I planned on turning some notes into posts today, but that is not what happened. Instead, I let my fingertips just work magic on the keyboard.
It’s been a while since I sat down and actually put a post together from my notes. I’ve been writing consistently in my notebooks, working on a bunch of different ideas and content. I’ve toyed around with shorter posts concerning random thoughts, stories and workouts (which you can read on the website). I took a small hiatus to restore the creative juices; I was beginning to get bogged down in the routine of creating. Since it’s a one-man show right now, having to come up with constant ideas was becoming a burden. I don’t want it to be at this point. I have enough to-dos with my family and working for the man. I want to get to a point where I have more time to devote to this endeavor, but it will be few more years before that becomes a reality.
I’ve been in Japan for 3 months now, while the family has been back in Virginia. The wife and I received some awesome news the other day; we will be able to live together here in Japan! Since we are a blended family, there were certain civil matters that needed to be addressed. While we planned on flying over as a family, our court case kept getting continued for various reasons. We lost our initial hearing (once it actually happened) and the appeal didn’t happen until this past week. We won. All of our money and effort finally paid off. When I left for Japan a few months ago, we didn’t know when the family would be back together. Was it going to be me flying home to visit, or them flying our here to live? To say is was a stressful situation would be an understatement. With my job, being away from the family comes with the territory. It was the unknown outcome of the court case that caused the most stress and heartache. I don’t wish this situation on anyone.
While being away, I have enjoyed the random videos I get of my kids. I watched my son smack his dome piece in his teepee and get back up like it was no big deal. My daughter got involved in gymnastics and is becoming quite the young lady (even though she is 4). I’ll be flying back to pick them up in about a month, and I can’t wait. There is still plenty to do, but we now know what direction to go. We have been sitting in a holding pattern waiting for the green light to land. My wife has been doing a hell of a job holding it down since I have been gone. Being able to facetime and talk daily has been a huge help. Both Kash and Lincoln enjoy when my face pops up on the TV (Isn’t technology is awesome?). Sometimes when I call, Hot Rod would get a hold of the phone and run off to hide, not wanting to share. If I had a weaker stomach, the motion sickness from his phone handling would have been terrible. He also enjoyed hitting the red button to end the call (future marine?). When I would talk to Kash, we came up with way to keep mom on her toes. The sandwich maker was not amused at times and used my full name a few times. 6,000 miles doesn’t really make a difference when your wife uses your full name. It still has the same effect.
The unknown can be a bitch. It’s something that is out of your control and you have to learn how to work with it. Plans can be made and executed, but it’s never a guarantee you will get the outcome you desire. We wanted to come to Japan as a family last year. We couldn’t, and we had to figure out how live not knowing when we would be back under the same roof. Sure, there are always things you learn that could have been done better, but beating yourself up over them doesn’t help. Looking back at this whole situation, I could have done some different things and maybe avoided some of this. Who knows? Hindsight is 20/20. All you can do is keep going and look to the goal. Shake off the missteps, press on, and adapt. If you have a hard time adapting, life will chew you up, spit you out and feed you to her chicks. 2017 was a rollercoaster of emotion for our family and we came out on top. While I would like life to slow down a bit, it’s still ramping up. The man has me working hard, the oldest will be starting school, and we will be living in a new country. It’s going to be awesome.
A couple years back we bought chickens. They were great for eggs and entertaining Kash (she became quite the wrangler/whisperer). Every flock has its king shit. Ours was a chicken who’s callsign was Bearded Lady, because of the “black beard” she had. She was an Americana (Easter egger), kept the other ladies in line and was willing to let you pick her up. She was always the first one out of the run, and the easiest one to get back in. Kash would always catch her and carry her around the yard.
One day Krissi and I were watching Kash play with the chickens in the backyard from the porch. Kash had a cucumber she was munching on. Bearded Lady followed her around, wanting some of it. Kash obliged, taking a bite then sharing it with Bearded Lady. This went back and forth until the cucumber was gone. My wife and I just looked at each, shrugged and chuckled at the situation. Kids.
