SHOVEL READY

It was a week ago when we installed ourselves in the cabin on Casper Mountain.  A couple of days before our arrival, Sam Weaver and his son, Sam Jr. (brother and nephew of our friend, Rebecca) plowed a path from the main mountain road to the cabin.  Sam then allowed us to use his 4-wheel drive pickup truck to cart dog, cats, guitars and our other sundry supplies down the path and into the cabin.  We took one more trip into town on the Thursday of last week to get Wyoming plates for Gypsy Rose and to grab some more groceries. 

Over the last week, I have gone out two or three times a day to build upon Sam’s plowing with some shoveling.  The goal was to create a few additional trenches that would make it easier to dump ash and old cat litter (all of which should rejoin nature with the Spring thaw).  In addition, I had a project in mind to make a path from the parking area to the back door.  When we first arrived at the cabin, we saw that the back door and the porch were piled with about a five-foot drift of snow (half obscuring the two living room windows).  I had this ambition to try and dig a path to that back door.  For one thing, I thought it might be some good exercise.  For another, it would be good to have access to the additional exit. 

I felt more than a little like Sysaphus this Tuesday morning, when I woke to find that some 2-3 feet of new powder had fallen overnight; all my efforts having proved in vain.  Our roommate, Trey, had returned  last night, and I could see his tracks leading up and out of the path to the main mountain road.  Beyond that, the parking area was a new blanket of snow. 

Our usual morning routine is to reset fires in the two pot belly stoves.  I did that, then spent a good half hour shoveling a new path from the door to the bank of snow that borders the parking area.  I then dug a new pit in the bank for yesterday’s ashes and dirty cat litter. 

There had been some remarks made about Warren Weaver (Rebecca’s father); some comments about how, over the last ten years or so of living in the cabin, he had sort of let things go.  And it is true that, upon his passing away, when Rebecca and Geoffrey took possession of the cabin, it was in a sad state of neglect.  The last five years have been a project of gradual reclamation of the place.  And I can say that it is very liveable now.  Old, soiled carpets were torn out, floors and walls and shelves all scrubbed and cleaned, new rugs thrown on the floors, and everything is in a better state now. 

Still, as of this morning, I had a new measure of sympathy for Warren.  Growing old is not for sissies, my father used to say.  And keeping this place going in the winter is not an easy task.  I’m not really complaining.  For the most part, I can say that I’ve been enjoying our first winter week on Casper Mountain.  But I guess I have a better understanding of how overwhelming it could get to stay on top of things when winter really sinks its teeth into the place. 

Growing old is not for sissies.  You got that right, Dad. 

THE DOG IS NERVOUS

Monday, January 6th, and we get on the road at about 10:30 am, heading for Casper, Wyoming.  It is a sunny day and we are hopeful for a safe and fairly quick journey. 

Although things look promising to start, the weather takes a bit of a turn by the time we hit Cheyenne.  There are strong, steady winds, with gusts exceeding 55 miles per hour.  There are signs on the highway warning “light trailers” to stay off the road.  I keep telling myself that our RV is more than a light trailer; especially with Gypsy Rose in tow behind us.  I don’t know if I have any scientific basis to back up my belief, but I hold to the thought that the lower-profile car acts as something of an anchor, perhaps lending us a little additional stability in the face of the high winds.  Even so, there are times I slow down to 45 mph to better navigate the gusts.  There are also stretches of blowing snow and ice. 

There was an incident in Kearney, Nebraska, where Lola (our insane GPS) took us on a circuitous route to an RV park that ultimately took us across about two miles of very rough-graded road, causing the whole RV to shake and tremble.  Ever since, Rufus has grown skittish when the RV shakes or vibrates while travelling.  He wants our comfort and reassurance, so Pony has been going into the back to sit with him on the couch (at least, in this way, he is not trying to climb on me while I drive). 

Meanwhile, I just do my best to keep a steady hand on the wheel.  I have my thumb drive in the USB port of the RV’s stereo, and each song is a few more miles down the road.  I focus on the road, and on each song, holding on to the notion that with each song we are a little closer to Casper.

We arrive in Casper at just shy of 5pm.  There is not time to check the RV into the storage place we have lined up, let alone considering the task of shuttling pets, clothes, and various other articles and supplies up the mountain.  The RV storage people have an adjoining park that they let us use for the night.  We have dinner at Johnny J’s Diner (a 60’s retro-style greasy spoon we discovered on previous trips to Casper). 

