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

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.