Everyone has one or two things that they just can’t deal with. Mine is hair in the face. It comes in the form of my wife or daughter when hugs happen. If I am holding Kash or throwing her around “wrastling,” her hair is bound to smack me in the nose or mouth. Sometimes, that little princess deliberately hugs or loves on me just to get her hair in my face, knowing how I will react. My wife does it too! I swear she plots these things to mess with me. Pictures in the wind are the worst, hair blowing everywhere, getting all up in my business. There is nothing that ruins an intimate moment with my wife than hair in my face. I’ve been through training evolutions that tested me physically and mentally with the military that are easier to deal with than hair in the face.
Hair in the face, can’t handle it. It’s for the birds.
Life has been crazy the past couple of months. I finished up school at Great Lakes in Chicago, flew home to Virginia, then hit the road to visit family in Texas (I’ll expand on that at a later date). There are a lot of unknowns surrounding my family and me lately. While it hasn’t been easy to deal with, we have been pressing on and focusing on the future. I imagine when everything is wrapped up and settled, I’ll put pen to paper to reflect and laugh at much of it. I know I’ve left you with a cliffhanger and some vague information, so, now, a continuation of our family trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
We had arrived. We unloaded the kiddos and took a quick tour, from the Millionaire to Conway Lake. Then we headed over to the “Tupa” to check out our quarters for the next week. Tupa is Finnish for “little cabin”. It is the size of an efficiency apartment. Inside were the bunk beds my brother and I shared as kids, an air mattress and a small kitchenette. It was a blank canvas ready to be worked on. Krissi and I unloaded the truck and got settled in.
We went over to the Millionaire for dinner. It was a keto diet special, burgers without buns. My Aunt Ruth had prepared them for everyone. After dinner the kids took a dip in the lake. There is nothing like getting all washed up and clean with a lake bath. It gets you close to nature. By the end of “getting cleaned up” nature’s way, the matresses were calling our names…Ben, Krissi, Kash, Lincoln! Exhaustion was upon us and it was time to get some good, solid rest. Now, it doesn’t get dark until around 10 p.m. in the U.P. during mid-summer. Of course, we had to explain to Kash why it was time to go to sleep while the sun was still visible. And, after convincing the Sandwich maker that a bear wasn’t going to bust through the door and eat us, we finally zonked out.
Camp is a calming, yet amazing experience. There is no cell service and plenty of forest to run around in. You have to hall in your drinking and cooking water. There is a pump from the lake to fill the trash cans used for flushing toilets and washing dishes. Did I mention that you have to use a bucket to flush the toilet? There is an abundance of fish to catch with a few rowboats and canoes for lake cruising. The mosquitoes are as big as a small horse and will leave a welt on you the size of Georgia with a single bite. They can also be as thick as Black Friday shoppers at Wal-Mart at midnight.
I remember as a child always running through the woods, playing in the lake and attempting to catch fish (it has never been a strong suit of mine). My Nanny helped me catch a small garder snake, named him Conway. We took him back to Texas as a pet. We would hike to Lake Superior and climb Breakfast Roll. My cousins and I would build forts and explore the area around camp (we did most of this without parental supervision) for hours and hours on end. The sauna would be fired up throughout the day for our use. If you ever get the chance to use a wood burning stove sauna, do it. A lot of saunas now-a-days are electric. I enjoy pouring water on the hot rocks and choking on the rush of steam (it really opens up the lungs, ha). This trip, I took the time to learn what makes camp tick. I am at the age where I want to invest in learning the responsibilities that my parents had when I was a young’un. I started with the sauna. It wasn’t difficult, just simply starting a fire in a cast iron stove and keeping it fed. This meant keeping the wood pile stacked and the stove clear of ashes. We used it to relax and bathe. Both the kids enjoyed a sauna bath. We would stick them in dish washing bins. Hot Rod found enjoyment in splashing water everywhere, while Kash was all about using the ladle to bathe herself with.
