Category Archives: Places

Letter to my parents and brother from me: August 1981

Dear Mom, Dad and Kevin,

So this is the second letter I’ve written. Letter #1 is stale (and besides, I’ve already told you everything that’s in it) [1].

Like I said on the phone — the apartment actually is livable now. Each room still has a lot to be done, but at least we can move. Today we cleaned out the desks and put some books away. Our next big project is making the shelves for the stereo and albums and remainder of the books. [2]

We have no hot water yet. The plumber never showed up. I guess it’s quite a job. Ask Dick Palmer why he thinks we are having so many problems. :-) (actually I think our landlady is over-worried about $$$$) [3]

My birthday was really special. Dean made me a wonderful breakfast of strawberries and cream, kippers, pink champagne, soft-boiled eggs, bagels and toast (this was all before we knew how poor we were :-)).

The we went to a festival downtown at Point State Park. That’s where the 3 rivers come together. We watched the speedboats and Dean “frolicked” in the fountain.

For dinner, Dean made a roast and Yorkshire putting. It was all very wonderful.

Dean gave me my favorite cologne, a blue rose, peppercorns, kerosene for my lamp, a bottle of wine, and, from a local garage sale, a salt shaker and  pepper mill set, directly (long ago) from Italy [4]. [5]

After dinner and cake (yes, he baked me a cake complete with 25! [6] candles) we took a long leisurely walk around our new neighborhood.

Cinder has settled in very nicely. It’s almost as if no move ever took place.

We still have to thank you properly. I wish I could have said more in the way of thanks when you left, but I was ready to cry at any moment. [7]

Also, we owe you money for gas, etc. That will soon be paid as soon as we can.

Well, take care.


P.S. Got the checks today. Thanks for the loan. I feel awful asking for the money — thanks so much. [8]

Hi again —

Enclosed, you have found the two checks. Thanks, but the bank won’t accept it except to go into our account and that won’t be good until the 8th of September. (That’s the $50.00). Then the $15.00 check — it’s not certified. Seems that certified means the bank guarantees the money. We even went to the assistant manager. But luckily we found that the book store takes VISA (Dean needs books) and that leaves us with enough cash to get by — there is $40.00 in my change bottle. I appreciate your help very much. If you can’t get your money back (but I’m sure you can) [9] send me the check back and I’ll be able to cash it and send you back one of our checks.

Don’t worry — my fingers are still pink — not blue. [10]

I called the school district and they are sending applications for subbing. One district (Pittsburgh) isn’t accepting subbing applications until next week. [11]


  1. Dean and I had just moved to Pittsburgh []
  2. I think my mom was not impressed with our apartment when she and my dad, brother and cousin drove us to Pittsburgh from Elgin []
  3. I’d forgotten about this []
  4. I remember these — the were a rusty-red with a gold crackled finish []
  5. All I can say is WOW! Dean sure knew how to treat a gal back then []
  6. Damn we were just babies! []
  7. Knowing what I know now about the pain when a child leaves town, I know my mother must have been heartbroken []
  8. None of us realized that even though we had money to put in a banking account, we would not see that money for a couple weeks. We lived on change for a week. Never underestimate the value of a change jar. []
  9. It is apparent here that I had no idea how checks worked []
  10. Mom was worried about my Raynaud’s syndrome kicking in because I was stressed []
  11. I’d forgotten I’d applied to more than one school district []

Some Chetek photos

My grandmother would have loved Instagram. She liked to document everything, even the most mundane things. Here are a few shots around the cabin in Chetek. The captions indicate what she wrote on the back. I suspect there were more photographs, but this is what I have in front of me

More tree
February or March 1974
Taken in November 1975. Lake is down 4″ Putting in a new bridge.
Taken November 1975. Lake is down 4″.
Coots October 1975. Took this closer as I wanted the coots to fly.

Where’s the coffee? Where’s the pie?

