One could go on and on forever talking about anything, but I'll just touch on it here.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Walking in the No Snow, Buying Books, and Writing

Still no snow, but I went out in it anyway and got too hot in my coat and bought another book for myself and bought a book for my husband and came home and started editing my unfinished novel even though I should have hopped in the shower for how hot and sweaty I was.

Vacation has been good for my novel. I've gotten new ideas. I've gotten rid of old ideas. I've made notes of the ideas from my husband, who had a bunch of good ones late at night, when we should have been sleeping but he was mourning the loss of his fictional friends since he had finished reading another great book. Of course, his new great ideas are for an entirely different book, not my current novel. If I can be 'reading' several books at once I can be writing them too. Yes? Well, maybe the whole point of my husband brainstorming all his ideas was just to get me back to writing.

So I finally took a shower and here I am back at the computer with new ideas for my novel, sharing other ideas with my blog readers, and itching to pick up the new book I bought and start reading.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What is Christmas with No Snow?

Not every Christmas comes wrapped in a white blanket, so I don't know why it doesn't seem very Christmassy today even without the cold decorations. We've got the fire (real flames, fake wood), brightly lit tree, stockings hanging with care (except now they are on the floor, but still fat with candy). Wrapping paper is strewn about; we're smiling over the gifts. But I'd really love to go walking in my new coat, and crunch snow with my boots.

Yes, it's true, our families have come and gone. It does feel a little empty around here, even in a room full of boxes and bows. It's kind of odd, growing up, getting married, extending the family. Christmas isn't contained any more, but it overflows. That's joyful, but new.

No, it isn't the lack of snow, or the many "Christmases" with multiple family members; it's the grown-up bit. I didn't think about Santa even once last night, as my head hit the pillow. And this morning, I didn't get out of bed until 8:00! I loved opening presents and watching my husband open his. I loved saying Merry Christmas! and calling and messaging my parents, sister, and niece. But I miss the sugar plums, the reindeer, the chimney. I miss "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," and Mom reading "A Few Bars in the Key of G." I miss sledding with my sister, even when she would leave me behind at the top of the hill. I miss sitting on Santa's lap, even though it was scary because I was terribly shy. I miss school programs with costumes and songs.

Hang on; this wasn't supposed to be a melancholy Christmas. And it isn't, really. Just a meditative one. The spirit of Christmas, the magic, still swirls in my head. Soon, my husband will take out his guitar and we'll sing carols. And I have a nice stack of Christmas stories to read. And we'll take a walk, I'm sure; and I'll wear my new coat. And I'll imagine the snow under my feet.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree?

Where can you enjoy the unique melodies of a dulcimer, a 12-string guitar, and a crowd of adults playing beer pong? Let's not forget four pregnant women, a round of Rock Band, and a Tom Jones wannabe at the karaoke machine. Welcome to the office Christmas party.

Disco ball spinning, drink glasses clinking, shoes slip-sliding on the slick, sleek floor–one corner Christmas music, the other Madonna's "Like a Virgin."

How many will show up for work in the morning? Did I mention the decadent desserts? I, for one, will have a sweet-tooth hangover.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Childhood Allergies

Boy, six, sitting down at the table to work:

"I think I'm allergic to teachers."

Me: No way, really?

"I always get itchy!"

Scratch, scratch

Thursday, December 8, 2011

6-Year-Old Minds

Ten o'clock and five first graders come in red and cold from recess, noses running. One or two of the girls usually arrive first and announce that they are first and then proceed to tell each boy that he is not first, (because the boys might say they are first even when they clearly are not). Then we have our little chat about how it doesn't matter who is first, and then I start going over the new letter and sound and new words for the week. We read the words on the cards and then each student in turn uses the words in sentences. The girls ALWAYS have someone going to the store, and finally I have said, can't we stop going to the store with our sentences? (For example if the word is 'said' a girl might say: "He said I am going to the store.") The boys, nearly always, have sharks, dinosaurs, or monsters in their sentences. I don't usually have to prompt them much. After we review, we practice sounding out words smoothly, looking at ways to blend and chuck words together. Then we get to read a story.

Yesterday, scene:

I notice that the book has a picture of a caterpillar on the cover and the word metamorphosis. This excites me, and I get ready to listen to them tell me what I assume they know about caterpillars and then show them this really cool new word. I ask the group, what happens to caterpillars? One of the boys, who usually gets the giggles but is not laughing at the moment, raises his hand and tells me—very matter-of-factly—"They get squashed." I start laughing before I even think about it. They do? I ask. I hope they don't get squashed! 

Then the boy and his giggle buddy start laughing and banging their fists on the table and saying, "Squash!" I try to regain composure and turn to the little girl next to me who, trying to collect her words and forgetting the word cocoon, finally spits out: "It changes into a butterfly." Okay, I say, that sounds better than getting squashed.

We then proceed to try and read chapter one about a caterpillar named Tim, and as we are reading I can't help thinking that I hope Tim doesn't get squashed in the story. Well, as we are reading along (I read the words in fine print and the kids read the big, bold words), one girl comments: "He's fat!" 
"I am NOT!" shouts one of the boys. Then I calmly explain to him that she was talking about the caterpillar, who is indeed fat and getting fatter by the minute. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saving Judas

The name Judas doesn’t appear on the top ten list of boy’s names for the year. Or girl’s names for that matter. I don’t know anyone named Judas and I’ll bet you don’t either. The name has a hex on it. It’s like black cats, full moons, and Friday the 13th. Michael, however, that’s the most popular name of all time. Another name for Jesus, the son of God, the right hand of God, God Himself. We think of Judas, we think betrayal. The one who condemned Michael to death.

Read in the Bible and you’ll find that Judas didn’t live long past the wicked deed and in fact hanged himself. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. How he died is not for me to say. But what happened next? Why don’t we know that? Why do we say that that was it for Judas? Pastors and churches preach forgiveness and that there is no sin too great for God to forgive. But did Judas believe that he couldn’t be forgiven—shouldn't be forgiven—and so he wasn’t?

I know the story of Dr. Faustus. He seemed to believe that his sins were too great for God to forgive. It was his pride, in essence, that condemned him. He couldn’t accept the forgiveness offered. Maybe that happened with Judas. But the last time I checked, the world hasn’t ended yet. If death is really just sleeping, as many Christians believe, then Judas is sleeping. He could be in for a big surprise. Why would God not be waiting around, holding his breath in beautiful anticipation, to wake Judas up and say, “Look! I’m alive. You didn’t ruin the plan. Come back to the family.” Maybe Judas will swallow his pride and stop putting God in a box, believing that He can’t forgive what happened.

Heck, maybe, for all I know, God and Judas have already had that get together. Maybe Judas thought it was over, Hell for him, and woke up on a cloud, wondering if he had really died or not. Maybe Jesus went straight to his tree, the place where Judas broke his own neck, and told him there was still hope. Maybe Jesus did talk to Judas before appearing to Mary on that resurrection morning. How can I say what really happened? Maybe Judas is an angel now, watching over others who make poor decisions just like he did. Maybe it isn’t too late for Judas even after death.

