Monday, June 30, 2014

Return to Washington

The wi-fi at this hotel is better than the one yesterday, but it's still not great. Our photos are uploading extremely slowly, and we're still waiting on some of the better ones from yesterday.

But what a relief today was! First, when we woke up, the wind was gone. We still had quite a bit of Montana to cover, but now we could relax and enjoy the scenery while doing so.

At lunchtime we pulled into Missoula. This was neat for me, because I remember being on the campus of the University of Montana 24 years ago, along with about 1200 other high schoolers, for the national Episcopal Youth Event. We tried to get onto campus to take a few photos there, but we couldn’t find a legal place to park—not on campus, and not even in the residential neighborhoods surrounding the campus, which were carefully zoned for the residents only. We only got this one shot of the mountain, with its big “M.” It is a common practice in this terrain to put the initial of the school on the nearest mountain.

Finally, in the mid-afternoon, we came to the edge of Montana. We stopped at a rest area near Lookout Point, and then we took all of Idaho in one stretch, continuing on to Spokane. After two days of Montana, it only took us an hour to get through the panhandle of my former home state! Coeur D’Alene was especially breathtaking.

In Spokane, we settled into our hotel room and then walked down by the river, an especially neat walk in this town. Then we met Christy’s friend and former boss Kathleen and her wife Mimi for dinner at a burger joint called The Onion. Reminiscences were shared, friendships strengthened.

I can’t express how exciting it is just to be across the Washington border, even though we know we still have 350 miles to cover tomorrow to get to our new home. We also have the uncertainty regarding our moving trailer (see the drama from a few days ago). It’s on its way, but will U-Pack still be able to deliver on July 2 as promised? July 3 would be totally understandable, but after that things start to get very inconvenient. Let’s hope they’ve been playing catch-up all this time, though no doubt they have had to deal with the same windy conditions we did.

Sarah was especially ecstatic tonight. She wants to see her grandparents and lots of other familiar people and sights. She also wants to see her new home, her new school, her new church, her new neighborhood. And I’m very excited to show all these things to her and to Christy, and to learn much more about them myself.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


We are exhausted. Road trips are great about every three years or so, but this one has been tough. Granted, we haven’t had any major mishaps (like the flat tire in Topeka last time), and for that we’re very grateful. We’ve stayed on time and made all our connections. But it is truly exhausting.

The main exhausting factor today, just like yesterday, was the wind. It was relentless: for seven hours, we could only drive while constantly making sure the car stayed on the road. After many hours, I began to gain faith in my ability not to allow the car to go into a ditch or to crash into a guardrail. But it was nerve-wracking the entire time.

After a long morning chugging from Dickinson, North Dakota, as far as Billings, Montana (about five hours’ drive), and after a very late lunch at the ever reliable Denny’s, Christy recognized the need for our eight-year-old to do something other than sit in the car all day. We only had two hours of driving left to do, so we took an extra hour and stopped at a little zoo in Billings. We gathered that it’s a relatively new zoo: inexpensive and small, but with an impressive set of interesting animals. The greatest delight was watching Sarah and several other young girls “ooh” and “aah” over the otters. The tigers were also pretty cool!

And so, late in the afternoon, we spent two more hours driving through some of the worst wind of the day. But the payoff was the countryside. We switched from wide open plains to jaw-droppingly gorgeous valleys, and the Rockies began to loom in the distance. And at the hotel, once more, a pool awaited.

The wi-fi at this hotel is atrocious, so one reduced-size, representative photo is all we can manage for now. I'll update this post later with many better photos.

As a child, I lived in Idaho for ten years, but I never ventured any further north than McCall. Tomorrow I will see Northern Idaho for the very first time! We’ll spend tomorrow night in Spokane and hope to cruise into Bellingham, Washington, on Tuesday afternoon.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

And I would drive 500 miles, and I would drive 500 more ...

We covered 500 miles today: most of both Minnesota and North Dakota. Our strategy was to get out the door as early as possible and get as far as we could, just in case anything might come along to slow us down. It worked like a charm. Our one morning stop was in Alexandria--wait, what, we've come all this way only to land in Alexandria? It was a little weird, as was this theme restaurant.

