Crossing the Border

CN Tower
CN Tower, Toronto Ontario, Canada Image by The Tromp Queen, CC license 4.0

My daughter and I took a spontaneous trip to Toronto during our recent spring break from school.

As we left the USA to cross the bridge into Canada, there were many signs proclaiming the way to Canada and for the last exit before Canada. We showed our passports to the border person. He asked where we were going, why we were visiting Canada, how long we were staying, if we had accommodations, if we had any guns and a few other things. Nothing dramatic; no problems. We were on our way in just a couple of minutes.

After a few days of adventure in Toronto, we approached the border again — from the Canadian side this time. Our plan was to visit the Motown Museum in Detroit; we had reserved tickets purchased online for the 10:30 am tour. I had not really allowed enough time — it was raining, didn’t anticipate possible late-rush-hour traffic issues, didn’t really think through how long it would take to go across the US border — so I was feeling a time crunch.

US/Canada border at Windsor, Ontario

We chose a line of cars to join. I think there were four lines. Each line was at least 10 cars long and all the lines were moving at a glacial pace. I worried that we had chosen the wrong line. We inched forward slowly, car by car. Minutes clicked by. Ten-o-clock came and went. I worked on how I would beg to be allowed to take a later tour at the museum.

There were border guards walking along the lines of cars. There was a sniffer dog and handler. There were cameras — everywhere — so many cameras.

Finally it is our turn to approach the booth.

I rolled down my window and attempted to clear my throat. (The morning “gags” as my co-workers will attest!)

The guy in the booth (first thing out of his mouth), “Did you just cough on me?”

I laughed and said no. “It is just the morning gags.”

He looked out our passports. “Ah. Milwaukee.” I nodded yes.

“Got a lot of good beer there?” I assured him there was no shortage.

Then he proceeded to ask if I knew that Wisconsin is the #1 drunk driving state in the country.  Yep. I know. Yep. I’m not proud.

He asks about Sarah being born in Iowa. We assure him she is not really an Iowan. Blah, blah, blah.

In my mind, I’m wondering if this guy knows how many cars are waiting in these lines behind us. Does he shoot the breeze with everyone like this? I glance at the clock, mentally calculating how many minutes we have left until 10:30 am and how much time I think we need to drive to the museum.

I mention we have tickets to tour the Motown Museum, thinking he might get the hint.

He jumps on the new bandwagon.
Do I play any instruments? Yes, I admit.
“Which ones,” he asks? To save time, I say, “all of them.”
He gives me grief. I tell him I was a band director and it is mostly accurate to say I can play all the instruments (wishing I had just said “PIANO” and left it at that!).

He asks Sarah what she plays. Violin, she answers. He is impressed. He tells us he wanted to play cello. This brings on a new thought apparently —

“Say. Tell me honestly,” he says, “how hard would it be to learn to play the bugle?”

“Well,” I say, “There are no valves so once you get the hang of the lip thing you are all set. Why? Do you want to play Taps?”

Yes, in fact, that IS the reason. He is a vet, he tells us. There is a shortage of Taps players. I know this because my brother-in-law has played Taps at many veteran funerals.

Bugle. Image from eBay.

“You really think I could learn?”

“Sure,” I say, though I’m basing this affirmation on no proof of his musical talents and mainly his gift for gab.

I kid you not. More questions about the bugle come next!

“Where would I find a bugle?”

“Um… eBay? Or a good music store?”

“Oh. Right.”

At this point, I risk a pointed look at the clock and then say, “Well, if that’s all you need we should be heading to the museum….”

He hands back our passports.

“Have a nice trip.”

We made it to the museum with zero minutes to spare.  The tour started the moment we got past the ticket booth.  The tour was FABULOUS, by the way.

Photographs I wish I had stopped to take.

Kodaira cat image by Takuya Goro via Flickr CC.
Kodaira cat image by Takuya Goro via Flickr CC.

Do you ever see something out of the corner of your eye and think — “Oh! That would make a great photo!”

This seems to happen to me frequently. But I hardly ever do anything about it, and I regret that.

Image by The Tromp Queen, via Flickr CC license
Image by The Tromp Queen, via Flickr CC license

Last spring, on my drive to school I spied three red tulips that were growing in a very obscure place beneath a tangle of on/off ramps. Each day as I drove the tight right-turn of the clover leaf going under a multi-lane Interstate highway and off ramp to emerge going in my chosen direction on the Interstate I just drove under, I would see the flash of red off to my left. Each day I thought, “Bloom where you are planted. It doesn’t get any clearer than that.”

