Wednesday, January 9, 2008

September 2007: Doin' the Pennsylvania Polka

In August 1996 Lori and I rounded a curve on I-79 in Mercer County, Pennsylvania and pointed our loaded-down cars westward on I-80. Although we were still over 1600 miles from home, hopping onto I-80, never to look back, was heaven. The relief was palpable.

So why go back?

Ah, how time changes things. The stressful memories of graduate school had all but disappeared. What was left was fond memories of friends, and the Norman Rockwell-like surroundings of Grove City and the neighboring Amish Country.

So we booked a flight and a Grove City B&B.

What hit us first was the smell—or should I say scent? Mercer County, PA smells great—all woodsy and moist. In the evening as we drove out to our favorite restaurant, the Iron Bridge Inn, the rolling, winding roads were thick with mist—like something straight from a Legend of Sleepy Hollow movie.

The only bummer thing…Lori had been diagnosed with gall bladder disease right before we left—nothing serious, but she couldn’t eat any fat without getting emergency-room-sick. That meant no ice cream (she’s pretending to eat mine in the photo—she had an unexciting but fairly yummy non-fat version), no steaks, no…practically nothing. She virtually existed on old cardboard. Not exactly a fun way to travel—but, true to Lori’s style, she had fun anyway. (Surgery soon after we returned home fixed her up nicely).

The day after we arrived we made our way with some trepidation to Slippery Rock University—the source of two straight years of shell-shock-like stress. But all the evil instructors and administration who had made 53 students’ lives a living nightmare were gone. Only the great instructors were left. The current students don’t have a clue how good they have it.

I had an hour’s worth of entertainment disguised as a lecture about working in nursing homes. I have to admit that I felt a little like a rock star as some of the class cuties came to thank me for the fun lecture (…hey, Lori was there keeping them all at bay…!)

Then it was ten minutes to Amish country where I suddenly wished I could buy one their beautiful farms (…the fantasy goes that I would retain the Amish family to do all the work—and I would simply get up in the morning, walk out the door, breath the fresh air, revel in no telephone or internet, and do lots of contented sighing. This of course also means that I would be retired early and would be permanently released from all church callings….)

We were so transfixed with the peace and beauty of the Mercer County Amish community that we drove for hours on back roads wondering what beautiful farm would reveal itself around the bend.

I was determined to visit and photograph a farm, so after hours of gathering up our courage, we stopped and simply asked some sweet folks if we could. Luckily we asked the right folks. Harvey Kurtz was charming, chatty, and even let me take some long-range photos of him plowing his fields with six horses (the Amish generally don’t like to have their photos taken but Harvey was delighted to let me).

We had a little fun tracking down our old neighbor, Warren Royer. Back in 1994 when we moved in next to him we were warned that he could be a cranky ol’ son-of-a-gun. Well, that ornery old man came to be one of our best friends. He delivered treats to us on a daily basis and even consented to be our Santa Claus one Christmas Eve. In September, when we found him at his new home on the outskirts of Grove City, he couldn’t have been more delighted to see us. He paid us the ultimate compliment when he said, “When people in my congregation say bad things about Mormons, I tell them ‘You need to meet the ones that lived next to me—they’re the best people I’ve ever known!’”

Our visit to Pennsylvania wouldn’t have been complete without visiting our old friends at the Slippery Rock branch. And, after the meetings were over we just had to have dinner with Barry and Carol Harlow—our old friends that used to have us over nearly every Sunday for roast beef, mashed potatoes, and corn. Bon a petit!

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end.

This time as we headed west toward home we took a great breath of that moist, woodsy air—and we knew that, someday…we would be back.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

June 2007: A Little Sun on the Beach

I guess the credit goes to Jason.

What else could get us to break out of our camping-vacation-mold and head for the beach? For years we’ve been faithfully trekking to Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park to hang out with bison and chipmunks. We’ve had this sort of unspoken White family code that goes like this: family vacation = camping.

But that was before the Steel Institute.

You see, Jason is a passionate drummer who is not content to be in just one band—but has to be in a bunch. Last year he was in two jazz bands and a steel drum band called the Steel Institute. And they were invited to play at Disneyland.

So who’s gonna send their kid off to Disneyland to “bang the bongos” without the family along to cheer him on?

A little internet searching revealed a great little beach house right next to the Newport Pier…and a whole new concept in the White family vacation was born. Beaches were now on the list!

But babies on the beach? After all, Ryan was three and Tanner was one--just old enough to take the “fun” out of “fun vacation”. Thankfully Lori’s mom and dad agreed to fly to Utah to be our live-in baby-sitters. Now that was a sweet deal.

So in June our fully-loaded, bike-bedecked Suburban was barreling down I-15 toward California.

Doing the southern Cal’ thing just has to include Sea World—so the first day included the Shamu show, the seal and otter show (our favorite!), the dolphins and other assorted Sea World attractions and, the next day, the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

Then, thanks to a little laptop GPS help we found our way through the maze of highways and streets to that great little front-row house on Newport Beach.

It was perfect…the Newport Pier, a deck for people-watching on the boardwalk, an expanse of soft sand and a 180 degree view of the Pacific.

As camping fans, we never even missed our Coleman stoves.

It was boogie-boarding, surfing, sand castle-building, Frisbee-throwing, football-passing, kite-flying, skateboard-riding, hotdog-snarfing, bicycle-riding, morning beach-walking, movie-watching, people-gawking, photo-taking, shop-exploring, book-reading, sand-chafing, sun-burning and pizza-eating for days.

Oh. And Jason-cheering.

A little side trip to Disneyland had us cheering the calypso sounds of the Steel Institute as Disney fans stopped to listen to the great little band from American Fork.

Toward the end of our second day in Disneyland we made up our own game on Main Street—“rating” the passersby from 1 to 10—Olympics style. All six of us held up signs with various numbers as people walked by. We had lots of people laughing and at least one “bird”. After about 45 minutes of non-stop people-rating, some folks finally came across the street and took our picture—saying that it was one of the funniest things they had ever seen.

So…yeah…we’re beach bums now…. As Lori’s brother, Matt, used to say, “[we enjoyed] a little sun-on-the-beach.”

And, hey, we haven’t given up camping—we ended up going to Yellowstone in August.

We saw some bison and chipmunks.