Friday, July 20, 2007

1/2 way there..

Well, it's sort of a halfway point. We've about a month left in our journey, not quite a midpoint on the calander, but it's a milestone, of sorts, today.

It's half past midnight here, and Tris and I are waiting for the call from Nancy to tell us that her (delayed) flight has arrived, and we should come get her at the airport.

For the past two weeks, we've been on our own, and utterly irresponsible. It's been delightful, this time to sit and do nothing if we feel like it, to just relax. Tris and I are recharged, rejuvenated, and raring to get on the road.

Plus, we don't want to out stay our welcome. Nancy and Aaron have been the kindest of kind, giving us this time to get ourselves together. We've had a wonderful home to stay in, a surrogate dog to play with, and some great heart to heart conversations. Time for us to take all this newfound energy, and do something productive with it.

We'll be here in Las Vegas for a few more days - really, we haven't spent any time with Nancy, except for 24 extremely jet lagged hours- and it will be interesting to hear her take on New Hampshire. I wonder what's changed back home that I had taken for granted, that will surprise her. And what's stayed the same.

Mid week we'll get in the car, me and Tris and our cameras, and head... well. Not sure yet about that. Maybe to California first, for Carlsbad caverns and Legoland. Or perhaps we'll save that for the end of the trip, and strike east, and north from here to Colorado. Time enough to make plans in the morning.

Meanwhile, I've an internet to surf, cable to watch, and a dog snoring at my feet. Doesn't get much better than that.

Well darn.

There seems to be a problem with Tristen's post. It won't publish properly, and unless the fairies of computer land are feeling forgiving... hello? ... nope.... it seems to be lost forever.
That's a shame, as he worked hard on it. I'll ask him to do another tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tristen's First Post

Hello, how is everyone today? It stinks out here it's hot and sticky and I can't play out side. Well now that I'm done venting, I should properly introduce myself: I 'm Tristen Toffic. If you're wondering what it's like out here: BORING!!! is the best way to describe it. I'm going to see Blueman tonight, though. Have you ever seen them? I haven't but I hear they're good. A couple of days ago we went to Lake Mead. Lake Mead is achuly (actually) more of a swamp than a lake. It's really murky. Also Lake Mead has Hoover Dam. Hoover Dam is one of the largest manmade structures in the u.s.a. I'm not sure but I think it's the biggest dam in the u.s.a.
The house I'm staying in is part of the Warmington Estate (that's a stupid name). Our friend lives here and we're pet siting for them. The pets we are sitting are Fuzzbutt the cat, yes his name is Fuzzbut, and Archer the dog. Lets start with Archer the dog Archer is a very loving pitbull. Archer knows a bunch of tricks like shakehands, sit, catch, stay and a bunch more. Then there's Fuzzbut he's a cat. He likes honey roasted peanuts and thats about it. good bye.

Monday, July 16, 2007

We're All Strangers Here.

It seems I should have called this blog Impossible Things, Served... whenever the hell I feel like it.

Which hasn't been much, lately.

It's not that I haven't wanted to write about our adventures, to chronicle the minutae encountered as we range, far and wide over the landscape...

It's that we haven't left the house. The picture above, incidentaly, is not the house we're staying in. It's taken from the front porch, and that's our (Aaron's) car in the front. It looks just like this house, though. Just. Exactly. Like it.

The morning after Nancy left for the Cape I brought some travel books out on to the front porch to read, and left them on the cafe table. And.. there they sit. Not because I'm still reading them, or I've forgotten them... but because if I bring them inside I'll never figure out which house is ours. I pulled in to the neighbors drive two nights ago, and was nearly out of the car before I noted the absense of the books. Wrong house. I always thought that only happened in the movies, but it doesn't. It happens in real life places like Vegas, too... oh.

Nevermind. :)
Despite it's sameness with every other house in the complex... and this complex looks a lot like the one down the street.. and ... you get the idea... this is a very nice house. Aaron and Nancy have done a wonderful job with the painting and the decorating, including the gorgeous hand done mosaic in the kitchen:

The beds are comfy (Note to self: buy a new mattress. I haven't had a back ache in days.) it's air conditioned, there's an ice maker, a dishwasher, laundry.. it's like the Ritz. Just staying here, with modern amenities and the most fabulous collection of pots and pans has been a treat! I love my cut up Victorian with the sink in the entryway back home, mind you, but I can fully appreciate the wonders of a house where I don't have to shut off the lights to vacuum, for fear of blowing a fuse.