The next day, we go to Johnny J’s again for a spot of breakfast.  By about 9:30 am, we have loaded up Gypsy Rose with the first batch of boxes carrying various clothes and other articles.  The plan is to stay in the cabin of our friends, Rebecca and Geoffrey, for the remainder of January and the month of February.  Rebecca’s brother, Sam (and his son, Sam Jr.) plowed a path from the main mountain road down to the cabin and offered to let us use an old pickup truck to cart things down to the cabin.  Our initial plan is to take this truck down to the RV to get the pets and the remainder of our supplies, but as we drive this old pickup down the mountain to town, the truck blows a tire just as we get to the base of the mountain.  It is not a small flat: the tire is entirely shredded over the course of about 100 yards.  We talk to Sam, and he allows that the tires are some five years old and haven’t seen much distance in that time.  He suggests we get the spare put on, drive it back up to his place on the mountain, and we can borrow his other truck (a newer one, with better tires).  However, the lug nuts on the rim are rusted tight, so we end up shelling out for a guy from Casper Tire to come (with his are pressure jack and all).  He gets the spare put on in quick time and we are back in action. 

A MEASURE OF FRIENDSHIP WITH FOUR CUPS OF FLOUR AND FIVE EGGS

I first met my friends, Roman and Roxana, over 22 years ago.  We had all just moved to Denver.  Roman is Polish, Roxana is Columbian, and they met in New York (where such geographical junctures have been known to happen).  At the time, their eldest son, Matthew, was about a year old. 

There is an old Germanic/Eastern European custom to eat sauerkraut on the first day of the new year to assure yourself a prosperous year (or, as Pony is accustomed to say, “After a meal like that, the rest of year can’t be any worse).  Roman and Roxana and I have met the first day of each new year for just such a feast for some 22 years, without interruption.  During that time, my career as a musician in the Denver area grew. I started teaching more and more private students, playing gigs in and around Denver (and throughout the state of Colorado), and eventually took on teaching at a couple of community colleges in the area, as well.  I also formed my recording label and produced five CD’s (so far). 

Roman went on to become a nuclear medicine technician, and he and Roxana had five more kids (I teased Roman, suggesting it had something to do with the way he held his fork while eating the sauerkraut that produced that particular form of prosperity). 

It is not just sauerkraut.  It is sauerkraut with roast pork and kneflehs.  Kneflehs are a type of Swedish noodle (the recipe passed down from my grandparents to my mother, and thus to me).  A German version is called Spaetzle.  You take four cups of flour, five eggs, and 1-2 cups of water (or maybe a little more, especially in the higher altitudes and drier climate of Colorado).  These ingredients are mixed together and should make a batter that is more or less the consistency of oatmeal (it should ooze around in the bowl, but be careful not to make it too runny with too much water; it is best to start with a cup and a half of water and add a little at a time until the desired consistency is achieved).  This batter is then chilled for about 4-6 hours, then you use a knife to slice the batter into long strings (the noodles) into a pot of lightly boiling water.  The cooked noodles will rise to the surface to be scooped out of the pot, drained and set on a platter.

In the Engberg family, it is customary to make a bed of these noodles on your plate, cover them with butter, then pile the sauerkraut and roast pork on top of that.  Like the singing of Bob Dylan, it can be something of an acquired taste, but I look forward to it every New Year’s Day.

Over the years, we have included many friends as part of this feast; many people who have become part of what I regard as my created family.  A few of them have played on my CD’s (Roman and Roxana’s third child, their daughter Veronika, went from being featured on the cover of my third CD to playing cello on one of my most recent projects).  Even with our recent touring, I was glad to have made it back to Denver and to continue this particular tradition.  I am not sure what the New Year may hold for me, but when I measure my wealth in friends and family, I feel I have already had a most fortunate run on this spinning planet. 

HOME AS A VERB

We looked to leave Geode State Park, in Southeast Iowa, on Sunday, December 15th.  The night before, there was a moment when I was walking Rufus around the park, and there were a few inches of new fallen snow (actually a little snow falling that evening).  The moon was waxing, illuminating the white landscape, and there was this moment when I turned to look at our RV and our new, little tow car.  The windows glowed against the dark of night and in contrast to the moonlight, and the whole scene was incredibly peaceful. 

Home.

My concept of home has evolved and expanded over the last few months.  Home used to be Denver, and Denver still has a bit of that feeling, by virtue of our many friends who await us there, and the familiarity of knocking around Denver for some twenty years.  But home now included my old boyhood haunts of Burlington, and the surrounding turf of Southeast Iowa.  It now included Annapolis and Gaithersburg, in Maryland, as well as parts of New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Ohio and Michigan.  Before we are done, I am convinced that home will expand and evolve even more. 

