Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Head West, Young Man! Part 10

Okay, technically, this should be called "Headed Back East" or something. But, it's the Conclusion to my series, so I figured it should have the same title.
Anyways, here goes:

We finally made our way back across the Mississippi River and into the beautiful state of Wisconsin. There we were to meet DE (my "biological dad") at his sister's (Laura) house. I had only met her once, when I was a baby, so of course I don't remember. She lives way out in the country (and I thought Mississippi was country) with her husband, Rob & their 2 kids, Chris & April (18 & 16). I guess "technically" they're my aunt & uncle, but it's weird--I didn't grow up calling them that--so to just meet them & call them "aunt" & "uncle"...sounded weird.
Well, they are all really nice people! I was a little nervous (and I'm sure R was, too) about committing to staying at their house & etc for a few days, but I was very pleasantly surprised. It's kind of cute, too, because they are all from within an hour of where they currently live. Even Rob's mother, brother, & etc all live nearby! We also had the chance to meet my "uncle" Wade and his wife Jennifer & their 2 kids, Miranda & Matthew (17 & 13, I think).
Okay, now, what did we do in "cheese country USA" aka Wisconsin? We went to a stock car race (Wade races a "hornet" car), a real-live auction (complete with fast-talking auctioneer--we even bought a few things!), and Lock #6 on the Mississippi River (that's way up there when the water is still relatively clean). R went fishing with DE and my cousin (they were laughing at him because he was nervous about getting in the water--but hey, down here we have moccasins & snapping turtles!), we had a family barbecue (with the fish the guys had caught, but none for me), and we visited Rob's brother's "Hunting Cabin." And, R even got to try out his new "toys" from my mom--the Colt .45 and custom Derringer (powder gun)!

We had a wonderful time and hope that we'll make it up there to visit them all again! Of course, we also shared and Open Invitation for them to come visit us Anytime!
Our trip home went smooth and safe. We made excellent time, and even managed to sqeeze out a few more good pictures. Altogether, this was a Vacation in every sense of the word. We had the most amazing time, and couldn't imagine any part being any better than it was (except to have more time or money)!
Finally, I want to thank y'all for reading and commenting on our story. I've really enjoyed hearing what y'all had to say about various parts of the trip (and I read a lot of them to R, too). I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Thank You So Much!
Now, I can continue with "It's Just Me" regular programming!

Monday, January 30, 2006

How Much Do I Love You?

Mississippi State University has been home to me for seven years. When I started school in Aug, 1999, I thought I knew it all. I thought I would be out of here in 4 years. I thought I would make lifelong friends, gain an education and life experience. I thought I knew it all.
But, really what did I know? I didn't know that my "high school boyfriend" would one day be my husband. I didn't know that it would take me 5.5 years to complete my Bachelor's degree. Nor did I ever imagine that I would stay here to get a Master's.
What brought about this personal examination? Well, I'm sitting in one of my favorite places on campus: The sofa in the 3rd floor lobby of the Colvard Student Union. Today I bought lunch in the Food Court (at lunchtime!), walked 3-ways across campus, and actually used one of the computers in the computer lab!
When I first came to MSU (the summer between junior & senior year of high school), I thought I was so grown up! I would buy dinner and eat up here (alone or with friends), I was the first to "discover" the awesome "Ladies Lounge," and in that building, right over there, I met a young man who influenced (a small part) of my life. His name was Daniel, and he was working for the physical plant, painting the interior of buildings. When I was feeling melencholy, I would sit up here and brood, drawing rough sketches of the surrounding buildings. When I was feeling silly, I'd make up stories for the people walking around outside. When I needed a nap in-between classes, and didn't feel like running down & climbing up "Hernia Hill," I'd stretch out on this same couch and sleep.
I still remember the old bowling lanes that were on the first floor, and when Taco Bell was in the Food Court (now replaced by Chic fil'A--a much better option). So many things have changed. Even from this single point, I notice the new "Staff Only" gate that is installed (but not yet operating) to block traffic from the main road through campus. The beautiful old oak tree that used to be right there was recently destroyed by a tornado. Even the parking spaces in front of my old dorm are facing the opposite direction. That road used to be One Way (that way) and now it's One Way (this way). Across the way is Suttle Hall (upperclass men's dorm), which is scheduled to be torn down within the next year or two. And, behind it, the new Ruby Hall (freshmen co-ed dorm) will soon be visible from My Window.
I know it's almost time for me to Move On, but one thing that I never imagined is how much I would grow to Love this place, my Mississippi State!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

An Ode to Technology

i love how this feels, cozy in bed,
sheets on my legs, and pillow to head.
the click and tack of fingers on keys,
as i type my personals for all to see.
but wait!
is there radiation in the wireless waves?
causing cancer, bronchitis, or tooth decay?
oh well, who cares? for sure, not me!
cuz i'm here in my bed loving technology!