"Bloom where you are planted" quilt.  Image by Sophie via Flickr CC.
“Bloom where you are planted” quilt. Image by Sophie via Flickr CC.

How did tulips get planted in this desolate, neglected, non-landscaped area of highway underpass undergrowth? Did someone throw a few tulips out of their car window one day and they happened to land in a protected and fertile enough spot? I plant bulbs in my flower beds nearly every fall, and each fall, many of them are eaten by squirrels (or other varmints).

Each day, I thought “I should stop to take a picture of those tulips before they stop blooming.” Each day I would tell myself I didn’t have time and that there was no safe place to pull over and stop. Needless to say, there is no photograph because I never stopped. But the image has stayed with me.

Google images, 16 ft inflatable Santa with reindeer and sleigh.
Google images, 16 ft inflatable Santa with reindeer and sleigh.

Another image that I regret not stopping to document happened last fall near my school. I was with my college-aged son in the car going shopping for school necessaries when we was on break. It must have been Thanksgiving weekend because what we saw were people putting a large inflatable Santa sleigh (complete with reindeer) on top of a ranch style house. The funny part was that there were two legs sticking out from under the sleigh part, toes down. It looked like Santa had accidentally landed on someone and squished them flat. Who knows what that person was doing on the roof while Santa was trying to land, but that is beside the point. We discussed stopping but didn’t.

I WISH I had taken a few seconds to stop and take a quick photo. My son and I both laughed at the sight of those legs; at first we thought the legs were not real but were an intentional part of the scenario they were erecting. As we drove away I had the chorus of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” running through my head.

Credit: Oliver Burston. Wellcome Images Computer illustration of a human skeleton hand. Digital artwork/Computer graphic Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 UK
Credit: Oliver Burston. Wellcome Images
Computer illustration of a human skeleton hand.
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 UK

Just this past week I was driving on a road that goes behind the garage area of a nearby car dealership. There are always a lot of cars parked along this not-very-busy-dead-end-road; some new cars for the dealer, some cars for their repair shop; and I presume some of the cars of the dealership employees. I noticed a long black sedan type of car. Sticking out of the closed trunk was one skeleton arm and hand. It was totally creepy looking (and fake, I might add!). Again, I considered stopping but didn’t have a camera with me (not even my phone camera). Consequently — no photo.

Image by Walidhassanein:  Sunflowers via Flickr CC license.
Image by Walidhassanein: Sunflowers via Flickr CC license.

On a trip to Indiana driving at highway speed on US 30 between Valpo and Warsaw (which must be in contention for the US most boring highway) my eye caught a beautiful scene as it flashed by in an instant. There was an old red well-used barn, a field of sunflowers in full bloom, a blue sky with puffy white clouds and the whole thing was framed in green leafy trees. You guessed it: I didn’t stop.

Images by John 'K' via Flickr CC license.
Images by John ‘K’ via Flickr CC license.

Remember the NYC pizza rat? Well, I had a pizza squirrel one day in my backyard. The squirrel had pretty much a whole slice of pizza and somehow managed to carry it across our backyard, up a tree trunk and then hop to the top of the fence with it. The squirrel paused then looked at me with an accusatory glare as if to say, “This is MY pizza. Keep your hands OFF!” I wondered where he had found a whole slice of pizza and how he managed to carry it while running and climbing. I wondered if eating the pizza would make the squirrel sick. I wished I had my camera so I could catch a photo (or video!) of the pizza-toting squirrel. Alas, the only image I have of this scenario is in my mind.

Am I the only one who has these photographic regrets?
Does this happen to anyone else?

Back Hoe Disconnect

I drive a lot more than used to.  I have three part-time jobs in various locations around Milwaukee, so I sometimes spend more than an hour a day in my car.

It is easy to get impatient especially with people who insist on running red lights (well, they SAW the yellow so that means they should go through the light even if it turns red before they get to the intersection, right?).  Sigh.  I also see too many people still talking on their phones (Please, people — hands free is at least a LITTLE safer than holding that blasted phone to your ear while you turn left in front of me crossing multiple lanes of traffic).  Don’t get me started on all the people one can see clearly TEXTING while driving!  Please all of you agree on the roads you want to use and the rest of us will stay off those roads. Seriously.

