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Monthly Archives: July 2009

We keep bouncing from one far-flung family gig to the next, with no time to unpack, catch up on chores, or blog much between bounces. It was just Christmas in July (ATV tours; mobs of dogs; conversations about Obama mired in failure and ruin). Now we’re off to Portland for the Voget Family Reunion (Germans and Argentines visiting Americans; conversations about Obama likely to reference joy and redemption). I am among the Voget spouses—known affectionately as “zeroes”—so I’ll mostly listen, practice a little Deutsch-sprechen, and sneak away to see the Men of Cougar perform if I’m lucky.

In between trips, Sarah and I try to reassure the world that we’re open for business—just not for mid-July, or half of August, or next Friday, etc. We seem to have our hustle on. Sarah got her “Local Is Beautiful” goods in I Like You, a spunky new Nordeast boutique, and had to replenish shelves at a few other shops, too. I’ve been shuttling around the suburbiverse meeting with new and potential clients. I leave town with a sense of optimisim about these prospects (instead of my usual ambivalence and/or mortification). The pace is unlikely to slacken in September.

But I could use a little downtime. I listened to a 25-year-old interview with John Cage on Fresh Air tonight, where he says that paying attention to two random noises was as good a form of meditation as “sitting cross-legged.” Sounds that usually annoy, like car alarms or buzzers, Cage says are full of unique and enjoyable textures when you stop to listen. As someone whose only musical efforts are atonal, I know this to be true. You just need the presence of mind (or alteration of mind, often) to appreciate what you never noticed.

In the latest Found Magazine, Miranda July, an inveterate collector of cast offs, talks about how she finds traces of others’ lives inspiring. Knowing where, and more importantly how, to look is key. “Practice being methodically open, the way you would practice anything else, like math.” Yes. Unexpected discoveries come to those who are present and receptive. That’s not usually me, but I’m trying.

With my family off to PDX four days before me and certain channels temporarily silenced, I’m tuning in an “open” frequency.

> Listen: Shellac – End of Radio

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LONG-HAUL ROADTRIPS were never my family’s mode. We’d drive 150 miles to Cedar Rapids or just pitch a tent in the backyard and call it a vacation. So it took some encouragement to commit to journeying as far as the Black Hills of South Dakota, an 800-mile trail of kitschbait pioneered by generations of monument hoppers in preposterously named RVs. But Witt was entirely right: getting away feels better when you get way the hell away.

As always, Sarah rose to the occasion with travel amenities like custom curtains for the Mazda. Stitched from recycled flour sacks. With toy pockets. Seriously. (Click pics for an enlarged view.)

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Mitchell, SD, home of the world-famous-one-and-only-most-over-promising-destination-after-Wall-Drug Corn Palace. Here you can get the slogan “I got a gun for my wife. Good trade, huh?” emblazoned on a cap, T-shirt and/or wallet. The kids and I got new hats but I missed my chance to use the loo.

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Inside the Palace: more collectable horses and unicorns than in all of RainbowLand.

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The next stop (for gas) was a run-down, one-street town made to look like a ghost town so long ago that the pretense has become reality. It was here I found the carcass of a whole red winged blackbird lodged in the car’s grill.

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Picnic in the Badlands before a final push to the Black Hills.

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Hamming it up with Georgia O’Keefe by the tipis.

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We took to the Hills our first day, hiking up an easy 3-mile loop trail and taking turns on the “packpack.”

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Fellow family trippers Witt, Holly and Amado Rey Roozen Siasoco IV (with snack).

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A worn old sign here says, “Custer State Park is a place where one can still be an unworried and unregimented individual and wear any old clothes and sit on a log and get his sanity back again.”

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Holly accompanying Jo and Rey up Lover’s Leap cliff. Among the things I learned about Witt this trip was that he’s not into heights. Or “rustic facilities.”

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Jo was carried most of the way but insisted on doing these parts.

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First closeup wildlife sighting.

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Teaching the kids what it means to “chillax” in the vast clover field out the door of our cabin. I drew while Witt read stories.

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No nap.

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One second you’re reading a story. Then suddenly you get topless animal impersonations.