**i wrote this last night, but wasn't able to post it until today**

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

From The Comfort of My Home

So, I finally caved and "let" R get internet here at the house. I didn't think I'd really be interested, because, honestly, I spend a LOT of time online at work. But, whaddya know, here I sit, in my pj's watching "Everybody Loves Raymond," sipping a rootbeer, and blogging! Will this cause sensory overdrive? Will this be hazardous to my health? Oh well.
Birdy is sitting on my shoulder sqawking and "dive bombing" my hands (I sure hope he doesn't poo on my keyboard)! Nabi is vying for a space in my lap (or maybe she's just enjoying the heat from the fan). And, R is in his computer room...surfing? Yep, that's how we spend our evenings. Except now he has "virtual" company.
Things have been CRAZY BUSY at the lab/work/school, and I hope this is not a sneak peek into the way the entire semester is going to be.
Oh, and I'm planning a birthday party for my friend, AJ. I have so many ideas, but I can't talk about them here...Yeah, she knows about the party, but no details...so I don't want her to find out! The party isn't until Feb 18, so I still have a few weeks, but I'm already really excited about it!
Tomorrow I have another dentist appointment. This time it's to fill in the one cavity I have. I'm not worried, just anxious to be done with these dentist visits!
Hopefully, after that I will be able to put up my final post from our vacation...you know, the "thrilling conclusion." I hope y'all are having a terrific day!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Head West, Young Man! Part 9

By nightfall, we had arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota. We were tired from the drive, and still somewhat reeling from that close call with the antelope, so we found a hotel and stayed the night.
By the next morning, R had found an ad for a little shop (Prospecting Tools, Maps, and Collectibles) he wanted to visit. We found it quickly, and were very happy to find that the owner was friendly and helpful. She gave us pointers on where and how to prospect (pan for gold) in the area, and told us about a family-owned business where we could practice our new-found panning skills. We loaded back up in the car, and headed for the hills (you know, like the Black Hills). Since I knew where I wanted to go and already had my route picked, we headed there first.
What was it, you ask? Yes, that’s right, Mount Rushmore! Oh, WOW! That’s really all I can say. Just, WOW! We decided to be quick at this one, so, we came, we saw, we left. Besides, “There’s gold in them hills!”
Next, we headed towards the place our prospecting-friend had suggested. It was only a few miles from Mt. Rushmore, so we found it quickly. This place is owned by an older gentleman, whose nephew (I think) helps out in the summer (tourist season). First, we were given sample vials of dirt that contained 5 gold flecks (these served as our “test” for the REAL DEAL). After adequate practice, we were able to shovel a load of dirt from a huge pile, pick a spot along the stream, and start panning. This was so cool because the young man who was helping us got down in the mud and water with us and panned his own load of dirt, while giving us encouragement, pointers, and stories! After we collected the gold from our shovel-samples, we were told that we could stay “as long” as we wanted and could dig up whatever/wherever we wanted along the streambed/bottom! Apparently, a lot of people bring their kids to pan, and of course the little ones don’t pay much attention, so this is where we found most of our gold—from the bottom of the stream!
R started getting so “gold greedy” that he’d keep an eye over my shoulder (to quickly grab any gold I found), but not even let me look at his pan! We stayed there for about 5 hours, before deciding to head back to town for dinner. We also managed to stop at a more “touristy” gold panning attraction and collect a few more small nuggets!
After dinner, we settled in for the long drive ahead, and left our “Out West” Adventure!
Through the night, we drove across the “Badlands” of South Dakota and the southern stretch of Minnesota. Since we couldn’t see anything in the pitch-black, we only stopped for gas, food, and bathroom breaks. By late the next morning, we had arrived in Wisconsin.

