Mission: Explore Idaho

You’d be surprised how many Americans confuse “Ohio” and “Idaho” (and “Iowa,” too, for that matter). I guess it’s the vowel sounds. And perhaps the stereotype we’re all in some sense backwater. But the regions are very distinct: in climate, topography, demographics, population distribution… even religion. I knew this, even from afar. But I was excited to explore Idaho a bit further this week, as our family continues its vacation in the western United States.

My previous opportunities to explore Idaho have been limited. Our family had a pizza dinner in Victor, Idaho, back in 2018 — after a day of visiting Grand Teton National Park. And then we spent about an hour driving through the panhandle last week, on our way out to the Pacific Northwest. The last couple of days, however, we’ve had a chance to drive all the way from the Oregon border to the area known as the Magic Valley. We had a dinner stop in Boise. And we enjoyed an epic sunset drive across U.S. Route 20 to stay two nights in Carey, Idaho. I have to say that I’ve been very impressed. Granted: the sample size is still quite small — especially for such a large state. Still, it’s amazing how much we’ve managed to see in Idaho. And in how many different ways!

Running

I woke up this morning at 5:15 AM, eager to squeeze in a half-marathon training run in a new place before the rest of the family got up for other adventures. After some waking up and stretching, I got started with my run right as the sun started to rise. I followed gravel roads that split flat, irrigated farm land from scrubby, sagebrush hillsides. And though it might sound boring to some people, I seriously thought it was beautiful! Farmers plowed their fields with headlights on their tractors while I banged out 3.5 miles. Then, I got back to our rental house just in time to get the family ready to visit the Craters of the Moon.

Hiking

The dormant lava fields east of Carey are entirely terrestrial. But they really do feel out-of-this-world! I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything quite like it. At times, the landscape seems to be completely sterile, void of vegetation. Even the rocks feel different in one’s hands: lighter, shinier, clinking together like little glass bottles.

Spelunking

We loved scrambling up different cones and craters throughout the park. It really did make us feel like space explorers. But then we discovered the caves that run underneath the “surface of the Moon,” and it felt like our exploration jumped to a whole different level! Not everyone in our family was as fond of cave exploration (a.k.a. Spelunking) as I was — but we still got to explore a couple of different caverns and enjoy the dramatic temperature difference. Cold enough that we could see our breath and slip on patches of ice!

Cliff-Jumping

After a couple hours at the Crater of the Moon National Monument, we went back to our rental house to eat lunch and regroup. Elliot did some research the previous evening to identify a few different places where we might be able to jump from tall cliffs into deep water. So while we ate lunch, we deliberated the possibilities and decided to head to a place called Dierkes Lake near Twin Falls. It would take us more than an hour to drive there (and then we’d still have to come back again). But we figured it was another opportunity to explore Idaho. So why not?!?

Dierkes Lake ended up being a lovely place for cliff-jumping. The air was hot and dry. The water was deliciously cool. We experienced a little bit of frustration at the end of our time there because we tried to press our luck and find some more secluded “Lost Lakes” — but we had plenty of time to recover from the frustration on our ride back to Carey. And then we were ready for our last Idaho adventure.

Kayaking

One of the perks of our rental house was free use of kayaks! Our host helped us to load up the kayaks, park our minivan downstream, and then drive us a little ways upstream to start a three-mile float down Idaho’s Silver Creek.

It was such a peaceful way to experience the Idaho prairie! Red-winged blackbirds trilled on either side of us. A bald eagle soared directly overhead at one point. The boys got out to splash and swim a couple of times. We talked to a few Idahoans we encountered along the way: paddle-boarding and fly-fishing. When we reached the end of our river voyage, we were ready for some dinner, some showers, and some sleep.

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My Favorite Hour in the Pacific Northwest

Olympic National Park has been within range of our base of operations in the Pacific Northwest. But just barely. The southernmost portions of the park can be reached with about two hours of driving. Some of the more interesting sites, however, are more like four hours. So we’ve put it off.

Still, this trip has also come to feel like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. When else will we be so close to a temperate rainforest filled with ferns, mosses, and trees the size of houses? How often are we going to be within reach of the northern Pacific Ocean, where orcas, humpback whales, and sea otters swim and play? The weather forecast seemed to provide a rare opening for an experience of Olympic National Park without rain. So we decided to go for it.

Still it took a lot of driving to get there. We piled into the minivan at 6:00 AM. That way, I could drive in silence while most of the family continued sleeping (or at least resting). And honestly, it was a beautiful drive. But still: four hours of driving. One-way.