I suppose this theory wouldn’t bring a smile to most pastors’ eyes. They’d rather not let their congregations get the idea that they can run around and be as bad as they want to be, even to the death, and still have a hope for eternal life after this one. But people always have a choice to make. And even after we die, doesn’t God still get to raise whomever he pleases? Don’t you think He wants to do all that He can to convince us that nothing is too horrible that His blood can't cover it?

I guess there will have to be some point at which even God will have to give up and say, “That’s all I can do.” That will have to be the most painful future event that will ever occur. Because we can keep refusing, if we really want to. We can cling to our badness, like Faustus and perhaps like Judas. But what if murderers stood face to face with those they killed, were forgiven to their faces by the victims; how could the killers not accept the freedom from guilt?

We’ll see, I guess. One day. What the ultimate choices will be.

For Blaine

Blaine certainly loved to laugh. Here's one of my first memories of him when my family moved to Oregon.

My little dog didn't like many people. You could say that her bark was worse than her bite, but really you need to ask the mailman first. A tiny mutt with a big voice, my dog did chase down the postman and snarl into his pant legs. But mostly, she did okay as long as no one teased her. Whenever Blaine came in contact with my dog, whether in the mountains on a church hike or when I would go over to his house to ride horses, Blaine would make growling noises and send my dog into a frenzy. Blaine would chuckle and then do it again. Before long, he didn't have to growl at all. She would see him coming and know it meant trouble.

I really miss my little dog, and I wish that she was still here and Blaine was around to growl and laugh at her.

Getting Lost

I don't know how often I've been lost in my life. Once, when I was four or five, I was at a school program with my family and, when the play or whatever was over, I became entranced with the pumpkins on the stage. After staring at them for awhile, I looked around and couldn't find my family in the crowd. They must have gone out to the truck, I assumed. So I left the auditorium and went to find them in the parking lot. Nope. I remember crying and then mashing my face into Mom's shoulder when I tracked her down back inside. (Hmm, come to think of it I guess I knew where I was the whole time.)

On road trips, maps haven't always been friendly. I've stopped with friends and family to ask for directions, but we never stayed truly lost. Then there was that night I was following my best friend through Portland to her mom's house and I made a wrong turn, thinking I was still behind her car. Downtown Portland at night with no clue isn't so fun. Fortunately with a little God-help-me and the fact that I had been to my destination many times before (with someone else driving the car), I was able to get back on the right path.

A few Sundays ago, Luke and I participated in fall's favorite way to get lost: we wandered through a corn maze. Since I couldn't convince Luke to go through the maze at night, we compromised and went the next afternoon. Rather than risk any sort of adverse outcome, we allowed two expert guides to lead us through the maze. Call them blonde Sacajaweas, the grade-school sisters sometimes disagreed about which way we should turn but ultimately got us to the other side and out into the open field. In fact, it was too easy. I didn't really want to get lost, but I had expected more of a challenge. So we went back in.

This particular maze, the genius of my husband's aunt and uncle, had ten multiple-choice questions about corn staked on signs throughout the maze. With our knowledgable guides leading us, we somehow only passed three of the signs. We wanted to find the others. The older sister got tired of the maze, picked out a pumpkin, and went back to the booth at the start, finished with guiding but ready to welcome newcomers. That left one sister determined to help us find the signs. We took left turns, split up at times, felt like we were going in circles, faced many dead ends, found more corn questions, and finally went out through the in passage. But three signs remained hidden to us.

Now of course if we had really gotten lost, or panicked from claustrophobia, we could have crashed straight through the stalk walls and found our way out. There might be a large enough corn maze out there to get lost in for hours while waiting for rescue, but it seems one could just follow the rows to an end. Oh well, at this point I can't wait to get lost all over again next year.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Love Really Does Hurt: Right in the Stomach

A sixth grade girl I once knew had to give herself shots to help control her diabetes. What a brave kid, I thought, to be so used to such a painful task. At least I have always assumed there was some amount of pain but probably nothing more than a little prick.

If the size of the needle makes any difference about the pain, I don't want to start making comparisons. As Luke says, little did I know that one day my body would turn into a pin cushion.

For years I've joked about my hypochondria. Truly, I guess I don't have this illness and I don't want to make light of those who do, but with the invention of the Internet and the handy search engine Google, I've spent many hours of my life trying to convince myself that I'm not dying any faster than the average person (or that I am). Before we explore the purple map across my tummy, let's look at a sampling of my "near death" experiences:

Setting: college, sophomore year, day and night
Situation: rapid and irregular heart beat
My state of mind: if I go to sleep I won't wake up because my heart will beat itself to death

After health clinic visits, an EKG, a chest x-ray, and a later consultation with my family doctor back home, I discovered I was fine. Maybe stress instigated it, but I still have the occasional chest flutter. Many of my female friends do too, so I guess it's a woman thing? I don't know. I don't let it stop me from sleeping at night, but there is still a hint of concern lingering in my mind.

Setting: post college, nighttime
Situation: intense gut pain
My state of mind: my appendix has burst, I have minutes to live

After waking my roommate and best friend, I stressed in the car as she drove me to a 24-hour grocery and we got some Alka Seltzer. I was fine in minutes.

Setting: post college, daytime
Situation: intense headaches
My state of mind: I have a brain tumor and only days to live

This one took a little more work, but after a few visits to a couple of doctors at a walk-in clinic, the conclusion was that I didn't have migraines and might need my head scanned but we tried one more medication. It worked. Since then I've had one other time of intense headaches but it was once again sinus related.

Setting: post college, evening/nighttime
Situation: strange red line on my chest
My state of mind: I have been bitten by a deadly insect, venom is traveling to my heart, I have minutes to live

So there I was, bleary-eyed and staring at my computer screen researching all kinds of poisonous creatures that might have bitten me. Once again, my supportive friend got me to the clinic the next day where the doctor took one look at the red line and said: "Hmm. That is strange. If it gets worse, come back." Well, it was gone in a day or two and I never got sick.

Alright, that's enough stage-setting. Let's fast-forward to this summer. Remember, first, that I got married a year ago. Okay, so the doctor I went to see before the big day started me on this wonderful little pink pill. It was as if I swallowed nothing every day. No sweat. No complications. One year went by and I found myself in a car on the way to Iowa with another of my best friends. You've seen the pictures. You've lived the trip vicariously through my tales. What I neglected to mention is the uncomfortable leg pain that stayed with me for two weeks beyond the trip. What do you think I did about it? Google and I spent some quality time together as I investigated blood clots. Here's the odd part: I didn't go see a doctor. And what do you know? The pain finally went away.

I enjoyed all of September and some of October feeling perfectly fine. Then—cue shark music—I woke up one morning, two weeks ago, with leg pain again. By the weekend it was more painful than before. It hurt to stand, to walk, to touch my calf or the side of my foot. I decided it was time to listen to Google and seek medical attention.