Each morning I get up, and check in with Tristen who is generally already ensconsed on the couch, watching the Discovery channel. (There's cable here, too, another thing we don't have at home.) I feed the dog, and while he's eating I take my coffee in to the bathroom.

What? Yes. In to the downstairs bathroom. I don't mean to, but every morning I find myself in there, looking at the walls while I wait for Archer to chow down his kibble.

This bathroom is where Nancy and Aaron have chosen to display the dozens of photos they have taken on their journeys. It is beautiful and wonderful in there, like walking in to the pages of a National Geographic magazine. The walls are red, and the photos are all hung in black frames, artistic clusters of prints from waist height to above eye level. Iceland, Hawaii, (I think?!), Nevada.. France.. I can't identify all the locations, but I know that the adorable little grey frog peering knowingly in to the camera lives in the Emerald Pools at Zion. I know this because I have a picture of Aaron taking the picture of the frog. When I find it (it is somewhere on my hard drive) I'll post it.

About now, as I'm finding some new detail in a photo of an Icelandic harbor, or wondering where the rooster with his colorful plumage lives, Archer pokes his head in to the bathroom and lets me know it's time to go out.

Archer's a great dog. I admit, I was a little nervous, agreeing to watch him. He's a pitbull, and he's all muscle, and his head is bigger than .. well, bigger than anything on me. He out weighs Tristen. The last time I was here, he broke an ottoman, just by bouncing on it...

After 7 days with this dog, I'd pack him in my luggage and take him home if I thought for a second I could get away with it. He's a love. A big, brawny, hunk of love.. which is what I tell him when I pin his ears back like they're blowing in the wind and put my sunglasses on him so he looks like a 40's movie star in a convertible. He's sweet, and goofy, and tolerant of 10 year olds who straddle him and pretend he's a bronco. He can hear a packet of cheese being opened from two floors and a room away. When he's bored he shuts himself in the bathroom and waits to see how long it will take for someone to notice he's missing and let him out. I love this dog.

Walking him each evening is an event.

Archer knows this neighborhood better than I do, and seems determined not to explore any farther than his known territory. I have no fear of losing my way when I walk him, he's like well loved stable horse - give him his head and he'll take you home. Some times he's like my old horse, and will take you home whether you want to go there or not.

We must be a sight, Archer and I, standing on opposite ends of a retractable leash, quietly arguing about taking a left or a right at the end of the street. He always wins, though. He's bigger.

We HAVE done things besides walk the dog and watch TV, I swear. And I will write about them. It's simply that right now, this week, we are discovering what it means to be on vacation. Really truley on vacation. We are not at home, and so there's no projects beyond basic housekeeping that are calling to be done. No work sitting on my desk that I can have finished in just a second... only to surface hours later and find the day is gone. It's too hot outside to really do anything during the day.. and besides, the new episode of Dirty Jobs is on in an hour, and I saw in the preview that Mike Rowe takes his shirt off...
In a few days, Nancy will be home. There will be things to do, places to go, and someone over the age of 10 to talk to. For now, we're sticking closer to home. I've been cooking constantly since we got here, trying new recipes for wheat free goodies for Tris.
I've been writing, too, though not this blog: I'm writing a book with a friend this summer via email (more on that later) and I'm in the process of figuring out how to write a graphic-novel-travel guide with another friend. That ought to be interesting. Plus some works of my own: it seems that the self imposed solitude is good for creativity: everything I see here becomes a story in my mind.
On top of that, this blog - just the two entries so far - have brought people I haven't talked to in ages out of the woodwork. Emails from people I thought long lost have arrived, describing wonders I've yet to see in Hong Kong, New York City, the Catskills and Florida. Responding has become a delightful part time job.
Someone asked me today if I was homesick yet. I was sitting in a lounge chair beside the pool, watching Tris dive in to the deep end. (He's comfortable with that now, a week of having a pool and he's a fish!) The sun was warm, I had Aaron's copy of Fragile Things open in my lap. The only thing on my mind was how to cook the steak marinating in the fridge.
"No." I said. "I'm not homesick yet. I'd like it if my friends were here, though."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Westward Expansion

It has been pointed out to me that with this blog, I have done once again something I am known for doing..
That is, go at it back assward and with no map, telling no one my plans.

