Monday, December 16, 2013

A Reading Year in Review

This is the first time I've ever taken inventory at the end of a year like this. It was a fun little research project for myself. Go ahead and try it! See what fun stats you can create from your own list.

Books read: 26
Of these, 12 were e-books.
(Note: These do not include children's books, of which I've read too many to count!)

Fiction: 18
Non-fiction: 8

New authors I'm following: 4

Broken into genres. . .

Historical: 15
Suspense: 2
Memoir: 2
On Writing: 2
Life: 2
Romance: 1
Cooking/Memoir: 1
Humor: 1

Reviews written: 18

My favorite of the fiction: When Mountains Move (Julie Cantrell)

My favorite of the non-fiction: The Question That Never Goes Away (Philip Yancey)

Books that stuck with me / surprised me / so glad I stumbled upon:

3500: An Autistic Boy's Ten-Year Romance with Snow White (Ron Miles)

The Truth About Butterflies: A Memoir (Nancy Stephan)

Laugh-out-loud moments:

Crossroads Road (Jeff Kay)

Teary moments:

3500 (see above)

The Question.... (see above)

The Truth... (see above)

Authors met this year:

Eleanor Brown
Alex George
Sandra Dallas

What a year for readers! There are so many books out there and so little time. I tend to read all the new books released by my favorite authors, e-books that have gotten good reviews (especially when they're offered FREE), heartwrenching memoirs, lots of historical, those recommended to me, and thrift store gems I pick up. 

So, 26 books. This doesn't include all the research I do online and in books for writing, blog reading, and articles. I also read a LOT of e-book samples before I determine whether or not to order, AND I have spent time with some books which sadly, I did not finish. 

What did the year look like for you? Was there a book that surprised you? Throw me a statistic!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

So Long. Farewell. Good-bye.

I was a person who hated good-byes. Still do. If there was a way to just avoid that whole part of someone leaving, I would. Somehow it seemed if I didn't actually bid someone farewell, it wasn't really like they were leaving. Maybe they would come back.
So eventually I figured it was either easier to not get close in the first place, or just forget the whole painful good-bye. It worked pretty well for me, up until I heard a college professor say, "If you learn nothing else here, learn to say a good good-bye." 
A good good-bye. That stuck with me.
I began to observe how people around me said good-bye. To my amazement, there were a lot of folks out there who had no idea how to do this. Or didn't bother. I found myself in leadership positions where I was occasionally responsible for good-bye parties. I was a therapist who had to provide closure when clients had reached the end. I was a teacher who promoted the Sunday School kids in August. Suddenly, my own kids had friends who moved away. People left all around us. It was up to me to make these a smooth transition or a non-transition.
I currently coordinate services in a housing development where people constantly move in and move out. Sometimes I bond with those kids. They might say good-bye but usually, they just disappear with their parents, and I don't see them leave. This hurts. Why? Because I want people to know they have made an impact. They have touched someone in the world, even for a short time. Because saying "good-bye" is an important piece of the grieving puzzle. Without it, wounds just don't always heal properly.
I've now given many farewell speeches. Last cards. Thank-you tributes. I've even made scrapbooks and picture frames. Gone to lunches. Given hugs. If I hadn't, it's likely that no one else would have.
Same for you. If you don't do it, who will? Learn to say a good good-bye. Tears are okay.

Have you said a good good-bye, or has someone else given you this gift? 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Teach Them Nothing You Wish Them to Unlearn

On July 4, 1863, James McKill, Confederate Army Captain from Missouri, was taken prisoner of war by the Union Army. He was held for a total of 21 months, until the end of the war. Captain McKill was my great-great-great grandfather. 

On November 14, 1863, he arrived at the prison on Johnson's Island in Ohio. Here, in a letter to his wife, are his own words.

(To fully experience this post, you need to listen to this right now as you read! No excuses.)