The rainforests were beautiful — unlike anything we’ve ever seen back in Ohio (or anywhere else). We did a short hike, as a family, and it was fantastic. The coastal portions of Olympic National Park were amazing, too. We enjoyed a picnic lunch on Ruby Beach. Afterwards, we scrambled out onto the rocks as waves of the Pacific Ocean crashed around us. Definitely memorable. Worth the drive, too.

But my favorite hour of our whole week in the Pacific Northwest didn’t happen until after the rainforest. After Ruby Beach. Really, after we’d more or less gotten our fill of Olympic National Park. As we started on the road back to our rental house.

A few miles south of Ruby Beach, we made a rather spontaneous decision to stop at a place mysteriously marked as “Beach 2.” I thought, “Why not?!?” This would probably be our last chance to see the Pacific Ocean on this trip. Maybe we’d get lucky, we figured, and spot an orca off in the distance or something! There was a little stretch of gravel with enough room for maybe four vehicles, so we parked there and found the trail from the road to the beach.

Suddenly, it felt like we had the Pacific Ocean to ourselves. The kids had been kind of grumbly about making another stop — but with such a wide open beach and so few others around, they all started playing in the surf. Singing at the top of their lungs, laughing, racing waves to the shore. Marci and I combed the beach for shells and sand dollars. The setting was so powerful and so peaceful at the same time.

After some walking and playing with the family, I assumed guard duty — resting beside all the socks and shoes and purses that had been discarded by some driftwood. I pulled on the Olympic National Park sweatshirt that Olivia and I bought together in a gift shop up the road. And then I burrowed my back into a pile of round stones that had been warming in the sun.

For the next twenty or thirty minutes, I drifted in and out of sleep. A couple of times, I chatted with Marci when she looped back to our beach base. I took some pictures of the kids wandering up and down the coastline. But mostly I just lazed, lulled by the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. It was glorious.

At one point, I woke up and looked out in the surf just in time to see a sea otter. He was standing just where the water met the sand. So I signaled to the rest of the family and — miraculously — got them all to look in the same direction at the same time. We all got to see the sea otter! And it just felt like a lovely little exclamation point on a lovely little hour in the Pacific Northwest.

I’m very glad for the wealth of experiences we’ve had this week in Washington (and Oregon). But distilling the week down to a favorite hour is such a helpful experience, so I just want to capture it and record it. For my own reference and joy.

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The Espresso Shacks of Washington State

Country Shotz

I was excited to experience the coffee culture of the Pacific Northwest. I figured it would be most-accessible in the cities. Like in Seattle, the birthplace of the Starbucks coffee empire (though I was more excited to try Starbucks’ competitors, since we’ve got plenty of Starbucks back in Ohio)… Or in Portland, where I’d heard about Stumptown Coffee and a host of other local places that would never dream of becoming an empire…

But even in the cities, the main thing I‘ve noticed is a profusion of little shacks, or huts, or food-trucks that seem to be even more dominant than traditional brick-and-mortar coffee shops. They look temporary, in most cases (though I don’t think they are). They’re often positioned in a little corner of a big parking lot or right next to a gas station. They’re tiny. Maybe an average of 100 square feet. But they seem to be very popular, these “Espresso Shacks of Washington State.”

We decided to give one a try today. Near the vacation rental property where we’ve been staying, there’s an espresso shack called Country Shotz. It doesn’t look like much, but when we pulled up we discovered that the interior contained top-of-the-line espresso equipment, staffed by a single barista. The interior basically looked like the espresso bar area at Tree City or Bent Tree back in Kent. But there was no seating area. They didn’t have much in the way of large drip machines or coffee roasting equipment. So the menu was more limited. Still, they had a few pastry items for sale, in addition to a variety of espresso drink options.

So we ordered a couple of lattes. We chatted with the barista while she made our drinks, and we learned that she was also the owner-operator of the establishment. She’s been in the espresso shack business for thirteen years. She didn’t know of an industry-standard term for these “espresso shacks,” but they seem to have been a reaction to the downtown corner shops and strip-mall explosion of Starbucks. She emphasized the drive-through capability of espresso shacks, along with their individuality and independence. And then she finished with serving us some genuinely lovely lattes.

I’m not the most-knowledgeable connoisseurs of coffee or espresso — but I do consider myself something of a “student of culture.” I like to notice all the little ins and outs of different places and different peoples. And there seems to be something significant here, in the espresso shacks of Washington State. Maybe I’ll go order another latte and see if I can figure it out.