So. Before I go any farther in describing this trip, let's all get reaquainted.

My name's Hillary Peatfield, and I'm traveling through the west this summer with my son, Tristen Toffic. He's 10, and I'm old enough to be his mother. We live in the up & coming town of Dover, New Hampshire. (All of you Dover natives who are snickering should check out the plans for the new waterfront plaza on the Cocheco. Up & coming, indeed!) Tristen has been traveling all of his life, though he remembers little of it: his dad and I used to make frequent road trips up and down the East Coast, back and forth to our home in Georgia. The most recent jaunt Tristen's been on was a trip last year to Seattle to visit his grandparents. That trip activated his "Get Out of Town" gene, and we've been on the road as much as we could afford ever since.

I'm not an accomplished traveler, not by any stretch of the imagination. Aside from a few short road and camping trips with Tris and various friends, I've visited far more places in the pages of books than in real life.

When I was 11 I went to England with my family, and that is a coming of age story I don't care to repeat here. (Because I'm saving it for my memoires, it's that damn funny.) At 21 I fell for an Aussie working in San Francisco, and took several trips to the West Coast. At 25 I spent a long weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark and learned how to say "On Sale?!" in Danish. A couple of years ago I spent the coldest weekend on record in Canada holed up in a pub in Montreal. I did fall in love with the Insectorium while there, and had to be dragged back to the pub after a few hours, babbling about cobra moths and walking sticks.

And, I have been to Vegas. Oddly, Vegas has never once fallen on to my list of things to see, or places to go before I die. Yet it's the only place in the world I have traveled to more than once. The first time, several years ago, was for a friends bachelorette party. We came to see the Cirque du Soleil show "O" at the Bellagio, and it was worth every single penny. Last year, another close friend and I came here to visit friends who had relocated - moved from Portsmouth, NH to Las Vegas.

And now, here I am again, in Las Vegas. I feel rather like the little boy in Jurassic Park, who, having just escaped the T- Rex, has a jeep fall on his head... and says .. "Well. We're back in the car. Again."

This time is different, though. For one thing, one major, important, all consuming thing, this trip is just my own. Everywhere else I've gone has been with someone - with a lover, or a girlfriend, or a group. This time, it's just me. And my kid. Tristen Lazarus Christopher Toffic, my own personal reason for getting up in the morning. If only to see what he's gotten in to while I slept.

Traveling with Tris is a challenge, but not for the reasons one might think. For one thing, he's 10, so there are things I won't be doing.. anything rated PG 13 or higher, let's say. In Vegas, that leaves out a lot. Fortunately, I seem to have the mind of a 10 year old boy, and so am quite content to skip the gambling and whittle sticks in the desert instead. I'll miss the showgirls, though. Actually, that's still the thought of a 10 year old boy...

The real challenge to traveling with Tris is this: he's diabetic. And, he has celiac disease. Diabetic means lots of rest, watching what he eats, how much he's active, and 6 shots a day on a regular schedule. Celiac disease means he can't eat anything with wheat in it. Bread, hamburger buns, cheap ice cream, crackers... the endless list of processed foods goes on and on. All of them, out the window.

So this journey that we've undertaken has many layers. We're here for vacation. We're here to see places that aren't Dover, NH. We're here to be together, and to be away from everyone else. We're here to see what it's like to be 10 and very nearly 31, a self employed single mom and a kid with chronic diseases. I think that we'll have no choice, really, but to be here to grow.

And I am going to write a book about it! Ok... first I'm going to write a blog about it. But maybe, someday, it will be turned in to a book. I really hope it is - because if this trip goes as well as I think it will, it's going to be an amazing experience. A tutorial example, as it were, of how to be unlimited. Unlimited by disease, unlimited by finances, unlimited by being alone, or together, or any of the other hundreds of things that we, as humans, limit ourselves with. How, in short, to gather up all the things in our lives that tell us "No!" and say "Bugger that, I'm gonna do it anyway."

Descend Soap Box.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Though it might not seem it, this is indeed the first post on my brand new blog. I had hoped to start this before leaving New Hampshire, to chronicle the getting ready for the trip stage.. Then I realized that I was out of my mind.