By lunchtime we had passed Fargo. Our intent was to get as far as Jamestown before lunch, but suddenly a blinding rainstorm smacked us. We pulled off the road and stopped at a diner in a little town called Tower City. Later that night we would deduce that this was the midway point of our entire trip: just about 1425 miles from Alexandria, and 1425 miles to go until Bellingham.

From Tower City on, the main obstacle was wind, sometimes paired with rain. It didn’t slow us down too much, but it made for some white-knuckle driving, especially when we saw campers and trailers weaving all over the road, or when we had to pass slow trucks with oversize loads. Despite the difficulty, though, we saw some of the most beautiful country we’ve experienced on this whole trip: rolling plains in a variety of greens, tiny lakes that might actually be the result of recent flooding, and sun, rain and clouds mixing to create gorgeous effects of light.

Our routine for in-car listening has been to take turns choosing music, podcasts, or audiobooks. Recently Sarah introduced us to a book by Suzanne Collins (yes, author of The Hunger Games) called Gregor the Overlander. This book is decidedly for younger readers,
but its characters and situations are complex and engaging. We’ve just about finished it, and I recommend it highly. I understand that there are several books in the series.

Tonight we’re in Dickinson, North Dakota. We had a hard time finding an inexpensive hotel room here. Our understanding is that the oil and fracking boom has been so huge around here that there’s not enough housing for all the workers. People are living in hotel rooms for months at a time! Christy did find us a room at the Holiday Inn, where the pool has a rather intense water slide. There’s also a hot tub: just the thing after 500 miles of driving.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cheeseheads, Culver's, and Customer Service

What a day! We woke up in Chicago, gathered our things, and bade goodbye to our friends the Smedleys. Then we discovered that the entire stretch of I-90 from O’Hare to Rockford was under construction, with a speed limit of only 45. It was painfully slow and frustrating. Still, we made it into Wisconsin and picked up speed again. And that was when Hannah Mathews texted us.

Hannah was a seminary spouse, and she and my classmate Weston are packing to move out of the apartment building next to ours. Hannah’s message said, “Um, did you guys know your trailer is still in the Braddock Lee parking lot? The apartment manager is ticked. They haven’t yet figured out how to tow something that big, but they’re working on it!”

We immediately called U-Pack to sort out the mess, and we also called the apartment complex and begged them not to tow away all our worldly possessions. The trailer was supposed to be picked up first thing in the morning on the 25th to begin its own cross-country trek. But for some reason, that hadn’t happened. Now, over two days later, the distance between us and our trailer was getting bigger all the time. And U-Pack had promised us a July 2 delivery! How could that happen now?

It took us most of the rest of today’s drive to sort through all this. Luckily I’d kept a good paper trail in Outlook, and I was able to explain to them that yes, I had confirmed the pickup time, and yes, I had been promised a July 2 delivery date – before 10 a.m., at that. At first they wanted to reschedule us for a guaranteed delivery on July 9, but we explained that this wasn’t at all acceptable considering our original contract.

Actually, by the end of the day, I was very impressed with U-Pack. They had made a huge mistake that was a royal pain for us and for them, but they wrestled their computer into submission and gave us a discounted price and are still saying we will have the delivery on July 3 at the latest—but, possibly, still July 2. We’ll call on July 1 to find out for sure. And, above all, Hannah Mathews is our hero!

Up the road about an hour and a half beyond Madison, we met our old friends the Johansons. Ted Johanson was the Lutheran pastor in St. Ignace, Michigan, while my dad was the Episcopal priest there. I have many fond memories of Ted, Joan, and their four kids. Here we all are at Culver’s for lunch (with our usually patient young traveler getting a little grumpy and camera-shy).

Finally, we crossed the Mississippi and arrived in Bloomington, Minnesota, home of the Mall of America, which we won’t see at all. We relaxed in
the pool from a day of hard driving, knowing that tomorrow will be the hardest day of all. Tomorrow we will rise as early as we possibly can and begin our 500-mile trek to Dickinson, North Dakota! (Please pray for us.)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

New discoveries, old friends in Chicago

Chicago gets the distinct honor of being the one city on this trip in which we spend an extra day.

Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry can’t really be done in one day. Yet we tried. We spent six hours there today, and it was indeed a fantastic day.

Imagine our shock at discovering, in the middle of a famous Chicago museum, the Seattle skyline! For some reason, Seattle was chosen as a coveted city to build a fictional railroad into and out of.

We are staying two nights with our friends the Smedleys. Tonight they invited our longtime friends and ministry colleagues Dent Davidson and Jim Paddleford, plus new friends Jim and Tom, to join us all for dinner. Alas, Jeff and Lisa Lee couldn’t make it after all, but we hope to see them next time around.

Tomorrow we head for Minneapolis, and we may see more old friends along the way—we’ll see how the timing goes.

Catching up on photos

Since we're going west, we have the benefit of gaining an hour of travel every time we cross a time zone line. Unfortunately, this also means we all crash early, and I wake up at 5:00 in the morning! This does, however, prove to be a good time to blog.

When we first moved into our Braddock Lee apartment in 2011, Sarah got very excited about her huge, empty room:

When we emptied the room again on Monday, she got very excited again (though I'll admit, I had to remind her of the event three years previous so we could stage this rather blurry shot):

Here's the hotel where we stayed in Pittsburgh. It was a strange combination of attempted opulence and inconvenient construction:

In Toledo, where we stopped for lunch, somebody had done some very considerate knitting to keep this parking meter warm:

While in Chicago, we're staying in the rectory on an upper floor of the building of the Church of St. Chrysostom:

We're very happy to be here with friends, and to be seeing more of Chicago today!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My kinda town, Chicago is

Beginning today, each day of our return trip will contain more driving than any one day of our trip out to seminary three years ago. We’re going more directly, but in three fewer days. Today we left Pittsburgh at 8:00 a.m. and then got stuck in Chicago’s afternoon rush hour for a bit. All in all, we made great time.

We’ve been looking forward to this day greatly, as we get to stay at the home of our friends the Smedleys. They have three little girls for Sarah to play with. Tomorrow we will hit Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, staying one extra night in Chicago before moving on. And we’ll have dinner tomorrow night with old friends.

Too tired tonight to write more.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pittsbugh, PA ...

When I was in high school, I used to carry around a Pittsburgh Steelers duffel bag. The only reason was that it was black and gold, the same colors as my high school -- and my high school didn't have any swag of its own.

This is the most useless item of trivia you can imagine about me, but it is my only connection to Pittsburgh heretofore.

So here we are in Pittsburgh, our first night on the road. The move this morning took three hours longer than we'd hoped, but it wasn't a total surprise. We had crammed a lot of things into that little apartment, and it came to over 150 boxes, many of them containing textbooks. The two guys we hired to help move, Ali and Chris, were very good at what they did. But the heat and the long walk from our door to the parking lot made this rather an excruciating move for them, I'm afraid. We treated them to lunch.

At 3:00 we checked out of Braddock Lee and were on our way. We made pretty good time, pulling into Pittsburgh around 7:30. But the Pennsylvania Turnpike was marked by a harrowing series of heavy showers, lots of big trucks, and billboards proclaiming that anyone who doesn't support the coal industry is a radical from Hollywood (along the lines of Yoko Ono and Lady Gaga) who shouldn't be trusted. (Besides, it's not always windy, and the sun goes down, so how can wind or solar energy be the least bit reliable? Glad to see the coal industry is teaching such solid science in support of its cause ... erm ...)

We're too tired to sort through photos tonight, but I'll try to post some tomorrow. We're struck by the many heartfelt goodbyes we have received today via email and Facebook. We have so many wonderful friends who have shared this journey with us. We are praying for you on your journeys, too.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Praying My Facebook News Feed

Do you freely admit that you spend time on social media compulsively? After you’ve checked your Facebook notifications, and after you’ve resisted the bait (or not) in a heated political debate, do you begin looking down your news feed at every single item you haven’t seen before?

