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Tuesday, November 8, 2016


With the long, horrible, tortuous and torturous election season we have all been suffering through, little glimmers of light have been welcome relief. Things like the vacation Willie and I took, (I'll write about that in another post.) The Cubs in the World Series was a second glimmer. I'm not going to pretend I'm a huge Cubs fan, I'm not even a baseball, or sports fan in general. The Cubs in the series though, that was a great distraction from the 584 days of political commercials and campaign horridness. You read that right, here in Iowa, the commercials started April 4, 2015. FIVE HUNDRED EIGHTY FOUR DAYS!!

Watching Cubs fans post their happy, excited posts made me happy for them. Seeing Bob Newhart posing on Facebook with a W flag after every win, that's what got me the most excited for the Cubs. Not him in particular, but the idea that people his age have been waiting their entire life to see the Cubs as world champions, through thick and thin. This made me happy they won. I figure, I wasn't the only "not really a Cub fan" very happy when they pulled it out in the tenth of game seven. What a great relief from the campaign insanity.

My third great light in the tunnel happened this last weekend. I got in my car Friday, a beautiful sunny warm day. The weather was what you'd expect at the end of September, not on November 4. I left from my son's house and hit the road for a weekend of fun and music with my great friend Dawn. On my way down I stopped in Pella to buy a box of wonderful. A box of the most delicious pastry ever to be created on earth. A box of a dozen Dutch letters. The idea was to bring them down to Dawn. She loves them, too. Most of them did make it, but it is a long drive to St. Charles.

I got there around 9:30 and Dawn and I talked until the wee hours of the morning, as we usually do. I went down stairs to go to bed about 2:30 am, and slept until I think 11:00 am. The guest room at Dawn's is beautiful, but has no windows, so is devoid of natural light. It gets very, very dark. That makes it very easy to sleep and sleep and sleep without realizing how late it is. I hadn't set an alarm, so there was nothing to wake me up. It was wonderful!

Dawn and I waned away the afternoon chatting some more. Until it was time! We were going to the Monkees concert!!! I had missed their last several concert tours. Most sadly, I missed the tour in 2011 while Davy Jones was still alive. It was his last time performing with his Monkee brothers, I wish I had gone. When the Monkees went on their tribute tour for David, with Mike Nesmith, they didn't come to eastern Iowa, and at that time I was very busy taking care of my ailing father to be able to go anywhere very far away. Now, Mike has decided his Monkees days have come to an end as well. I never ever got to see him live with the band, and now I never will.

Me and Magdalena
(please excuse the quality of the photos. All I had was my phone to take pictures. )
The three surviving Monkees, including Mike, made a new album for the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Monkees. For 50 years these men having been entertaining people, since 1966, can you imagine? The album, entitled Good Times, is wonderful. Each of the guys wrote some songs, they had some songs written by others, and yes, they played their own instruments and yes they had a back up band as well. It also has a song they found in archives with David singing lead, and included that. All of the Monkees were represented.

Other groups, over the years, have replaced missing members, whether they quit or passed, they were replaced. Some groups have done this so often, there may not be an original member in the group anymore. The group may have the same name, but a true fan would not even recognize the group any more. Not the Monkees. In the 1980's the group had a resurgence thanks to MTV airing the reruns of their show, (for you young's, that may not know any better, MTV used to be about music. That's what the M stands for.) Mike had no desire to go on tour as a Monkee. When he didn't join the tour, the others did not try to replace him, nor try to deny his existence. His songs were sung, his face on jumbotrons romping around in clips from the show. When Davy passed suddenly in 2012, again, the guys never even thought of trying to replace him, and thus he was included on the new album. Like brothers, the quartet had their squabbles, but like brothers they had an unbreakable bond.

For Pete's Sake
The new album is fresh, it is fun and it is the best of the Monkees. It is what you expect when you buy a Monkees album. It has a mix of styles, something that has always been true of the group. They have always played a wide range of music. From rock and roll of Randy Scouse Git, to country sounding Papa Gene's Blues, to the vaudevillian Cuddly Toy, this group has always been eclectic. Good Times continues this tradition. The ballad sung by Mike and harmonized by Micky, Me and Magdalena, is as beautiful a ballad as I have ever heard. The title song, Good Times is fun, bouncy, sixties sounding yet contemporary at the same time. Micky pokes fun at himself in I Was There (and I'm Told I Had a Good Time) and Peter brings his own twist to Little Girl and Wasn't Born to Follow. I couldn't wait to hear some of the songs in concert.
Daydream Believer 

Dawn and I decided to go out to dinner before the concert. She told me what restaurants were close to the concert venue, one place had Brazilian food. I'd never had Brazilian food, (or at least that I know of) and thought that sounded like fun. We got to the restaurant, were seated and went up to the huge salad bar. I glance over at the bar, and there sitting alone was a man in a hat. I looked closer, it was Micky Dolenz!! Poked Dawn, "I think that's Micky Dolenz," I gestured toward the bar.

