“In the Distance” by Hernán Diaz

November, 2019

It might be a stretch to call In the Distance a road trip book, as there is very little detail about the lands traversed by Håkan Söderström, who set sail as a lad from Sweden with his older brother, bound for New York. Confusion led to separation when Håkan later boarded a ship to San Francisco.

Unable to speak or understand English at first, his one goal is to go to New York and find his brother. Along the way, he meets people who help him as well as those who would prey upon his youth and strength. He doesn’t know where he is, so neither do we. He soaks up knowledge when given the opportunity, learning skills that help him survive in a harsh environment. He learns to mistrust people, and spends years alone as he tries to navigate to New York. Over time, he realizes that he will never find his brother, and decides to return to San Francisco, where he meets another person who helps him on his journey.

Over the years, Håkan becomes a legend for his size and rumored feats. As a man of indeterminate age, he decides to tell his story. Most of what people have heard about him are lies, and he wants them to know the truth. In the Distance tells his truth. The plains, deserts and canyons of the west were not always friendly; the inhabitants were not always honorable, yet Håkan survives in spite of tremendous odds.

The books’s language is often as stark as the landscape Håkan has lived in and with for many years. We see the world through Håkan’s eyes. He didn’t have names for many of the places he traveled through, or for things that he saw (such as railroad ties or telegraph wires). We must use our own imagination to fill in the blanks.

I found the book mesmerizing, hard to put down. The end of the story left me wanting more. As Håkan sets out in a new direction, I want to know if he gets to his desired location.

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Leisurely La Jolla

October 10, 2019

On this, the final day of our surprise trip, we had time to explore on our own. We took an Uber to La Jolla, about 12 miles from our hotel. It would have been possible to get there by trolley or bus, but that would have taken almost two hours, time better spent enjoying the weather.

This lovely seaside community, which is located within the borders of San Diego, is home to several art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Native Americans called this area “mat kulaaxuuy,”  meaning land of holes, not sure why. Spanish settlers called it La Jolla, which may derive from their pronunciation of the Native American name, or simply be a misspelling of “la joya,” meaning the jewel. In any case, La Jolla’s nickname is “Jewel City.”

We walked to Ellen Browning Scripps Park to see the sea lions. This park was named for the female scientist, teacher, and journalist who moved to La Jolla in 1897. Along with her brother, James, she published the Detroit Evening News in the 1860s. Other newspapers were added as part of the Scripps Publishing Company. Ellen later invested in another brother’s (EW Scripps) chain of newspapers. Ellen had been educated as a scientist and mathematician at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, one of the few colleges to admit women in the 1800s. Her love of science led her to leave much of her fortune to the Scripps Institute of  Oceanography. She was a founding member of the La Jolla Women’s Club, which still functions today. Ellen Browning Scripps was inducted into the California Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007.

Both seals and sea lions enjoy the beaches of La Jolla, but today, we saw only sea lions. There is a difference. Seals have shorter front legs compared to those of the sea lions, and can only creep on land while the sea lion can raise its body and use its fins to navigate. The sea lion has visible ear flaps compared to the seal’s ear holes without flaps. Most noticeably, the sea lion is noisy, as was evidenced by several today.

A little shopping, a little lunch with a view, and back to the hotel to pack for our return home.

I must say this experience was delightful. We was very impressed with The Vacation Hunt and don’t hesitate to recommend them. The only surprise was the destination, all else was handled with great attention to detail. All we had to do was show up!

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Water and Windmills

October 9, 2019

Day two of our surprise trip started with a quick breakfast at Starbucks across from the hotel, so very convenient for someone who loves her Starbucks, even if I have to settle for decaf these days.

20191009_112020While walking toward the harbor, we saw some very cool curved LED light poles on Broadway Street. Each pair of lights curl around each other, almost like they are being buffeted by the wind. I tried to find out more information about them without success. I’d like to know who designed them.

Our first stop was at the USS Midway. We had visited two years ago, but we know we didn’t see everything, so we enjoyed touring again. The Midway was commissioned in 1945 as the largest warship in the world, too large to go through the Panama Canal. During its 47 year history, it operated in Vietnam, leading the evacuation of Saigon, it operated in Operation Desert Storm and rescued Americans who were fleeing the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991. The ship was decommission in 1992, and opened as a museum in 2004. Much of the gear worn by the sailors was made by Stearns Manufacturing right here in Minnesota.