Dear Wife. . .November 14th, a cold rainy day, the rain coming down in true fall style, between fifty and sixty of us were ordered to be ready in two hours for a move. Accordingly, at 10 a.m., we were called out, a guard placed around us, and away we started on foot, through the rain and mud for Columbus. Part of which way we were marched double quick, to be in time for the train. While marching through the streets of Columbus, I could hardly fail to contrast my present, with a former visit to this city twenty-six years ago. Then I was a happy boy of seven years. My time here was spent in a quiet house on the outskirts of the town, overlooking the tranquil Scioto. A kind father, an indulgent mother, and a dear brother were then beside me, each doing for me, all that duty bid, or affections prompted. But now, I am here as a prisoner of war, wet, weary and covered with mud, hurried through the streets, with the idle and curious gazing at me from every window and door. 

. . .At half past eight p.m., we were consigned to Johnson Island's Prison, wet, cold, and hungry. We had eaten nothing since early breakfast, but no food was given us. No lights or fires being permitted after 9:00, we were necessarily compelled to look around in haste for a place to sleep. We (that is, my bunk mate and I), at length, found an empty bunk. We spread our wet blankets upon the boards, and turned in to rest our wearied frames in sleep or to ruminate upon the vicissitudes of life, whichever might best suit our feelings. 

Our food, although plain, is wholesome and in quantity, sufficient. The number of prisoners occupying each block is about 180. They are, I believe, all officers and of all ranks from 3rd Lt. to Major General and there is no state in Dixie from Virginia to Texas, from Georgia to Missouri, but what is well represented, as also every trade and occupation followed by man in civilized life. Here is the Legislator who has vacated his seat in the hall. Here is the Farmer, whose broad fields are left untilled. Here is the Minister whose voice is no more heard in the sanctuary of the Lord. Here is the Lawyer whose briefs and law books together lie molding on the dusty shelf. Here is the Merchant, the Mechanic, the Grocer Clerks. . . Our occupations here are almost as varied as formerly-- Cooking, Washing, (I have become a pretty fair washerman), and Ironing. Also, the Jewelers trade has a great run at present, almost to every man, having become proficient in the art. I have done something in my leisure moments, having made a ring for you, a breast pin for little Ella, and am now at work on one for Monroe. These I think I shall keep and have the pleasure of presenting you when first we meet.

Fourteen months have fled, Dear Wife, since we parted last. Since then, I have been much exposed to danger and disease. I have twice stood on the bloody battlefield and saw men by the score hurried to their last accounts. I have been where hundreds have sickened and died, but in all this time, no danger has harmed me, no disease has prostrated me. I see from your letters that yourself and my family have also been spared. I should be thankful to God for all this, and trust that I am. 
Belle McKill, wife of James

Now, Dear Wife, the time may be long or it may be short 'ere we meet again. Not knowing which, let us constantly put our trust in God and pray that He will speedily send us peace and restore us again to each others' society. Those little babes of ours, I know you love equally as much, if not more, than I do or can, but Dear Wife, do not-- because I am absent-- hasten them to their lust. Cultivate in them moral as well as their mental facilities. Teach them nothing that you would wish them to unlearn. Teach them to hate falsehood, to love truth, and walk in the ways of virtue. Tell my aged mother, I long to see her once more. I would, that I could, be with her to comfort her and protect her in her declining years, and return to her, at least in part, that core and affection which she for so many years bestowed upon her wayward boy. 

. . .In conclusion, Dear Wife, what shall I say to you-- that I long to see you, or that I love you? No, but that such so I have been for nine years past, I will still remain while life shall last. 

Your husband,
James McKill

Prisoners on Johnson's Island were treated pretty well. At first, prisoners were kept only about 5 months, but those who came later (as McKill) were kept up to 16 months. Prisoners found ways to prevent boredom, which was one of the worst conditions they suffered. They wrote letters, kept diaries, and participated in original theatrical productions. They also kept autograph albums, signed by prisoners, including their ranks, service, addresses, and where they were captured. Many played baseball, chess and checkers, and were even able to garden. Prisoners took to writing poems to express their feelings. We have a few that McKill wrote during his time there. 