Sunday is not the best day to go to a doctor. Oh, it was another walk-in clinic, so they were open and everything, but they didn't have the equipment needed to peek inside my leg. Before I knew it I was in one of those drafty hospital gowns, on a bed behind a curtain, with three people hovering over me. Luke was in the waiting room playing games with Asimov (aka the ipad). (Don't worry, Luke will soon rush into the story very heroically). Unfortunately Dr. Kovac, Dr. Carter, and Dr. Green were nowhere to be found. Well, my doctor could have starred on "ER"—he had the right look. Fortunately, everyone was really nice. I soon had a heated blanket over my legs and later a cup of ice water.

Let's skip to the end of this ER experience and confirm our worst fears: blood clots below the knee, left leg. Luke joined me and we discussed everything with the doctor, they drew my blood, and we left. Our plan was to take aspirin, stop the little pink pills, and return in a few days for another ultrasound. HOWEVER, the doctor set me up an appointment to see another physician two days later.

Aspirin doesn't sound so bad, right? What about needles? What about the pin cushion?

Setting: Two days later, doctor's office
Situation: confused doctor wondering why I wasn't already on blood thinners
My state of mind: He's scaring me, I'm going to die from a PE
Luke's state of mind: Coumadin is scary $%#@
Doctor's state of mind: heck, Tylenol is scary $%#@; if my wife or daughter had a clot, she'd be on a blood thinner no question

So, here I am today. Wait—isn't Coumadin a pill to swallow? Yeah, so there's this strange thing about Coumadin—I could die with it and without it. Sorry, too much drama. What I had to do first, and am still doing, is get the heparin shots—called LOVEnox (here's the love in the stomach part)—at the start of the Coumadin treatment to, as I understand it, get my body the help it needs in the short-term while the other stuff gets set for the long-term (maybe three months of pills). Shots. Twice a day. At home. Give myself shots? Are you kidding? When the nurse gave me the first one to show me how to do it, I thought a thousand bees had stung me on the same spot at the same time. Again, the drama. While Luke waited outside (he has a tortured history with needles), I sucked up the courage and told myself, okay, I'd rather stick myself with a needle than die.

Enter hero.

The next morning when it was time for my shot, my heroic husband slung the stethoscope around his neck, cleaned a patch of skin on my belly, pinched it up, and drove a needle into my fat (good thing I have some there now). And he didn't pass out. And I didn't scream. And as of today he has given me fifteen shots. My hope and prayer is that next week the doctor will say that my INR is good and we can just go with the pill, ignoring the other syringes in the cupboard.

In the mean time, with left-side bruising (never on the right) and all the blue dots Luke has plotted on my stomach and "love handles" so we won't shoot up the same place twice, the view under my shirt is colorful to say the least.

As if that wasn't enough to deal with already, yesterday the nurse staple-gunned two fingers to squeeze out blood for an INR reading. (Well it FELT like being stapled!). The first hit didn't draw enough blood, and after the second one the machine wasn't ready at the right time. No problem, the doctor informed me; we'll just draw some blood from your arm. Huh! I'd rather be stapled than have a nurse hem and haw over my arm and how my vein is so close to some tendons and it would be REALLY bad to hit those—yeah, she made me feel so relaxed. Um, take another finger—please! Oh, no honey, we don't need to do that! I'll get it.

Now my arm is pretty too. I think I'll stay away from acupuncture.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bringing Home the Bacon

Okay, we don't eat bacon at my house, but we do work to pay our bills. And even though my husband makes more money than I do, he doesn't technically bring the food home. He hates grocery shopping—don't we all—so I'm the volunteer to go out and actually hunt for—and gather—food for our meals. Seriously, even with a list and a familiarity with the organization of Winco, I still have to do a lot of hunting. Why did they decide to move the Goldfish crackers from one side of the cookie and cracker aisle to the other? It's a sick game played by the stock boys I'm sure. Sorry, stock people. Well, I don't really know the politically correct term.

So anyway. Since I work full time now, I don't have the luxury of shopping in the morning hours before going to work. Today happened to be the day I scheduled grocery shopping (okay, I didn't schedule it I put it off instead of going on Sunday). I figured I could get off work, go to Winco, get in, and get out and still be home in time to start dinner before Luke made it through the door. Why I thought this, I do not know (and by the way, Luke often makes meals or we make them together—I just usually put the burden on myself).

After standing in line at the post office for 20 minutes, I finally left for the store. I got there, got out my list, and went through the store in my mostly orderly manner, but it was of course by this time much later than I had planned on being there so every other person in town was just off work too and trying to do it all as I was.

They need traffic signals there. I wasn't frustrated and impatient, however. I was polite—no you first—in my cart maneuvering. Then I found myself making car noises while parallel parking a shopping cart. Yeah, I stopped myself before anyone noticed. I think.

Surviving the shopping experience, I headed home only to hit every single red light. When I walked through my door and saw my husband already home, relaxing in his chair, I went into a fit of hysterical laughter, sweat running down my body.

—Of course you are already home, I said. So much for getting dinner started. Now all I want to do is order pizza, but there is NO WAY I'm going to do that because I've just bought enough food to feed our nonexistent family of ten. And I had a list! But I deviated from it a bit.

—You were hungry, he said.

—Yes, but I was buying food for you! I bought beef jerky, and honey roasted peanuts (and other random snack food to pack in his lunches).

Luke started laughing at my erratic explanations of the previous two hours. Then he hugged me, helped me bring in all the groceries and put them away, and he started dinner. Then he was very patient with me as I sat down to start blogging before I forgot everything.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Post-its and Mind Scraps

So I have a small pile of life-experience scribblings that I've been wanting to write about in depth but pushed to the bottom of my want-to-do list. Now that I've moved it to the top, I'm unsure where to start. I think I'll go surreal first.

Several nights ago I had another creative dreaming experience worthy of noting. Even though I made a note about it, I didn't write much down at the time so little is left, but here's the scene that I still see clearly in my head. I'm in a car driving down an unfamiliar street.  Well, in my dream-life it might have been familiar, but in my awake-life I have no idea where it is. (By the way, I've had tons of dreams about driving, and often the car won't go, I'm going the wrong way, I get in a minor wreck, I have to push it—all sorts of crazy situations built upon, I assume, my dislike for driving and my sometimes fear of driving unless I know the road and route well). It is a rather nondescript city/neighborhood sort of street. A tall brick building looms just ahead on my right and there is a man riding a motorcycle just in front of me. Nothing much is going on until the motorcycle and man start to leave the road and drift up into the sky. This is slightly alarming to me, and I watch the motorcycle instead of the road ahead. I'm driving slowly and I'm beginning to swerve just a little as I look up and out of the top of my windshield. I don't remember any noises from the bike or anything else. I just continue to watch the motorcycle float up into the sky like a balloon. It isn't like a rocket but it goes straight. Okay, then what do you know but I settle back to watching the road and I see a camel walking along the left sidewalk ahead of me.

I wish I could tell you more. I think, however, there wasn't really any excitement. What my memory tells me is that I went into the brick building and launched into yet another school dream—I have way too many of these dreams as well.


