Day 14 – New places

olympicsIt’s been a pretty stressful week, this business of ours can be rolling along without any hitches most days, and then in one day, BAM! BAM! Crap just comes out of nowhere.  We’ve run through all the emotions, from being depressed, to being angry, to being resigned, to being accepting.  Nobody dies if things don’t come together as planned, we just fix it and come up with a new plan.  Change is inevitable.  The biggest part about such an emotional week though is that it makes me tired and off my game.  I don’t want to do the things I’m supposed to do, I want to take my mind off everything and have some fun.  So that’s what we did today.

First stop, the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, wow, or should I say, WOW!  It sits just east of the old North End on a campus that was once an Air Force base.  242 Acres of top notch facilities training our American athletes.  Over 15,000 dorm rooms, a gym, or more accurately several, the shooting facilities, the wrestling, the gymnastics, the swimming, it all goes on here.  I have always been a fan of the Olympics, in 1996 we went to Atlanta for the summer games; in 2002 we went to Salt Lake City to take part in the winter games atmosphere.  It is incredible what happens when you get that many people together in the spirit of competition.  Our guide was great, he answered all of our questions, and asked us trivia.  I volunteered a lot of answers, but was wrong in every single one.  When in C Springs next, make the stop, they offer tours daily and it’s free.  The Olympics are not government funded in the US, it takes supporters like us who believe in the power of amateur sports to provide for our athletes.

Next stop, the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, just off from Exit 148, pretty far north of town.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, we had been to the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City earlier in the year, it was done so well, I didn’t think this one could beat it.  And while it isn’t better, it is pretty profound.

The Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame honors every part of the Rodeo circuit.  It’s not just about the cowboys, although they feature a prominent role.  It’s also about the clowns, the announcers, the queens, the livestock, the rodeos themselves.  First thing in the door I saw a display for the Dodge National Circuit Finals held in my own Pocatello, Idaho.  We saw displays and memorabilia about hundreds of famous cowboys, including Chris LeDoux.  The place is done well, with lots of room and interesting displays.  It was a great way to take my mind off our troubles, tomorrow promises to be a brighter day!


Day 15 – Frisbees!

frisbeeJosh has been dragging out his golf discs for months, he will go off by himself to find a course, or pick a place to throw on our race courses.  Once I threw with him, but then I lost interest.  The boys are trying hard to help me get in my 50 new things.  I have 15 days left til my birthday, and still have a number of items to go.  So when Big suggested we go play disc golf, we were all ready.  We are in Fountain, Colorado, just south of Colorado Springs, there is a course, just 2.4 miles from our cat, aka home.

I was surprised at the number of people out playing when we got there, we were near the lunch hour and there were three other teams out golfing.  Disc golf can be as easy or as complicated as you make it.  There is a tee box, just like real golf; there is a “hole” also, only this one is made of metal and chain, the goal being to get your disc in the basket.

The discs are varied, they come in all kinds of weights, some have heavy lips on them, some look more like the Frisbees of my childhood.  I started with a driver, but quickly moved to a putter.  My short game is much better than my long game.  Because the game is so much like golf, I employed my favorite part.  I never have to count above 10 on any hole.

Now for those of you that are real golfers, I learned this trick from my mother when I was just a child.  There simply isn’t room on a scorecard for a number larger than ten.  The first hole, I got a ten; it steadily went down, a nine, then a six, as the holes got shorter.  My throw is weak, although I was a shot putter and discus thrower way back in high school, I wasn’t very good at it, I was just better than most of the girls on my team.

We’ve been doing a lot of throwing lately, from skipping stones to darts, to now disc golf.  I guess I better get with the program.  I was pretty proud of myself, I retrieved all but one of my discs on my own, that’s me in the tree!


Day 19 – The Color Run

color runThe day I got the invitation to participate in a Color Run in Colorado Springs, I told them, I was in.  Not because I was particularly enamored with doing a 5K, I’ve done them before, but because I was going to do it with some of the most honest, funny, hard working girls I know.

The party weekend was in honor of two birthday girls, best friends that live in different states, although they now own houses next door to each other.  I can see them as Ethel and Lucy gabbing across the fence in their retired years.  Another 20 or so people were invited, 11 of us made the trip.  I came in via Texas, several flew from California, a number drove in from around the state, and Barb, she lives in the neighborhood.