In 1990, back when I still read newspapers. Back before kids, I read an article about a new television series in the April 30 Washington Post. I trusted Tom Shales, the journalist who wrote the article because he’d never led me wrong when it came to entertainment. Maybe it was because he was born in Elgin, maybe we just had/have the same tastes in television.

I probably would have watched it anyway because it was the brainchild of mastermind David Lynch — a director whose works Dean and I liked. We’d seen a presentation of some of his very early works at a local (now long-gone) art theater, and we saw pretty much anything he’d done that far (except Dune).

Dean and I loved the first season of Twin Peaks. Our next door neighbors also loved it and we’d often watch episodes together, drinking damn fine, and hot, coffee and eating pie. We even had a Twin Peaks dress up party for the final episode. My friend Totty came as the Log Lady. I don’t remember who I dressed up as. Too bad that was before smartphones with cameras because we would have definitely taken photos.

Back then, I don’t think I knew anyone else who liked Twin Peaks. Certainly no one at school. There was no Internet on which to discuss each episode with strangers. (at least not in our house). We just liked it, talked about it among ourselves and when we did run into someone who’d seen the series we’d talk with them about it.

We bought the DVD set when it came out and Clare got into the show, so much that she took it to school, then Olympia (not far from the filming location) and shared it with friends.

On one trip to Olympia, we visited North Bend, Washington where parts of Twin Peaks was filmed and ate pie and drank coffee at the Double R and posed for photos in front of the Great Northern Hotel and it’s nearby iconic waterfall.

Needless to say, we (or rather I) followed with interest the rumors about the revival Twin Peaks series. Totty heard about the series and suggested we get together to watch the first episode. We were not able to watch it the night it aired, so we planned on watching two episodes the week after. Totty brought an apple pie she’d baked and I made some coffee. We settled down to watch the revival of what had been our favorite television series 25 years ago — and possibly still was our favorite.

Well… the owls are not what they seem. If someone had been secretly filming us our expressions would have gone from happy expectation to confusion to bewilderment to disappointment to sadness. As the credits rolled for the second episode, Totty remarked that it sure was not what she was expecting and said, “Where was the coffee? Where was the pie?”

Damn right — where were the coffee and pie? Where was the charm?

Dean and I watched episode 3 a couple nights ago and, after some strangely Eraserheadesque scenes, it got better. I am not giving up on the series, I am just going to go into the rest of the episodes with much less expectation.

Found (in Oberlin): The Place Where the Sidewalk Ends

We spent Memorial Day weekend in Oberlin for Andrew’s Graduation (more on that later) and much of the time was down-time as we waited for Andrew to do this or that. Sometimes we simply rested on the grass, other times we drove around the area. On one of our drives we drove through a new neighborhood in Oberlin, not far from Andrew’s house. In one corner of the neighborhood was a strange brick structure in the middle of a neatly mowed lot with sidewalks leading to it and floodlights pointed towards it. Dean and I discussed what it could be for (it had signs inside it that said “PRIVATE”). On the way back to the car, however, I found something more interesting. I found the place where the sidewalk ends. Right there in Oberlin*.

Where the sidewalk ends

Where the Sidewalk Ends

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends,
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

— Shel Silverstein — 1974

* It is fitting to have found this during Andrew’s college graduation weekend. Interpretations of the poem suggest that the place where the sidewalk ends is where childhood ends and adulthood begins.

The Inn at Mallard Cove

Because Dean had a meeting in Seattle earlier this month and I had some vacation time left, we decided to spend some time with Clare who recently moved to Olympia, Washington. We knew it would not make sense to try to stay with Clare and Bennett so I was tasked with finding a place to stay in the area. At first I thought we’d simply stay at a local motel (although not this one).

Then I got the idea to make it even more special and thought we should stay in a bed and breakfast. It had been a while since we’d done that, not counting the pre-hurricane stay in Cape May last autumn.