That's my segue to the next scrap: School. Okay, I'm going to cheat a bit; this is not a new cute-school-kid experience, but it's a funny one. Imagine the cutest, shortest, smallest 4th grade boy you can, with a bigger-than-he-is grin and dark dark brown eyes. One afternoon in a long-ago reading group I worked with this boy. Let me first add that a couple of times when he came to sit at the table with me he had a handful of broccoli kept over from lunch. On this day he walked up to me, wearing the oversize grin, shook his head from side to side and said: "I don't have any broccoli in my pocket." Then he reached into that pocket after taking his seat and out came the handful of broccoli, grin still lit.


Current school story:

My new work position this year includes a heavy amount of time spent administering reading comprehension and vocabulary tests. We give the tests at the beginning of the year to see any growth or drops in grade-level scores from last year, and then we organize our reading extension program for the kids who are not at grade level or above. My fellow tutors and I did almost all of the testing as a team, taking turns explaining the answer sheets, giving the directions, and monitoring the testing. It came time for our last test and we were in meetings. I had been doing most of the directions part of the process, so I volunteered to give the test by myself while the others stayed in the meetings. No sweat, I thought. Ha!

Rushing back to our room, I snatched up the tests, the pencils, the timer, and the directions. I got to the classroom on time, and the teacher got the kids situated. For this group we were using the same test booklets from their previous test, so all I had to do was hand them back to the kids, give the directions, and start the timer. Right. One student didn't get a test back. Ah, right, she had been absent. Silly me. Okay, I'll zip back out to our room and grab a new test for her. No big deal.

Slightly big deal. I return, ready to begin, only to see a student with hand raised. Um, this kid next to me doesn't have a test. What? Where is your test? Oh, you were gone too? That's right! I KNEW that—teacher interjects: Why didn't you say anything when she went out to get the other test? Kid: no answer.

I run back out and the teacher returns to reading the kids a story. Huffing and puffing—yes, really, not just fairy-tale-orically—I deliver the new test to the kid, walk back to the front of the room, and finally begin directions. I finish and then ask if there are any questions. Three hands go up. I nod to the girl in the front row. Uh, when are we going to do this part? she asks while pointing to the blank part of the booklet. Well, hmm, (there's nothing there, I think to myself. what is she talking about?) don't worry about that. We're just going to do this one part. Okay, next question. (and for some reason the girl raises her hand again and I call on her again). Wait, is this a question about the test?—I ask this first. Yes? Okay. Um, do I need to move my desk so that they can't see? (they already had their "privacy folders" up). No, you are fine just where you are. Okay, more questions? Girl in the back. Go ahead. Girl: What if we have to go to the bathroom? Me: Well, this is only a 20 minute test. Do you have to go now? Yes? Teacher: Is it an emergency? Student: Yes. Teacher: Okay, go now. (Then she looks across the room at a student who hadn't been there all morning) When did you get here? Did you go to the bathroom before you came in? Student: shakes head no. Teacher: Okay, you better go now. I guess I'll keep reading the story while we wait.

Wait. Wait. Wait. The students return. Okay—I wasn't going to ask if there were any more questions—you may begin. The students work quietly, and some work rather quickly. I watch the room and roam around as needed to make sure that they are on the correct pages. Before the test is over, hands start going up as students finish the test. I go around to check and make sure they haven't skipped any pages. Sure enough, four kids have missed two or three entire pages and I must return their tests to them to finish. Then the oddest thing happens. Students start getting up and bringing me their tests. Go back to your seat, I have to say several times. I will come to you. Pretty soon, other kids finish and decide that even though they were not asked to get up and come to me, it must be the right thing to do. I have to interrupt the testers and announce: When you finish, stay at your seat. I will come to you. Not one minute later I look up and see a boy start toward me, test in hand. I make mad motions for him to sit back down and he does so.

Finally the test is over. I call time and collect the booklets and materials. As I leave the room, I mutter to myself: Sure, I can handle the test on my own. Nope, I don't need the others. No help at all. What a joke!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lessons Away from Home

I was unpacking boxes in the school bookstore when Greg, a fellow student, walked through the door. "Did you hear the news?" he asked. Tracy—my co-worker— and I said no and kept working. "The World Trade Center towers are gone- flattened; nothing is left." My stomach tightened as he told us the rest of what he knew. Later, as many of us gathered around the TV set, I sat in silent shock at the pictures I saw. I didn’t know anyone in all of New York State, but I had never felt more distinctly American than that day.

Growing up in a Caucasian, Christian family in small-town America, I never stood out in the national or international scene. I have never dealt directly with racism or violence. I have never been surrounded by war. I still have yet to visit Washington D.C. and many other places in our country, but in September of 2001 I boarded a plane for France. I went to spend the school year learning French, traveling Europe, and meeting people. Suddenly I was not just another college student; I was one of the Americans.

That evening of the attacks, while it was still early afternoon in New York, rumors were circulating about who had attacked America. Our school met in the girl’s dorm chapel to worship and talk about what had happened. When a Croatian student came up to my friend and me to tell us how sorry he was, a mixture of emotions enveloped me. That someone from a war-torn country was expressing his sadness to me, an American, was touchingly ironic. I found myself feeling guilty. But what did I have to do with any of this? What right did I have to be sad?

Over the next month all the American students were glued to the news, and our professor Pierre often interpreted in English for us. I heard students speculate that we might all get sent home while others said we were safer just to stay in France. I had visions of my country in war while I hid in a tiny French town a step away from Geneva, Switzerland and the comfort of possible safety in its neutral boundaries. Traveling was suddenly a scary idea. Without knowing it, I wore America like a name tag, as if an American flag were tattooed on my forehead. Our school trip to Paris was in October and fears were growing that our rowdy American group might not be safe. Stay together, speak French as much as possible, and when you speak English talk quietly. Don’t wear loud American clothing and don’t show off the fact that you are tourists. These words of advice were especially important in the days after September 11; though we were not expected to go around living in fear, we had to be sensible. I didn’t know if I was proud to be American or scared to death that someone would hate me just for being from the United States.

In a Chamonix bookshop, the woman at the counter interrupted my broken French with excellent English and asked me where I was from. I replied, "Washington," referring to the state where I attended college. "Try to find your smile again," she said. A little taken aback, I realized she might have been talking about the attacks, perhaps even assuming, as many people did, that I meant I was from Washington D.C. The French don’t like Americans; I had heard the stereotype all my life, but I was discovering that one act of kindness can overpower negativity.
I wasn’t home to experience all the good stories of strangers helping one another, Americans pulling together, but as I read the newspapers, I also read of hate. America was supposedly uniting more than ever, but it was dividing too, splitting itself off from other parts of the world. Americans of Middle-Eastern descent were targeted. In just a matter of weeks, my pride was definitely shifting. Okay, so I am American, I thought. But I am much more than that; I am human first. I was standing out as an American in France, but it wasn’t just Yankees and Frenchmen. My school included people from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Romania, Croatia, Brazil, Argentina, Madagascar, and many other countries. My travels by plane, train, car, bus, and boat took me to Paris, Barcelona, London, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Bastia, and Florence. I stayed in homes where only German, Romanian, or French was spoken. Many times I could not communicate because my language was so limited, but always the smiles told me how welcome I was. For every bad encounter I had with someone, there was a positive experience to replace it. People knew I was American and either loved me for it or in spite of it. They cared about me for who I was not where I lived. I did feel a responsibility to be the best American I could be, but it started with being the best person I could be. I learned a great deal from the kindness of "foreigners" in their native lands, and it wasn’t hatred.