We had the pleasure of Alexis and Ali (two of my cousin’s daughters) join us for a couple of days. They took Kash under their wings and showed her the ropes of being a kid out there. They took her to the fort in the woods, out of sight. There was some hesitation from Krissi (because of bears), but it was calmed by the “screams” of fun and laughter. They had a blast! We took a canoe ride later that day. It was a bit windy, which made for a fight on the way back to shore. Come to find out, it was both Krissi’s and Kash’s first time in a canoe. As dinner approached, we made our way over to Chris and Dave’s (GramB’s cousins) for a meal. They were the next camp down and live there full time during summer. Rachael and her dog Dude met us out there. Dinner was full of great food, good drinks, and superb conversation. Dave took the girls for a tour of his wood shop and Hot Rod crashed from all the excitement he experienced. We had some ice cream for desert and then headed back to “our place”. After we got back to camp and put the kiddos to sleep, Rachael, Krissi and I relaxed on the porch of the Tupa. We swapped stories and enjoyed some more adult beverages.
I could go on and on about camp. This just covered the first couple of days. There is still Lake Superior, adventures in Marquette and shenanigans at Pike Lake I want to share. I’ll save those for another day. My time up there has always been limited, leaving me to cram as many activities as I can into a short time. Camp is a real vacation from society. It forces you to put down the electronics and get your hands dirty. You can see an endless number of stars at night and hike through nature at it’s core. Kids make the forest their playground and adults can enjoy the calm of nature. It is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.
It was a Tuesday. The Sandwich maker, Hot Rod and I loaded up in the truck to pick up our girl from her dad’s house. I was re-enlisting later that morning and wanted the whole family to be there. While I could ceremony and certificate, I knew the wife and kids would get a kick out of being there. The ceremony was quick and to the point. The kids were recognized for putting up with me, and ended up stealing the show with their personalities. It is a great feeling to know you are supported by the ones you love.
We got back to the house and loaded up for our great adventure. Prior to getting on the road, a good hearty meal is the number one “to-do” for me. The wife and kids had never driven more than 4 hours anywhere before. This drive was going to be at least 18 hours. We decided to stop in at the small cafe where Maw-maw works to grab a bite to eat before hitting the road. It was 3 p.m. when we wrapped up our pre-trip meal and we were finally on the road. Our original route had us driving through the D.C. area. Siri recommended that we take a different route, saving us from the traffic and about 10 min. of drive time (Siri didn’t know we had kids with us – go figure). We decided, why not, and took the detour “she” recommended. It just so happened the new route took us right next to Krissi’s dad’s house. Maybe “she” knows more than we thought! We stopped in for an hour or so, said hi, let the kid’s run-a-muck, then we were back on the road. Krissi took over as pilot and made it to the beginning of the Pennsylvania turnpike. We decided to drive through the night, switching out as needed.
It was a great idea. We made the most distance driving at night while the kids slept. I made it about halfway into Ohio and Krissi got us about a third of the way into Michigan. We arrived at the Mackinac Bridge around 9 a.m. As we crossed the bridge, the air began to freshen and the foliage became lush and rich in color. The sky had a brighter color of blue than usual. Well, not exactly. It was cloudy and raining off and on. But Lake Michigan was a deep, rich blue. Krissi and the kiddos were amazed by the beauty of the U.P. and it was just the tip of what was in store.
After crossing the great Mackinac Bridge, Krissi noticed the plethora of smoked fish and pasty signs along the highway. What is a pasty?
Note: A pasty is a “meat pie” or “pot pie without the pot”. There is a history about it, but in the U.P., the miners used to take them to work for lunch. The U.P. has a Cornish and Finnish background, where the pasty originated.
We stopped at the White Tail Café/Resort on US Highway 2 to grab a couple of pasties, 1 beef and 1 bison. As we pulled back onto the highway, Krissi began to dispense the food to the three of us. Both Sweet Pea and the Sandwich maker were fans. A couple of hours later, we arrived at the Ore Dock in Marquette, MI. It felt great to be back. We hopped out of the truck and looked for GramB and Grump’s, but they were nowhere to be found. Then, from a distance, I spotted my father’s dome piece (he’s tall). They were on the other side of the parking lot making their way toward us. While Krissi was putting Kash together, Lincoln and I made our way to them. Linx was pumped, Kash was pumped, GramB was pumped, everyone was pumped! We took some photos at the Ore Dock, made a couple stops in Marquette, and then headed out to Big Bay.