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Space Needle

We visited Seattle today. Our family defaulted to the role of “tourist” in almost every way — dutifully parking near the famous Pike Place Market and spending the better part of the afternoon wandering from there to the Space Needle. But there was one notable exception, where we were practically Washingtonian. Almost as if we were heeding the road signs that flashed public health messaging on our way into the city, saying:

TOGETHER
LET’S END COVID
PLEASE VAX UP WA

To put it another way: We all got to see the Space Needle — but Cor was the only one who got to get a needle jabbed into his arm (his second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine). And honestly, I think the smaller needle made our time in Seattle even more special and more memorable.

So much of the last fifteen months will be forever tinged by the COVID-19 Pandemic. In fact, this visit to downtown Seattle was really our first extended time in the heart of a major city since the start of the pandemic. And we might not have even included the city as a part of our vacation in the Pacific Northwest at all. Except for the fact that we were able to book a vaccination appointment for Cor at the CVS Pharmacy which just so happened to be a block from the Pike Place Market.

Vaccination has been a positive experience for Marci, Elliot, Olivia, and myself. Our family generally follows the advice of medical experts and public health officials. So we personally got excited when we heard that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 was granted emergency approval for ages 12 and up. Our travel plans made things tricky, though. Cor got his first dose of the vaccine back in Ohio. But the recommended three-week timeline for the second dose fell smack in the middle of our vacation. So Marci did some hard work (with consultation from a couple friends) to figure out a way to get Cor an appointment in Seattle.

And now, we’re all vaccinated! It’ll still take another couple of weeks before Cor is fully inoculated. Still, completing the vaccination process feels like a significant step. It’s also a special way that we’ll always be able to remember Seattle. Honestly, the other tourist stuff was more overwhelming than I thought it might be. Most people still wear masks west of the Cascades. (We observed that masks are not nearly as common in the middle parts of the United States). Still, cities are crowded places. Keeping six feet of space between people is difficult. And as for the famous “Gum Wall” in Seattle… Let’s just say that I would have gladly skipped it altogether if not for my teenagers’ interest.

I still prefer National Parks and scenic byways. Even outside of COVID. Still, I’m glad we got to see Seattle. We got to see some interesting and unusual sites. We got to enjoy some delicious coffee and sushi. And even though it may have been hard to keep our Space from others in the crowded city, that Needle from the CVS at the intersection of Pike and 2nd Street made things extra-special.

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Four Seasons in Four Days

We went to the beach in Oregon today. It felt like a spectacular, sunny, Spring day. You’d think “Summer,” right? But the wind coming off the Pacific Ocean was pretty chilly. Sweatshirts were comfortable. And none of us wanted to go for a swim. So I’m going to call that Spring.

Twenty-four hours earlier, we were up on Mount Rainier in the middle of Washington. And I swear: it felt like Winter! There were about eight inches of fresh snow on top of another several feet of snowpack. We pelted each other with snowballs. Cor attempted some sledding, turtle-style, with his windbreaker on his back. It was pretty cool — if you catch my drift.

The day before Winter on Mount Rainier, we crossed through three different states — Montana, Idaho, and Washington — but all across that region, there was a chill in the air. We passed brightly-colored bushes of yellow and red, along the side of the road. A lot of the mountains were straw-colored. I remember the air on my early-morning run through Missoula, Montana, was refreshingly crisp. So it really doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch to say that we got to experience Fall on Sunday.

And then the day before that, as we traveled from North Dakota through Montana, the temperatures were in the mid-80s! We stopped in Chico, Montana, for a couple hours of swimming. We ate barbecue out on a patio. It was totally Summer for that stretch!

So it feels like we’ve gotten to experience four seasons in four days! I love the variety of landscapes and climates we’ve gotten to experience here in the Pacific Northwest. The experience is too rich to fully capture in words. But if you’re interested, you should check out our online photo album.

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The Long Way

Take a left in Streetsboro, go about 2,500 miles west, and you can’t miss it. Getting to Washington State and the Pacific Northwest is that simple, with the United States’ Interstate highway system. But our family took the long way. Over the course of five days (including one rest day in western North Dakota), we put almost 3,000 miles on our 2010 Honda Odyssey. But we finally made it last night. We pulled into our rental house in Silver Creek a little past 8:00 PM Pacific Time.