Originally, letters were only allowed to be one page. But Missouri General M. Jeff Thompson struck a secret deal, offering to pay the censors 2.5 cents for each page read in the evenings. The scheme worked well until a prisoner complained to a Commandant he had to pay a dime tax to receive a four-page-letter. The matter was investigated, and the one-page rule was put back in effect. 

This probably explains why all of McKill's letters after this first one appear to be about the same length, probably a handwritten page. 

Captain McKill returned to his family at the end of the war. He never intended to join the war, but he was in a unique situation. Living on the Missouri/Kansas border, he felt it was the only way to save his farm and those of his neighbors. The reasons for war were complicated, and many were thrust into choosing a side. It was a terrible time for all. I am thankful my ancestor made it home, but I ache for all the families who never saw their soldiers again. 

(Prison information taken from the Johnson's Island website).

(The letters and family pictures were taken from a book edited by a family member. I have further edited the words of the letter to be more understandable).

Have you found any old family letters? Have you discovered anything interesting from them?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Distracted by Blondie

Look closely to see two elk. Or just take my word for it.
I would hate to leave my summer vacation dangling in space. As you may recall, we had just ridden the river and were contemplating leaving the ranch in the morning. Or possibly, you may not recall this at all. Whatever. Either way, I hope you can appreciate what my horseback-riding experience had to offer in the way of a life/writing analogy.

My daughter and I headed down the mountain from our cabin to join the few others for our morning horseback ride. After watching a video in which, once again, we were told our lives could be on the line in this risky activity, we met our horses! She had a sweet little guy named Junior, and I had a strong, sturdy dude named Buck. The view from atop a horse is so different. Suddenly, trust becomes real, since other feet besides yours are touching the ground. Those feet are going to carry you, or not. Wherever they ultimately go, that's where you're going, like it or not. *Analogy #1: Get out of your comfort zone now and then if you want to see a new perspective. Feeling stuck? Look through someone else's eyes.

We began our slow, steady climb up the rocky paths and green pastures of the mountainous ranch. Slow it was, since every horse wanted to eat instead of walk. This was no head-to-butt ride up a narrow trail. These horses were free and relaxed, which meant we only had to keep up with the group. There was even a horse-in-training. She had no rider and no one leading her. She simply followed along with the group. She was beautifully golden, young, smart, trim, and her name was Blondie. 

Buck did not like Blondie. For whatever reason, he did not appreciate her behind him, and actually snapped at her. Did he think she was going to nip at him? Hurry him along? Did they have issues back at the corral? I don't know. I just tried to steer clear of her when possible. *Analogy #2: Jealousy and worrying about what other people are doing will get you nowhere. You will look silly if you lash out in front of your herd. You can't compare your strengths to someone who's in a different place than you. And most likely, they aren't doing what you think they're doing behind your back.

Buck liked to procrastinate. He'd eat as much as he could, ignoring my pleas to keep up. Then, when the horse ahead just turned the corner, Buck would run to catch up. Our Guide would occasionally stop to make sure everyone was still with him. Then we'd all ride on, trying to keep from getting brushed off our horses by the overpassing trees and shrubs. At one point, my daughter had finally had enough of keeping it under control on this long-and-getting-longer ride (and she had hurt her hand on the saddle). I stopped with her, just long enough to see her cry and then my Buck sailed on by, without an ounce of sympathy. We called the Guide, who rode over and gently talked to her. As sweet as could be, he took Junior's reins and led them on the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Buck, Blondie, and I somehow ended up toward the back of the group.

I tried to keep an eye on that Vixen. So did Buck. I coaxed him to get back up with the group, to no avail. I had lost all control, and danger was imminent. As long as she stayed away, Buck contentedly ate the grass. I talked soothingly to him, patting him. Let's go, boy. She means nothing to you. She's just in training, hoping to be like you someday. Then Blondie galloped past us, with her brown mane and tan legs flying. Buck was having none of that. As much as he hated her behind us, he did not like her passing him up. I let out a scream as he galloped down the steep, rocky path. The Guide said that I came around the corner, hanging on, bouncing sideways out of the saddle. My heart pounded, my legs shook. He calmly came toward us.

