The Suicide Birds of West Virginia

Hard to figure the intentions of that pretty blue song bird (maybe an Eastern Blue Jay- where is Tom Lally when you need him?). Maybe she thought we were predators? Or she saw a worm inside the cabin? Or she was just so filled with despair that the only thing she could do was repeatedly smash her beak at high speed into the oversized windows of our West Virginia cabin. And yes, I do think it was a she. Guys just aren’t that committed to anything.

We did what we could to save that beautiful but dumb bird. We tried lowering the drapes, affixing wet toilet paper on the window and stacking furniture up against the window. Still she persisted. If anything she grew more determined. At first she would fly away whenever someone stood by the window. An hour later she just perched on the deck staring that deadened gaze into our souls.

Maybe the first ever Passover Seder at Pipestem State Park

So I called the front desk. The fine folks at Pipestem Resorts are incredibly friendly. They also ask no questions. The other day I managed to procure from them two dollops of horseradish for our virtual Seder. Not one question. This time they listened to my concern without comment while transferring my calls to various departments within the resort. Eventually housekeeping said they would do what they could do. And then we left to begin our day, convinced there would be a dead bird on our deck when we returned.

Hours later we returned and there was no dead bird on our deck. We felt a weight lift from our shoulders. Then, like something from a horror movie, the bird returned to peck one more time at our window before flying away.

Update: Big thank you to Tom Lally who identified the bird as an Eastern Bluebird. He also thinks that he is attacking his own reflection in a bit of hormonal rage (knew it was a male).

Blue Eyes Drives Away

sad blue eyes photo

Hard to say goodbye

On this, the holiest of holy days i.e. Hennacornoeliday (which is wedged each year between Hanukah and Chistmas) we bring you sad news. Blue Eyes is no more. At least for us. After nearly seventeen years of taking us everywhere from Alaska to Nova Scotia to most places in between it was finally time to say goodbye.


That ain’t apple juice we were drinking. 

A nice, very mechanically inclined couple purchased him yesterday. Their skills will surely be tested. Both times they came to check out the truck they had to jump it. Dark clouds billow from the exhaust and the gauges don’t always work. But it is a project they are excited to begin and I wish them the best of luck.

As for us, well, we are doing fine. It’s been over twenty years now since Corey and I first met. Baby makes three and soon she will be the one driving the Millionaire Highway (or maybe just Route 20 through Nebraska). After some self-reflection we upgraded our gear. The Outback is now an Ascent (bigger by 50% but also more fuel efficient). We also bought a new tent that is remarkably similar to the old one but with a lot less duct tape needed. Other essential we hope to gain include a car awning and a new bike hitch which is something we have never really traveled with before. What I am trying to say is that although we may be in our mid-40s/mid-teens with all the growing pains you would expect, we ain’t going nowhere. And by that I mean we are going everywhere.

the photo

Happy Hennacornoelidays!!!!!!!

Talking Politics With Strangers


Downtown Books in Craig, CO

After spending much of last summer explaining why there was no way America would ever elect Donald Trump, I was hoping this time around to gain a little insight into how America did just that. Yes, many more Americans did actually vote for Hillary than Donald. But so what. The electoral college ain’t going anywhere and for at least the next four years either is the duck.

But political conversations with strangers are a dicey proposition. The ones I did cajole usually resulted in voiced opinions not too dissimilar from my own. A retired fire fighter from Boise, for example, credits his city’s high quality of life with its progressive values (he called it a shiny blue dot in a sea of red).

Other pleasant surprises included the beat up pick up truck that passed us on Route 50 in Nevada. It had the same Human Rights Campaign sticker that we have. And then last night in Rock Springs, Wyoming there was not one but two gender non-conforming individuals working at our hotel. Parts of red Montana, like Missoula, swing further to the left than Chicago and even in remote Idaho we saw a highway adopted by the local Democrat chapter. People nowhere fit an exact mold.

Maybe the best conversation (political or otherwise) happened today at a lovely coffee/book shop in Craig, Colorado. Seated next to us was the former mayor who explained to us how Craig, principally a ranching and coal mining town, was more politically aligned with Wyoming than it was with nearby Steamboat Springs. The mayor, another blue dot in a sea of red, was as articulate as he was personable. A soothing cup of coffee at the end of a long ride and a reminder of how great conversation can be.

A marker on Route 789 (WY) commemorating the Overland Trail


Talking Politics in Texas

From Galveston we drove to San Antonio where I was lucky enough to be able to write a review for Splash Magazines. This entailed us staying at a luxury hotel and dining at a very hip restaurant. So dedicated where we to the story that we even had breakfast in bed. Almost as much fun as camping.


Along the San Antonio River Walk

We also made time to check out the River Walk which is located one story below street level like some sort of subterranean mirror image of the above downtown. At night it is lit up with Christmas lights and people crowd the cafes to sip coffee or cocktails. Strolling along the river bank it was easy to think we were in Europe. Then we walked into a gift shop that sold toilet paper with the President’s image on it and we knew exactly where we were.


Street art in Austin. Works for us.

