Tuesday, August 5, 2014

at the top of the world...sort of

Three years ago, my friend Lisa packed up her family and moved and I was sad.  In all actuality, the blame is to be put upon her husband, Rick, because they moved all the way to northern Minnesota, where he was born and raised.  I was pretty much resigned to the fact that I'd never see her again and our relationship would wither away to birthday texts and random Facebook postings.  

To make sure this didn't happen, she made a plan that a few of us fly out to the MN (Minnesota will forever be referred to as "the MN" from now on) to enjoy a celebration called Angle Days.  Now you are wondering what that refers to, so here is a quick back story:

The Angle Inlet (where Lisa and her family live) is a community in the Angle Township, Lake of the Woods, Minnesota.  It is based around Young's Bay Resort which was built by (and is still run by) Lisa's in-laws, Big Rick and Patty.  Lake of the Woods is actually comprised of several islands and goes into Canada as well.  The only way to get to the Angle is to either drive through Canada or take a boat across the lake.  It's a bit secluded, to say the least!

Stacey and I researched plane tickets and found the best way to get there was to fly into Canada and have Lisa pick us up at the airport there and drive us back into the States.  It sounds weird, but we didn't have many choices!  On Thursday, July 31st, we flew Seattle--Calgary--Winnipeg (stamps in our passports!), Lisa met us at the airport, we the grabbed some dinner in Steinbach, then we drove to the Angle.

The law says you have to make declarations to Canadian or U.S. Customs when crossing the border, so the Angle has this little booth at Jim's Corner with a video phone where it can be done.  Below you can see Lisa happily reporting that she smuggled two Americans into the U.S. from Canada.

Jim's Corner also has a nice big board for all of the local activities.  Most of what was up there had to do with Angle Days since it was what was happening next.

Mr. Tyson Jace McKeever who showed us all of his awesome toys first thing in the morning since he wasn't awake the night before to do so.

Several beautiful shots from the deck of the Angle store, including my beautiful friends and a sweet little five year-old.

Let's not forget Miss Andie Joy, who does not pose for pictures.  She is much like a mythical 2 1/2 year-old unicorn who enjoys spending time at the local restaurant/bar (Jerry's) rolling balls back and forth across the pool table.

On Friday afternoon, Rick (Lisa's husband who should not be confused with his father, Big Rick), took us for a boat trip around the lake to some of the islands.

As we approached Flag Island, we saw some large majestic birds perched on the rocks near the dock. Upon further inspection, the majestic birds turned out to be big, smelly, stupid pelicans.  They were super obnoxious and noisy.

We also went to Oak Island to the beautifully remodeled Sunset Lodge for some drinks and then somehow also went to another part of Oak Island to the Sportsmans Inn for dinner, including one of the best blue cheese burgers I've had the pleasure of eating in my entire life.  It was easy to be confused by all of the islands, lodges, and resorts after boating around a giant lake and having a few drinks and only Rick's directions to decipher.  But it was fun!

Stacey and I were spoiled to be able to stay in the newly built master suite at Rick and Lisa's house where we could sleep in, wear pajamas until midday, and drink lots of coffee while lounging in their comfy living room.  And the gun rack in the back?  That belonged to Rick's grandpa and was very tastefully place on the wall in the dining room because there was no where else to put it.

We did some shopping at the store, finding this awesome shirt for Mark which depicts Rick and his younger brother, Brian, happily fishing together.  It isn't really them, but the resemblance is uncanny.

Saturday we enjoyed the full spectrum of Angle Days, starting with a stop at Jerry's for some delicious Bloody Mary's, then watching some of the booths/tents being set up, followed by a walk around the campground, and then we were off to the Golf Cart Races.

Tyson was there, and so was the back of Andie.

Lisa and I manned the hook baiting station, complete with live minnows (shout-out to Minnow Chris!), where contestants had to take turns grabbing a minnow from one of the buckets on the table, baiting the hook, then dropping the hook into the cup on the pole.  We were honored to have to take the half-dead and mostly-dead minnows off of the hooks so that the next group of people could bait their hooks.  I'm glad I grew up fishing and having to bait my own hooks, otherwise there might have been some vomiting happening.

Stacey took on the build-your-own-campfire station, which consisted of 4 piles of wood where each group had to built a wood tee pee, piece by piece.

It was a pretty funny site, with ages ranging from elementary school to grown and retired.  Kids learn how to drive tractors, golf carts, and trucks at a young age around here, and they definitely drive with abandon.  I almost got run over twice trying to motion the drivers to steer away from the baiting pole!