Come the Sunday, before setting out, we did a smudge ceremony on Ceci (our RV), and on Gypsy Rose, our new, little tow car.  It was a cleansing ceremony, an acknowledgement of intention, and a chance to focus our thoughts towards a more positive effort overall.  It is a form of prayer, and a nod to the mysterious workings of fate, the universe, and the open road.  We took our time about it.  Pony instructed me in the use of a sweeping gesture with the smudge stick, to sweep out any negativity that may be inhabiting our vehicles.  And when it was done, I must say that I felt just a bit more comfortable driving Ceci, towing Gypsy Rose, heading down the highway on a December afternoon, back to Colorado. 

We took back roads and lesser highways for the first day, and ended up dry camping in a Walmart parking lot in Osceola, Iowa that night.  By Monday afternoon, we stopped at an RV park in Kearney, Nebraska (and one of the nicer RV parks we’d found so far), then actually made it into Denver by Tuesday afternoon.  The roads and the weather favoured us for that leg of the journey, and we warmly greeted by our friend, Sir James, when he returned from work to find us camped next to his house and settled in for a few weeks of sharing the holidays with many of our good friends. 

Happy holidays to one and all, and wishes for a most fortunate new year. 

CARMA CHAMELEON

“I want to name her Rose,” said Pony.

This was in reference to our new tow car: a 2008 Chevy Aveo, rose red in color; cute, small , with the requisite manual transmission, and just what we need. 

“How about Gypsy Rose?” I suggested.  And it was agreed. 

This post is a few weeks late (I’ll write more about all the catching up between then and now in a subsequent blog).  Much has transpired since our Yellow Submarine, the Ford Focus, was totalled in a back-end collision in New Jersey, almost two months ago.  For awhile,  we had a rental minivan, provided by the insurance company, while we travelled from New Jersey to Maryland.  I used that vehicle to travel to gigs and various other tasks for about two weeks, at which point the insurance company decided we had had enough of that particular service.  For a few days, we borrowed our friend Stacia’s Mercedes, while we continued to house-sit for her.  We had then journeyed to Iowa (including the day of wild goose chases, courtesy of our GPS, and described in a previous blog). 

While doing a handful of gigs in Southeast Iowa, both of my brothers came to our aid.  My brother, Steve (who lives in Mt. Pleasant), introduced us to his buddy, Brett Johnson.  Brett is a car dealer who hits the auctions once or twice each week.  He had actually found me a van some years back, when a vehicle of mine had broke down in a thoroughly final way while travelling across Iowa.   This time, we had given him a bit of a challenge.  It is apparently getting more difficult to find a manual transmission vehicle that would be suitable for towing behind an RV.  After a try or two, Brett found the Aveo, cleaned it up, changed the oil, put a couple of new tires on it, and turned it over to us.  Pony got first shot at driving it, which prompted her impulse to name the car Rose.  It is a year or two newer than the Focus, with about the same mileage as we had started out with that car, and it does not have the heavily-tinted windows that bothered Pony about the Focus.  All in all, I think we came out the better for it. 

But this car had to be prepared for towing, which included getting a metal plate welded underneath, and the various parts attached to allow the tow rig to affix to it.  So while all of this was going on, my brother, Tom, loaned us a vehicle to use for getting to gigs, running errands and such.

This “loaner” was a 1986 Ford Crown Victoria LTD that he had bought for the daughter of his girlfriend (who was just learning to drive).  It was a beast of a vehicle; a large barge of a car, with a roaring, gas-guzzling engine.  Dark blue it was, with patches of rust blossoming here and there, and even duct tape holding some parts together.  It reminded me of the “Bluesmobile” in the first Blues Brothers movie, and while driving it, I felt sure that I would be capable of eluding neo-nazis, redneck country and western musicians, and all manner of vengeful law-enforcement officers, were there a need.  It was hell on snowy/icy roads, however; fishtailing with just a small invitation to do so.  Pony and I both drove it over the course of that week in Iowa, and we both hoped that Tom would wait until Spring before giving this vehicle over to Lisa’s daughter. 

LOLA LEADS US ON

We spent that Saturday night at the Pilot Truck Stop.  At first, Pony was concerned about running the generator through the night (concerned about the noise, as it were), but I pointed out that we were nestled in among a couple of dozen 18-wheelers, all running their motors as they stopped for the night.  Indeed, the chorus of all that diesel humming made me think of the song of band of several hundred, heavy-metal frogs. 