Next day we drove to Austin where we saw a pickup truck with a bumper sticker that read “Not my President.” We were confused about the owner’s politics (sticker could have referenced either the current or future President). Other stickers, like one for the Human Rights Campaign and several for Hillary, were less confusing. Digging the progressive vibe we checked out the shops on South Congress Street. Later we went to the Texas Capitol and were greeted by the Confederate Soldiers Monument which celebrates the Texans who “died for state rights guaranteed under the constitution.” This is followed by a lot of propaganda on how the brutal north suppressed the noble southern wish for sovereignty. There is no mention anywhere about slavery. Must have been an oversight.


Wanting to fit in we sponsored a bill limiting a woman’s access to birth control.

Politics aside, the capitol is impressive and the people working there, as is true with almost everyone we met in Texas, are friendly. One attraction that caught my eye was an exhibit celebrating the fifty-two African Americans who served in the Texas legislature immediately following the Civil War. After Reconstruction, however, it took until 1966 before an African American was elected to the Texas Senate. No reason is given for this extended absence, but my guess are the usual culprits of ignorance and racism. That and a healthy dose of voter suppression. Something to consider as states across the country are currently attempting to limit early voting and enact stringent voter identification laws.


Deep in the heart of Texas exists the amazing Buc-ee travel marts. Like Wall Drug only without the robotic dinosaurs.

After Austin we headed north to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Housed in a former book depository (yes, that book depository), the exhibits first focus on the Kennedy presidency before delving into his assassination. It is very tastefully done and left us with many “what ifs?” like “what if his motorcade sped up as it approached the expressway?” Leaving Dallas we continued to think deep thoughts and I thought of how big our country really is. Sometimes I think that the amazing thing is not that Americans are so divided but that we ever come together at all. But then a national tragedy occurs and suddenly people feel a kinship to people who vote and think differently than ourselves. What if more people were able to drive instead of fly across America? What if that led to more open conversations? What if indeed.


Looking down at Dealey Plaza from book depository



Playing the Blues on the Red Highway


Where ice and earth meet

Last night was a rough one for Hennacornoelidays. Maybe only equal to that time we camped in a hurricane. Trying my best to fall asleep I imagined a road trip leaving from my house that only went through areas that voted for Hillary. I did not get very far.

The simple truth is that some of the areas we love the most agree with us the least on almost everything. And that is OK. I like people. I like talking politics. And religion. Sometimes this works out well, sometimes not so much. But what to make of the sign on Highway 20 near Chadron, Nebraska that features a snake with President Obama’s head? Or the nice older man camping with his adult daughter near that sign who warned me about black helicopters? The day he did was the same day the Supreme Court paved the way for same sex marriage. Beneath my feet I felt the rural and urban pieces of earth pulling apart.

I love my neighbors. All of them. Some of them have Trump lawn signs. I hope I am wrong and you are right. Other neighbors are devastated right now and this feels a lot different than when Bush was elected/re-elected. My good friend Tom, The Birdman of Edison Park, posted on Facebook what I think is the best way to get through the next four years. Get organized.

As for my other neighbors, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Missouri. You should have known better, but I forgive you. I also forgive the fine citizens of Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Think it might take me a little while though to forgive Florida due to them being a repeat offender and all. And I honestly did not expect any different from the Dakotas, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, Utah, Idaho, or Mississippi. They are what they are and in time I will forgive them too. Now where can I get a bumper sticker saying, “Don’t blame me, I voted for her?”


Sometimes the road gives and sometimes the road takes


Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving eve and the three of us are surfing our devices in between playing Apples to Apples.  Anyways I came across this from one of our blog’s most loyal and coolest fan Christina Tracy. If you do not know her amazing story this is a great way to learn it.


Wishing everyone an awesome Thanksgiving! Gobble gobble.

On The Tundra of Lake Michigan

Frozen Illinois River

It has been about a day since the deep freeze took hold over Chicago with temperatures dropping close to twenty below (if your reading this in Celsius loving Canada let me assure you that twenty below Fahrenheit it is a mind numbing character building type of cold). And if you are reading this in the Caribbean why don’t you go @#$ yourself!

I’m sorry for that outburst. It’s just the cabin fever speaking (or space madness if you prefer). Truth be told, I have always wanted to weather an Arctic winter. And today, after unsuccessfully attempting to talk Henna into walking the few blocks to her friend’s house, I took a stroll around the block. The thing about extreme weather is you have no margin for error. I wore two pairs of socks, a sweater, my serious winter jacket, pajama bottoms under my pants, as well as gloves and a hat. But I forgot the scarf resulting in some serious freezer burn around the beard.

On Hennacornoeliday Eve

No school for Henna and I today and tomorrow. Corey organized from home today and plans on working tomorrow. Corey has not left the house since Saturday (and is none the worse for it). Despite her self-professed hatred of all things cold, Corey, along with Henna would probably do fine in Alaska. The two of them would sleep in, do art project after art project, and watch a lot of movies. There would be a lot of reading going on too. I would enjoy it all for about a day and then run screaming into the coldness, never to be heard from again. To each their own. Noel

David Mamet Would Not Approve

It all came full circle last night. For Hennacornoeliday (our most awesome family holiday and namesake of this blog) Corey got me a bunch of travel oriented books that included David Mamet’s South of the Northeast Kingdom. A collection of thoughts strung together like essays then put into chapters, the book perfectly captures the magic of Mamet’s Vermont. Corey also bought herself Tenth of December by George Saunders (a clever but maybe over rated collection that seems to repeat the same short story over and over). Last Sunday the front page of the Arts and Entertainment section of the Tribune featured a fawning article on George Saunders and a piece by Chris Jones discussing David Mamet’s recent embrace of nutty NRA politics.