When my friend and I traveled around France for two weeks in April of 2002, we were two American girls alone leaning on our fair to good French-speaking abilities and the kindness of strangers. Riding the rails and late-night subways, we came across the people of our fears, but we also met angels. From a young Moroccan man in a Paris hotel, to an old man on the island of Corsica, the number of people who went out of their way for us was amazing. I clearly remember the hot day we walked for a couple miles with our heavy packs on our backs and finally located the rental car agency only to be told that 23 was not old enough to rent a car. We were near tears from exhaustion and hopelessness and the man and woman made phone calls for us, got us a ride, and another gentleman found us a place to stay for the night until we could catch a bus in the morning. Numerous people from various countries and backgrounds uplifted us and helped two Americans have the vacation of a lifetime.

Returning to America, I wondered if I would face culture shock after having started to adapt to my French lifestyle. As I walked around my neighborhood and saw the smiles and waves that thrive in a small town, I felt at home and remembered similar experiences in Europe. Here I see people being kind, friendly, and happy. I no longer say bonjour when walking into a store, but I can say hello. This is what I know. This is not just a value I learned in my country or from my parents. I am American by birth, but compassionate by choice. This is my America, but this is also my world.

(a slightly modified version of an essay I wrote nine or more years ago—it needs work, but I wanted to share it first)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

This morning there was a teenager in my kitchen. Oh, it's okay; she wasn't stealing the toaster. In fact, she wanted me to fix her toast. Well, I told her to do it. She's my niece and I had invited her over for the night since her mom was out working the graveyard shift. I went upstairs after leaving her to make her own breakfast and told my husband: "There's a teenager in our kitchen. Just how long exactly have we been married?"

For the last school year I haven't had much interaction with teenagers since ditching 8th grade teaching to work in a building that's K-6. This year I'm back in the same school—working all day now—and I will likely have more interaction with those 6th graders than I did before. They're pretty close to the teen years, so I'm wondering if I'll have my work cut out for me. I just hope I don't have to face apathy.

My niece has been great in school and enjoyed it pretty well—so far. Arg! School drives out the joy and creativity in so many children! Let it not strangle my niece! She's surrounded by educated family—teachers and engineers for example—but we all had our share of boring classes and mean teachers. And she's in a big new middle school this year: it's crowded and full of teachers happy just to have jobs. I hope they are there for more than just a paycheck.

(some musings continued from Sunday morning)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Return of the Kidlings

School started and that means I get to hang out with kiddos all day. Yes, this year I get to ALL DAY. Let the full-time fun begin! (Why am I so tired? I guess I took last year's mornings off for granted).

Day before school started: School Supply Drop-off

6-year-old boy: (handing me each item as he spoke) "These are my scissors and these are my glue sticks and these are my, these are my two big bottles of glue, and this is—"

Yes, he kept going and going. I set all his items back on his desk before I dropped anything. He was SO excited to start school. His mom said he was ready a week early.

Day one: same little boy after school, waiting for his daycare van

Me: Did you have a good first day of school?

Boy: (apparently he didn't hear me—but then no one can ever hear me so I'm not surprised)
paraphrase: "I was eaten up by these little bugs."

Me: At school?

Boy: "At camp this summer. And there were these little chipmunks. Little naked chipmunks. And one was Alvin. And they fart on you. They pick them up and they fart on you."


Random act at recess: 3rd or 4th grade boy runs across the playground, holding an imaginary radio and screaming into it: "911, 911! Somebody farted on the radiator!"

Apparently farts are a theme this school year. But then I suppose they are every year.


Practice Fire Drill Practice (the day before the real fire drill): 6-year-old boy:
"When do we get to go home?"  A full day is also an adjustment for those who had half-day kindergarten last year.


I also dealt with three crying girls, one 1st grader who bit his sister (she claimed that she was just hugging him; he said she wouldn't let go), a few owies needing bandaids, and a little boy fascinated with the ball in my whistle. Oh, and how can I forget the crowd of little girls in the bathroom who thought they should wash their arms, faces, and hands as well as get drinks from the sink. Week two, here we come!

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Jesus in My Head

Images stick with me. Dreams, pictures, paintings, scenes from a movie or computer screen—some I’m happy to hold on to and some I wish to purge from my memory. Any ideas I had of what Harry Potter and his friends looked like, conjured purely from my imagination, have disintegrated now that I’ve seen the movies based on the books. I’m okay with that; the movies were so well cast. And most people agree, even though they undoubtedly had other pictures in their heads than I did. One image implanted in me, however, doesn’t have much in reality for comparison or replacement: the picture of Jesus from Warner Sallman’s famous painting The Head of Christ. I’m so ready to give this one up.

Sometime during childhood I received a photograph of this painting. I don’t know, maybe from Sabbath school or VBS (Vacation Bible School). A photograph. Okay, I knew that it wasn’t a real photo of Jesus, but it was kind of eerie because of that medium. It didn’t feel right to just, you know, throw it away, so I propped it up on my dresser where I saw it every day—many times a day. Then my mom told me that I didn’t have to keep it, wasn’t obligated. It wouldn’t be wrong to get rid of it. Maybe I was in danger of idolizing it. Not of a denomination that keeps religious icons around the house, we didn’t have any other sort of religious picture at all, as I remember. What I don’t remember is for sure how I felt about the picture then, as a kid. Did I like it? Did I not? Either way, I tossed it. But it won’t go away.

When I pray, it seems the first image in my head is that painting, that representation of Jesus. Yes, I have seen other artist portrayals of him in movies and other pictures, but they often seem to be copying this famous picture and don’t take its place. You know what I wish? I wish I could still access my picture of Jesus from the hidden places of my memory, from before I had ever laid eyes on any painting at all. Why does this bother me so?

Jesus is a man who lived on this earth; this I believe. He looked like someone, and he probably did have longish hair, a rugged beard, a dark complexion. The artist, as I have read online, became a devout Christian and strove to give people a new picture of Christ that wasn’t so effeminate as others had been. Certainly many people loved it then, and hundreds and thousands continue to love it today. If it works for others, I should be glad. Oh, but the image, the picture—so frozen, so still, so sad. Does it do a good job of reflecting the man, of reflecting God?

For a few weeks my husband and I have joined friends to watch “The Gospel According to Matthew,” starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus. I had seen some of this production in a Bible class in college but not enough to really adjust to another picture of Jesus. He looks similar but also wildly different from the Sallman painting. He has the dark complexion, beard, and hair (which is less beauty-parlor shiny and clean), but he has personality. And through much of the first half of the film he’s more smiling prankster than somber peacekeeper. He speaks the words from the Bible, but he exhibits personality that is somewhat concealed in the text. He’s someone fun and approachable.

It’s taken a bit of time, but I’m starting to adjust to this new picture of Jesus; however, that changes nothing when it comes to my prayers. I’m not saying I want Bruce Marchiano to be the new face I see when I pray, but I’m still searching for something to make the connection with God more real.