What a journey! It really feels like an accomplishment. We climbed towering sand dunes on America’s “North Coast“ in Indiana. We ate deep-dish pizza for lunch in Illinois and squeaky cheese curds for a mid-afternoon snack in Wisconsin.

We visited relatives in Minnesota. And the next day, we enjoyed what I would consider to be our best hour of the westward road trip on a little stretch of Minnesota Route 27.

We ate in a classic roadside diner in North Dakota. On a series of short stops across the state, we reveled in the wonder of an oversized fake buffalo and fake cow — but also very real herds of bison, wild horses, and pronghorn antelope.

And after gushing so much about the Dakotas again in my last post, it’s only fair to point out that Montana has many of those same favorite features. It has the rolling grasslands and badlands… the wide open skies… but also less of the boring farm fields. Montana also has many of my favorite features from the Rocky Mountain states: snow-capped mountain peaks and pine forests. But there also seems to be a lot more space in between those mountains and forests. Which makes it all feel more majestic. It’s such a beautiful place. Even after only two visits to Montana, I might have to admit that it’s my favorite state to visit.

And yet, it’s shocking to see how quickly one becomes desensitized to it all.

After just one day (about nine hours) of driving the long way across Montana (from east to west), it all came to feel surprisingly normal. Maybe even pedestrian. And I’m disappointed with myself about that. We just got to a point of travel fatigue, in general. The United States of America is a big country! As much as I love travel — especially through America’s ”Wild West” — I got tired of all the driving… all the eating out… all the digging through suitcases… There came a point when we just wanted to reach our destination.

I cannot tell you much about our experiences in the panhandle of Idaho, except that my legs got cold while pumping gas on our brief pit stop in the state. When we made it to Washington, however, we had a special sort of initiation experience. Shortly after crossing the border from Idaho into Washington, we turned north. I piloted our minivan through the wilderness areas around Long Lake. Elliot had meticulously researched a cliff-jumping location at a place called The Cove, and he even got a 100’ roll-up tape measure in Spokane to verify heights and depths.

So within an hour of our arrival in the great state of Washington, we were flailing through 50° air to splash down into 50° water and come up gasping for air. It was crazy. And it was cool. It revived our spirits and got us excited for the final push to the West Coast. Even when our only lunch option was another diner in Sprague, the greasy food just tasted better.

We’re thankful for the privilege of being able to afford the time and expense to undertake such a crossing of the North American continent. We took the long way across America, but it was a good way. Now we get to explore the Pacific Northwest for awhile!

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Dry and Dusty

Temperatures topped out near 100° Fahrenheit. Bug guts covered about half of the windshield on our mini-van. And a thin film of dust covered everything else. We felt cut off from the rest of the world, with mobile data and telephone signal either weak or non-existent. It was every bit of the “Dry and Dusty Dakotas” stereotype much maligned as a “Flyover State” — except we drove every mile from its eastern border to its western border.

And I loved it. Truly, sincerely, and completely.

My affection for the Dakotas is well-documented. But I was particularly excited to visit the western part of North Dakota on this road trip because I haven’t spent any significant time in this area since I was probably ten or eleven years old. That was when my parents borrowed my grandparents’ RV and drove us from Jamestown to Medora, to camp out for a couple of days and attend the Medora Musical. Consequently, it felt like a special sort of symmetry to bring my kids along with me for this trip. To rediscover my love for western North Dakota — and to pass it along to them.

We all saw the World’s Largest Buffalo and the World’s Largest Holstein Cow together back in 2008. But those memories seem to live more through the photographs of them than through the actual memories of them. So even revisiting these old favorites was special. But the further west we got, the more excited we got. The high plains stretch out into buttes and badlands, just past Dickinson. And when we caught sight of a herd of bison grazing on a hill just inside the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we all cheered out loud.

We got to our destination — the Buffalo Gap Guest Ranch — just in time for the kids and me to go out for a walk as the sun set through a clear blue sky. It was spectacular! We took a ton of pictures and just felt happy to be together in such a unique setting. It was sort of sad that Marci wasn’t with us for that sunset, but it also worked well for her to get some much needed alone time while we shot as many pictures, sang as many songs, and talked as much about rattlesnakes as we wanted (none of which tend to be Marci’s top activities).

The next morning, we woke up and drove to the National Park Visitor Center. I asked the ranger where we might have the greatest likelihood of spotting some bison. Then he got a twinkle in his eyes, smiled, and made a motion with his hands spreading out to his sides, like one might signify a sparkling lake. “Everywhere,” he said. And sure enough, we saw multiple herds as we drove through the park. Also some prairie dogs. We did a couple of short hikes — but mostly we drove. Partly because of the hot, dry and dusty conditions, partly because that’s just the way the park is laid out.