Buck stopped short upon hearing the Guide's voice. I informed him that Buck did not like Blondie. She was distracting and annoying. He pulled Buck to the front of the group, away from that chick. He asked if I would like him to guide us the rest of the way. "Yes," I squeaked. 
*Analogy #3: When you find yourself falling, find that expert who can help you back on. When you find your control and confidence again, you can take the next step.

Our Guide was expert enough to ride his own horse, while leading BOTH Junior and Buck. We had a great rest of the ride, just chatting, not worrying about the horses. I don't even know where Blondie went after that. I just know we were more than ready to get a drink and get back to the ground. 

Isn't he cute?
A dirty, crusty little border collie ran along with us the whole way. He zipped in and out amongst the horses, always keeping his Master within his sight. Clearly, that dog lived for these rides and loved every minute of it. On the final stretch of rocky road, the Guide simply put his hand down and pointed, not saying a word. The dog sat. We rode on and still that dog sat. I looked back several times. He laid down, one black-and-white ear sticking up. After a couple minutes, the Guide whistled ever so slightly, and that collie came running until he caught up to us again. What a faithful little dog. 
*Analogy #4: You can hear all kinds of things, from different people, good and bad. Until you cut through the noise and listen to yourself, you'll only be doing what other people want. Do it for yourself. 
What are the Blondies in your life? Distracting you, annoying you, keeping you from your goal? Are you doing it for yourself? Or someone else? 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Pondering of Coffee & a Giveaway 
It seems like a good day to ponder coffee. I love that we have a National Coffee Day. Instead of running out to get my free coffee, I'd rather sit at home and drink what I like. And think about a coffee memory. 

I only started drinking coffee in college. We didn't grow up with Starbucks on every corner. Drinking it in high school would have been weird. Coffee was still the nasty Folgers that only "old" people drink. My college had a coffee shop, with a myriad of flavors and creams-- you couldn't even tell it was coffee! and thus, the love for this hot, sweet, comforting beverage began. The love, and the necessity of something that would keep our eyelids pried open.

My best friend had a small, four-cup pot for the dorm. I remember sitting on her floor, Sunday afternoons, drinking Gevalia coffee and dunking vanilla wafers. We each had textbooks open, studying for some exam. She was a biology/chemistry major, so her studying was filled with-- well, chemicals and anatomy and calculations. I was a Psychology/English major, so mine was filled with theories, dysfunctions, and literature. We listened to Enya and tried not to fall asleep. I think I usually did. We laughed a lot, and happened to study a little. 

How do you like your coffee? I'm in the mood to give away my current favorite from Trader Joe's. (If you prefer, I'll send a gift card so you can get your own coffee). Just leave me a comment below.
In the meantime, sip your coffee and enjoy this little passage from a book on my shelf called The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.

      "She's sleeping," our father announced gruffly, making his way into the kitchen. He must have gone out already; the paper was unfolded, a mug of coffee gone cold beside it. He lifted the front section as Cordy deftly slipped a plate onto the table, golden omelet flecked green and white with onions and peppers from the garden. "Thank you," he said, looking at her and then back at the plate, pondering the mystery of how the girl and the meal were connected.
     "You're welcome," Cordy said. She poured and cooked another omelet, eased it onto her plate, and joined him at the table. Our father hid behind the paper, but she heard the sounds of his silverware, the grimacing swallow as he drank his coffee, bitter and black. 
     As a child, Bean had developed a tremendous aversion to the sound of chewing. At the breakfast table, faced with the melodious crunching of our entire family's teeth working against their cereal, she would grow furiouser and furiouser until she stood and stomped off to eat elsewhere, in peace. Cordy had never been bothered like this. She loved the symphonic harmony of people eating, the gentle sigh of pleasure at the meeting of taste and bud, the percussive notes of cutlery. 
     "I really like working at the coffee shop," she said, apropos of nothing. Our father lowered the paper, brows down, and stared at our sister. "I was just thinking, I love all the sounds. Like the steamer, and the bell on the door, and the conversations. I can work, and I can just listen to all those sounds around me, and it's kind of comforting, you know?"
Here I am, ready to pour your coffee! circa 1979
     "If music be the food of love," our father said, and gave a short smile.
(Find The Weird Sisters here.)