During a two hour Flagship Cruises  harbor cruse, we explored both the north and south ends of the harbor, going under the Coronado bridge, seeing the America’s Cup Stars and Stripes Yacht tacking nearby, and paying a visit to some sea lions and waterfowl.

Dinner tonight was at the Searsucker in the Gaslamp Quarter, informally known as the Gaslamp District, followed by a performance of The Man of La Mancha at the The Horton Grand Theatre, named for Alonzo Horton, an 1860s developer. The musical was a production of the San Diego Musical Theatre, and was simply delightful. None of us had seen this musical before, although we were somewhat familiar with the story of Don Quixote. I’m still singing.

Listed as an historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, Gaslamp constist of a little over 16 blocks in downtown San Diego. This area was originally developed in the 1860s, on land owned by Alonzo Horton, and was mostly lit by electric arc lighting, not gaslamps. However, the gaslamp was chosen as the symbol of the neighborhood during urban redevelopment in the 1980s. The district is home to 94 historic buildings, which now house restaurants, nightclubs, galleries, museums, theaters, boutiques and more, including Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop, the perfect place for some late night dessert. It was all I could do to walk out of there without a few pounds of candy to supplement the pounds I added with the ice cream!




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US Grant Hotel and Grill

October 8, 2019

We arrived in San Diego around 1:00 this afternoon, and headed to our hotel to check in. Located near the Gaslamp Quarter, the US Grant Hotel, built in the early 1900’s by Ulysses S Grant, Jr, and named for his father. It opened in 1910, and the family and friends marveled over the fact that many of the rooms had their own bathrooms!

The Grant may have been ahead of its time regarding bathrooms, but it was behind the times regarding how women were treated. Until 1969, the Grant Grill Restaurant only allowed men before 3:00pm. Apparently, women didn’t need lunch! On June 17, 1969, six women made lunch reservations under an ambiguous name – Sydney Windle – and enjoyed a lunch of mock turtle soup. Apparently, Sydney and her five friends weren’t asked to leave, and they are credited with changing the course of history.


After checking in and finding our rooms, we took a stroll to the Little Italy neighborhood for lunch. We found a lovely spot with outdoor tables – Enoteca Style – where we enjoyed wine and paninis. When returning to our room, we were greeted with chocolate dipped strawberries and sparkling cider – what a treat!

Dinner tonight was at the Grant Grill Restaurant in our hotel. It appears we will be eating well on this trip.


It was a long day for us, with a two hour time difference from Minnesota, so we headed off to bed shortly after dining. We need our rest for tomorrow’s activities.


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Surprise! Vacation Trip

October 7, 2019

My best friend and I will be embarking on another decade of our lives soon. To celebrate, we opted for a surprise trip with our spouses, using The Vacation Hunt, a company started by a young couple in 2017. We started by filling out an on-line survey, listing our likes and dislikes, time frame, and budget. Had we wanted to, we could have received some hints ahead of time, but we chose to be totally surprised. We did, however, get information about climate and suggestions regarding what we might want to pack a week ahead of time, as well as flight dates and times.

The Vacation Hunt sent us a packet a few days ahead of time, including tickets to a local tours and shows, plus hotel and flight reservations. We opened our package the night before our flight for “the big reveal.”

We were pretty excited about this because we had visited San Diego a couple of years ago, and enjoyed the climate almost as much as all of the attractions in the area. We were only going for three nights, but expected to have an enjoyable time.

We learned that we would be staying at the US Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego. We had attended a show there two years ago, so already knew its reputation. Yay! We would be touring the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier, then taking a Harbor Cruise. We would enjoy a musical – The Man of La Mancha – and had dinner reservations set up at some local restaurants. We would also have some free time to explore on our own.

Throughout the trip, The Vacation Hunt had arranged special touches, including birthday desserts at two restaurants, plus sparkling cider and chocolate dipped strawberries in our hotel room.

Let the adventure begin!