"It is," she said, "If you want an autograph, now's the time." I was the real Monkeemaniac of the two of us.

I'm not really an autograph seeker, and being "Iowa Nice" and having aversions to being rude, I said, "I don't want to bother him while he's eating." I looked back over, and he didn't have food in front of him.

"Don't you think he'd be thrilled someone recognized him?" Dawn asked.

"I don't know, he probably has people bug him all the time," more 'Iowa Nice.'

I saw that the bar tender hand him his bill, and he started to sign it. "I'm just going to go thank him for his music." I said, and with empty salad plate in hand, for some reason I brought it with me, I approached Micky Dolenz. "Excuse me," I uttered.

"Yes," he said as he turned toward me.

"I just want to say thank you for your music," I smiled, and was oddly not nervous at all. Usually, in any situation meeting someone new, I am nervous and shaking like a leaf, I'm rather introverted and uncomfortable in new situations.

He held out his hand to shake mine, "Well, thank you he said."

I shook his hand and thanked him. "Are you going to the show tonight?" he asked.

"Yes, I am," I said proudly.

"Great!" He said and was on his way.

I turned around to Dawn, and it hit me, I just shook hands with MICKY DOLENZ! I don't think I stopped smiling the rest of the night. Yet, when I went over to Dawn, the first thing out of my mouth was, "I thought he'd be taller." I'm pretty tall and he was a bit shorter than me, but not much.  Now, WHY that was the first thing to come out of my mouth I had no idea.  Then I thought, wow, Davy must have been TINY! I just meant one of my favorite singers EVER... and my first words about it was, "I thought he's be taller?" REALLY?!? At least I didn't say it to him.
Micky on drums
We got to the concert and it was everything I had hoped for. These guys were around way before autotune so what you hear is what you get. The voice on the album is the voice at the concert. There is no disappointing, "what the hell is that voice coming out of my favorite singer?" They are just as good in person as on albums.

Peter's voice has changed a bit since his bout with throat cancer, but his ability to carry a tune has not.  His performance is still energetic, bouncy and quirky. he has a bit of a lisp, probably from dentures, but it works perfectly with his style and personality. His voice may be a bit higher, from the cancer, but it was just as awesome! Peter Tork was my first love as a little kid watching Monkees reruns on Saturday morning, and that will never change.
Randy Scouse Git
Micky's voice and performance, now I never got to see them in their younger years, has improved, if that is even possible. The maturity in his voice has made it fuller and even more versatile. He can go from a soft harmony to a full deep voice in a split second. His voice has always been unique, one of the very best in music, and now it is even better. Is it because as he gets older he isn't worried about impressing but just enjoying the music? Oh, how I wish I could have asked him that. (As well as, would he ever want to take on a 53 year old apprentice in his wood shop. He is a master crafter with wood and I would love to learn. I love working with wood, but have no idea what I'm doing.)

About half way though the concert, there was a short intermission. I was a little surprised by that, but not bothered because they kept us entertained with show clips and music. Then it occurred to me, these are men in their seventies, SEVENTIES! Something you completely forget while watching them. They probably needed to pee. As I looked around the venue, I realized, most of the people around me were also in that baby boomer generation. A generation Dawn and I were born at the very end of. Most of the audience probably needed to pee, too. The intermission was a darn good idea! 

Davy was also well represented during the concert. They used TV clips of him singing Shades of Gray, with Peter, still so very relevant today, this election day. And of course, HIS song, Davy's song, Daydream Believer. Micky and Peter both knew that his song had to be a part of any concert, but that neither of them could every get through singing it. So, they gave it to us, the fans. They played the clip of him singing it in the show as they sang along and encourage the audience to join them. Which we did. There is truly no better way to include Davy in the show, and no other way to include Daydream Believer. As you may remember at the end of the song in the TV show, Davy is shown walking away from the camera during the last bit of the song. That, THAT was just so emotional to watch. It just seemed like a way to say one last goodbye and know he was in a better place.