I grew up in a small town.  I used to describe it as 699 people and one stoplight (which was quite accurate at the time, I might add).  Now I drive past way more than 699 folks and several stoplights before I even get to the interstate!

Somedays traffic is flowing well, and the other drivers seem reasonably rational and semi-intelligent. As I cruise by all those cars, people, houses, businesses, companies — I sometimes feel disconnected and isolated.  I’m in my own little world inside my vehicle and everyone else on the busy highway is in theirs, too.

Angel of Grief imagy by Michael Schaffner via Flickr CC
Angel of Grief imagy by Michael Schaffner via Flickr CC

As I was driving one day recently through the city — I pondered the number of very large cemeteries that I pass going from one of my jobs to another.  I catch glimpses of intricately sculpted stones — angels, obelisks, crosses.  Row upon row upon row.  There is even a quite large pyramid in one of the graveyards I pass.  If I go a certain way, the interstate cuts through a military cemetery. There are rows and rows of solemn white crosses on gently flowing hills on both sides of of the highway.  At sunset the light is beautiful against the stones.
image by Just Add Light via Flickr CC

My most common thought about these cemeteries is that I wish I had time (or tell myself I should MAKE time) to go walk around in them on a nice day so I could look more closely at the interesting monuments and possibly take photos of them.

One day last week, I was driving along beside one of these huge graveyards and I caught sight of a cluster of cars and a back hoe out of the corner of my eye.  My heart lurched.  I felt sorrow for those people gathered there on the cold grey winter day to honor and mourn their loved one.  I wondered if the person was young or old, if the death was from illness or some tragedy, and even what kind of life they had led..  The back hoe was not very far away from the clump of cars and people.  It sat with the bucket facing the grave as if it was anxious to dig in immediately after the last prayer was uttered.

I felt like I was intruding on the privacy of the deceased and of the mourners.  What a very personal moment to be unintentionally sharing with all the people who happen to be driving by the cemetery at that exact moment. But I felt oddly connected to their sorrow.  I had sudden flashes of the many cold, grey funerals I have attended — too many.  I mulled those memories over as I drove on, away from the sad tableau.

public domain image:  "JCB 3CX Backhoe loader" by S. Lampkin, U.S. Air Force -
public domain image: “JCB 3CX Backhoe loader” by S. Lampkin, U.S. Air Force –

As several days passed, I wondered why this image (of the backhoe and the gravesite and the mourners) was sticking with me.  Why is it still there in my mind?  What am I supposed to make of this?

Obviously, we are mortal beings.  We live, we die.  It’s the circle of life (cue the musical production number).

hah!  Sorry.  I just saw Lion King (Broadway touring company) and it is still fresh in my music memory.

It doesn’t matter how big or fancy the tombstone might be — we all end up the same way.  Dust to dust.

Image by Lynn Friedman via Flickr CC license
Image by Lynn Friedman via Flickr CC license

But instead of feeling nihilistic about that fact, I feel a reverence for the fragility of our lives.  I want to be remembered for the good things I said and did, not for the way I let small irritations (or big ones) get to me.  I want to be kind and loving.  I want to be salt and light to the world. I want to spend more time with my family and friends and make more time for the things I enjoy doing, whether by myself or with others.  I want to keep my word, do my best at my work, and waste less time in general (FACEBOOK can be a time-wasting vortex).

The back hoe might be revving its engine, but I’m not going to keep looking at it or listen for the sound of its motor.
I’m going to keep looking for the beauty in each person, each minute, each day — and keep looking for that beauty in myself, and in the world around me, too.

“Please stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

I heard a song this week for the first time in a long time.  It brought to mind the very first time I heard it which was September 27, 2013.  You might wonder how I know exactly when I heard this song for the first time.  Well, there is a story about that.  I realized the other day that I never wrote about it.  At least I don’t THINK I wrote about it; hence the title for this post.

The song is “Ain’t It Your Birthday?” by Jonny Fritz and the In-Laws.