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Fallen Trees and Fall Colors

October, 2019

My husband’s family owns a cabin in Northern Minnesota, just a few miles from the Canadian border. It’s a beautiful retreat from the hustle and bustle we experience in our everyday lives. The cabin is “off grid,” so our power comes from solar panels, batteries and generators, and we had our own cell phone tower. We can hear loons singing on the lake, the wind rustles the leaves on tall white pine, birch, and other trees that surrounded the cabin, chipmunks scurry around looking for food, grouse freeze in place, hoping we won’t notice them (we are in the middle of grouse hunting season). There is evidence of deer, moose and bear. Wolves have also been sighted on occasion. We’ve never seen mountain lions, but are sure they are here. In spring, we find lady slippers in bloom; in summer, we can pick blueberries and raspberries (if the bears haven’t found them first.)


Until recently, we could barely see the lake from the cabin. We were surrounded by tall trees until a tornado hit in July. Tornadoes are rare up here – the annual average is less than one per year. Fortunately, this was a mild tornado, probably an F0, and no one was hurt. There were a couple of people staying here, so they were the first to witness the devastation that occurred. They watched as the tornado hit the lake and pulled water into the air before it died a natural death.

It’s been about 2.5 months since the tornado struck, yet the we are still shocked and saddened by the aftermath. Workers have been in to clear up some of the damage, cutting trees and hauling logs away, but there’s still plenty of cleanup to be done. It will probably be a year or longer before things begin to look normal again. The cabin itself fared quite well, although the roof needs to be replaced.

Mark and I decided to take an ATV and drive around the lake this morning (about four miles around). We stopped a couple of times to clear branches from the trail, but were only able to make it about half way. Mark had constructed a cell phone tower about 18 years ago (we want to get “away from it all,” but still stay in touch). It was bent in half, but surprisingly, some of the equipment still works. Remarkably, all of the solar panels survived, but did need to be moved to a new location.

Fall colors are approaching their peak in this area. Brown ferns tell us that we’ve already had the first frost. Snow fell just two days ago. While driving around the lake, we are greeted by the reds and oranges of young trees surrounded by their uprooted elders. Many trees are leaning precariously, supported by other, stronger ones. We notice more bedrock that has been exposed by uprooted trees. This 2.5 – 3.5 billion year old rock lies close to the surface at any time up here, often only a foot or two below the soil.

Next spring, we’ll see a lot of new growth, not just young plants, but older ones that have more space to branch out on their search for the sun.

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Newport, RI

Sunday, September 8, 2019


Today was a long drive from Lebanon, Vermont. We are staying at the Hydrangea House Inn in Newport, Rhode Island, located within walking distance of the harbor and many of Newport’s historic sites, including the iconic Newport Tower.

The Newport Tower is located on land that once belonged to 17th century Governor Benedict Arnold (ancestor of the Revolutionary traitor.) Governor Arnold referred to his wind mill in 1677, so it was probably constructed a few years before that. Carbon dating has put the date somewhere between 1635 and 1698, although there have been several theories floated that suggest it was built by Vikings several centuries before, or even Knights Templar in the 1500’s. Everyone loves a mystery.


Monday, September 9

We started our day by driving the Ten Mile Drive  around the southern portion of Newport’s peninsula. This drive provided beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean and Narragansett Bay, as well as several beaches and mansions.

We then walked down to the harbor and to catch the Newport Harbor Shuttle, which stopped at six different locations. We could get on and off anytime throughout the day, but chose to simply take the ride and learn a little bit more about Newport. Among the stops is Historic Fort Adams which was built over 33 years, from 1824 – 1857. The first fort had been constructed in 1798-1799 as a coastal fortification, and named for John Adams, who was the US President at the time. During the US Civil War, the US Naval Academy was moved here from Annapolis because of concerns about southern sympathies in Maryland. The fort and most of the land surrounding it was transferred to the State of Rhode Island in 1965, and was designated the Fort Adams State Park.

Time for a walk, we set out for Newport’s Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile National Recreation Trail along the west side of Easton Bay. We didn’t walk the entire trail, probably only half of it. The views were stunning.

Tomorrow, it’s back to Minnesota, where we hope to have a few more pleasant days before the onset of winter.

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