Olympia doesn’t have a huge amount of bed and breakfast establishments, but it as a few. I first considered staying at the Swantown Inn which is  5 minute drive from Clare’s house. It had many great reviews on Trip Advisor and is located in a beautiful colorful Victorian mansion. I nearly made reservations there, but I ended up clicking on a link to the Washington Bed and Breakfast Web site and found that there was another B&B a little further away, but right on Puget Sound. According to Google Maps it was only a 20 minute drive from the Inn to Clare’s house and Dean said that was an okay distance to travel. I called the second inn to check if they had room for us and was treated to a delightful conversation with Don, one of the hosts of the Inn at Mallard Cove. As we talked he mentioned that an eagle just flew by. He also brought up the subject of kayaks and said that we could use his kayaks — even in winter. That settled it. I made reservations there because Dean loves to kayak and I love birds.

I spent much of my free between making the reservation and the actual visit to Olympia reading many of the reviews on Trip Advisor. Of the 139 reviews, 134 are 5 star reviews, 4 are 4 star reviews and only one is a negative review by someone that didn’t even stay there — she just complained about their two-day minimum stay in peak season.

Even prepared with the glowing reviews, I was astonished by the beauty of the house (and its location), the hospitality of the hosts, the awesomeness of the breakfasts and the attention do detail in every single thing about the Inn at Mallard Cove.

Don and Linda are simply wonderful hosts. Don is vivaciously friendly and is knowledgeable about almost anything you ask him — especially if it involves the inn or the area. Linda is more reserved, but also very friendly. She, as Don put it several times, is the “brains” behind the operation and it is her attention to detail that makes your stay go smoothly. She is also an amazing cook. Our breakfasts were so delicious and filling that I could have easily waited for dinner before I ate anything more.

On Friday Don took Clare and Dean kayaking on Puget Sound into the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve never kayaked and didn’t want to start kayaking in 30-something degree weather. They had a wonderful time and claim they didn’t even notice the cold.

I have stayed at dozens of bed and breakfasts in the US and in Europe, but I must say that the Inn at Mallard Cove may very well be the best B&B at which I have had the pleasure to stay.

Feeling the love

Andrew — the star of the weekend

Last weekend we (Dean, his sister Diane, and I) visited Andrew in Oberlin, Ohio for Oberlin College’s Family Weekend. Diane joined us because we told her how much fun we had at last year’s family weekend and because she was a high school counselor and knew about Oberlin, but had never visited. Also because she’s the best aunt in the world.

If I have not mentioned it before on this blog, I love Oberlin College. It is the absolute perfect fit for Andrew and an amazing place in itself. The town and the college grew up together and from what I’ve seen, get along very well — like grown-up twins. Andrew’s rugby team is comprised of students, professors and townsmen. When we visit we stay with townspeople — in their homes with the money we pay going to various Oberlin programs.

Family weekend is full of events, from the wine and cheese reception on Friday to dozens of musical programs to many faculty-run lectures to the President’s brunch on Sunday. This year we didn’t do quite as many things as last year, but we did have a busy weekend.

On Friday we attended the wine and cheese reception after meeting up with Andrew and visiting his newly-tidied dorm room. The wine and cheese reception is held in (and outside of) the science building. Outside people stand (and shiver) while listening to a steel drum band. Inside people stand or sit and listen to a string quartet. Strangers approach each other and talk to each other with ease — like longtime friends or you approach strangers and ask them about their hats (a Scottish military hat worn to keep their head warm) or if they know someone in the orchestra embroidered on their jacket (they do) and end up talking with them like longtime friends. “Don’t you feel the love?” I asked Diane. She laughed.

For dinner on Friday after striking out at three other restaurants, we ended up at the Oberlin Inn where our waitress seemed as if she were just learning the ropes but since she was our waitress last May this was not the case. Dinner was decent and inexpensive, compared to Bethesda.

Andrew’s friend is in the red cape.

After dinner on Friday we went to an Opera called Il Mondo della Luna (The World of the Moon) which was a lot of fun, once we realized we were not going to really “get it” and just went with the slapstick humor. One of Andrew’s friends played a lead role.