...Coming Up Next...A Thrilling Conclusion...part 10...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Head West, Young Man! Part 8

After leaving the picturesque estate of Chico Hot Springs, in Pray, Montana, we began the long journey…back East. We found our way to I-90 and were planning on driving straight through to Wisconsin (where my extended family was expecting us). However, a closer look at our pamphlets and maps revealed that we would be driving right past several AMAZING attractions! We decided to take “just one more” day for US, and stop at each place.
By late afternoon, we had arrived at the Little Bighorn Battlefield! This is the site of one of the most famous battles of the American Indian War—you know, Custer’s Last Stand! We were able to drive a circle route through the battlefield and see headstones marking the site of each fallen soldier and brave. R drove very, very slowly, and I pointed out and read descriptions of the many “points of interest” along the way. The two most memorable things were seeing the memorial and headstones for Custer, his men, and the many Indian braves, and nearly being forced off the road by a herd of semi-wild horses!
Unfortunately, we were hard-pressed for time, so we had to get back on the road. Soon after re-entering the beautiful state of Wyoming, we found ourselves on a little highway to see Devil’s Tower National Monument. I didn’t know this before, but this was America’s first National Monument! We were really running out of daylight, so we only stopped to take pictures from a distance, but the thing is really Out-Of-This-World! Seriously, check out some of these websites! On our way back to the interstate (we were still on little side-highways) we saw several antelope across the hills and fields.
Living in Mississippi, I’m always wary of deer—you know, they really DO jump out in front of cars. Well, these antelope looked nervous and jumpy, so we were really keeping an eye out. We came around this bend where a short cliff borders the road on the left and a fenced-in field borders on the right, when an antelope jumped off the cliff and ran RIGHT IN FRONT OF US! R was quick enough on the brakes to very narrowly keep from hitting it, but it WAS VERY CLOSE! Then, the antelope ran into the barbed-wire fence on the other side of the road, flipped over the fence a few times, and ran back across the road behind us! Let’s just say that that woke us up!

*these are not my pictures* (Sadly, we have no pictures from this part of our trip.)

...Coming Soon...Part 9...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Head West, Young Man! Part 7

I know, I've strayed from the series, but now I'm back. I think we're almost finished up with this thing...
So, where was I? That’s right.
We had just finished visiting the northern sights of Yellowstone, and decided to head back up to “Chico Hot Springs,” which we had passed that morning on our way down to the park. Once there, we asked about room rates and took a quick tour of the facilities. The main lodge, built in 1900, served as a hotel before being converted into a hospital, then back into a resort.
Oh, this place is unbelievable! The rooms in the main lodge were least expensive, so we took one of those. We were on a floor/wing with about 25 rooms, which all shared 2 bathrooms. All of the furniture, fixtures, and decorations matched beautifully with the historic feeling of the building. The main lobby area had several seating areas where board and card games were being played by guests. And, the 2 pools (fed by hot springs) were open from 6am to midnight (R’s dream come true)! First thing he did was change into swim trunks and head down to soak. I needed a little nap before joining him. We were also given cards with our room number and told that anything we wanted could be “charged” to the room—and we’d pay for it all when we checked out. (This was a very cool and new experience for us!) I finally joined R at the pool (the smaller is about 104 and the larger is about 98) and we swam and soaked until we were both very pruney. It started to rain while we were there and the raindrops felt like ice compared to the hot pool water. We changed into dry clothes and had dinner at the “poolside grill” and ordered a few drinks from the “poolside bar.” After that, R returned to the pool, and I explored the building. The main building has had so many additions and expansions (I guess) that it was almost like a maze. The hallways would go in one direction, turn into stairs, and then dead-end at a “community” WC. And, the creaky floors, red carpet, crooked doorways, and lopsided walls made for a very surreal (almost dreamy) atmosphere. I’ve never seen the movie, but R insisted that this place reminded him of the hotel in The Shining!
Our stay was just wonderful! First thing the next morning, R decided to take “one last soak” before breakfast, so I packed up all of our things. We had an excellent breakfast in the main dining room, and checked out. Normally, I’d keep $$ stuff to myself, but this is just TOO GOOD: Our total bill was under $100! That’s including room, both meals, drinks, and unlimited swimming!

...Please stay tuned...coming up next, part 8...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Nearly a Week Gone By

Sorry I've been slacking this past week, but I've been up to a lot lately. And, today is no different, but I really wanted to take a moment to post about my weekend. Friday I drove down to the coast to spend the weekend with my best friend, AJ.
I arrived in Gulfport earlier than I had expected, so I took the "scenic route" along Hwy 90.

Not so scenic these days.

That night, we had dinner with several of her friends (they were very nice company). Saturday, AJ & I went to Mobile for massages (How's this: $25 for 1 hour!), a nice lunch, and shopping (mostly window shopping for me). Afterwards, we had dinner in Ocean Springs (Can you believe this: practically all of the restaurants here close between 6 and 8 pm! Even on Saturday!) followed by drinks back at her house.