Saturday night we all got together with our husbands at Roxy’s house, Chipotle was catered and we celebrated with a Signature Drink – an alcoholic Cherry Limeade ala Sonic.  So yummy, the smartest thing done that night was starting the party early so we could end early.  Our casting call for the Color Run was 6:30 a.m.

Early Sunday morning, we all showed up dressed for the event.  Black leggings, white tanks that had our “Too Too Fabulous” on the front, and the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation logo on the back; necklaces, backpacks, and, of course, tutus.  Each of us dressed in a different color tutu that our backpacks matched.  We were a stylin’ team!

The Color Run bills themselves as the Happiest 5K on the Planet.  They were pretty close to right, I don’t know about the rest of the group, but I had a blast.  We Zumba’d for an hour to get warmed up.  I was totally in to it, another thing I’ve never done before is Zumba.  Rhythm is not my forte, but I’ve got heart, and I love to dance.  Dance we did, I felt like I had run the 5K before we even got started.

After Zumba, they herded us in to the chute and sent us on our way, runners on the left, walkers on the right.  We were on the right.  Three thousand of our closest friends all dressed in bright white clothing, at least for a minute.  A Color Run is one where they throw chalk on you at different places throughout the 3.2 miles, the first color was yellow, then they added blue, next up was pink.  Orange came in somewhere, the mix can be cool looking, or begin to look like dirt.  It all depends on your saturation level.  I was pretty pleased with my outfit at the end.

We all finished the walk together, took a few photos and I headed out to breakfast with my husband who had stood at the finish line with his buddy waiting for me.  My husband is all kinds of supportive, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, he’s there for me.  I am so lucky.

When I got back to the trailer, I was thankful we were staying at a friends who had a shower in his shop.  I undressed from my colorful clothes carefully, trying hard not to spread color everywhere.  Taking off my bra, I found where the chalk had gathered, any place that was the least bit damp was saturated with color.  Purple mostly, the combination of that great blue and pink.  I think it’s the first time ever my husband didn’t want to touch me!

The Color Run was a great experience, not just for the benefit of doing something fun and new, we know how much I love that! But for time spent forging new friendships and solidifying others.  I am forever grateful for being included, and want to thank all the Colored Bitches (see Day 161) for the great weekend!

Day 20 – My first Farmgirl Badge

IMAG0384A few months ago I discovered an organization where I could earn badges, just like in Girl Scouts.  I was so excited, I have always been one who likes a reward for a job well done, and let’s face it, as an adult, that simply doesn’t happen very often.  The Farmgirl Sisterhood has merit badges for just such a thing.  While I have done pieces/parts of many, I only really focused on one, Cross-stitching.

To be perfectly honest, this isn’t my first foray in to Cross-stitching, perhaps that’s why I started here.

Beginner Level:  Learn to Cross Stitch.  Start with a simple project like a bookmark or border a picture frame.  DONE.  Like I said, not exactly my first project here.  Back when my Josh was just a baby, I did a large 16×16 duck scene for my dad for Christmas, yep, that was almost 30 years ago.  Last I knew, it still hangs in his basement office.

Intermediate Level:  Learn about different fabrics to use for cross-stitching, and determine how many stitches per-inch you would like your project to contain.  Cross-stitch a more advanced project.  DONE.  I have some linen, some aida-cloth, some various projects all good for cross-stitching.  I’ve done the research in my handy-dandy Encyclopedia of Needlecrafts.  My project may not be difficult, but it will be time consuming, guaranteed.

Expert Level:  Design your own template to cross-stitch for a large project, such as a comforter or wall-hanging.  DONE.  If you put them all together, a wall hanging it could be.  The center section and each of the borders is a unique design, designed by me this time, but borrowed from others that have come before me.  I saw them all in one place at one time, about an hour before I gave them to my sisters.  Not real sisters in the way of blood relations, but sisters in the way of beliefs and lifestyle.