On Saturday, after a breakfast and chat with our hosts, Dean went to a lecture while Andrew slept in. Diane and I went shopping — I adore a shop called Bead Paradise that sells clothing in styles I really like — and has some great sales and friendly staff. “Do you feel the love yet?” I asked Diane. Diane laughed.

We met up with Dean and Andrew and went to lunch in the neighboring town of Elyria. After lunch Dean and Andrew went to a lecture while Diane and I explored the town and tried to find a white squirrel in  Tappan Square. At 4:00 we saw an a capella performance then made plans for dinner and the evening.

Diane and Andrew (the guy in back may have been someone famous too — or just knew someone famous)

Dinner was a disappointment — again all of the desirable restaurants were booked, so we went to an Italian restaurant we’d eaten at last year and vowed to avoid this year. The service was slow, the food mediocre, but the company was excellent (and we sat near someone famous in the area — maybe a former owner or manager of the Cleveland Indians?)

We’d hoped to see the Oberlin Aerialists again this year, but dinner took too long and we were tired by the time we left the restaurant.

At some point as we were leaving Oberlin, Diane turned to me and said, “Okay Dona, I feel the love now”. I smiled — I knew she would.

Donna’s Diner


Occasionally my husband obsesses about one thing or another, usually involving food. Not really in a bad way — just in a slightly annoying way. Once it was about eating at a supper club near Minocqua called Wisconsonaire. Whenever we’d pass it he’d say, “Wisconsonaire.” We eventually ate there and he decided it was not what he’d hoped and now has a slight distaste for “Supper Clubs”. Another of his obsessions was a restaurant we used to pass by when we drove to a couple of wrestling meets to watch our son wrestle. It was a huge lodge-type place in Rockville that he’d eaten at once before and thought I’d enjoy it. He was right about that one. We’ve been to Clyde’s Tower Oaks Lodge a few times and plan to go back again. His latest obsession turned out to be the best: Donna’s Diner in Elyria, Ohio.

When we were discussing when we should leave Bethesda for Oberlin, Ohio to visit our son for Family Weekend, Dean thought we should time it so we could eat lunch at Donna’s Diner. I asked him what Donna’s Diner was and he said he read about it in the NY Times. I thought he’d seen an ad or review for it and that it must be special if a newspaper in New York mentioned a restaurant in Ohio. I did look up Donna’s Diner, and found a Website for one that looked like fun, but then saw that it was in Pennsylvania.

When I searched for “Donna’s Diner” and “Ohio” and “NY Times” I found an article about a down-on-its-heels town and a diner that looked less fun than the one in Pennsylvania. I didn’t have time to read the article, but put it on my to-do list.

Dean and Andrew outside Donna's Diner
Dean and Andrew outside Donna’s Diner

We didn’t eat lunch at Donna’s Diner on the way to see Andrew, but did drive through Elyria, Ohio — the subject of the NY Times article — and saw where Donna’s Diner was located. We considered eating dinner there, but were not sure it was open for dinner. What struck me, however, was the fact that they offered a Mac-and-cheese bar: “Your Way!” “Made Fresh”.

The next day Dean suggested we go to Elyria for lunch and Andrew was up for it. We parked close-by and walked into the diner. We were seated right away and asked what was a “must-have” on the menu. The hostess suggested the Donna Burger. I asked about the Mac-and-cheese bar but it was not set up. Our server called back “Nanna —  can you set up the mac-and-cheese bar?” Nanna (aka Donna) called back, “Yes — it will only take me a minute.”

Dean with menu at Donna’s Diner

So that’s how Dean, Diane, Andrew and I got to eat at Donna’s Diner and meet the star of a 5-part article from the New York Times. Andrew and I had a nice conversation with her about the article and her plans for a “White Christmas” themed event around Christmas. She hoped to get some Oberlin students involved — perhaps with caroling around the city square.