The show ended on the most upbeat of songs. Micky looked around the audience, found a few youngsters and told them something. "This next song, it didn't start with Shrek. We sang it FIRST!!" 

Mike, Davy, Micky and Peter made believers out of us 50 years ago, and Peter and Micky, are keeping us believers today. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Vacation Planning

 Willie and I haven't had many "real" vacations in our married years, at least not with traveling involved. Heck, I've still never been on an airplane. If you don't count visiting my friend Dawn down in the St. Louis area, I think I can count two. One to South Dakota when the kids were pretty little. That was basically on an angry whim on Willie's part when he got passed over for a promotion. We took four days and saw Mt. Rushmore, The Badlands and camped at Custer State Park.

Last year, while my sister stayed with my dad for us, we went up to Minnesota. We camped at Jay Cooke State Park and also checked out a lot of other state parks along Lake Superior in Minnesota. We had very wonderful and relaxing time.

Jay Cooke State Park
Duluth, Minnesota

I decided that we were going to go on a "real" vacation again this year. I looked at the calendar and tried to find a time when we wouldn't be gone during any special occasions, like a birthday or such. I decided on the week of October 1-9. I had Willie ask for it off, and then started to figure out where to go.

I didn't want to have to spend the entire vacation in the car getting to and from wherever we went. I started looking at places. I looked at areas between a 12 to 16 hour drive away. First place I checked, the Grand Canyon. Neither of us had ever been there. It was just too far to be able to drive to and get back in a week.

I then looked at Colorado, but many of the campgrounds in the mountains close on October 1. That made that a bit more difficult, but not impossible. The same was true with Yellowstone, and most of the National Parks in the mountains. Next I looked south. We could get down to the Gulf Coast, and I'd never seen that, nor an ocean for that matter. I looked east. Niagara Falls would be awesome. I've always wanted to go to Washington DC, and Philadelphia to walk in the footsteps of our nations founders. I asked Willie what he would like to do. Never really got any kind of a real answer. I kept looking. I bought two National Geographic books, one about national parks, the other about state parks. I looked and looked. I kept prodding Willie for what he would like to do to no avail. So, one day when he was at work I decided.

"We are going to Niagara Falls for our vacation." I told Willie. He looked at me like I should have asked him first. I looked back at him and I think he realized he'd better not say that.

"Ok," he said, "what made you decide on that?" Willie loves digging and creating water features. He loves trying to incorporate waterfalls. He liked the waterfalls we had seen last year in Minnesota. I had been to Niagara before with Girl Scouts when I was in high school. That was a long time ago. I figured it was time to get him there and for me to see it again.

I looked in the National Geographic books to see if there was some place near by where we could camp. I googled New York State Parks. There were plenty, and October is not exactly peak season for vacationers. I decided I was going to reserve a campsite anyway because it would be close to peak fall colors, so the weekends might be full.

I started looking at google maps to see how far Niagara was from this campground and that. What route to take to and from our house. Would we need to stop along the way for a night, and where would be good. Then I noticed one of the longer routes to the falls was through Pittsburgh.

My husband is the biggest Pittsburgh Steelers fan ever to be put on this earth. And he lives in Iowa. Living in Iowa does not make it easy to go to a Steeler's game. He had been to one. A pre-season game against the Vikings in Minneapolis. He loved it. He never really expected to get to see them live again.

I looked up the Steelers' schedule. Now, when I do things on a whim like that, it rarely works out. I knew I had a 50-50 shot, but maybe, just maybe, they would be playing at home that first Sunday of our vacation, or even Monday night. Lo and behold! The Steelers were playing Kansas City that Sunday night AT HOME! One thing on my bucket list had been to get Willie to a home Steelers game. It'd been on the list for years. I never thought we'd ever be able to make it happen, but there it was, a home game while we would be in the area. BUT would there be tickets?

I pulled up the Steelers' website. I knew they sold out often. Maybe there was still a chance, it was only May. I clicked on "Tickets." There were some available. I was floored! Was this really going to work out? I clicked on best available, and about pooped my pants. I knew NFL tickets were expensive, but good grief. I backed down the price range and found some still ridiculously priced tickets, but ones I could bite my lip and manage. I bought the tickets!

I was going to wait until Willie got home to tell him, but I couldn't. I sent him a text. "I did something, you can't get mad, because it's already done and there's nothing you can do about it. I got tickets for a Steelers home game for October 2!" I know he doesn't check his phone while he's working so I didn't know when I would get a response. I thought he'd be at least as excited as I was.