The truck stop had a Cinnabon shop.  And even though the gal running it was getting ready to knock off for the night, she took a little extra time to make a fresh bun with pecans, because I had convinced her how much my wife was craving just such a thing. 

The next morning, I found that the truck stop dispensed a variety of coffees.  Now, I confess that I have never been a coffee drinker myself, but it looked like there was a decent variety there.  I got Pony a tall serving of “Columbian Bold”, and picked up a handful of French vanilla creamers and a couple of espresso shots that were packaged in a manner similar to the creamers.  This proved to be a fine start to the day, and Pony has decided that we must stop at Pilot truck stops all the way home, in search of more of these little espresso shots. 

One positive outcome from our wandering the previous day was that we had travelled far enough west to miss the major winter storm that subsequently hit the East Coast with a vengeance (my sister told us later that she and the girls ended up having two snow days off from school).  Out next stop was just East of Indianapolis, in a somewhat non-descript RV park.  The showers were nothing special.  Actually, they were downright awful.  One of them didn’t work at all, and the other two seemed to have only a choice of cold or colder water.  I ducked my head in to wash it a bit; that was all I was up for.  The thing I was trying to understand was the folks who apparently had settled in at that RV park for the winter; weatherizing their rigs, putting insulating tapes on the pipes and such.  It’s not that I couldn’t imagine spending winter in an RV somewhere.   I just wondered: why here?  Why ten miles east of Indianapolis? 

The next day was decent driving, and we stopped just outside of Peoria at a “Jellystone RV Park” (images of Yogi Bear and his friends in prominent display everywhere).  We got there before 4pm, well before sundown, which allowed for a comfortable, unrushed set up and settling in for the night.  This was Monday, and we would have an easy drive into Burlington, Iowa, the next day, with plenty of time to get settled in for the handful of gigs I had lined up for the rest of the week.  What’s more, my brother’s buddy, Brett, thought he had found a suitable new tow car for us.  Things were looking a bit better. 

LOLA LEADS US ASTRAY

Pony named the RV Ceci (for Cecilia).  Early on, we invested in a GPS from the Good Sam club.  Originally, we had it programmed with a female voice, but we found that voice…. well….. annoying. So we switched to the male voice and dubbed the GPS Lola (with a nod to the Kinks’  song).  Lola is supposedly designed to help us with RV-related travels.  She is supposed to help us avoid low bridges (although there was one specific incident where she almost deliberately took us on a road with just such a hazard), she is supposed to steer us clear of towns that having zoning against vehicles transporting propane, and she is supposed to help us find places to get water, get propane, make dumps, camp, and so on. 

Lola has proved a bit of a bust on nearly all of these points. 

On Saturday, December 7th, we started off with the plan to stay on highway 50, out of Annapolis, and, for the most part, through Maryland and West Virginia.  However, once we got past the Beltway, Lola already steered us off that route and onto I-70. 

Okay.  Change of plans, then. 

So then we planned to stop in Morgantown, West Virginia for the night.  As we approached Morgantown, Pony suggested that maybe we should consider getting an electric space heater to use inside the RV (with the hopes of saving a bit on the propane used for heating), so, upon arriving in Morgantown, we stopped at a Walmart for that purpose.  Then we headed out, presumably to find the campsite Pony had identified in Morgantown.  However, it seemed that Lola took any stop in Morgantown as sort of “mission accomplished”, so she took us on this merry chase around a very narrow, two-lane, country road that eventually ended up on a totally new interstate and far from the directions Pony had for getting to the campsite (incidentally, she had called ahead to the campsite and had been told that GPS’s frequently fail to find the place; small defence for Lola’s actions). 

Okay.  Change of plans again. 

We ended up driving all the way into Ohio, where there was supposedly another campsite (a state park that was apparently still open, despite the season). 

Lola couldn’t find it.  Instead, she took us on yet another merry run around a country road (that went from gravel to just dirt at one point) before taking us back to the highway.  We stopped at a Pilot Truck Stop.  At this point, Pony had a bit of a melt down.  She was tired of the mishaps, the gremlins, the death of a thousand paper cuts, as it were.  And all I wanted was to help her regain some of her good humor and composure, at whatever the cost.

“What do you want to do?”  I asked her.  “ Do you want us to quit?  Do you want to pick a town, settle down, and I’ll get a job selling insurance?”

That did it.  She broke into a spell of laughter, and we were ready to keep it going. 