I have noticed that I have this problem. It’s as if something will go wrong in the universe if I don’t keep up with absolutely everything that all my friends are doing today. On the one hand, this means that I know a lot of what people are going through. But that urge to know everything means that I’m paying a lot less attention to each thing. I may notice that your dog is dying, but if I have never known you all that well, I probably won’t let that fact touch me too deeply. If your child got into that great university, I may silently rejoice for a split second, but if you’re not one of my best friends, I’ll probably just “Like” it and move on. That’s not a very personal connection.

So today I tried something new. I said, “I will pray intentionally regarding the first ten items on my news feed this morning. And then I will stop and go do something else.” Here is what I found.

1) One of my classmates was ordained to the priesthood and then immediately married another of my classmates. There are photos of a number of our mutual classmates at the wedding—Instagrammed black-and-white photos of people I love all having a wonderful time together. I am jealous and wish I could be there. Prayer: O God, please bless and keep them all the days of their lives, in their ministry in the church, and in their love for one another. May this weekend be a time of happy memories for all these dear friends, always. Amen.

2) A friend from back home spent the day at another occasion I wish I could have attended: a day-long
meeting on youth ministry in my home diocese. There I am, getting jealous again! Prayer: O God, bless these friends in their work. But please also take my jealousy and turn it into joy at the ways we welcome youth in the church and help them “to grow into the full stature of Christ.” Amen.

3) An old friend I will see soon changed her profile picture. She looks happy, and 39 people “Like” it. Prayer: So do I. May she be truly happy, and thank you for the opportunity to see her and other old friends again soon. Amen.

4) A friend wrote “feeling awesome” at her ability to transpose into another key, and then to play another tune without even looking at her hands. I’m not sure what instrument she has taken up today, but I do know she plays the bagpipes. Prayer: I, too, love the thrill of having enough music theory in my head to play a tune without a sheet of music and without any rehearsal. It’s a blessed feeling, and God bless those who share it! Amen.

5) A shared meme: “If you walk a mile in my shoes, you’ll end up at the bar.” Prayer: Um … what should I pray for here? Ah, yes. Thank you, God, for the gift of humor in its many varieties. Amen.

6) A review of two new books. I must admit that sometimes I breeze through long articles without much thought. At my absolute worst, I glance at who “Likes” it and ask myself whether the article upholds my current beliefs, and then I may even “Like” it without reading it. I will not do this today. I will read the whole thing, and then say prayer #6. Here goes … wow! This is a very heady article, the likes of which I haven’t read since I graduated from seminary a month ago. But its aim is to move beyond the head and to engage the heart. My favorite quote: “Liberalism’s admirable recognition of the unique value of each individual has had the effect of creating a society composed of gilded birds trapped in iron cages.” But the article is extremely long and difficult. I finish it, but whew! I hope the next four prayers take a little less time: Prayer: May I never lose the desire, may I never squander the time, to engage my intellect deeply and thoroughly. Amen.

7) Another person went to that same youth ministry meeting. But she writes, “Home sick from …” Does that mean she went home sick? Or does that mean that she feels “homesick” at having to leave an event that feels so much like “home”? I’m guessing it’s the former, as do those who comment to wish her well. Prayer: May she feel better soon. But another prayer in light of my potential misunderstanding: May the work in which I engage make me truly “homesick” for the Kingdom! Amen.

8) More of those wonderful wedding photos, from another classmate. Dang, I wish I could have been there: Another prayer for the happy couple, and for all my friends who attended. Amen.

9) A reflection from a classmate on a road trip with a friend. Prayer: Bless their friendship, which I saw blossom in seminary. May my upcoming road trip with my family also be blessed. Amen.

10) Family photos from a summer solstice party in a park, with a ceremony of renewal of wedding vows for a couple they know. I don’t know most of the people involved. Prayer: O God, bless this couple in their marriage, whoever they are. Prosper the work of our hands, and consecrate our leisure time as well. Amen.

And so I stop. I close the window, say a brief closing prayer, and move on with my day. I don't even comment on these ten items, at least not this time. There is a lot I have missed, but it is not mine to know today. All our lives are held in God’s hands, and prayer connects us one to another through God. Amen.