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When is a martini stirred, not shaken?

A few days ago I was pondering this very question. I couldn’t imagine making a martini without shaking it, hard, over ice until it’s so cold tiny slivers float on the surface when it’s poured into a properly chilled glass. It’s not really just a drink—more like an occasion in a glass, the way all treats should be. It is thus my preference to make any vodka-based drink with a shaker, but I like to think James Bond would have joined me Saturday night for the drink I made that was, well, swirled over ice and then decanted not into the chilled crystal martini glasses I place in the freezer at least thirty minutes before mixing martinis at my house, but a nine ounce plastic cup I unwrapped over a hotel sink.

It’s a very cool hotel—billed as one of the top ten most unusual hotels in the world, not far from the shore of Lake Superior, the Northern Rail Suites is made out of boxcars. Two rows of boxcars line a long, open hallway, the original rust and graffiti decorating the sides. Our boxcar held a bed, a sofa bed, and a bathroom with a lovely shower. On the recommendation of the comforting proprietress, while I was making my drink a pizza delivery van had already been ordered up to bring our dinner; Ten and Thirteen were sprawled out, living the fantasy of being actual boxcar children, our visit to the hotel inspired by the book series they love. At that moment I knew I had everything in the world that I could need—except maybe a working automobile, but I’m getting ahead of my story.

Inside the Northern Rail Suites, our boxcar home.

A month ago I had my car checked over, the alignment done and the oil changed in preparation for summer travels. The first trip was on my own, the second to deliver Thirteen to Spanish language immersion camp, the third to collect him and head north for a few days’ vacation with a friend in Lake Vermillion.

For the three days leading up to our departure to collect Thirteen, I had the impulse to gather him up, then hold him down with one paw and scrub him. Nearly two weeks is the longest we’ve ever been apart and while I was certain he was having a wonderful time, I missed him tremendously. We all did. So it was with light hearts Ten and I set out to reunite. The parent program at camp featured lots of Spanish singing and dancing and I could see by the close proximity of all of the teenaged campers that they had bonded during their time together. Nonetheless, Thirteen was happy to climb into the car beside me and ramble about all he had experienced as we headed north.

Cresting the hill into Duluth is one of the more stunning vistas I’ve seen in a long time. Thirteen gasped, “we’ve reached the top of the world.” Indeed, it did look like that as the town reaching along the shore of Lake Superior twinkled up at us in the sunlight. We spent a couple of happy hours walking along the shoreline; then headed for Two Harbors, Minnesota, and our boxcar.

Late Saturday afternoon we paused in Two Harbors to fill the car with gas. The station was busy with vacationing people, a car at nearly every pump. The gas paid for, I hopped back in, said, “Okay, let’s go be boxcar children!” I turned the key. The car answered, “Rrrrr, Rrr, rrr, rr, click, click, click.”

“Click, click, click.”


There is never a good time for car trouble, but 5:45 p.m. on a Saturday in a tiny harbor town when you’re supposed to be on vacation seems like one of the worst. For a moment inside the car, the jolly bustle of the filling station a world away, we were in that space when life isn’t going according to plan. Even as my heart sank, I knew I needed to keep my spirits lifted so Ten and Thirteen would rally rather than panic. I started thinking, hopped back out of the car and approached the driver at the pump adjacent to mine—did he have jumper cables? He did and he was kind enough to pull his car right up and juice my battery.

While we were starting the car, another man walked over to me and announced he was a Chrysler mechanic, that Chryslers were notorious for battery failure and that I needed to get a new battery right away. He was also on vacation, from Arkansas, and frustrated because he had no tools with him or he’d help me. I thanked both men and we drove out of town to the hotel.

I backed in and left it running while I went in to the lobby. Cyndi, our hostess for the night, had all the answers—a room key, a pizza delivery menu, and assurances that the parts store in town would be open in the morning, her husband would get my car started for me, and she would call ahead so they’d be sure to help me test the battery and the alternator. All would be well.

Armed with reassurances and information, I said thank you maybe one too many times, and I went to get my children, their luggage, and a mini bottle of vodka out of the car. It was Saturday night, our plans had changed and almost just as quickly righted themselves. We had stayed present and open to the possibilities and were rewarded with a festive, comfortable night, a shared experience we’ll always remember and in the morning, just the right help to get us back on the road heading to our next adventure.

The new August moon glimmers and new adventures include the start of school and the first whiffs of fall. I’m feeling grateful this morning because in Minnesota it was only a battery—this week it is the water pump. More adjusting for me; more lessons to learn. May each of your adventures surprise you and resolve with ease, as your heart stays open to the possibilities. Thank you for the journey, Rxo


About Robin Bourjaily

I currently perform my own stunts as a mother, writer, editor, yoga instructor, and certified Yoga As Muse facilitator. Overneath It All is a medium for sharing my stories--my commitment is to post on the full and new moons, plus or minus a day or two, and the occasional personal holiday. My novel, Throwing Like a Girl, is now available in e-formats on Smashwords. Please visit to download. Thanks for checking in. xoR

4 responses »

  1. delightful, as always…thanks for telling and for sharing…

  2. I look forward to sharing the stories of your life (and the lives of Ten and Thirteen). Somehow you magically turn the mundane into muse….ha! imagine that! Keep writing and inspiring.


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