Why can’t God, I ask and wonder, reveal himself to me as he can or will only to me? I don’t expect to see exactly what Jesus looks like, because that’s not really what’s important, but I feel a little cheated with what I do see. I’d be thrilled if God would, as his character in the show “Joan of Arcadia” did, appear to me, to anyone, as different people—maybe sometimes rerunning his favorites. One day I pray and God is an old black man, the next a small white boy, the next a Mexican mother. Whoa! Will it be like that in heaven? Maybe when we each encounter God, but as Jesus I’m guessing he’ll stick with what he looked like on earth (Jesus, God, God, Jesus—I still don’t understand the division or unity). But, wait, will I look the same as I do on earth? I think we get new bodies, but that’s something I’m not too concerned about. For now, for here, who does God want me to see when I talk to him?

Perhaps it is the man, the boy, the woman. The more I look around with eyes open, truly open, I should be seeing God in all these people. Regardless, I may not know what Jesus really looks like, but he knows me and sees my face.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What Do Bulls, Boars, and Sarah Palin Have in Common?

They were all on show at the Iowa State Fair.

Really, you need not take this as derogatory in any way. There were just as many people and cameras around the world's smallest bull and the giant boar as there were around Sarah Palin. It was safer to touch Sarah Palin, though. And she was cleaner; well, the animals were pretty clean being gussied up for the show and all.

But before we met Palin or the animals, we walked around and just tried to take it all in—the fair experience. So much to see, so much to do, so much to eat. Avoiding the amusement park (too many people going upside down, it made me dizzy just to watch them spin through the air), we examined our map so that we could go see the butter cow—which, I didn't realize at first, has an armature; how else would the thing stand up I suppose—the corn exhibits, the harness races, and the grape stomping. As a snack for watching harness racing, we bought the deep fried Oreos. Not bad. Not exactly good. Ready for some serious salt after two.

In the first harness race, my pick made it around the track hours after the race was over and Julia's choice decided running was more fun than trotting so had to be held back. Race two we both fell for the black beauty named River Running Wild and he won, but then racing officials questioned that for a while. He was ultimately deemed the champion. The next race my horse was in the lead but then Julia's pick, the absurdly named Lipstick and Shadow, came up and they were tied until Lipstick stuck it to mine (didn't hear his name) and won.

We waited around a bit to see if I would get to stomp grapes, but they never picked my number, so we decided to see the livestock before leaving. Julia was still hoping for that glimpse of Sarah Palin, maybe a photo or two. I guessed that she would probably visit the butter cow, and shore 'nuff, as we came down the hill I picked her stylin' glasses out of the crowd of cameras. We moved right in, but I let Julia take all the pictures. Then she tried to get me up there to shake Palin's hand and I took the camera instead (I had a giant lemonade and a bunch of maps and papers, but somehow I balanced the camera and took pictures). Palin loved Julia's accent.

By late afternoon the sun was hot, the crowds were large, and the politicians were parched. We listened to a few of the blue-button-up-shirted men talk but didn't see anyone we recognized. All the Republican candidates were there of course, shaking hands and eating butter on sticks. It was time for us to make the last couple of hours in our journey to take Julia to her new home in Iowa City. 

The Hot, The Bad, and The Corny

Hot Springs, SD is full of springs and castle-like structures, but sadly we had no time to explore it. Today was our loooooooooong travel day with our main stop in the Badlands.

It's so beautiful—such green and other colored grasses and of course the formations. We got to watch bighorn sheep show off their climbing prowess as well.

Somewhere, I believe along the stretch of SD and amid the signs for Wall Drug, we spotted the following on a billboard: Nature in Action—Taxidermy Exhibit. Hmmm. I rather preferred the action of the wild sheep and other creatures actually out in the wild being active.

So we nixed going to Wall Drug, even though Elvis was sighted there and they advertised free ice water, and after the Badlands we drove and drove and drove. Somewhere along the way, well in Mitchell, we did seek out another tourist stop: The Corn Palace. It wasn't what I was expecting; the whole building isn't covered in corn, but the corn murals are impressive. Inside just feels as if you're going to a concert or a game, but there are more murals and much merchandise.

Before we knew it, okay not really—it took a while, we were in Iowa. The flooding was still extensive around Sioux City—trees up to their armpits in water, playgrounds drowning, sandbags everywhere, roads closed. Our destination for the night was Des Moines, so that on our last day of travel we could first take a break and visit the state fair. We were late into the city and all the restaurants were closed except the fast food places. I guess that means we saved room for fried fair fare the following morning!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Nebraska and South Dakota: Bluffs and Presidents

Day three was to be our most eye-entertaining day of the trip. We had the bluffs, Chimney Rock, Mt. Rushmore, the Black Hills, and biker dudes and dudettes to look at. We also got to get out of the car a bit more today—thank heaven!

Julia wanted to climb Chimney Rock and carve her name into it just as the Oregon Trail travelers did long ago, but it doesn't exactly have easy access. We decided we'll have to plow through the sticker bushes, dragonflies, rattlesnakes, and mosquitoes on our next visit.

(A walking stick tried to run away from me, but I saw him. He should have stuck to walking.)

At Mt. Rushmore we waded through the expected tourists and took a ranger walk to learn about the presidents. So many bikers! We went back into Keystone to see if we could find another fine dining experience. I drank sarsaparilla and scraped my mouth on a very toasted sandwich, but at least it was tasty. (I'll have some more pictures here later once I get them from Julia).

Before long it was time to drive back to Hot Springs where our hotel was, so we took the scenic route into Custer State Park through the Black Hills. It was beautiful, bridges and tunnels, and animals. We saw more antelope and then bison. Coming into dark, we passed a whole group of bison right along the road, including young ones. They were on Julia's side, so she slowed to a stop, rolled down her window, and got her camera ready. Yeah, maybe not such a good idea. The big bison by her started grunting and snorting, so that window went back up and we moved along! She then told me a story of two boys in Yellowstone who had once dared each other to run up and slap some sleeping bison and then climb up a tree. Well, they did it, but upon waking, the beasts surrounded that tree and camped out for many hours, trapping the boys! I'm thinking, at least the animals didn't start ramming the tree!

Ah, sleep at last for us! We got to our room and crashed once again.

Travel Food, Car Questions, and Daring Moments

Throughout our travels, Julia had her Garmin, sometimes called Charlie, to guide us, and I had Asimov to show us maps and entertain us with stories. Garmin did his best, I'm sure, directing us in his perfect English, but when we tried to turn in to an Idaho Pizza it simply wasn't there. We opted for Pizza Hut, where Julia had to send back her pepperoni personal pizza that was supposed to be pineapple. At least Pizza Hut was better than Denny's and their "protein-enriched" veggie burgers. Really.

So our first evening, the service engine light came on in Rhea, Julia's car. Going across Wyoming the next day suddenly seemed a bit scary, especially considering that my husband's cousins have broken down on that long stretch of land (thankfully he just happened to be driving across the country at the same time and came upon their stranded selves and was able to help get them going again. Yea Luke!). Since Luke had no plans to be driving through Wyoming any time soon, we decided to get the car checked out while we were still in a big city.