Tell me about a coffee memory you have!
(Random drawing on 10/1; US and Canada) 

By the way, I'm with Bean-- I HATE the sounds of chewing! :0)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Us Vs. River: Trip Part Four

Despite the coziness of our cabin, regulating mountain temperature is a chore. We started off hot, keeping the windows open, then sometime around midnight, we were frozen. At least I was. Everyone else was asleep. I spent most of the night opening and closing windows.
But morning arrived at last.
My husband became the Greatest Man on Earth when he managed to run some power in the truck long enough to trickle out two cups of coffee for us. And there was only a little dirt in the bottom-- not his fault. But no matter because today was the day. 

The day we would do something we had never done before. All together. Something that would challenge us. That would drag us from our comfortable lives on dry ground. This thing we had been thinking about for weeks. White Water Rafting.

We showed up at the building downtown where we were to meet, where we paid a heavenly sum to risk our lives in such a manner. They gave us water shoes, helmets, and paddles, then the talk on How Not to Hold the Paddle and What to Do If You Fall Out of the Boat. Our very awesome guide assured us this rarely happens. He also said the boat rarely tips over. He did have to warn us that this was an adventurous activity in which we could perish. After this comforting speech, we all boarded a van for a ride across the canyon to the launching point.
 It turns out we were the only family on this boat, with one other couple joining us for the rapids-- who would then get out and take a kayak the rest of the way. An employee on a bike rode the trail beside the river to snap pictures of us all while we struggled through. This is the only reason I have over a hundred pictures of this adventure. And because I couldn't say no to buying a whole flash drive-worth of them. We did get a couple of great family shots, however. (Note to self: If all goes south, someday get a job riding a bike along the river, taking pictures).

Well, it is one thing to view the gorgeous river flowing along the highway, from the safety of your car. It is quite another to actually climb into a rubber raft that is going to sail into the cold, swirling water, only inches from you. I am surprised the kids did not get out and run at that point. They knew there was no going back, and resigned themselves to hunkering down in the back of the boat for the worst of it. My son looked on in-- fear? disbelief?-- as the adults practiced paddling and leaning, just a quick refresher before pushing into the briny deep. 
And then we were off!
We got drenched. The rapids were like Mother Nature dumping gallons of frigid water in your face, while you keep paddling like a tiny ant. Our guide would tell us how many strokes to take, since he was very experienced, and seemed to know what it would take to get us out of the drain. After the first few miles of rapids, we were able to take off our helmets, attempt to dry out in the sun, and just relax a little. We conversed with our guide and enjoyed the scenery. 

At one point, we stopped along the side where hot springs had created a little rocky alcove. He let us out, and we took off those slimy wet shoes to warm our feet. The shore was smelly, but it was interesting. The springs near the source were too hot to even touch, but farther out, we found the perfect temperatures. This was one of those magical places I had to remember in my mind, since the camera girl had long gone, and I had nothing with me. Although I respected the river, this was the highlight of the rafting trip for me.

Reluctantly, we got back in the boat. A little farther on, we reached our disembarking point. I should mention that part of the whole rafting experience is the rafting guide. We had a great one, and that made for an awesome trip. The guide is not only your lifesaver; he is also an entertainer. He lives out of a tent all summer, and the river is his second home. He knows it intimately. We got to hear his stories, and he asked us plenty of questions. I'm sure we will run into him on a remote mountain path or river someday, as long as my husband is with us. 

Tipping the guide is a big way to show that you liked him. We did this afterward, especially since he sat through our picture show at the ice cream shop. Yes, after the van ride back, we were taken across the street to an ice cream shop to view our pictures on tv screens there. Quite a set-up, yes? Because of course, in a shop like this, also full of candy, you just have to have refreshment after a half-day long ride on the river. 
Driving back to our little cabin-in-the-wilderness felt pretty good this time. Lo and behold, we arrived to more settlers. The lone woman had moved out, and a family had taken her place. The two cabins next to us were occupied by a very large family, who had also set up a giant tent. We were never so happy to have neighbors up there as we grilled our hamburgers. We kind of enjoyed watching them tiptoe through the spiky weeds, stare at the pile of bones, and discover the lack of electricity in the bath house. Because we felt like survivors.