After the Angle games were over, we drove to a few more landmarks, one being the northernmost part of the continuous 48 states.  It was as beautiful as the rest of the area and so incredibly serene.

I finally caught Big Rick in action, talking to one of the patrons at the store.  Though I didn't get a good picture, there is a single gas pump behind that lady, near the docks.  Lisa tells a good story about a younger girl on a Vespa scooter who filled up with one tank of gas, then drove away with a wave without paying.  Since everyone was eating lunch inside the store, it wasn't worth running after her for the $4 worth of gas she owed.

Here are my girls in the Kubota on our way to Jim's Corner to water flowers.  There is a custom stereo system which hooks up to your phone, so we jammed to a few favorites as we bumped down the gravel road with our coolers and buckets full of water.  When we got there, it rained so hard that we didn't have to water, and then on the way back home, we saw a strange, loping, furry creature run across the road not too far ahead of us.  After describing it to Rick later, he said it was most likely a lynx.  Because that happens every day, if you live in the Angle.

Dogs run rampant in these here parts.  They also mysteriously disappear when misbehaving.  Or so I've heard...

Rick put together a little minnow racing track for their tent that evening and Tyson made sure it was set up correctly.  A few of the minnows were too cold and a bit stunned because they hadn't really "defrosted" enough to get their wits about them by race time.

Tyson and Ruby doing a test-run.

Cheater-pants' 1 and 2 physically flicking their minnows up and down the shoots so they would win their races.

Frick-frack and Sassafras who were most likely on their way to doing something naughty.

The freezing cold dunk tank with one of the waitresses from Jerry's being targeted by Tyson.  The kid has great form, you have to give him that!

Rick took us out to try to catch some fish on Sunday afternoon.  I still can't believe how beautiful the view was, before we'd even left the deck of the store.

Tucker, the sweetest, cutest, biggest behemoth of a dog that ever lived.  He was very hurt that he wasn't invited on the boat with us and wouldn't get out so we could leave.  Rick had to pick him up and carry him back to land.  Then he cried and yowled and made a big to-do.  It was adorable.

Fishing with Rick means he does all of the work setting up your line while you drink your beer and then you just hold the pole and hope for a bite.  

We were out there about an hour, then realized we needed to get back and started talking about packing it in and suddenly Stacey got a bite!  Thanks to Rick's hard work, one of us caught a walleye and our trip was complete.

We made Patty (Rick's mom) take a picture with us to document that she was there too and she begrudgingly obliged!

The McKeever residence with the new addition (our master suite) on the upper left.

The cute little fish cleaning hut.  Smelled like vomit, but super adorable from this far away.  No idea why anyone would be running toward it...

Last picture I took of my lovelies on our way to Jerry's for some drinks and girl time before our early morning departure the next day.

I am thankful to have friends who will willingly travel with me.  I am thankful to have friends who want me to come visit them.  I am especially thankful for a husband who will take the helm so that I can enjoy just being some one's friend (and no one's mom) for a few days!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

take another little piece of my heart

Most of you who read this blog (whenever I actually update) are probably aware that my grandfather passed away on June 30th after a very long battle with prostate cancer.

I have struggled with writing this post because I just can't wrap my mind around his being gone.  I couldn't talk to my own children about it, instead I just talked around things or changed the subject if I felt myself becoming emotional.  My mom was the one to talk to the girls and she was dealing with the death of her father, so that's how big of an emotional mess I am.

This isn't my first go-round with loss, as most of you know, but something about this is different. 

Maybe it's because I was younger when my other grandparents passed away and I didn't fully understand the grieving process or let myself go through it.  Maybe it's because I've experienced very deep and personal loss in my adult life and I struggle with my feelings about that as well.  Maybe this just isn't something that can be explained away and I'm just really sad and that's all there is to it.

I wrote about my trip down to California to visit him in April, and I can't stress enough how happy I am that I made that choice.  He had been sick for a few months and had many trips in and out of the hospital and my family was starting to worry that the plateau he had been on for so long was starting to go downhill.  I don't know why, but I just had a feeling that it was a now or never trip and my heart told me to just do it, no matter what.  I've always been sensitive, sometimes to a fault, but this is one of a handful of times that I can say I knew that what I was feeling couldn't be ignored.