But now, here I am, relaxed and thoughtful and in Las Vegas. I've a large pitbull beside me cutting logs on the floor (nothing snores like a pit bull. Nothing.) His name is Archer, and he's utterly harmless. Mostly. Tris is curled up on the bed behind me with a rather fluffy cat with an attitude problem (you'd be cranky too, if your owners shaved everything but your head and tail each summer) named.. appropriately enough.. Fuzzbutt.
The proprietress of these critters, Nancy, is vacationing back home. Ironically, she's on Cape Cod, which is where Tris and I were last week. Tris learned to kayak, and then in self defense, I did too. Now we're pricing used kayaks for when we get home. Fell a bit in love with it, we did.
Nancy's husband Aaron is currently (currently being the last 12 and future god knows how many months...) on tour with Blue Man group. He's in Buenos Aires at the moment, I think. We'll see him at the end of our trip, in four 1/2 weeks. Nancy will be home sooner, on the 19th of July.
Once Nancy's home to take care of her dog and Fuzzbutt, Tris and I are free to take one of their cars and travel as much as we want. We're confiscating their camping equipment, too. Definitely in the works is the long planned trip to San Diego, for to take Tris to Lego Land, the mecca of all 10 year old boys.
Also in the works is a trip to Colorado.
I hadn't planned on the CO trip - I thought, as did Nancy.. that she'd be gone and need our dog sitting services again for the last 10 days of our trip.. Leaving only 10 days in the middle for us to travel. Not enough time for San Diego and CO...
Now it comes to light that Nancy is starting a new job instead, and will be here... so..
I've already planned to meet up with our old housemates, Logan and Seth in their new home town of Gunnison. Seeing as how we have all this time on our hands, I'm plotting to make my way to Denver to see my friend Kai, and possibly Boulder to see John and Jen...

Tris and I set out on a journey of exploration today, and had a blast. We tooled out of town on a main road, expecting it to lead out in to the desert south of the city. We're technically in Las Vegas, but a block in either direction is Henderson, and we thought it would be fun to see what lay beyond...

What lays beyond Henderson is nothing. It was the freakiest damn thing. The road climbs through housing projects.. and the term doesn't do justice to some of these golf course complexes, with waterfalls and gorgeous views.. though I was gratified to see, no lawns. You crest a ridge, and then the road dips again, leading tantalizingly down to the desert. On either side is strip mall after housing project.. and then the road dead ends at concrete bunkers.

Just, stops.
You can't go around, as there is no around to go to. The road isn't closed.. it doesn't exist. A few hundred yards ahead there are work trailers, and a fleet of heavy machinery look like bright yellow chess pieces hidden in a cloud of red dust. Few are moving across the playing field, and in the distance.. a 1/2 mile off or more, it's so hard to judge in this terrain, is what at first looks like a train. Squinting in to the dust and donning my glasses, I see that it's a line of pawns, bright yellow and green, in the shape of more tractors, dozers and earthmovers. They are building something, clearly, and they are practiced at it. To the left a Bank of America anchors the end of a small complex, a banner proclaiming that they are now open fluttering in the wind. To the right, another complex, this one larger, with a grocery story bearing the same "NOW OPEN!!" signs, and an eerily well established Starbucks. It was like a ghost town, only in reverse, and a thousand times scarier.
We popped in at the Starbucks for an iced coffee and a bathroom break, and to get directions. The first two were handily given, the last.. unavailable. It was not that the kind young lady didn't want to direct me out in to the desert.. I think, after I asked her the same question rephrased five ways in the deliberately uncomprehending way of tourists everywhere.. I think she very much wanted to direct me out in to the desert. She just didn't know how. Eventually I accepted her directions to essentially go back the way I had come.
So we passed through Henderson again, and headed North, in to Las Vegas proper.

The Strip is magnetic. It is the bright porch light that all human moths are drawn to, even in the day. I tried to avoid it, but couldn't, like the little lepidotera in a Bugs Life who says "But it's soo preeetyyy" just before frying himself on the bulb.
It doesn't help that every single road in the area, if followed long enough (and I am against turning left in unknown cities, so we went straight a lot) leads to the strip. So, there we were.
We didn't stop at the famous Welcome To Las Vegas sign.. there's that whole left turn thing again.. but we will, perhaps on our way back from Red Rocks, when it's on the right.

