Saturday, August 30, 2008

Seeing the world through my sweet tooth

If you've been paying attention over the last couple years of this blog, you've noticed I like to travel and I like to eat. Some of the most fun I have is eating while traveling. Seeing what delicious or peculiar fare is offered around the globe always fascinates me. And returning to favorite places makes me gooey.

On our way to Boise, we stopped at a gas station outside Twin Falls and perused their candy section. We walked out with an Idaho Spud, which I had tried once before and not liked much, a Cherry Cocktail, a Big Hunk, a Skinny Hunk, and a Rocky Road.

The Idaho Spud: Gross; I still don't like them. The Idaho Spud is a spongy, marshmallowy, gelatinous cocoa mass with more aftertaste than flavor. Coated in chocolate and dessicated coconut, it was like eating frozen Cool Whip with fingernail clippings of newborns tossed in for a little al dente sensation. Spew.

The same company makes the Cherry Cocktail. I can't help but wonder if perhaps the suits at Owyhee, makers of these pathetic confections, aren't a bit sadistic. The Cherry Cocktail is a sticky mound of chocolate and crushed peanuts, and the cherry cream center holds a whole maraschino cherry. It might politely be described as having the appearance of a tremendous gum drop. It would be more accurately described as looking like a horse apple. The flavors are quite strong, and it doesn't taste bad. It doesn't really taste good, either, though. It's definitely edible but too damn big for something so sicky sticky sweet. The texture is fairly off-putting, however, and it's just so awful looking! This is desperation chocolate only.

The Hunks: Strange. The Big Hunk is sort of a chewy nougat or taffy with peanut pieces. It's very chewy, definitely not for the loose tooth crowd. It tastes quite nutty, which I liked. But it was really sweet, which I didn't like. It's also, as they say, big. More than enough to satisfy. You have to chew so much that you start to drool and your jaw gets tired. The Skinny Hunk is a smaller, nutless version of the Big Hunk. Without the nuts, it's like eating condensed marshmallows. This is one girl who likes her Hunks to have nuts.

We were getting pretty full of candy and starting to feel a little puky. Also, I'm not thrilled to eat marshmallows (gelatin), even for cultural understanding. So we decided to put the Rocky Road away for future sampling. Then we forgot about it. I found it in the van several days later. Thank goodness the packaging held in the heat or I would have had liquid Rocky Road absolutely everywhere. It was totally melted. I mean totally. Squeezing the package, it seemed like a warm bag of diluted Hershey's syrup. It went in the trash. Oh, well.

A travel favorite: When I go to Salt Lake City, I always go to Marie Callender's for pie. We don't have Marie Callender's here. I like pie. Marie Callender's has about 20 kinds of pie available daily. It's really hard to choose. Tradition calls for coconut cream, but with so many varieties to try, it's a little narrow-minded to get the same thing every time. Not that I'm in Salt Lake very often.

Once, my mother brought me a Marie Callender's coconut cream pie home on the airplane. Airline regulations wouldn't allow her do that anymore. Ooh, scary pie! It might be an explosive. I was pretty impressed she would lug a whole pie home. That's love.

Anyway, this time, there were 11 of us at Marie Callender's, all eating pie. Someone thought we should share – take a bite and pass it on. I thought not, although I did allow my nephew to try a forkful of my lemon cream cheese slice. We agreed it was good, better than his Key lime. He managed to get a bit (or several) of his mother's, too. I think she got this colossal piece of triple chocolate cheesecake. It looked really good. Really good.

I'll need to go back.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Scenic Byways

After the funeral, the family started going their separate ways. I headed to Boise with the girls to visit a friend of Kayleigh's who moved there in June. We decided (rather, I decided) to take a scenic byway to get there.

As it turned out, it wasn't as scenic as I would have hoped considering how much extra time it took. Still, there were some interesting spots along the way. Huge canyons, some waterfalls, spots to walk along the Oregon trail.
The Oregon Trail was pretty amazing, really. Think of how many people walked there or sweated in a jostling wagon, trying to make it ever further west. They didn't travel at 75 MPH in air-conditioned comfort with a convenience store plopped down every 20 miles. It was so hot, so dry, so windy, so shockingly free of wildlife – so shockingly free of anything edible. We saw the occasional tiny lizards that moved so fast you couldn't focus on them until they sat still. Scarcely a bird, seldom a river, never a deer or antelope or even a gopher.

There were warnings about rattlesnakes, scorpions and deer ticks, but we didn't see any. I thought it was a little funny to equate a deer tick with a rattlesnake, but my brother, the E. coli-infected one, has had Lyme Disease twice, so he might not find it so amusing.

It made me grateful for the wet green of my home.

Boise turned out to be different from what I expected. It had a big-city feel, even though it's only around 180,000 plus its rapidly expanding suburbs. We never saw a cloud, nor was it awfully hot – in the low 90s, which, with the breeze and nonexistent humidity was thoroughly bearable. People always talk about the dry heat being more tolerable, but I always thought, Right, ovens are dry, too.