DECEMBER 6 – DOING THE EAST COAST LIMBO

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Pony and I began house-sitting for our friends, Gordon and Stacia, as they headed out for a ten-day cruise of the Bahamas.  My sister let us borrow her kitty carrier to haul the three kitties and the dog from Gaithersburg to Annapolis.  It took a good part of Tuesday to make the move, but by the evening we were all settled in.  Our friends allowed that the kitties could stay in their garage, which was something of an improvement on circumstances, as it is a large room, with several windows that let in a lot of natural light.  And it is heated, as well, which, again was something of a step up from my sister’s garage.

Meanwhile, our RV was being worked on.  There was taking care of a bit of the damage from when we got rear-ended.  The insurance company wrote off our Yellow Submarine as totalled, so we now had the additional task of finding a replacement vehicle with the money from the settlement.  This was proving a bit of a challenge.  It was a challenge finding the Yellow Submarine back in Denver; we need a manual transmission car in order to be towed (there are a handful of automatic transmission cars that can be towed, but they are as hard to locate as the stick-shifters).  In addition, everything on the East Coast seemed to be a good deal more expensive,  at least regarding this particular quest.  I ended up calling my brother, Steve.  He has a buddy, a car dealer, who regularly visits auctions out in the Midwest.  Our plans changed in that we would drive sans tow vehicle to Iowa, and hope that Brett (my brother’s buddy) would be able to find something for us by the time we got to Burlington.

I have nothing but a great deal of gratitude for family and friends as we have tried to sort things out through all of this: my sister letting us put up the kitties in her garage, then Gordon and Stacia agreeing to the same, and my brother connecting us with his buddy for the purpose of finding a new vehicle.  Still, I waited with hard-earned patience for the RV to be ready for us to reclaim.  Ceci has truly become our real home at this point, and Pony and I were both missing having all of our family gathered together in one place.  We would go into the garage a few times throughout the day, to check on the kitties and sit with them and pet them and all.  But for all that, they were feeling a bit neglected overall. 

We retrieved the RV on the 4th of December and began moving our various things back into it.  On the 6th of December, Pony picked up Gordon and Stacia (and their kids, Ben and Hope) from Port of Baltimore.  We spent the afternoon doing a bit of last minute shopping and packing.  Stacia made a wonderful evening meal while I played guitar for hours.  Gordon and Stacia were concerned about a storm front coming in, and tried to persuade us to wait a day or two, but I was worried that waiting would only increase the chances of further delay, and we had to get to Burlington to play some shows that started on December 11th.  We held fast to our plan to head out the morning of December 7th. 

 

 

UNCLE MIKE

My sister was out of town for a week, and Pony and I agreed to look after my nieces, Alyssa and Emily.  Alyssa is nearly 13 years old. She is a slender, slightly shy kid, who enjoys gymnastics and likes to read and do Sims on her kindle. Emily is 6 years old, loud and constantly kinetic, from the moment she wakes (cruelly early on weekend mornings) till she finally conks out at the end of the day. 

Living in Colorado, while my sister has been living in Maryland, I have not had a chance to do much hanging out with my nieces.  So while even my sister was somewhat surprised that I would offer to not only take Alyssa to her gymnastics class, but to stay and watch her work her routines and exercises, it is as much as anything catching up of years of not seeing these kids grow up.  I have no kids of my own, although I am both “official” and “unofficial” uncle to various kids, by virtue of siblings and friends.  Over the last dozen years or so, I have started to wonder if one of the reasons I can so genuinely enjoy the time I spend with kids is not only because I have none of my own, but the implicit advantage that, after spending time with this or that kid, I have the luxury of giving them back to their parents. 

That arrangement has been tested just a bit over the last week or so, while watching my nieces.  I am more of a morning person than Pony, so most mornings, I took on the task of driving them to school (although I have to give Pony full cred for taking the time on most of the mornings, last week, to see that the girls had a decent breakfast, and left for school decently clothed and with homework and such in hand). 

I was helping Emily with her homework at one point last week.  There was a story to read, with discussion questions that followed.  One of the discussion questions had to do with knowing the difference between “fact” and “opinion”.  This was a an interesting  and somewhat challenging task, but after working with Emily on these concepts, I am willing to do the same for someone like the folks at Fox News (although that may prove to be a far harder bunch to deal with). 

It looks like we may be hanging around a little longer than we originally planned.  We have heard from the insurance company of the guy who hit our tow car, and they have written the vehicle off as totalled and offered us a settlement.  We now have the challenge of finding a replacement vehicle, while seeing to the repair of the RV and getting the RV and a new tow vehicle outfitted with a new towing rig.  In the meantime, I am looking forward to getting to spend a bit more time with my nieces.  The road is going to take me away again soon enough, and there will be big chunks of their growing up that I will not get to see.  So I will take what I can get.