The Millionaire, or Camp, is about a 20 min drive from Big Bay on a dirt road (black top to dirt, to two rut with many pot holes). After a stop at Cram’s in Big Bay for some ice, we arrived at the Huron Mountain Club gate. The drive was green and you could still smell the rain on all the bushes and trees (literal forest) that lined the road. The weather was cool and cloudy. Everyone was antsy to get to our destination. It seemed the longest part of our drive. We were ready to be done with wheels turning over the miles. After a few more twists and turns, we pulled into camp, the Millionaire, Conway Lake. We had arrived.
This trip snuck up on us. We had planned it a couple months out, and next thing you know it was here. I almost wanted to break this story into two parts, but then I stopped being a little girl and finished it. I become impatient when I write sometimes, especially when my message or story in my head gets ahead of my notes. I know how I want it to end, and sometimes rush to get there. I am listening to Childish Gambino (Camp), drinking a Cattywompus (it’s a fancy IPA by Devils Backbone), and Hot Rod is in his high chair eating some cheerios next to me. Kash was a party pooper (she felt a little under the weather this evening) and fell asleep watching Zootopia on the couch.
I began finalizing this on Memorial Day. I have found the best way for me to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, is to no let their death be in vain. Celebrate them, raise a glass, and continue to live your life. Enjoy the freedoms you have, but never forget those men and women who have died defending those freedoms.
It was 430 AM on Saturday morning. The sandwich maker and I rolled out of bed and drug our ass’s downstairs to get ready for our mini road trip. I immediately went for a quick shot of strike force and took a shower. We quickly loaded up the jeep (we forgot the watermelon) and started on our short journey to Krissi’s great-grandmothers house. The kids had spent the night with Maw-Maw, and rode with her for the duration of our trip. For the record, Krissi’s mother is a lunatic and in denial. And no, we are not talking about the river in Egypt. But, we love her anyway. She is a great Maw-Maw and is always down to take the kids off our hands. The kiddos love here and Gran-daddy (probably because of the brownies the eat over there, ha). We wouldn’t trade them for the world. It gave Krissi and I some adventure time without the kiddos. The drive up was relatively quiet, minus some a-hole driving dangerously around some 18-wheelers. We stopped for gas in Crozet, VA and had a quick bite at Legacy Markets. This ended up being the best gas station ever. Made to order breakfast, walk in beer cooler, and an upstairs patio to enjoy the view. The breakfast burrito I had was delicious and so was the coffee (if you are ever traveling on 64 near there, check it out). We hopped back onto the highway and continued on towards Natural Bridge State Park (we were stopping the before going to grandma’s). We met up with Maw-Maw at the Pink Cadillac Diner for some more breakfast. Another neat joint. It was very 50’s-esque and the building was, wait for it…… pink. There was a small wait, enough to make Hot Rod antsy and fussy. He had been satisfied through the trip thus far, but he was itching to move around. He attempted to eat most everything he could get his hands on, but soon discovered how some things aren’t that tasty. Once we sat down, it took both Krissi and I to keep Hot Rod from tearing down the building. Kash was focused on eating her food and “brought her manners,” as she says. Lincoln figured out he could stand in the restaurant high chair (it didn’t have straps) and would attempt to grab anything but his food. He somehow was able to snatch a piece of toast off Krissi’s plate (he really just caught a moment when Krissi and I weren’t watching him). Once he had that toast, he was content. He propped his foot up and chowed down. We wrapped up breakfast and finished our trek to the natural bridge.