My daughter made immediate friends with a girl her age. This family was on their way home to Chicago, and it's too bad we couldn't have actually known each other in real life. Still, this time, I was the one who talked with them as it got very dark. We told of our travels and things we had seen, while the girls walked around with flashlights, talking and writing in a little book. We laughed about the two-mile drive up the road that required one to wear a sports bra. (She got the joke). We wished each other well and safe travels. The girls wished each other good-night.
This would be our last night at the ranch. We had made arrangements to leave the next day, after my mini-meltdown in which I said I didn't want our trip to end here, and I had visions of going back somewhere cool, wet, and green. With less dirt, and more rocks. Maybe by a river. We were pretty sure we knew just the place. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Buttons, Bones, & a Battery: Trip Part 3

After another glorious breakfast, I took a little time to snoop around the Main House. Our hosts had some interesting collections, and I engaged in a little history conversation with Mr. H. after spying an old weapon on the wall. He showed me a drawer of Civil War-era bullets-- among them, an actual Minie ball. These balls were responsible for the loss of many soldier's limbs in battle.

He also had a bullet he had found in a nearby area, where Teddy Roosevelt was known to have hunted elk. Based on the age and type, this bullet could have been used by Teddy. I really loved this printer's cabinet. Just opening each drawer was a little like opening a present. You didn't know exactly what you'd find, but it was pretty cool. 

There were at least ten drawers of buttons!

Our first plan for the day was to spend several hours at the famed Hot Springs Pool. This pool "has been a sanctuary of relaxation and fun for over a century." Its "rich minerals have been soothing and restoring all who swim, soak, and play here for generations." Sounded wonderful. Upon arriving, we noted the sign to leave your marijuana at home, then paid the equivalent amount of four baby goats (just guessing?) to enter the pool. 

Before long, I realized that this is an international gathering. People come from all over to experience this place. We should feel privileged to even be here. Never mind the smell of rotten eggs, and the elderly European men in Speedos. I scrounged a couple of lawn chairs in the grass, then settled in to read for awhile. The kids took off for the pool. (But not the water slides, because those cost extra).
The people-watching was as good as at the airport. I noted a man nearby who had a very interesting haircut. In fact, I sketched it onto my notepad. Picture something that looked like a helmet, attached to a strip of hair that crawled from the temple, down and around the chin. Then, I saw three more men with the exact same haircut. Maybe a cultural thing? I knew of no men here who would don that hairdo, let alone with three of their buddies. 
A man sitting several feet from me (who left his gross flip-flops right next to my chair) was reading the SAME book as me ("Wild" by Cheryl Strayed). I quickly put mine away and pulled out my notebook instead, afraid I'd become his book club buddy. Plus, he was there first so he had the reading right. 

I tried to write a little, in between the head sketches and listening to other languages around me, enjoying the sun. Then the kids and husband came back. 
Grouchily, the kids laid down in the grass. "It stinks! I can't get that taste out of my mouth! I'm ready to go!"
"What? We can't go yet."
"I'm hungry!"
"Our lunch is in the truck, which is about two miles away. Once we leave, we don't really want to walk all the way back in here."

Clearly, the altitude and nibbling on the breakfast was getting to them.
"Plus, I just paid half your college savings to get in here!"
Of course, this was a joke. We have no college savings.

So after I dipped myself in the gray-ish warm water for a little bit, we packed up and headed to the truck for our tailgate picnic.
So much for the rich, nourishing minerals of the mountain springs. It was time to find our camp.