The food was very good. Dean loved his Donna Burger and Andrew enjoyed his Reuben  My mac-and-cheese was rich and delicious (I opted for garlic, chives and mushrooms) and far too much for me to eat on my own. Andrew got to take it back to his dorm room for later consumption.

I finally read the Donna’s Diner part of the NY Times article this morning. She and I have some things in common — we are nearly the same age, her father was in the Navy.  We both grew up in Midwestern towns that begin with the letter E — and Elyria reminds me a little of Elgin. But about the time I was getting ready to go to England for the first time she was pregnant with her first child. She’s had to struggle. I’ve had life easy. She’s an icon in her hometown. I rarely visit my hometown, having moved away decades ago.

I’m so glad we got to visit Donna’s Diner and I hope that it is around for a long time. I hope that the article helps the diner and the town somehow. We’ll go back for lunch when we visit Oberlin — that much is certain.

Oh, and that other Donna’s Diner? The one in Pennsylvania? I’m sure it is not nearly as nice or friendly or fun or delicious as Donna’s Diner in Elyria, Ohio.

Smithville, MS

Piggly Wiggly
Piggly Wiggly (photo courtesy of Corey Smith of Smithville)
Hardware Store
Hardware store hit twice in less than two weeks time. (photo courtesy of Corey Smith of Smithville)

My Aunt Ginny and Uncle Jack live a quiet existence in a town in Northeastern Mississippi. Their days usually consist of watching game shows, talk shows and the hunting channel on television, watching barges going up and down the Tenn-Tom Waterway outside their window or cooking healthy meals. Every few days they take a ride either North or South on Highway 25 for groceries, appointments or other errands.

The town of Fulton is to the North of their house — whose high school is most recently known for canceling prom before letting a lesbian attend with her girlfriend then staging a fake prom to humiliate her.

To their south is a town they like to visit called Amory. In between their house and Amory is a tiny town called Smithville (but pronounced “Smithvul” “Smifful” [thanks Kelli]), which, as Dean noted last week when we visited Aunt Ginny and Uncle Jack, has little to offer than a Dollar Store. Uncle Jack pointed out the post office when we drove past and we also noticed a Piggly Wiggly.

Last week a strong storm — possibly a tornado — went through Smithville and Uncle Jack took us for a ride to see the damage. We saw several trees down and the local hardware store’s metal roof had been blown off and was lying on the ground next to the building.

Yesterday afternoon a massive tornado hit the town and finished off the hardware store, destroyed the post office and heavily damaged both the Dollar Store and the Piggly Wiggly. Aunt Ginny said she saw it going up the waterway and thought it was headed towards her house so she and Uncle Jack took shelter.

While Smithville is nowhere near Bethesda — this is the closest I’ve come to this kind of destruction, having seen the town intact a little over a week ago. My heart goes out to the residents of the town and all other towns affected by the storms yesterday.

Dollar Store
Dollar Store in Smithville, MS (photo courtesy of Corey Smith of Smithville)
Post office
Post office in Smithville, MS (photo courtesy of Corey Smith of Smithville)

New Beginnings

Dad in the Navy
Dad in the Navy

If I look at as a new phase of many new phases in one life, it doesn’t really seem so bad. It doesn’t seem like an ending, but a new beginning.

About two-and-a-half weeks ago I drove to Elgin to help move my dad to a long-term care facility because he needed more care than my mom could give him. There was long-term care insurance in place and it really seemed like a relatively simple process. Admit him, promise to pay the deductible, do some paperwork and maybe shed a tear or two. I figured I’d be home by the following weekend at the latest.

Well, Dad’s in the facility, but it was not a simple process by any measure. What with insurance fine-print, arrogantly incompetent doctors, hospitals that pretend to be 4-star hotels and care more about their image than the families of their patients, I lost several nights’ sleep, went through high levels of stress and am still in Elgin.