South of the Northeast Kingdom by David Mamet

I do not think I have ever felt cooler than I did in that moment. The Chris Jones article concerning David Mamet aluded to how surprised some of his fans are by his almost Rush Limbaugh stand on handguns. There could not have been to much of a surprise for anyone who had read his Vermont book as he frequently talks about his love of hunting and collecting guns. In that same book he slams the Bush administration for its escalating war in Iraq and Afghanistan and subtly but firmly defends same sex marriage (a hot topic in early 2000 Vermont). Above all else, however, is his fawning over hand crafted goods. Mamet is definitely a man who appreciates a sweater woven by hand and worn by generations (where the stain of human urine, used in the processing of the wool, is present for years after receiving the gift). Our own quick impressions of the state confer with Mamet. Not only are Vermont’s byways populated with an abundance of hand made goods, but the population consumes (often literally as it would be hard to find any Vermont native who admits to using Aunt Jemima over the good stuff) those same goods.

Maple Syrup works; time consuming and done with pride

Maple Syrup works; time consuming and done with pride

This brings me to the circle complete. Yesterday night on NPR I heard that Makers Mark (a favorite drink of mine) is going to dilute their product by 3% due to an increase in demand. So, instead of allowing the market to inflate the cost of their product, a good honest one that has brought joy to many a Hennacornoeli Day celebration, they are going to cheapen it in order to make more money. They have every right to do so. But I know David Mamet would not approve and neither do I. Noel Schecter

Jim Beam, producers of Makers Mark

Jim Beam, producers of Makers Mark

Update: After a lot of angry customers weighed in, Makers Mark changed their mind and decided not to water down their product. I like to think it was this post that sealed the deal.

Final Thoughts on Winter Trip 2012-13

Well, here in Chicago it was a little warmer than typical for this time of year (high near 40).  Back on the Gulf side of Florida it was probably in the mid-70s with plenty of sun.  Oh well, it stills feels good to be home.  Sort of.

Snow birds on the beach

Snow birds on the beach

As with every trip, there were lessons learned. 

Lesson 1:  Florida is weird.  Beautiful and sunny, but so very, very weird.  Any state that puts houses on stilts or screens in entire backyards is a bit off.  You have gators for cripes sakes lurking in every irrigation ditch.  And as you head further south there are entire towns where it seems that everyone (visitor and worker alike) is over the age of 70.  I loved Florida but man is it weird.

Lesson 2:  U.S. 19 sucks.  Big time.  From 60 miles north of Tampa to wherever that hell hole of a road ends, it is nothing but one stop-and-go billboard loving stretch of pavement.  Cousin Frank called it “Useless 19” and I think he was being kind.  Avoid U.S. 19 near Tampa!

Lesson 3:  Clearwater and Tampa is nice, everything south is heaven.  This was the nicest discovery of the whole trip.  We loved, loved, loved Venice, Sanibel Island, and pretty much everything south of Tampa.  Beautiful beaches, neat towns, and friendly/ slightly eccentric people (old too) made for a cool world to be in. 

A Henna-sault!

A Henna-sault!

Lesson 4:  No reservations is the way to travel.  Only before a trip do Corey and I ever tussle over destinations.  When we just sit back and let the trip guide us we almost never fight.  And that is what we did this winter.  Lodging decisions were usually made the day of and we knew (with the intuition of a true snow bird) when it was time to head back north.  We are now back in our nest but are very much restless for our next adventure. Noel, Corey, and Henna too

Corey and a palm tree

One More Thing About Montgomery, AL

There is one more thing about Montgomery I forgot to mention. It must have the highest percentage of Koreans of anywhere in the United States.  Or maybe that is just true for our hotel.  There are two free Korean papers offered at check in, signs everywhere in Korean, a ping-pong table at the pool (not sure if that is really a common Korean or Asian thing, but this is the first ping-pong table I have ever seen at a hotel pool), rice offered at breakfast along with some kimchi, and the television in the breakfast area was tuned into a Korean television channel. By the way, Corey’s Hennacornoeli gift to me was a portable ping-pong net; most of our games thus far have been on the kitchen island.

Last night there was a floating party of Korean business men who wandered from room to room and alternated between yelling loudly in the hallway and slamming doors.  At around 1 AM I shushed them (picture angry Noel in his boxers standing in the hallway and asking a man in his early 50s wearing a tie to keep it down).  They apologized and then I heard nothing more from them again.  Wikipedia told me that Montgomery’s Asian population is a mere 2%, but Hyundai does have a plant here.  One more thing; the pillows here are half-size.  I am pretty sure that is not an Asian thing, but I think it is worth noting.  Noel