I cross-stitched kitchen towels for each of my Color Run sisters, eleven in all, each took about eight hours, maybe a little more on some designs.  In my previous life, I had a group of friends we referred to as Princesses.  We never got together without a little something, something for each other.  This was my first real invite back in to the land of women, I am surrounded by men daily, so I wanted to do something special, just to show them how much I appreciate them. What they do with their towels, doesn’t matter to me, I had so much fun doing them, it kept my hands busy on our many travels.  The last few days since I gave them out, I’ve looked hard for new things to do, I’m going to have to go back to stitching.  And in case you wondered, yes, I finished the day OF the party, yes, it was an hour before we left.  My motto for a long time, perhaps all of my life has been, “Anything worth doing is worth doing frantically.”  Some of us are just born that way.

Day 29 – Heading home

tunnelWe always say, home is where the cat is, so our destination is Dallas, sometime after midnight.  It is several hours drive from Kenai to Anchorage, so we left early to see some more sights.  We have had a busy week, one evening was a fish fry to fix some of the Halibut we caught on Saturday.  I foundered on it, it was so good.  Another evening we got together four teams for darts at a local club, we were beat handily by all, but it was ok, Rich hasn’t played in years and I am more of a handicap than an asset.  We spent some time on the beach in Homer while Rich tried to teach me how to skip rocks.  I did alright, but I had to throw about 50 of them before I got one to skip more than two times.  Our last night, we did a King Crab boil, that is nothing like we would find in the Lower 48.  I’m sure you’ve been to crab feeds before, you spend all night breaking shells for tiny pieces of crab and thinking either I should have eaten before I came, or thank God, I stopped for that hamburger or I would be starving by now.  The flavor is good, but the effort is crazy.  This crab feed wasn’t like that at all.  A simple cut with the scissors left you with large, delicious pieces of crab.  Enough to sink your teeth in to and really chew.  So good, even Sofa King good!

Up early to see our grandson off to pre-school, we hugged on the baby a little more than took off, our goal was Anchorage by nightfall, but until then, we still had roads on the peninsula we hadn’t yet driven.  We took a side road around a lake, then we took the road to Whittier.  That was a treat.

Whittier is a very isolated community, it is on a bay that doesn’t freeze solid, so many boats are kept there.  The community itself lives in a large condo unit. One large condo unit.  It is the second one built, the first was condemned not long after the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964.  Everyone seems to live there, there are a few scattered cabins, but the whole of the community is in one place.  The police station is in the condo and the school is across the street, there are no other houses in town, it is a bit surreal.

To get to Whittier, there is a tunnel, several miles long, it is one-way and is shared with the train.  If you want to go to Whittier, be there on the hour; if you want to leave, be there on the half-hour.  If you miss it, you will have to wait.  It’s pretty unique and the tunnel is relatively new, in the scheme of things.

Just outside the tunnel is a Visitor Center run by the National Forest Service, we never would have thought to stop except I had to pee.  And I am so glad we did, it was one of the best built, in both architecture and exhibits that we have seen in a while.  Take the time to stop, the views are beautiful and the history is cool.

Discovering the tunnel and the community beyond is one of my favorite things about traveling, it is a unique encounter in both space and time, a treat to remind you that the way most live is not the only way, we have choices….what is yours?


Day 31 – Another National Park

bearBy now you know that I am a big supporter of National Parks, Monuments, anything.  I particularly like the big natural spaces set aside, these seem most representative of the west, but I am beginning to really appreciate the history set aside in the east.  Alaska is unique all in itself.  There are so many wide open spaces, carved from the mountains, isolated by the weather, lack of roads, desolateness of the area.  Add that to it’s remoteness from the Lower 48 and you can find space anywhere to breathe, really breathe.

It’s the end of the season in Alaska, the tourists are slim, the stores are closing, the rain has come and the temperatures are dropping. Even the rangers at the Visitor’s Center are talking about where they are headed next.  The place has an emptiness about it, as does the community of Seward.  It feels like everyone is holding their breath, waiting for the harshness of winter to set in.