It was good to get a 24-hour pause on our travels to the west. But after a full day of hanging around the North Dakota Badlands, we were ready to follow the sun and see what else we might discover.

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My Favorite Hour of the Trip Out West

We’ve been on the road for several days now. This has amounted to hours and hours of together time. Which was kind of the goal, of course. Still, it’s a lot of hours. About 40 hours of dedicated drive time, when it’s all said and done — not to mention all the other destinations and diversions. It’s a lot of hours and a lot of experiences. Almost too much to remember and definitely too much to share. So I ask myself: “What’s been my favorite hour of the road trip, up to this point?” Somehow, a smaller sample epitomizes all the other experiences in an accessible and memorable way.

So: it started at 10:18 AM on Thursday morning. We were just about to give up the search for my grandparents’ gravesite in Long Prairie, Minnesota — and then Cor came running from the opposite end of the cemetery saying he’d found them. We had a sweet time of reminiscing and paying our respects. And afterwards, we drove to a shop called Hats Off in downtown Long Prairie.

I’ve never seen another place quite like Hats Off. They sell hats, roast their own coffee, and run an espresso bar right there, at the east end of the Main Street drag in Long Prairie. The two workers were both modeling some of the merchandise. The younger woman wore a broad-brimmed felt hat, the older man a hat that I associate with the Australian Outback and the Crocodile Dundee film franchise. They were quirky. Real touchy about our kids touching their hats. They gasped when we didn’t understand the young woman’s reference to an upcoming games convention. Plus much of the typical snobbery of coffee roasters… But they were also friendly and Minnesota nice.

We talked about the weather (unusually hot and dry) and Tilley Hats (which they do not stock). And they were also very helpful in giving directions to the Baptist church in town that my Grandpa Asp used to pastor. After we finished unloading our bladders and loading up our coffee cups, we got back into the car and drove past First Baptist Church of Long Prairie on our way out of town.

Then we pulled back onto the highway and cranked our summer playlist to sing along with our favorite songs. We picked up speed as we drove across the widening prairies to the west. And right around the time that this “Best Hour” started coming to a close, Elliot started researching roadside diners on his smartphone.

We’d eventually settle on a place called Kroll’s Diner, just across the border into North Dakota (I can’t resist sharing the picture because it so beautifully epitomizes the experience of the American Road Trip). But that happened later.

Outside of that one hour and that one stretch of Minnesota Route 27.

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Grandparents’ Gravesites

We’re on vacation! A trans-continental road trip, in fact, from Ohio to the Pacific Northwest. We’re hoping to do plenty of site-seeing out there and along the way. But oddly, some of the first sites that we’ve stopped to see were gravesites. My grandparents’ gravesites.

I know it’s a little bit weird to make my family drive (slightly) out of the way to hit a couple of cemeteries on the way out west. But it felt meaningful to revisit the final resting places for my grandparents. Stopping by on our way out west felt like an important way to honor them. To consider the legacies they’ve left: spiritually, emotionally, genetically, financially, and otherwise.

Our first stop was in Long Prairie, Minnesota, where my Dad’s parents are buried. We didn’t have an exact location for their gravesite, but my Aunt Judy gave us some vague guesses on where we might start. So we parked there, and then the five of us fanned out and looked through about half of the cemetery… with no success. But just as I was about to call off the search and concede defeat, Cor came running from the opposite end of the cemetery saying he’d found their gravesite!

I took some pictures and recorded the GPS coordinates. We used our hands to clear off the overgrown grass and lawn clippings from George’s military marker. And then Marci and I told some stories about George and Betty to give our kids (their great-grandchildren) a better idea of who they were and what they were all about.

George and Eric Alt

My Grandpa Asp was a pastor, like me. He led several different churches throughout central Minnesota during his years of ministry. Many of his congregants were immigrants and the descendants of immigrants from Norway and Sweden. And even later in life, when I knew him as a white-haired grandfather, he could conjure up a Norwegian accent effortlessly — which goes to show just how close he was to that great trans-Atlantic migration made by my family and by so many other families throughout American history. He played games with us as kids: pushing around the lump in his cheek with our pudgy little fingers… Bouncing me on his knee while singing “I go riding on my horse”… He died when I was in high school, so I didn’t get to know him as an adult. But I appreciate my memories of him from childhood.