The Natural Bridge was amazing. Words and pictures will not be able to capture it’s size and glory. As you walked underneath, it would rain on you and there were plenty of smalls streams along the trails. We were able to borrow a toddler carrier for Lincoln and we used the Boba for Kash. The toddler carrier was perfect. It was easy to get him comfortable and simple to adjust for comfort. It was rad listening to Lincoln baby talk his way throughout the hike. I would occasionally use my phone to see how he was doing (I later discovered a small mirror attached to it, after the fact) and record his monologues. He would play with my hat and want to touch the surrounding nature. The layout of the trail followed Cedar Creek, a tributary of the James River. Along the trail was a living history camp set up. It was of the Monacan Indians, and it had a few hut’s, frontiersman trading post and live cooking demonstrations. One lady was building a new hut, tying together the timber used to build the bones of it. We continued on along the trail to a creek crossing. I took advantage of a sweet bench by the bank to put Hot Rod down for a few minutes. Kash saw a bunch of snakes and of course wanted to pick them up. They weren’t deadly and seemed used to the traffic, they didn’t flinch at all when you got close to them. The trail doubled back from that point, continuing along a limestone wall on one side and the creek on the other. It was a fairly straight shot from there until the end. I gave Lincoln the opportunity to touch the rocks, and of course he tried to eat them. Once we made it to the end (or turn around point), we sat down and took some obligatory family pictures where the kids weren’t looking and I have the same smile in all of them. Both kids were tired at this point. Kash didn’t know if she wanted to ride in the Boba or walk and Lincoln was upset when he couldn’t touch anything. As we headed back, Lincoln fell asleep. Kash pressed on, enjoying the ride on Krissi’s back. We passed by all the attractions we had seen before, but once again slowed down and took in the sight of the bridge. It still hadn’t lost any amazement. The real kicker in the trail is climb up the stairs you walked down in the beginning. And it’s a steep climb. My legs were burning at the end. We loaded back up in the vehicles and made our way to grandmas’.
We didn’t initially realize it, but we had driven past her (grandma’s) house and hour before we arrived at the Natural Bridge. So, on our way there, Krissi and I broke off to go check out Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company.
Devil’s Backbone makes one of my favorite beers, the Vienna Lager. It’s a go-to beer for me. Their other brews are delicious, but not as common as the lager. We pulled into the parking lot, and immediately became excited to see where the magic happens. The crowd was small, as they had just opened. The tasting room was smaller than expected, but the assortment of beers was great (as it should have been). We went super-touristy and grabbed a flight (for those who don’t know what that is, it’s a sample of X number of beers to see which ones you like). There were fancy beers and down to earth beers, all were delicious. At the brewery is where I began to jot down my notes for this post. Once we were finished, we grabbed a case of beer (for $20, I might add) and set out for our destination. We finally arrived at g-ma’s house.
We took a load off and Krissi’s brother gave me a tour of the place. There is a lot of history in that house. From the foundation (it was literally built on a rock) to the pictures of relatives from the late 1800’s.
We checked out the shed’s and garages and found some neat (in my opinion) stuff. There were some old woodworking hand tools, an early model chainsaw, and a dead snake. Grandma showed me her porcelain doll collection and some of the tools needed to make them from scratch. Later on, in the evening, Krissi and I went out to dinner in Harrisonburg.
One of her friend’s son goes to JMU and works at a local joint in town. We had some food and drinks and made our way back to the house. By the time we got back, everyone was asleep. It was like being an adolescent again, sneaking through the creaking house hoping not to wake anyone.
The next morning, we held a small surprise breakfast birthday party for Krissi’s great-grandmother. All of the aunts and uncles on Krissi’s mom’s side of the family showed up with some food and conversation. I cooked the bacon and Krissi coordinated the rest. The whole family crammed into the tiny kitchen to sing her a happy birthday. Once the cake had been dispersed and reminiscing had quieted, the crowd began to filter out. Kash was outside with her cousin, attempting to bust open a geode we bought at the natural bridge. Krissi used a pick axe to break it open finally. Hot Rod had some fun with all of the relatives and crashed out in his pack-and-play. Around noon, Krissi and I loaded up the Jeep and headed home. We hit fog early on and stopped in at one of the scenic views to check it out. It was smooth sailing until we hit Ft. Eustis. Typical fender bender causing a ridiculous amount of traffic. Once we got home, we unpacked, showered and relaxed until the kiddos arrived. It was good to have them home. Kids went into the tub and then it was movie time. We all crashed early that night. All the fun and adventure of the weekend had finally taken its toll.