The words to the chorus go like this:

Hey well ain’t it your birthday?
Then why aren’t you smiling?
I just drove 250 miles
In the middle of the night
On an empty tank
Dodging deer along the way
On a central Virginia moonlit byway
Brought to you by this small town
I always thought I could come home to
Oh well I guess I was wrong

I had attended my Aunt Linda’s funeral in Indiana that late September Friday and I was driving all the way back to Dubuque, Iowa in order to attend the rest of the annual fall guild quilt retreat that weekend.
I had been driving several hours in the dark.  I was tired.  I was drained emotionally and physically.  As always, a family funeral brings together far-flung relatives who do not see each other very often — usually just once  a year or so at the holidays.  It had been a good day of reminiscing and of re-connecting. I was sad, but I knew I had done the right thing in going to the funeral.  I was also looking forward to spending the rest of the weekend among very dear friends being creative and relaxing.  There would be much talking, laughing, eating and sewing.

I had my ipod hooked up to the car stereo and I must have had it on some kind of shuffle.  This wacky country song came on.  I heard the chorus.  I laughed.  Here I was driving over 250 miles at night (okay, it was only 9 pm — not midnight) and I had just stopped for gas.  I was on a curvy, hilly country road in the Driftless region of southwestern Wisconsin and was most definitely being cautious for deer and other night critters that might dash out in front of me.

Then it hit me.  This would have been my dad’s birthday.  September 27.

He loved country music.  The twangier the better.  The more steel guitar and sorrowful the better.  He would turn the radio up really loud in the garage while he was doing his woodworking (making sawdust as he used to call it) and sing along to Johnny Cash or Ernie Ford or anybody that old country music station happened to be playing.

Though he was a marshmallow on the inside, he was not one who usually spent extra time smiling.

He also really, REALLY loved to drive.  He would drive hours just to attend a high school football or basketball game, especially if one of his nephews was playing or anyone from our hometown for that matter.

So — this song surrounding me in that dark car on that lonely, long drive with family on one end and friends on the other — felt like a great big hug from my dad.

The weird part is that I had no idea where this song came from or how it came to be on my ipod.

A solo version by the same guy who is also known as Jonny Corndawg:

I later found out that this song was on a free mp3 album I had downloaded from Amazon, so it didn’t appear out of nowhere.  It just seemed that way. I still like to think it was a hug from my dad and that is was sent to me on that night especially.  (I checked.  Amazon no longer offers this album, free or paid but you can download the song for $1.29).

From The Tromp Queen archives on related topics of quilt retreats, Dad, and being a good neighbor:

Random thoughts from the Tromp Queen

  • To the woman in the oncoming car that nearly bashed into me:  Do not text and drive!  Do not text and drive on ice!  Do not text and drive on ice and turn a corner!  Do not text, drive on ice, turn a corner and nearly run into my CAR!!

There.  I feel better.

  • Kittens are fuzzy and cute, but kitten claws are sharp.  (Did I mention we adopted a new kitten?!)
  • Crazy Cat Lady territory starts at 4 cats.  Luckily I only have three.
  • 17 year old son asked who made the Crazy Cat Lady rules.  I did.  Arbitrarily.  Deal with it
Xena Luna.
Xena Luna.
  • Note to self:  Remember what we decided about long scarves, cross-body-bags, and purses?  Tangle-city.  BEWARE!
  • Playing the piano nearly seven hours in a day is kind of a long time.
  • Losing a Yaktrax off your left boot on an icy day and not noticing it right away.  Bummer.  Finding it on the sidewalk nearly 2 hours later.  Bazinga!
Yaktrax!  I found it lying on the sidewalk 2 hours later.  I'm guessing no one knew what it was.  Maybe they thought it was a trap of some sort?
Yaktrax! I found it lying on the sidewalk 2 hours later. I’m guessing no one knew what it was. Maybe they thought it was a trap of some sort?

(What are Yaktrax you ask?  They are like things you can attach to your boots/shoes to keep from slipping on ice.

  • My husband (who has nearly 13 years of college and grad work) thought the word for embouchure was armature.

Embouchure means the position and use of the lips, tongue, and teeth in playing a wind instrument.

Armature means various things:  a framework used by a sculptor to support a figure being modeled in a plastic material, or an organ or structure (as teeth or thorns) for offense or defense.

(source:  Merriam-Webster dictionary online

  • I took one of those personality quizzes with my daughter.  Turns out I’m a Prima Donna.  Neither of us was surprised.

My result:  You are a total Prima Donna.  In your world, you are the star and everyone else is just a supporting character.  We hope you’ve got the talent to support that giant ego!

quiz source:

Quiz from Figment.
Quiz from Figment.