Dad seems to have settled into the facility fairly easily. He seems to be more concerned about when his next meal is than where his family is or why he is not at home. He’s going to get physical therapy 3 times a week and has a multitude of people to talk to — people who have not heard about his 4-year stint in the Navy or about the time, when he was a child, that he accidentally burned down the school-house. He was always a social person and has not really had the opportunity to be around people for many years. He may not get along with everyone there, but I am confident that this is the right place for him.

This is just a new part of his life, just as going to school was when he was 5; just as entering the Navy was when he was 20; just as marrying my mom was when he was 26: just as becoming a father when he was 28; just as the times he changed jobs and finally retired. He has a new home now at the age of 82.

PS: Yes, I know I’m rationalizing it and, although what I wrote above is true, going to a nursing home, while probably for the best, is not a positive experience for the person going.

Up North: the series ::Kitsch & Scenery:: Wisconsin Dells

A series about Wisconsin is not complete without a post about Wisconsin Dells. On our excursions to Chetek I vividly remember seeing signs, possibly starting south of Beloit, declaring the wonders of Wisconsin Dells — Tommy Bartlett Water Show, Noah’s Ark, Fort Dells, & The Wonder Spot. I remember longing to visit the Dells because of those signs, but it wasn’t until I was at least 10 years old that we actually did visit the Dells for a day.

I’m guessing we stopped there either on the way to Chetek or on the way back from Chetek, but I can’t be certain — maybe we drove there and back in one day — I know we did not stay overnight though, at least not in a motel. I do know, however, that we visited it with the Pasholks and the reason was mostly for my dad and Jack to meet with a mutual friend of theirs. I remember sitting in the friend’s house while the grownups drank beers and thinking, Get on with it already — I want to have some fun. Did we come all the way to Wisconsin Dells so we could be bored watching you drink beer and visit with your friend?

The grownups finally did say goodbye to their friends and took us kids to an attraction: Fort Dells.  I remember quite a bit about the day at Fort Dells. We saw a Wild West show, drove a model T car around a track and went to a haunted house. I remember being very scared of the haunted house and burying my face in my hands for most of the ride, much to Marcia’s amusement. I think we might have stopped in a Paul Bunyan’s for lunch or dinner, but that might be another memory. I wanted to visit The Wonder Spot but we didn’t — possibly because we ran out of time, or because it was too expensive.

At the time of that visit I was young enough to not be embarrassed by kitsch — something that the Dells excels at. As I grew older and until somewhat recently, I avoided anything that might be considered kitschy.

I think my mom and dad took my brother and me to the Dells one other time — on a trip that also involved a visit to the Baraboo Circus World Museum. I remember very little of the Dells on that trip except maybe seeing The Wonder Spot. I sort of remember someone sitting on a levitating chair. However maybe I just saw a brochure for it.

Dad at The Wonder Spot
Dad at The Wonder Spot

My only other visit to the Dells was as memorable as the first, but I think I liked it less. This visit was on our first honeymoon — the one with Neal & Marie and Paul. Neal and Marie were from New England and Paul was from England, so they’d probably not even heard of Wisconsin Dells and might not have chosen to go had we not suggested it. One of the reasons I wanted to go to the Dells was because my mom and dad went there on their honeymoon in 1954. They went The Wonder Spot.

This time we didn’t go to Fort Dells —  because we were too old and also because it wasn’t there anymore. We did ride The Ducks though. That was interesting and it was nice to see the real reason for Wisconsin Dells — not the tourist traps that were advertised on the signs, but the natural sandstone formations on the Wisconsin River. I don’t think that I knew anything about the actual Dells until this trip. It was a little scary, though, when the driver of the vehicle stopped in the woods and asked for tips.

I was hoping to take my kids to the Dells, but it never happened, and now they’re really too old to want to go with their parents, if at all. Clare likes kitsch, but I think it embarrasses Andrew. I’m not sure I’ll ever go again. The places that I’d remembered from my childhood are gone and I’ve already seen the Dells. I’m pretty sure that if I went I’d be disappointed.