Kenai Fjords is the National Park on the outskirts of town, it’s purpose is to preserve and protect the Harding icefields and glaciers.  Fjords are the water valleys created by the melting glaciers, and they are definitely melting.  Photographs tell the story best, the retreating of the ice over the course of the last 100 years.  Exit Glacier is the easiest to get to by land, it is beautiful and serene, the blue glaze from the captured sunlight in the ice is spectacular, seen even in the small pieces that have calved off the main glacier.  Easily one of the most peaceful places I have been.

Back in to Seward, we went by the Sea Life Center where we took our grandson earlier in the week, window-shopped the local stores in the rain, and drove out to the ends of the roads.  First on to the east side of the bay, then the road on the west side, here was where I encountered my third bear in the wild EVER.  The two times before, I had seen them crossing roads, this time, he was sitting in a tree.  It was raining a little and we had seen a cluster of people gathered, so we stopped to see what they were looking at.  What appeared to be a mild mannered black bear was sitting about 30 feet up in a tree, trying to get comfortable on his perch.  To be able to see such a creature in the wild is a rare treat.  I know it happens a lot in Alaska, but not to me, I was thrilled.

Day 33 – Just for the Halibut

fishHomer, Alaska, the Halibut Capital of the World.  Me, five men, a fishing boat and some bait.  Early Saturday morning, we got up early, just for the halibut.  My step-son arranged with his father-in-law for us to go out on a halibut boat, the Alaskan Dream, with Captain Verne and his buddy, Don, Jeff, Lil Rich and Big Rich and me.  The rest of them were buddies from work, they were kind enough to include Big and I in the day.

The drive from Kenai to Homer was uneventful, we left the dock a little after 8 in the morning on our way to “Compass Rose.”  Verne’s honey hole.  The place where the fish were hiding.  The rain was just spitting, the wind was creating some wave action, but nothing serious.  We were on our way.  We made a couple of stops before we caught the turn of the tide and the fish started biting.  Lil’ Rich had explained halibut fishing before we went out, he said it was like reeling up a barn door, and he was right.

Techniques in fishing are as wide and varied as the kinds of fish you want to catch.  In halibut fishing, you drop your bait (ours was small fish – I don’t remember the kind and squid) to the bottom hoping to bonk the halibut on the head.  Your bait just bounces along the bottom hoping to attract their attention.  Halibut are a lazy fish, so you have to be close.

My first fish on, I was still dropping my line when he hit, I probably continued to drop another 50 feet because I didn’t recognize I had a fish on.  Capt. Verne played the Fish On song for me as I started to reel him in.  It took a while, it’s not that he was very big, I’m just not very strong and I wasn’t going to ask for help.  By the time I got him on the boat, I was pretty pleased with myself.  I had caught a fish.  First fish for me in a very long time, first halibut ever!

By the end of the day, we had caught 9, all pretty good size, good enough to create a nice freezer package and have some to eat fresh.  The Captain and his crew filleted them right there at the dock and we packed the cooler full.  We had a blast, Jeff caught the biggest fish, I caught the most and we laughed all day long.  The stories told were outrageous, just what you would expect on an Alaskan fishing trip, I can’t wait to do it again.


Day 35 – Grandkids

kidsWe are so fortunate that we have the family that we do. We drove out of Anchorage today down to the city of Kenai to be greeted by two of the sweetest little faces.  We have a total of three grandchildren, two in Alaska and one in Idaho.  I wouldn’t trade a single one.  I am fortunate enough to have been married in to their lives, the two in Alaska, when I married Rich; I got Jacob when Kayla got married.  I am so lucky.

Payten is just over a year old; she is crawling and kind of walking; her favorite toy is her purple turtle.  She is super sweet, her facial expressions are the best.  Whenever Grandpa asks her for a kiss, she wrinkles up her nose and says “nooooo”, but she says it so dang cute, with a little New Jersey twang.  Grandpa just laughs. It took her a minute to warm up to us, but now she crawls all over us.

Austin is 3 ½; we have known him well since he was born.  Austin came to live with us when he was about six weeks old.  For the first few months he moved back and forth between our son’s house and ours.  When he was six months old, he moved in to our house with his mom for the next nine months.  We got to know him well.  As we sat at dinner that first night, he looked over and said “I love you Grandma.”  I love that kid, he is so dang sweet.