Tris was fascinated with all the buildings, though I have to say that he asked more "why?" questions than I thought he would. More than I had answers to, at any rate. "Why would you build a replica of New York?" I don't know. "Why put the Eiffel Tower in a gambling city in Nevada?" Again, I don't know. "Why would people come here to give their money away?" Not a clue.
But the people watching at every. bloody. long. infernal. red light was worth the trip. People from all over the country, all over the world, walking in 112 degree heat past fountains they aren't allowed to swim in, and showgirls they aren't allowed to touch. Beside me, at the red light outside the Bellagio, a woman in the passenger seat of a BMW SUV checked her lipstick, and her eyeshadow, and her botox, and her teeth.. I looked away, then, before I could inadvertently find out what else needed to be checked before she dealt with the valet.
I felt impossibly both superior and inferior as I watched her, totally absorbed in her expensive reflection, from the front seat of a well kept if doddering Subaru, with my slightly bored, a little jaded, 10 year old in the back seat. My shorts were from WalMart, and though they fit when I left NH, now they are baggy in the dry desert air. I am tan, but it is uneven, because I have actually been outside, not in a spray paint booth. My hair is both tamed, and curly thanks to the weather... however the last time it was cut was three months ago by my own hand, and I was trying to get a clump of paint out of it. No makeup, chapstick, and jewelry that is good only because I made it. Clearly, I do not belong here.

So we drove on. Past the casinos and the landmarks, with Tris making notes of things we might like to see later. ( There are fantastic museums in the casinos: the Body Exhibit is showing here, and Picasso's ceramics.) Tris wants to see Danny Gans, because they mention him in the TV show Angel, and he was fascinated by the signage for Les Cage Aux Folles in the slightly perplexed, a little embarrassed, unbelievable curious way only a 10 year old boy can be. ("Hey Mom! Look at that! Butt floss!") We decided we would definitely go to the aquarium at Mandalay Bay, and the Pirate Show at Treasure Island. We're holding out on the water show at the Bellagio until we find out if they still play incessant Celine Dion songs in the background.. in which case, we'll skip.
Eventually we came to the end of the strip, and I was so caught up in the debate over riding the rooftop rollercoaster at ... wherever the hell it is.. Grissom rides it in CSI, which is a point in its favor.. (It wasn't much of a debate. We're both afraid of it and I'm trying to talk us both in to it.)... that we missed the sign for Red Rocks Canyon, and wound up in Downtown.

I like Downtown. I like Downtown very, very much.
Every fourth store front is a bail bondsman, and they advertise their wares as if they were trying to get the next A&E series, like Dog the Bounty Hunter. Crammed in between is an unbelievable mix of businesses. Shops that sell vintage gambling memorabilia - slot machines and signs and the like - discount used furniture stores with five foot high ceramic black panthers attached to cheap plywood bookcases. (And me without my truck!!) High end New York style design centers, with small print, exclusive signs are crammed between Britney Spears-esque wedding chapels and ... I kid you not.. a Mormon Tabernacle. This, clearly, is where I was meant to be. Artists, Artistes and snake oil salesmen duking it out for square footage in what is essentially the backstage for the greatest show on earth.

There is also, oddly, housing here. I hesitate to call it a town, but that's surely what it was, once upon a time. Hundreds of tiny, cramped bungalows scream "Post War 1950's!" in tight, tidy little blocks. While no children were evident in the heat of the day (Also, the schools here are year round, with more time off in the cooler months and less in the summer.) the evidence of them was everywhere, with bikes and mini swimming pools and swing sets set in 2cent postage stamp yards. All this across the street from the used furniture store with the giant panther book case. (I'm buying it and shipping it back, I've decided. I have to have it!) I can only imagine what families live in these houses, with this wild setting. In my mind, these are the caravan trailers of the circus that is Las Vegas. This is where the sword swallowers and the trapeze artists and the bearded ladies raise their families. In ten years, or fifteen, surely the children who now swing on these rickety sets over tiny plastic puddles will be plunging fifty feet in the the pool at the Bellagio, the next generation of performers for Cirque Du Soleil...

I'm going to end here, for now, with that image. That's Vegas, right there, or the better part of it, at least. Hold that in your mind for a bit... and later we'll get to the gambling.