The morning of day two we found a nice chap at O'Reilly Auto Parts to use his computer contraption to tell us that our problem was something to do with emissions. Well, were we safe to drive to Iowa? He didn't know. After calling Luke, Julia's parents, and Julia's brother, we concluded that it was probably okay to keep going, but we wanted to make sure, so Julia called a dealer. Yep. No worries. The air quality was red at the time in Utah, so I guess we would have failed an emissions test (and Rhea is from Southern California and somehow survived the air there!)

What to see, what to see in the great wide open Wyoming? Well, those pesky billboards kept demanding that we get 50 cent cones at Little America so how could we refuse? And guess what? The restaurant there had the best food of our trip—delicious veggie sandwiches. Oh, and penguins and a green dinosaur. At least he wasn't purple and singing.

Looking for anything old and crumbly and historic, we detoured through Medicine Bow to see the Virginian Hotel and the 40' long jade bar in the neighboring diner. I believe those pictures are on Facebook; however, out in front of these establishments was a little old west setup that included an outhouse. Now, I knew that the outhouse wasn't functional, but as I walked around it to the front, this old, disintegrating guy quite startled me. 

As I said, Asimov kept us entertained by reading a book. This time it was a tale of fear and hate, loss and love. The Book Thief is amazingly written. Thanks Sara Strickland!

Coming to the end of our day, we began enjoying great flashes of light from the sky. They were all around, continuous, and without thunder in our hearing. As it got dark, our moment of daring came without warning: wind, rain, and hail that covered the road like Christmas—all joined the storm. God, Julia and Rhea got us through it all safely to our hotel in Scottsbluff, NE. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Why Stay Home When I Can Take Another Trip

Julia and I are totally bushwhacked after 12 hours out and about and now crash in a stuffy Super 8.

We explored the Hagerman Fossil area, the Minidoka Relocation Center grounds, and the Great Salt Lake's Antelope Island.

Birds, bugs, and giant spiders in webby homes ALL over the place, a bunny, an antelope herd with proud stag, bison by the bizzilions-all on the giant island. Oh what daring thing did we do? Did I kiss a spider? No. Did Julia snuggle with an antelope? No. We ate at Denny's.

Iowa we're on our way!

 Hagerman fossil beds, somewhere out of our reach

 Minidoka, NOT in Minidoka, ID in case you want to find it.

In the Salt Lake.

Technically these are pronghorn I guess, not antelope, but it isn't called Pronghorn Island.

Yes, webs and spider monsters EVERYWHERE! Ron Weasley and my mother would not want to walk around this place!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Best Place

Day seven:

We headed back into the middle of Idaho, returning to Idaho Falls where all the good things are! Yes, I'm talking about Starbucks and Olive Garden!

Since it didn't take long to get back to Idaho Falls, we didn't want to stay the night. We decided to check out the zoo after eating and then go look for a hot springs. The zoo was pretty decent, but many of the animals were sleeping because it was a hot afternoon.

From the zoo we did a fair amount of driving, right into the middle of an intense storm. This is the storm that started a bunch of fires. Miracle Hot Springs was our stop for about an hour of soaking and swimming while the thunder boomed ahead. In no mood to set up a tent in a storm, we decided to move on.

We found an awesome bed and breakfast: very comfy bed, clean bathroom that isn't too small and we didn't have to share, and pancakes in the morning. The only thing lacking was maid service. But I'm okay with that. It's good to be home.

Day eight:

Home, yes, but still on vacation. We helped my sister and niece do some unpacking and setting up in their new place then floated the Boise River in the afternoon.

Sigh. I can't believe our trip is over. Now I'm trying to rest while catching up on stuff so that I can set out again on Monday. It's time to drive to Iowa. . . .

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Where the Buffalo/Bison Roam

Day six

Last day in Yellowstone and finally, finally we get to see the buffalo roam. Lots of them. In fact when we parked and walked over to explore around Sulphur Caldron and Mud Volcano, we had to abandon the sidewalk just in case the big fella lounging there decided to gore us.

(This isn't the one who thought about goring us; he just had an itch).

The little bit of hiking today really did Luke's ankle in, so we stopped at Fishing Bridge, where fishing is banned, and soaked our feet in the cold cold water. We made it popular, and soon many people were there soaking and shrieking.

A stop at Yellowstone Lake was very peaceful—only two boats out on the huge lake and no crowds of people.

For most of our trip we have used the luxurious flush toilets, but a few times outhouses are the only holes around. Today while I was holding my breath in one, I noticed writing and scratched in words all over inside—some of it was way out of reach if one was sitting down. Maybe tall men like to write up high while they are standing in there, but seriously, who wants to spend that much time in there that you have to get on the toilet seat to write Jack loves Sally or, you know, something else!

This afternoon we ate Mexican food for the third time on this trip. Sometimes it has been our only meal all day. Nothing so satisfying. Yet, today's order was not so great. I got to thinking (after we had eaten most of our could-have-come-from-a-box Rice-a-Roni and rehydrated beans) that the music should have been our first clue to leave. If they are playing oldies music—in English—how authentic can the food be?

Our last outing for the day was a visit to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. We got to watch the grizzly, Spirit testing a dumpster while noisy ravens ate food remains around her. She didn't stay at the dumpster too long, but when there is food lying all over the ground, why should she? I think it's pretty cool that the bears have jobs there, getting to see if the bear-resistent containers live up to their names or not.

We are happy and tired. What a fun trip! We don't have specific plans for tomorrow, so we'll see where the road leads!

Oh, here's Luke last night. He deserved some special bubbly since he was injured!

Bar Maid and Cowpoke Serenade

Day five:

The sun started poking me in the eyeballs this morning so I decided to get up and take a shower. Today we drove back into Yellowstone ready to explore the middle, east, and north.

It remained warm and mostly sunny, avoiding the thunderstorms predicted. It didn't make the wildlife come out in droves the way that I had hoped, but we did experience a lot of traffic. Of course the elk were everywhere, plus some deer, and while I love seeing them I couldn't believe the people stopping in the road, pulling off here there and everywhere, taking chances walking in front of cars with their cameras at the ready—you could easily see the elk from the car, ooh and ahh, then drive on past.

We have definitely encountered numerous crazy drivers making absurd and dangerous moves. I think they're from New Jersey. Well, maybe Minnesota. A lot of the cars were from Minnesota. And Utah. Come to think of it, Utah drivers were the worst. But then there were the Montanans.

Along The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River we hiked Brink of Upper Falls to Upper Falls Viewpoint. Wow. Incredible. Strange, though, we met odd people in passing who wore bear dinner bells. Why they wanted to call those bears to dinner we just don't know. We stayed away from them.

At the Upper Falls Viewpoint we saw a marmot or something like, resting his head on a log, occasionally glancing around but mostly looking sleepy.

Our happy hiking days came to an end when Luke, while pulling me from the path of a raging buffalo, twisted his ankle. He still was able to carry me ten miles to safety, because I could not run away fast enough, but it hurt him quite a bit. He's so very brave!