Though I was able to see them rarely, I have a pretty special relationship with my grandparents.  Our family is the only one of my mom's brothers and sister that doesn't live in California.  While my uncles, aunts, and cousins all were able to be with my grandparents on almost a daily basis, we were lucky enough to see them maybe two times a year.

When my sister and I were younger, Grandma and Papa began driving (and then flying) up to spend Thanksgiving with us in Ellensburg. This tradition continued even after my parents moved to Spokane and only stopped a few years ago, at that.  We even had a few Christmases at their house which were wonderful and yet strange because of the warm weather and lack of snow.  Most years while they were up here, I would take him to school for show and tell and impress the pants off of the other little kids (and the teachers who loved General Hospital!) and he never refused though he'd done it time and again for me.

When I was in seventh grade, I started flying down to Burbank by myself to spend my spring break with them. It was incredibly exciting to travel by myself, even if for a 2 1/2 hour flight, and I got to have my grandparents to myself for a week.  And though we see each other infrequently, I always love spending time with all of my cousins and had the best time each year that I was able to be there. I have been blessed to have a strong family bond on both my mom's and dad's side of the family. This was something that my grandparents stressed - that family came first and we should make time to be together.

My grandfather always talked to us about the importance of education and how, because of his career beginning at such an early age, he didn't have the conventional school experiences that we did.  He didn't necessarily believe in rewarding good grades with money, but he always managed to slip me a little something for my hard work in school.

I was the first grandchild to go to college and he and grandma made a point of helping fund part of my tuition (and all grandchildren afterward) as long as my grades were in an acceptable range.  It's things like this that I will never take for granted and will always be thankful for because I have a 4-year college degree and a first-rate education under my belt.  I also have a good job, a good work ethic, and have been putting my degree to good use for the last 14 years.

Mark and I flew down to Burbank on Sunday the 6th to attend Papa's rosary the following evening and the funeral on Tuesday morning.  We were invited by my cousin, Lauren, to stay with her and her husband, Pete, while we were there and really had a wonderful time reminiscing about Papa and our memories with him.  We stayed up late, we drank too much, we laughed, we were sad, and we were thankful to be together.

All of the grandchildren were able to be there except for Quinn, the youngest of us, who had just graduated from high school and was away on a trip.  Seven of us gathered at Papa's favorite Mexican restaurant, Viva, after the rosary for food and drinks and loud live music and it was pretty great.

Everyone deals with loss differently, and maybe it was frowned upon that we weren't sorrowful enough or didn't openly mourn, but what the nine of us agreed upon was that Papa wouldn't have wanted us weeping and moaning (though he did love drama!) - he would want us to be together, to strengthen our bond, enjoy each other, and talk about him with love.  And as my cousin Allison remarked, "If any of you start crying, then I will cry and I probably won't be able to stop."

I'd like to think I held it together well, and maybe I did, but it was certainly difficult to walk into the church Monday evening for the rosary and see a giant picture of Papa on display rather than see the man himself.

My cousin, Allison, won't toot her own horn, but I have no problem doing it for her.  She did an absolutely fantastic job of putting together a program for Tuesday's service.  My mom had asked me, back in April, if I would be able to gather some information for the obituary so that she, her siblings, and grandma could make sure that everything was in place before Papa passed away.  I was more than honored to do the legwork as I've always found my grandfather to be an interesting man.  What I found was of no surprise to me because he has never shied away from sharing his beliefs:  family is the most important thing in life, you get what you earn through hard work, and America is the greatest country in the world.  I am certainly not taking all of the credit as it was a collaboration of what everyone knew, but will say I am extremely proud of how our family pitched in and did what needed to be done and that we all contributed something, no matter how insignificant we may have felt it was in the scheme of things.

WWII Army Air Forces B-29 Navigator

Archie Andrews radio show

This could be Bob Newhart, Danny Thomas, and Andy Williams...or a handful of men who resemble them.

Animation cell from the 1970's cartoon, Jeannie.  Papa voiced the sidekick, Henry.

Some outtakes I found.  Each picture a different face - one of the best and my favorite things about him.

Top left, Papa and Grandma at the 1960-something World's Fair.  The rest are head shots - I'm partial to the one with the mustache.

This is the picture that has been on our refrigerator for as long as I can remember.  It's a daily reminder of the love that my grandparents share and the foundation that the Hastings family is built upon.

I know I'm going to be sad for awhile and the pain will lessen with time, but I can be happy to have had such a wonderful man and strong example in my life for 36 years.  I'm one of the lucky ones!