He got home from work. I hadn't gotten a response. I asked him if he got my text. "Yeah." That's not exactly the response I had hoped for, but ok.

Next step, Hotel in Pittsburgh and campsite in New York. Hotel was easy, Google, Travelocity, done. I looked for parks around Niagara, Ontario in Canada. They don't have a park system like we do in our states. They have national parks, but I wasn't sure if I could get Willie to get a passport, so I looked again at the state parks in the NatGeo book. One was within 2 hours of the falls, Letchworth State Park. I looked it up and booked us a spot.

Never being completely sure about decisions, I kept googling Letchworth. The more I googled the more I was happy with the choice. Turns out, a USAToday readers poll voted Letchworth the number one state park in the US. It also had three waterfalls. A deep gorge went through the center of it. It was nick named the "Grand Canyon of the East." The deepest gorge east of the Mississippi. So, that would be good.

Next, waiting...

She's Incredible!!

My oldest daughter is, and always has been an incredible person. In junior high school she decided to join the track team. She did not get a love of running from me. Not even in the slightest. I didn't even like running as a little kid. I much preferred hide and seek to tag. Way too much running in tag. I was slow, so I ALWAYS ended up being "it," and then could never tag anyone else.

Valerie got her inspiration to run from her dad. He was in cross country and track in high school and continued running for years after. He was pretty good. He won a few medals in both sports, but was never what you would call a star. He ran because he liked it.

Valerie was dedicated when track season rolled around. She went to all practices, she always worked as hard as she humanly could, she went all out. However, like most teens, when it wasn't track season, she went about doing other things. In seventh grade she came home crying during the first week of track. "The other girls are all better than me, I feel like I don't belong," she said through tears. I reminded her that they had all been playing different sports all year. She was at a very small high school in rural Iowa. Most of the kids that liked sports were in sports practically all year round. She wasn't like that. She had other interests that didn't involve chasing a ball around a court or field, and her school didn't have cross country in the fall. She always had a lot of catching up to do every spring. The amazing thing was, no matter what, she kept at it.

She would never be a star. She would never win a race. In fact, she came in last, every single race. You know what though, every time, she sucked it up, she practiced harder, and determined to do better next time. Which, she did. I was always so proud of her. Never once did she give up. Never once did she not complete her race. Never once did she quit. She kept running track every single year until she graduated high school. She amazed me. As the other girls reveled in their medals, Valerie looked to run a little better time next time. The courage it took for her to go and sign up every year, and finish every single race. I was probably prouder of her than any of the mothers who's daughters always came in first or second. She was my rock star.

Valerie graduated high school, started her life as all young people do. She kept running on and off as casual enjoyment. Two years or so ago, she really started running again. She started getting serious about it. Her feet gave her problems. She has issues with the her joints, especially in her toes and ankles being overly flexible. She also has high arches. Finding running shoes became a horror for her. She saw a podiatrist who told her what to look for in a good shoe for her. All of this set her running back, but never stopped her.

She tried shoe, after shoe, after shoe. She wanted to try to run a 10k, but the shoe issue kept making that impossible. Finally, she found a shoe that worked for her. She found the best way to wrap her ankles, and tape her toes. Once she got the combination all down, she was off.

She started training. She trained relentlessly for months. She trained all on her own, I'm sure doing research all along the way to get the most of her training. She is an avid researcher. If she is interested in a topic, she will learn all she can about it. You see, she also happens to be, really, darn smart.

She set her sites on a half marathon. The IMT Des Moines Marathon, in well, Des Moines, Iowa. This marathon, the full marathon, is a qualifier for the major marathons and the Olympics in Olympic years. It aint no wimpy thing. Not that she was running the full marathon, or trying to qualify for anything down the road, but even the half marathon brings in very good athletes from all over. The full marathon brings in elite athletes from around the world. It may not be the Boston marathon, one day, it might come close.

Marathon day came. It was a very foggy day in Iowa. Willie and I had a rather harrowing drive to Des Moines. The fog was so thick, and it was dark. The full moon helped light our way the first twenty miles. The last sixty, even the super moon could no longer cut through the fog. By the time we reached downtown Des Moines, the fog had lifted, but only a bit.

We caught up with Valerie's husband at the back of the pack of runners. The full marathoners and the half marathoners were starting together. They were, of course, organized by their mile pace times. Elite at the front, novice at the back. There were about 8,000 runners running the race. Valerie was waiting, a bit impatiently, at the very back of the pack.