AspkidswithGandGAsp

Grandpa and Grandma Asp always stocked their cupboards with Cocoa Puffs and Frankenberry (over-priced, over-sugared breakfast cereals) for our visits. We thought that was such a treat.

Eric and Marci's Wedding 12

My Grandma Asp devoted herself to God and prayer. She was a generous ministry partner through her last decade of life and my first decade of support-based ministry. But she wasn’t always a sweet, white-haired lady. She was also a read-headed, ferocious college athlete in her youth. She passed along a love of basketball and a competitive streak that I still see in my boys today.

I really appreciated the opportunity to pay our respects in Long Prairie. But we eventually needed to push further northwest — another three and a half hours of driving — to Jamestown, North Dakota.

It was hot and dry when we got out of the van in Jamestown. The gravesite for my Mom’s parents was much easier to find because it was marked with several large monuments that my Grandpa Liechty had chosen for the family members who died before him. It occurred to me that the large stone slabs were a symbol for the grief that Grandpa Liechty carried with him through his years of losing his loved ones. We cleaned up the dead plants from the gravesite pots, planted a little flower that we had purchased in town, and told some more stories.

Eric Graduation, Liechtys

My Grandpa Liechty came out of the Great Depression and built a real estate empire throughout the Upper Midwest over the course of his lifetime. He also generously endowed it to us, his descendants. That’s how Marci and I are able to pay for a significant portion of our kids’ college education. But he and my Grandma were modest about their wealth, in life. From early marriage until their deaths, they lived in a very modest duplex in Jamestown, North Dakota. Their idea of “fine dining” was roadside diners and the local Perkins restaurant. My Grandpa Liechty was devoted to physical fitness, regularly going for walks with a bowling ball bag, just to stay strong. He taught me to appreciate pies purchased from truck stops. He introduced me to one of my favorite snacks: smoked almonds. My Grandpa Liechty loved Jesus, and he loved his family.

GmaLiechtyElliot2

My Grandma Liechty seemed to always stay sweet and positive, even under duress. She was a strong partner in her husband’s business ventures. But her extended family was her true love. She cooed over babies and puppies. She loved music and cinnamon rolls and Barq’s Root Beer. I never quite got past the “doting grandmother” persona, in my relationship with her — but as the years have passed, I’ve become increasingly impressed by — and grateful for — her patience. With me, during an awkward period of my life. But also with the world. I wish more people were like her.

I’ve missed all of my grandparents this week. But I’m also glad that I got to be visit my grandparents’ gravesites and be “with them” again, in a way.

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Summer Playlist

I love to listen to music while I drive. I try to match the tone of my music to my setting (and, at times, to set the tone for my setting through my music!). It feels like the music just makes things more meaningful and more memorable. And over time, I’ve passed these passions along to the rest of my family (especially my children). We’ve developed a tradition of collaborating to create a special summer playlist every year.

Each summer playlist is enjoyable for the year in which it was created. But some of these live on, with an enduring legacy. For whatever reason, the mood will just seize us to play back our Normandy Playlist from 2011 (which predated Spotify)… or our “Yellowstone or Bust” Playlist from 2018. Those lists are the gold-standards. So every summer we aim to make another summer playlist that will live on like that. But we never know for sure… until we make the list, play it as we adventure, and then wait to see if our hearts get pulled back to those experiences again over time.

We’re always listening and learning new songs, throughout the course of the year. But we don’t start compiling the actual summer playlist until the month before our family’s big vacation. Once we’re within that final month, however, anyone in the family is welcome to submit any requests. If at any point the song receives three enthusiastic “Yes” votes (within our family of five), it’s included on the playlist. Four or five enthusiastic “Yes” votes puts it towards the front of the playlist. One or two enthusiastic “Yes” votes puts it in questionable (but not automatically excluded) territory.

And then someone (usually me) plays the role of curator, sequencing the playlist for maximum effect and making the difficult executive decisions to create a powerful, unified playlist in keeping with the tone we’re trying to set and/or reflect for the adventures we’ll be experiencing.

We usually aim for 90 to 120 minutes of music. That way, it can still be fun for Marci (who would typically prefer to ride in silence). And it can be more potent. All “killer,” no “filler,” to borrow a phrase from my brother.

Maybe this all sounds too regimented, too restrictive. But we have a lot of fun with it. You’re also welcome to listen along with the link to the Spotify playlist, if you like. In any event: Happy Summer! Happy Trails to you! And Happy Listening!

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