We sent Kayleigh off with her friend and Kelsey and I wandered around town. The downtown was quite nice. It had loads of places to eat, and most offered outdoor seating. We found a funky little coffee shop where we both had rather odd iced mochas. I think they must have used whole milk. I noticed on our walk around the city that it must not get as cold there as I thought it did. They had outdoor escalators, which would be laughably impractical around here – snow, ice, salt, torrential rain equals no way. There was something else, too, but I can't remember anymore. Regardless, the winters seem as if they must be milder there than here.

We visited an old prison on the edge of town. It started as a federal territorial prison in the 19th century and closed as a state prison in the 1970s, if memory serves me. It housed men and women. We certainly treated (perhaps, treat) our prisoners poorly. We saw the isolation chambers, which were about 5 feet by 10 feet and held up to six men. There were no lights, no toilets, no windows. Solitary confinement, a spot for one man, was about 3 feet by 8 feet, and again, no lights, toilets, or windows. There was a hole in the ceiling about as big around as a coffee can for fresh air and light, a hole in the floor for the toilet, and a tiny grate at the bottom of the solid cage door for a little more air. One man was held in one of these rooms for 8 months.

Our last stop was the gallows. I stood there and looked up and looked down and looked out at the observation room. The trap door opens to a large room with a huge door where the ambulance can pull right up and take the body away.

I don't believe in capital punishment.

My mom thought a prison was a peculiar place to take my 8-year-old. Kelsey thought it was interesting, though. I'm glad it didn't scare her.

In the afternoon, we stopped at Sierra Trading Post, one of my favorite catalog/online stores. This was a little one. The one in Cheyenne was much bigger. Kelsey got a Stetson, a perfect memento of our westward wandering.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


We arrived in Bennington, Idaho, on Thursday night after a fun but long Wednesday. It was nice to see everyone again, and it was fun to watch my daughters so easily fit with their big cousins.

Ah, those big cousins. Kayleigh went along with James and Daniel to do some errands. She said it was the most fun she'd ever had running errands. James, I'm told, is almost as crazy a driver as I am. Later, we took turns on James's motorcycle, which, fortunately, doesn't go very fast, but it does go through ditches quite nicely. And after that it was time to go shootin' in the orchard. We blew Mountain Dew out of trees, at which point, Kayleigh was feeling like she never wanted to go home again.

Kelsey was a bit more sedate, choosing to make bead jewelry after she burned her leg on the motorcycle. She regrets not going shooting now, but at the time, her leg really hurt.

More family arrived later, and it was getting to be quite the reunion. I told Lee, my sister-in-law, that it bugged me it took Clint's death to get us all together, then I started to cry. She said that's the way it always is, which I suppose is true. But Clint would have enjoyed himself with everyone around, and it just reinforced what a raw deal he got.

The next day was the graveside service, and Lee was very nervous. I just hoped I could keep it together. One look at the hole in the ground and a rock with my brother's name on it and that was blown to hell. I wandered toward some trees away from the group and started tearing up. The harder I tried to stop, the more I cried. Kelsey came over and held my hand and rubbed my back, the sweet thing, so I just blubbered.

After mostly composing myself, I turned back to the assembly to find the small kids peering into the hole and shouting about how deep it was, and one of them took a seat and dangled his legs in, ready to jump. I thought it was kind of funny, but the parents of those involved did not.

Lee's sister Lyona offered a shoulder, literally. She said if I needed someone, I should just go stand shoulder to shoulder and we'd hold each other up. Then she pressed into me, and we held each other, shoulder to shoulder, our eyes getting red and drippy.

I won't say too much about the service itself. Mostly because I can't remember what people said, but I do remember it was quite nice. Lee spoke about their courtship, marriage, and family and some about Clint's last day. Each of Clint and Lee's kids did their part. Daniel sort of ran things, Sarah said a lovely prayer, Ben consecrated the ground and James lowered the box, which he had to drop because the hole was so deep. After that, I sprinkled some Wisconsin dirt over the box, and that was pretty much the end of it. Ah, the bishop was there, too, but he didn't say a lot.

We took some pictures, then went back to Lee's for food. Lee's cousin Susan brought her scooter over for people to ride. Kayleigh took it around the back yard a bit, but didn't venture onto the streets. I gave Lee's nephew Cole a ride. Cole was hilarious. He held on so tight and giggled as soon as we got going. At the end, he proclaimed, "I was brave!" My sister Martha has a scooter story now, too, but that's hers to tell.

I slipped away to Lyona's house around the corner for a visit with Lee's sister Jackie and her partner Dorothy. When we met last December, I felt an instant bond with them, and it was nice to have some quiet time together.