Anyone who knows Valerie knows this look. Her lips squished to the side as she bites the inside of her mouth look. Her very nervous, yet very determined look. She may be at the back of the pack, but it wouldn't deter her. She maybe one of the last now, but she would still run her hardest and best run ever. Because, that's just who she is. That was 8:00 am Sunday morning. The marathon started, the elite runners taking off, as the back of the pack slowly made their way to the start line for their chance to start. It took about five more minutes before Valerie got to the start line. Off into the fog she went.

Willie, Joel and I walked back to the car. We tried to get to Grays Lake to cheer her on as she did the two mile loop there. There was an app for the run that you could keep up with where the runners  were on the corse. Once we got back to the car, it looked like Valerie was almost to the lake, with the road closures, we probably wouldn't get there in time. We found a place close to Principle Park, where the I-Cubs play, which was totally engulfed in fog, and waited. It was about halfway through the corse.

As we waited, we started to realize, perhaps the app, wasn't completely accurate. Joel had a cousin running the half marathon, too. He was tracking both her and Valerie. About the time that his cousin should have been passing us, he didn't see her. She was about a quarter mile ahead of Valerie, or that was what the app showed. Joel never saw her. Then the app showed that Valerie should be coming down the road soon. I lifted my camera to may face to use the long lens to scan the crowd. We couldn't see her anywhere. Joel kept checking the app. "She should be right in front of us," he said. We looked our hardest to find her, to no avail.

I was getting a little worried. Valerie also has asthma which flares with exertion. "The app still has her moving right?" I asked Joel.

"Yup, she's moving," He answered. We kept looking. Every woman we saw with a hat that remotely looked like her aqua colored hat we watched closely until we could verify that it wasn't her. Nope, too tall. Nope, she had black shorts on. Nope, hair too long. "Maybe she took her hat off."

Another ten minutes went by. Still no sight of Valerie though the app said she had come and went. "I don't know how we could have missed her," Joel said. "Unless she took her hat off." We waited another five minutes. "We must have missed her, the app says she is way past. I'm going to find a bathroom," Joel sighed. He walked away, and quickly returned. He pointed to the crowd of runners streaming past us, and there she was! Slowly, as she moved through the foggy air her features became clear. She was doing great. She was in the middle of the middle pack of runners, looking very good. Steady and smiling when she saw us.

We cheered her on, me particularly loudly. We watched her go by and disappear into the crowd again. The worst part of the corse was yet to come. Some very large hills (yes, Iowa has them) were in her future. She was keeping steady to her pace. She knew what she needed to do, but I still worried about those hills. I am MOM after all. It's in the job description. 

We went and found a place about a block from the finish line to wait for her. We watched the elite marathoners, flanked by motorcycle police, run by at a pace that astounded us for the end of a 26 mile race. They ran by as if all they were doing was running across a busy street. The pace was quick and looked so easy. They looked like they'd been running after a bus for five minutes, not a marathon for two hours. 

We kept watching as more full and half marathoners ran by for their last block of the race. Some looked exhausted, some looked fine. A few stopped, hunched over and the crowd cheered them on. They took a deep breath, straightened their backs and started on again to the finish. 

I could see the large hills that the runners had to face from where we were waiting. Joel kept checking the app, and we tried to recalculate to guess where Valerie really was. He told me that she was probably on the hill at that point. I asked him if she had her inhaler with her, of course she did. "She hasn't needed to use it much though, lately," he told me. I looked at the hill, and said a little prayer under my breath. A little later he told me she should be on her way down, her line on the app still staying steady. 

We watched as more athletes ran by. We saw the women's marathon winner run by. We saw a group who was helping a friend in a wheel chair finish the race. We saw another man in a wheel chair, arms as strong as a weightlifter's, cruise by on his own. We saw a man dressed up like Forrest Gump, so obviously, I had to yell, "Run, Forrest, Run!" We tried to guess how long before we would see her. The app already had her past the finish line. We recognized many runners that we saw when we were looking for her before. I again scanned the crowd with my camera. Pretty soon, there she was. 

She smiled and giggled a bit when I screamed "GO VALERIE!" at the top of my lungs. Her pace was as strong as it was when we had seen her last. She was doing great. Not only that, but for the first time, she was not the last person to cross the finish line. Far from it. She was well in the middle of the pack with hundreds of runners behind her. The clock said 2 hours and 44 minutes, but it was set for when the first runner crossed the start line. Her real time was 2 hours and 37 minutes. She originally thought it might take her 3 hours. She said she'd be happy with 2:40, she beat that by 3 minutes! 

She was, as always, amazing!!!