Here's a travel tip. It's not a great idea to spoil yourself at a Bed and Breakfast and THEN try to go camping. This was not my original plan, but that is how it worked out based on the availability of where we wanted to go. 
We drove back through the beautiful canyon, then off a road that took us to a locked gate. We had the code, so we drove on through the Ranch, up to the building where we were supposed to check in. People milled about, putting on helmets, getting on ATV's, with no one looking eager to help us. Finally, we went inside a little place and hesitantly paid for our next three nights. (That's another thing about camping-- you always pay BEFORE, which can be scary). 
The host/rancher said he would take us to the cabin, and hopped on his own ATV, complete with a real live border collie sitting on the front. 
Then guess what? Our truck wouldn't start again. Oh glee. So the rancher pulled up his truck, and after a jump, we were on our way. Farther up the trail. Up a completely rocky road. Around curves. For miles we bounced. Was he taking us up to the edge of a cliff? If he went over, would we follow him? 

Finally, the cabins. We had to park on the road up behind them. We jumped out, leaving the truck running, our flip-flops becoming shovels for the dirt. The rancher flashed a white smile across his tanned face. "How'd ya like the ride up?"
He took us down to pick out our cabin, since there were three open. First of all, I should say that the view was breathtaking. But it was remote. The air was dry, the ground was dry, and the flies were biting. We were close to a big bath/shower house, but there was no electricity despite the lightswitches inside. We located the power outlet as big as my fist, just laying outside, taunting us. Apparently, they did use the juice for special events (people get married up here), but not for campers. 

We picked out our cabin. Was it a bad omen that there was a pile of BONES right outside it? I could feel a meltdown coming on. Luckily my daughter had hers first. I tried to convince her it would be fine, all the while wondering what I had brought us to. We unpacked our stuff, shoving it in the cabin. Then we took off again down the road, to town for a truck battery and for a reassuring sign of civilization.

Summer's not complete until you blow a wad of money on a local carnival. While hb bought the battery, the kids and I found a carnival just being set up for the town's Strawberry Days. We did not partake in Strawberry Days-- after all, we don't like crowds THAT much. But they did want to ride The Sizzler. Just the thing to take their mind off troubles. As soon as the ride started, my son's face went pale and he mouthed to me, "I'm going to throw up." There was nothing I could do but pray. His sister was on the inside of their seat, so it wouldn't hit her due to the shifting gravity, but who knows what would happen with flying vomit. Suddenly, I had a horrible flashback of a time my brother played on a huge bungee jumper at a ski resort, and then came down with crippling altitude sickness. I prayed that The Sizzler would not sizzle my son in the same way. My prayers must have worked, since after a couple of rotations, the color came back and he appeared fine. We blew more money in a maze of mirrors, then headed back to our happy little cabin.

The evening's dinner: hot dogs. Yes, it was part of the plan. After settling in, we all felt a little better. Up here, there was no wi-fi, but amazingly the phone service was great. This meant a lot of reading. I'm thankful to have kids who like to read (when there is nothing else to do). A group of horse riders came through, and tied the horses right outside our cabin while the riders went down to eat at the chuck wagon. I took a moment to go talk to them (the horses), and wonder what they were thinking as they looked back at me. The only other camper-- a lone woman-- came out to see them as well. Could I camp alone like her? I don't know, but maybe someday I will try that. 

At dusk, I walked around the pond, and hopped over a little creek. I stopped still when I heard some trampling through the brush. In a second, a deer and I came face-to-face under a full moon. Those kinds of things you can't plan for. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tales from a Family Trip (Part Two)

Outside of Denver, we drove higher and higher into the mountains, in awe of the scenery all around us. Some in our vehicle thought we should be there at this point. But no, our destination was deeper in the mountains, through a lush canyon, past a touristy town, up a dusty road, to a quaint Bed and Breakfast: our home for the next two nights. (For privacy sake, I’m not going to give names of actual places. You can ask me later).