The evening was spent in front of a fire pit just talking and enjoying each other. After a while, a couple of neighbor friends stopped by and talked about their time in Russia farming. The man, whose name I can't remember, asked Kayleigh where she was. She gave her 14-year-old "huh?" as a response. He said, "Are you pre-mission, post-mission, married, high school...." She said, "Um...." So Lee asked her where she'd like to do her mission, which also got an "um." I said she'd like to go to Pixar. In the dark after a day like that, it wasn't the place to explain our nonconforming ways. We just had a laugh and moved on.

And that was pretty much it. On Sunday, we shared a pancake breakfast, then, for the most part, went our separate ways. The girls and I went on to Boise to visit a friend of Kayleigh's for a few days. Much of my family went to Salt Lake City, but my sister Cynthia headed to Las Vegas where she won $1,000 on a penny machine. Nice.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Have credit card, will travel

Home again, home again.

In the last 12 days, I've stayed at six different motels, and I can tell you, you get what you pay for. I don't need a fancy room, but crickets in the bathroom and mattresses that have seen more action than Hugh Hefner start pushing up the sphincter factor.

Speaking of sphincter factors, my brother (the live one) came down with a nasty case of E. coli a few days ago. His stay in the frontier has been prolonged while he recovers. I have never seen a man – and he is a big, strong man – vomit with such force, intensity and length. The poor guy.

I think the next time I travel, instead of noting license plates from different states and provinces, I'm going to keep track of museums. There are a lot of museums in the world, and some are truly bizarre. Like the Danish Immigrant Museum. The SPAM museum. Or the Bob Feller Museum. Who the heck is Bob Feller? Why does he need his own museum? Ever been to the Museum of the Fur Trade? Or the Museum of the Mountain Men? I haven't.

Anyway, I'm tired.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Way Out West

Greetings from the land of Larry Craig, who is not and never has been gay.

On our way to bury my brother, the XX-chromosome van wound its way through Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho. Soon we'll be on our way to Utah. We shared the road with about 500,000 bikers on their way to Sturgis.

South Dakota is still my favorite. I like the lumpy hills in the east and the Black Hills in the west, and the Badlands are fun to jump around in and so alien.

My mom always told me she hated the Badlands. I could never understand why, and when we got there, she said, "I've never been here before." She doesn't know what she thought of as the Badlands, but she had the wrong place in mind. I don't know how much she enjoyed it, but she was interested at least for a little while. Kelsey and I could have stayed all day.

I was worried about my mom. She's 83, overweight, can hardly walk, and was terrified she was going to die getting out here. She didn't want to do anything fun, but when I said that meant driving through Nebraska, she changed her mind.

She might change it back after driving through Wyoming. I was fortunate the last time we drove through Wyoming, as it was dark much of the time. Wyoming is mile after mile of a nearly unchanging landscape. Ugh. It's interesting at first because it's so vast and so different from anything at home. But after several hours of hills and sagebrush, it gets pretty dull. At least in Nebraska there are cities and traffic. Wyoming is just desolate.

Take, for example, Lost Springs, Wyoming.

The last time we went through here, the population was 4. I wonder what happened.

Anyway, we also hit Wall Drug, Mt. Rushmore and Custer State Park while in South Dakota. When I was a kid, the Wall Drug bumper stickers said, "Where the HELL is Wall Drug?" Now they say "heck" instead.

Kayleigh ragged about going to Mt. Rushmore. She wasn't too impressed when she saw it when she was younger and hated how touristy it was. My niece Estelle, however, said it was the most exciting thing she'd done all year. I had always wanted to see it as a kid, and my brother Clint, the dead one, said, "It's just a big rock." I guess now I think it's interesting to see, nowhere I'd need to return to, and nowhere I'd really spend a lot of time. I'm glad Estelle got to see it, and my sister, too. My mom stayed in the car.

We drove past the Crazy Horse monument. It's not done, and they were going to charge us $27 to get in. We said no thanks and turned around.

The highlight of the day for me was driving through Custer State Park. We took the Needles Highway through some spectacular rock formations and fabulously twisty mountain roads. We saw loads of wildlife – buffalo, pronghorn, deer, prairie dogs. We had a picnic by a little lake, where Kelsey ate Fritos and a nasty Little Debbie cake and declared she was going to barf. She did not barf, thankfully.

Finding a place to stay was hard with all the bikers around. And because all the bikers were around, prices were jacked up. We drove and drove and drove, hoping to find a place cheaper down the road. We finally got on the phone to Eric at home who called every motel in every small town in southeastern Wyoming. We got gouged, but we got to sleep.

My mom was pretty beat, and I worried. But she seemed to recover pretty well over night. We arrived in Bennington, Idaho, the following evening, grateful to see our family.

And then the real fun began....

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Out of Town

In approximately 35 minutes, I am headed to Idaho with my kids, my mom, my sister and my niece.

Normally, I enjoy getting out of town. This trip is to bury my brother. And it's a long drive with a lot of people. Pardon me if I'm a little bummed about the whole thing.