Okay, we didn't see any buffalo today but we did see a bear. (I swear, I thought it was a raging buffalo. Maybe it was a squirrel). The bear was black. Was he a black bear? Hard to say, though we did get a better view of him through the binoculars. (Okay, I admit it; we stopped by the side of the road, crossed with camera and binoculars at the ready . . .).

Mammoth Hot Springs was stinky, like most of the sulphur baths around, but we were still disappointed that we couldn't get in to soak. We had our bathing suits on and everything. I don't know why the park rangers ran at us with such scared, wild-eyed faces.

During this entire journey we have spent hours and hours with Robert Jordan. Well, Jordan and the two readers that make his books come alive. I may forever associate Yellowstone with Wheel of Time.

We capped off the evening with the best Mexican dinner of all time. The salsa was creamy and the burritos like none other. While the typical Mexican restaurant has the big sombrero for your head and happy birthday sung in Spanish and English, we looked up from our meal to find cowboys and bar maid singers dancing into the room singing “Back in the Saddle Again.” They were advertising for that night's performance of “The Lazy Chaperone” at the local playhouse.

Day six coming soon!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tent Time

By the way, Asimov gets the best spot in the tent: her own hammock. She was telling us stories. Do you know that she has The Wheel of Time series memorized?! 

Those Amazing Wildlife Photos as Promised

Okay folks, I'll get to Day five soon, but first I need to update you with some pictures. The thunderstorm knocked out the wifi but it works well in the lobby. So, here we go!

We were lucky to get this close to some amazing wildlife.

A grizzly
(as you can see it already snagged some poor tourist's binoculars)

A trumpeter swan

A trout

A mountain lion

A bald eagle (looking regal)

and . . .  a . . .  chicken?

Ok, we did get some real wildlife photos


The sadly non-endangered and highly persistent mosquito!!!

Doubtful About that Hotel Bed? Set up your Own

Rain, light at first. A smattering by the campfire, a song on the tent roof. The music got louder. Boy did it get louder. I either woke up every time the rain stopped or every time it poured so loud I was sure we would experience a flash flood. Luke and Asimov seemed to sleep well; I just kept pretending that I didn't need to go visit the restroom (it was on the other side of camp and I knew I'd be swept away or at least drenched–and with three tents surrounding us and no bushes to hide behind . . . yeah).

Oh, but day four! Anniversary day! A rough night wasn't stopping us from packing up a wet tent and driving early to Yellowstone. The downpour probably kept most of the animals in hiding, but we did see some elk, here and there. (Oh, we left town after getting coffee. We discovered Tully's in Albertson's.)

How did we luck out? The busy summer season, a long drive from our campground, and still we found parking and got a front-row seat for Old Faithful. Then, after hiking around on the boardwalks, we ate in the cafeteria before the lines stretched to the door—before any lines at all. And, the rain had let up for us!

So I don't really need to describe the geysers. You've either been there or you need to go and just experience it all for yourself. But don't believe Luke when he tells you that the Infant Geyser is where they toss in the sacrifices. I know, we saw the people walking away, pushing an empty stroller, but they just DO NOT do that there.

The day wound down as we drove out of the park and entered Montana. But that was just a blink-and-miss-it visit to my birth state because soon we were in Idaho and looking for our next night's stop. Okay, so here's the story of our trip planning: we didn't plan. You know it's wise to reserve ahead of time when wanting to visit a world-famous park in the height of tour season, but we just didn't do that. No, what it came down to is a few days before time to leave Luke gave me the reins and I looked for what was left in the way of camping or hotel. And websites can look so good even when the place is just, well, just not the resort its name claims it to be. I was so excited that I had found ANY campgrounds available, but when I looked at the weather report I decided that my three nights in a hotel sounded wise for the later part of our trip. Then, I started reading the reviews. NOOO! Too late to cancel.

But relaxing here on the mattress, listening to the thunder and watching the rain out the window, we see that it's not such a bad choice after all.

Luke's Top Ten Reasons Why a Cheap Hotel is Better Than a Tent (sometimes):
The room is larger than a tent (no, don't pull out a measuring tape-it's bigger!)
Bathroom is close and a far less social experience
Bugs are smaller and don't bite, much
The smell of smoke is from burning microwave popcorn and not dozens of campfires that smoke more
than they burn
Hard mattress and nasty blankets can be replaced with comfy new air mattress and blankets from home
The only drip, drip, drip is the sound from the shower faucet
Who needs trees when you have wood paneling from the 70s?
You can get TV with nothing on and wireless Internet without the Internet (this is of course to simulate a rugged camping experience—funny that the wireless was great in the campground)
By the office you can find a Pepsi machine (the campground only had Coke products)
And the number one reason: There's a pool!!!!! But please follow the Healthy Swimming guidelines: “Please wash your child (especially the rear end) thoroughly with soap and water before swimming.”

(We didn't swim.)

Hooray, ready to post and share with you, my beloved readers! Oh. Wait. Can't do that. No Internet connection at the moment.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

When You Come Across Three Snakes and a Swarm of Mosquitoes . . .

. . a grizzly and her cub are the least of your concerns.

I really wanted to go looking for the bears that we were warned about by three hikers, but I wanted us to be able to tell our stories as well. It's okay; we have more days to risk our lives. What I don't want is for our family to be notified that our bodies were found swarming with snakes and drained of blood by mosquitoes.

But before I get to that lovely encounter-

Day three

Stop one: Cafe Boheme

After sandwiches and cold hotdogs yesterday, tasty though they were, this morning we sought out a breakfast in town (and Luke really wanted coffee). The atmosphere was great, lovely French music, and the crepes-mmmmmm. Then I heard the baker's French accent and knew why the food was so amazing.

Stop two: Annie gapes at the mountains

We spent the day mesmerized by Grand Teton et. al. Our hike around Jenny Lake detoured us because of the bear sighting, but we saw plenty of wildlife. Just you wait for the photos. You, too, will be in awe.

After a little research with Asimov, I am kinda certain that the critter we saw making away with a bird in his mouth was a marten. The rest of the birds chased that guy for awhile, chirping and panicking, poor things.

So we had a couple of great hikes, but, really, you had to be there.

Getting away from the hoards of people from all over the world who just wanted us to leave so that they could have our parking place, we found a slightly isolated pull off and started down a trail that was out in the open. I sprayed my arms with insect repellent, but Luke didn't want to this time. The trail soon entered a forest and we returned to our silly songs and noises to keep away the bears. Then I thought, what if they can't stand my singing and track me down to do away with us? Or what if they think it's karaoke time and come join in with "The Bear went Over the Mountain?" As I was amusing myself with these ideas, Luke jumped back with an "Oh shit!" and I grabbed the back of his shirt, certain that a bear was just ahead. What his feet were avoiding happened to be three slithering snakes. Three. I'm thankful Luke didn't run screaming and leave me behind. But no, he wouldn't do that. Pausing while I took pictures, we realized to our added horror that mosquitoes were taking the snake diversion as opportunity to murder us. We retreated.

Campfire time. Asimov dislikes the smoke, so I'll check back in later.