I wrote more of my book by this creek.
I loved it the minute we stepped out. It was listed on the Historical Register, as it was originally homesteaded in 1885. We had a great little cabin, right next to the rushing creek, which could be heard each night through our open windows. The main house was where we would eat our breakfast each morning. The front door of the house was always unlocked, so we could roam about and make our way to the plate of fresh cookies in the dining room. Everything was magical and peaceful.
The first night, we did not want to trek back to town, so we relied on food brought from home. It came in a box. It was frozen. It was called Grandma’s Chicken & Rice Bake. We love it. It took about an hour to cook in the microwave. It was perfect. (All that food planning so far was going well). We explored the premises, and slept well that night.
The whispering Aspen trees
A bridge that led to an open clearing, where I kept hoping to see a black bear.
The cat in the Main House stared out at us.
Our breakfast was the kind you take pictures of. It is also the kind your kids merely nibble on, and you are then obligated to at least eat the majority of their leftovers so as not to seem rude. (For the record, they got cinnamon rolls instead of the omelet-- lucky). So it's really like two meals rolled into one. 

With no real plans in mind, we asked our hosts for suggestions on nearby trails. Mr. H. said we could hike to see Doc Holliday’s grave. Excellent! We drove into the town of Glenwood Springs and found the trail, off a small residential street. The “hike” was not too bad, except that it was dry and we are not altitude-accustomed. So there was a bit of a challenge, and the first lesson was learned, which was TAKE WATER EVERYWHERE IF YOU PLAN TO SWALLOW HERE. 
There was beauty along the hike. A tree with colorful streamers grew from the rock. We spied a view of the entire valley. Then—what? My husband saw someone he knew. Out here in the middle of nowhere. An intern from work last summer. He talked with him, while the kids and I talked with his family. The first of random strangers you talk to on vacation that you know you will never see again, but you still make a connection that means something if only for those few minutes. But really, isn't that weird? What are the odds, I ask you?
We had to wander around the old cemetery to actually find the stone. I also wondered as I wandered how they carted "everything" up here. Not exactly convenient. I can just imagine that conversation-- never mind. I commented that I would like to come back here at night, to which the kids screamed that we would not be doing that.

I found a great name for a book character, by the way.

On to Doc's grave. What is sad is that it may not actually be his grave. He is somewhere in the cemetery, but the exact spot is unknown. Doc Holliday, as we reviewed while we were there, was a dentist who developed tuberculosis. He then moved to this area, known for its healing springs, in hopes of improving his health. Of course, he became quite the gambler and gunfighter.There was a sign in town at a hotel: “Doc Holliday died here.” We did not go in, but still, it was quite fascinating.

Next, we drove into the canyon to see the majestic Colorado River. We found a spot right by Grizzly Creek, where the water was loud and ice-cold. The sun was warm, and we had nowhere to be. Just paradise. My family loves rocks, and we could have stayed there all day. We actually seem to spend lots of time by rivers, looking at rocks. Anyway, this finally felt like vacation. Words can’t really describe it.
We found gold!
Back in town, we found the necessary bookstore, where I found the perfect used book. Then on to the ROCK SHOP. I think it was the kids’ favorite part of the trip. I’m not sure how long we were in there, but we got well-acquainted with the worker. She loved her job, and it showed. She was quite surprised when I asked her to pose for a picture. By the time we left, we were contemplating coming back for their “meditation” hour in a special room they had with large bowls on the floor. When she ran some kind of meditation stick around them, they let out different ringing tones that penetrated through your ears and down your spine. I could have meditated on many things there. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.

Because we needed to eat. This time, we found a local pizza joint. The large calzones really hit the spot. The kids ordered $1 ice cream cones—they looked so good, I couldn’t resist one. I don’t know if it was the soft-serve or the sprinkles on top, but I had to have my own. The guys who worked there were so nice, and were whip-sharp. My husband ordered our cones at the counter, and I heard:
“Some mom must have got tired of washing bowls, man.”
My hb: “Wh- what?”
“Yeah, that’s probably how the ice cream cone got invented.”
Awkward silence.
Hb: “Why couldn’t it have been a dad?”
“Oh. Well, yeah, I guess it could have.”
I know I took more notes on my phone from the things those guys said, but the notes have since disappeared. The only other one I can remember is after seeing an acquaintance of theirs who came in the store. “Man, she’s been pregnant a LONG time.”

Back to our little home away from home! We had to savor every minute left at the cabin by the river. This meant: taking advantage of the free Wi-fi and making sure we didn’t miss the Finale to "The Voice."