I think the most generous thing anyone can do is open up their home to you.  We’ve been staying with Rich and Brittany for the week, interrupting their routine, throwing off the kids’ schedule, we’ve got our own room, but anytime you have family in your house, I know it’s not easy.  Of course, this gives us great access to the grandkids, and that is why we are here, to get to know them, to make sure they know us.

I love our family, those that I’m currently with and all the others.  But for this week, I’m going to love on those babies and enjoy every one of those hugs and kisses I can coax out of them this week.

Day 36 – Alaska by midnight

texasToday is the start of our vacation….we often get days away, in between events, but during the season…and it’s not the end of the season yet, getting a real vacation is hard to come by.  We planned this trip to Alaska to see our grandkids.  It’s been a year since we saw the little ones and we just couldn’t wait anymore.

We have the truck parked near Dallas so our friends could help us out with watching the cat.  So this morning we got up early and headed out to do some quick errands.  They say that everything is bigger in Texas, so I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised when everything was over the top…everywhere we went.

First stop was a boot repair shop just outside of Wylie, the place looked like it hasn’t seen paint in the last 15 years, probably longer.  I told Big, I had to go in with him.  The place was just as I expected, it was over the top.  I swear if anyone moved anything in the place, the roof was caving in.  Next stop, the WalMart, always a treat, if I could avoid that store, I would, but I needed to pick up some cat food to make sure Callie was handled ok.  Standing in line, I watched one clerk watch another one with the MOST disgusted look on her face before she took over the register, wow! was all I could think.

The next stop was the Starbucks, Big and I both have an affinity for vanilla lattes, but we don’t speak Starbuck.  I can never remember how to order a large –you know the biggest – that’s what large used to stand or, so we ended up with tiny little Frappacinos, because we didn’t know how to order blended lattes.  Someday I might learn how to order, but I have to learn the language first.

Up to this point, I was just kind of in awe at all that I was seeing, and then we hit the McDonald’s drive-thru, always a treat.  The girl who took our order was interesting, she noticed the mud on our Jeep and said “You went mudding with out me?”  We smiled, told her we got the mud in Georgia, she looked back at us and said, and I sh** you not…”that was just incredibly and horribly wong”  Yep, wong! “Next time, you have to take me!”  We smiled and moved to the next window.

I was so happy to get to the airport and get on the plane…let’s hope Alaska is a little less over the top.

Day 46 – Speed Touring

mammothWe hit our third National Park this week – that’s like 15 in the last twelve months.  Mammoth Caves sits in the middle of Kentucky, a huge underground cave where over 400 miles of underground paths  have been mapped so far, more each year.  The cave itself is 54 degrees, it is large and ummm, how do I say this….boring.  There is no color, no cool draperies, no stalactites, no stalagmites, not much to see except a big hole in the ground.

We took the Historic Tour and learned a lot about the park and the caves, but with 120 people on the tour, it was like a speed walk through the place.  About two miles round trip and 440 steps, we descended to 350 feet below the cave surface.  We learned about the folks who have been touring the cave since before the war of 1812; the saltpeter mining that was done for the war effort to create gunpowder is still in evidence.  Years later, young Stephen Bishop, a slave, mapped as much of the cave as he could and gave tours to the upper class and scientists from around the world, this all happened before the Civil War.  The stories were fascinating, but the cave itself is stark.  Nothing like you would find at Carlsbad Caverns.  It just simply didn’t share the same beauty.  My understanding is that there are some other areas of the cave where there is more water and many cave elements exist, but not so much as you find elsewhere.

Of course, we had a blast, like we always do…I earned enough bat points to get my Junior Ranger and we laughed and laughed.  Our tour was interesting too, mostly because of the people on it.  There was one lady who left as soon as we got inside the cave, she had a panic attack.  After we got through “Fat Man’s Misery”, a narrow, twisty spot that we had to duck through, another lady left, she had a claustrophobia attack, and yet another one left when we got to “The Tower”, an eight story staircase that brought on the vertigo if you weren’t careful.  The extra ranger on the tour covered a lot of miles leading these folks out of the cave, it was kind of fun to watch.  Not that I take joy in other people’s misery, but sometimes, you know, especially when you are running through the caves on a speed tour.