery bags, and picnic basket across the grass to either the most shaded table or the sunniest, depending on the weather.

^ Gracie Streicher has been scrounging for scraps under picnic tables since the day she was born. 

Nothing beats a meal eaten in the open air. Let the kids get their first round of wiggles out; their freshly washed hands can help dig out the supplies and set the table. Simple sandwiches or summer sausage and cheese slices piled on crackers take on the proportions of a royal feast when pulled from the back of the car and spread out in the sunshine.

^ Scrounge no more, little girl. Here’s a special picnic lunch just for you. 

Not every rest area lunch break is perfect. Over the years we have faced several picnic disasters. We have been whipped by desert winds, invaded by bees, and drenched in a torrent of sudden rain, to name just a few . These hardships have all been overcome by grabbing our food and running back to the safety of the car, and many a family legend has been born as the windows steam up and we laugh at our troubles.

^ After lunch, a proper road trip picnic includes plenty of time to wander about and stretch our legs. 

Once we’ve eaten, tummies may be full but bodies are still humming with restless energy that must be burned off before we head back to the car. Now’s the time to take advantage of those long green lawns. Tossing a ball around, chasing bubbles, walking the dog, and taking photos are all Streicher Family Road Trip-approved methods for releasing any remaining grumpies and getting the group onboard for more miles.

There is nothing like a proper roadside rest area picnic lunch to break up a long day in the car and set everyone to rights again  it’s one of the most deeply entrenched and deadly beloved traditions of a Streicher Family Road Trip.

* * * * *
These photos were taken at the rest area on eastbound I-90 near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on the first day of our road trip. Since no Streicher daughters are joining us in this road trip, Gracie is standing in as our only restless child. 


The cooler is loaded with soft drinks.

My travel pillow and blanket are close at hand.

My husband’s packing a handful of maps.

And Gracie’s got her head out the window for some early morning air.

Yep, you guessed it. We are blasting off on another Streicher Family Road Trip, bound for my husband’s high school class reunion in Ohio.

And ladies and gentlemen, we have liftoff.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Reading Memories

I have known of both these books since the 1970s; the first was required reading in a high school English class, the second a popular title I stumbled upon at a friend's house. 

It was only this week, when murky memories finally prompted me to track down a new copy of The 
Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds that I discovered on the back cover that another long-forgotten favorite, My Darling, My Hamburger, was authored by the very same man. 

Holy Amazon Prime! I devoured them both this weekend and found myself caught up in a string of stirring memories from the past. 

* * * * *

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel

Mama Beatrice oozes ugliness as she raises her two teenage daughters in a deserted vegetable stand. Despite the squalor, her daughter Tillie finds success at the science fair and dares to hope for the future. This play won the Pulitzer prize.

"Can you give her more anger?" she urged me. "More darkness and sarcasm and despair?" 

My ninth-grade English teacher, Nancy Priestkorn had awarded me the lead role of Beatrice in our classroom read-aloud of Marigolds, most likely because of my smooth reading skills. But clearly, Ms. Priestkorn expected a performance from me that I was not able to give, since projecting the emotions of a bitter, burnout middle-aged divorcee was not in my fourteen-year-old wheelhouse. 

After cajoling and criticizing me through several class periods, she took the part away from me and gave it to the even more soft-spoken Carol Griffith, who fared no better than me in her ability to conjure up a midlife crisis. 

I know that Ms. Priestkorn liked me. She later became fond friends with my mom, a fellow teacher, and sang my praises mightily. But it has bothered me, then and now, that she did not take the time to invest in me, to coach me, to put a little effort into bringing out a new side of me. To teach me.

Adults almost always overlooked me as a child, and while I still feel a certain sadness about that, I know that experience has shaped me into an adult who looks out for the overlooked, and cares about connecting with kids. And so, in the end, I am thankful.

My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel

Four high school seniors work through issues of romance and friendship as they begin to imagine themselves as adults and wonder where life may be taking them. 

One evening when I was fifteen and hanging out with a group of neighborhood friends, I found this book on an end table in rec room of my host, John Hamlin. Retreating into the world between the pages, I amazed everyone but especially John by reading the whole book in an hour or so. He teased me about that for months, and I daresay if I ran into him today, decades since we last talked, he would mention that book in the first five minutes. 

My quick work of Hamburger may say something about my reading skills but I think it reveals far more about how effortlessly I bonded with the characters and found myself in their transformative struggles. I was not unpopular as a teenager; I had plenty of friends but I think I was cut from a different cloth than most. Like the kids in Hamburger, I spent a lot of time in my head, wondering who I was and what I stood for, and more often than not, John was the only friend who truly understood. 

* * * * *

Read more about what I've been reading:

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Between The Waves

Our trip to Rialto Beach on the Washington coast in May.

The waves roll in.
The waves slip back to the sea.

And my dog Gracie, like all my dogs before her, loves to walk in that place between the waves, 

splashing through the chilly Pacific water, 
lifting her nose into the considerable breeze, and 
filling her soul with the wildness of the coastal beach. 

How do I know that her soul is filled? Well, I suppose I can't say for sure.But

the sparkle in her eyes
the bounce in her step, and
the way she goes back to our campsite, curls up in a soggy ball, and falls right to sleep,

tells me most of what I need to know.

Plus, my soul is filled when I am between the waves at the beach. And in that way, I think my dog and I are veryy much alike.