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The cabins were cush. They had daily housekeeping service and recycling pick up, quite unnecessarily.

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Lo—buffalo.

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Custer State Park animals showed total indifference to us. No Yogi Bear treatment at all.

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The families split off on Day 2. We hiked the tallgrass prairie while the Siasocos went caving (Witt’s acrophobic, I’m claustro).

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Prehistoric-style MegaDandelions.

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View from the top.

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Holy hay fever.

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A few bonfires and cloverfield frolicks later, we headed back east on I-90. Here we are, the sole picnickers outside Wall Drug.

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A final night of camping (in Blue Mound State Park, MN) might have been a little sad and anticlimactic if not for the primo walk-in spot I chose by accident on the internet.

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A disused pipestone quarry in the park.

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Shoegazing.

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An obstinacy (no joke) of buffalo trotted nearby our tents.

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The place was thick with fireflies for hours (this was the best photo I got after dozens of attempts).

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Jo’s sparkler career started cute and ended with screaming.

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Rey got into it, though.

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I took a hundred pictures of Jo and Rey playing together. I couldn’t help myself. Look what they’re doing now! Eating ice cream again? Take another one.

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I’m poring over vids and snapshots while we repack for even yet still more roadtrip (to Clermont, Iowa for Christmas in July). Stay tuned for close buffalo encounters, picturesque prairie hikes and a mega-slice of Jo & Rey. For now, here’s that postcard from the Black Hills we never managed to mail. Yeah, we’re animated!

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Before reflecting here on our SoDak roadtrip, I need to do some processing. For now I can say I feel more refreshed and happy than I have in some time. I want to go on savoring it before the deluge.

I don’t usually recall my dreams, but under the influence of vacation it’s like my subconscious is riding the Tilt-a-Whirl.

Episodes include arriving at my high school reunion like it was opening night at Cannes—gowns, lavish receptions, bodily perfection. Even the geeks look amazing. There’s a dawning awareness that I’m underdressed and in every other way glamor-impaired. I sheepishly re-introduce myself to classmates like I’m meeting the band backstage. When I locate my good friends, they’re lost in a haze of heavy drugs and unable to speak.

A similar dream had me stumbling through a maze of conference rooms in Hot New York Ad Agency X like I’m looking for the toilet, avoiding eye contact and trying to seem purposeful when I actually can’t figure out why I’m there. I’m shoving my minuscule portfolio deep into my pocket while hiding in a back stairwell (which is itself fabulously designed).

Anxiety creeps in even when I’m at ease. What’s with that?

In last night’s foray, I went for a jog with a person I don’t know well. She surprised me with a pile of worthless gifts: old printed matter, found objects, thrift store media—my favorite things. When I thanked her, she teared up.

> Listen: Negativland – Favorite Things

I woke up today feeling weightless. Monday is the first of seven days free of deadlines, 11th-hour requests, niggling feedback, coma-inducing conference calls and the roofers who’ve been hanging around here like indigent roommates since May. I confess, there’s a sense of pre-emptive disappointment that dogs me whenever I’m about to do something fun, but hitting the road should drown out that noise. That or the new Sonic Youth.

Work fatigue aside, we’re having more than our share of summer fun. The Weaselhawks won a game fair and square this week, holding off a perfectly respectable opponent, if not the swarms of gnats. We celebrated my Mom’s 60th in Des Moines with folks I only get to see once a decade, powered by Ken’s funky rum drinks and a bombastic cake a week in the making (Sarah somehow found time to do several “test cakes” before arriving at the right recipe). There was a swell 3rd birthday party for Cowboy Kai, part of a string of barbeques we hopped while Sarah was away in Seattle (sorry I couldn’t join you for the baby shower, Trax; I heard the open-air bellycasting was bold and beautiful). Our quick double-overnight in Omaha was bliss: good local food, live music, second-hand shopping and reading in parks—my working definition of The Good Life.

Noon Monday the Nassif-Siasoco caravan departs for Custer State Park with stops in Pipestone, Minn. and wherever the kids get antsy. Ready the Scrabble and Templeton Rye.