Sunday, I went by my in-laws to see the family. AJ wanted to meet me for lunch before I left town, so we went to this Awesome Chinese Buffet. We sat around talking for a long time, and before we knew it, it had gotten late in the afternoon. I called R and "asked" if I could stay another night (you married folks know what big babies our guys can be). Of course he said it would be fine and he hoped I was having lots of fun. We went back to AJ's parent's house and hung out for a little while (her mom & dad are the most adorable people!), then went to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (I had already seen it and loved it, but they hadn't, and all the other movies were either too late or too early). It was just as wonderful the second time, too. Sunday night was a little more relaxing. AJ & I just sat around and talked about everything under the moon (like only best friends can). Monday I packed up and headed back home--racing a terrible storm/cold front that would be whipping through the state by evening.
I really had a wonderful time this weekend and only wish R could have gone with me (well, sort of).
Well, this weekend brought up a subject that gets a little touchy between me & R. He asks why I need time away from HIM. His mom tells him to leave me alone & let me enjoy my weekend with my friends. AJ says that he gets me forever and she only gets to see me once every couple of months. AJ's mom says that even after nearly 30 years of marriage, she still needs little breaks from her husband. And, here's the kicker: My mom says that she can't understand why I WANT to "get away." She says that she "never" needs time away from dad--and it's not right for me to "leave" R like that!
Oh, and let me say this, too. I don't have many friends (I've always felt that girlfriends are just too catty and I've had many, many just come & go), and AJ is really my only girlfriend who I talk to about personal and everyday things. We talk on the phone maybe once every other week (or more, if either of us is having serious issues), and we get together on weekends once every couple of months (usually alternate who goes where).
So, I know y'all have opinions on this. Please, share them! I'd really like to know what other people think about this. Do y'all ever feel like sometimes you need to just get away (not just from hubby/boyfriend, but also your town, house, chores, work/school, etc)? And, do you ever just go?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

RE: Camping

Ha ha! I didn't expect to get such a reaction from the mention of camping! This trip had originally been planned as an all-out camping thing, but time & weather caused us to stay in hotels a few nights. I absolutely LOVE camping! For me, it's an escape from the house, without the expense of a hotel! I don't have to wash dishes, make the bed, empty the litterbox, and etc, so it's like a mini-vacation I can take practically any time! And the best part is that all our camping gear (tent, air bed, stove, dishes) is packed up so all we have to do is load a few boxes in the truck, grab our blankets, pillows, personals, and food--and we're on our way! We have a few favorite spots to go, and the closest one (for those weekends when we just need to get away) is Lake Lowndes State Park.
Camping has always been a big part of my life--my mom picked it up from my grandparents, and we've had several family camping trips throughout the year, since as long as I can remember. Of course, as my parents have gotten older, I guess they can't handle "roughing it," so these days they're more likely to stay at some resort or hotel! :)
R's family didn't do much camping growing up, but he's very much an outdoorsy-type, and he was a Boy Scout, so it really fits into our personalities and lifestyle.
I guess I can take this time to describe some of our most memorable camping trips (a little break from the "Head West" series).
We've gone camping on short weekend trips. And, one time a tornado came through Starkville and a few nearby towns and power was out for the whole weekend, so we "escaped" it by camping! We've also taken several Spring Break camping trips. One year we drove all the way to St. Augustine, FL and camped on the beach! And, another time we down through Alabama to Pensacola, FL, staying at several state parks along the way. I know, whoop-tee-doo, Alabama, but did you know that there are some really awesome caverns through the state?!?! We even managed to get a private tour of this one...can't remember the name of the town it was by. We've camped with my family in New Mexico many times. My parents & grandparents favorite place is Heron Lake (or is it Lake Heron?). Anyways, it's just outside of this little town named Chama, and it's very nice there! And we even got my grandparents to camp with us (they're used to a nice camper) in Memphis, TN a few summers ago. Oh, boy, was that a CRAZY night! It was the middle of summer and the mosquitos were TERRIBLE!! We found out later that the park was right next to a swampy area of the Mississippi River!
I'm a very skilled camper, too. I can set up our tents (3), by myself, hungry, in the dark, in about 20 minutes! We've gotten more sophisticated with our camping, too. We started out with a small 2-person tent, a hand-me-down stove, and 2 decent sleeping bags. Now, our camping gear consists of a tent "village" (3 tents that connect--similiar to this one, but the middle tent is much bigger), air mattress with comforter and sheet set, special campstove dishes, and most importantly several heaters (electric & propane)!
As far as "roughing it" and getting my stuff "dirty," it's not a big deal. Most of the time, parks (I really do prefer state parks--oh, and KOA) have very nice facilities (toilets, showers, even washers & dryers) and very nice staff/rangers. The only time I don't really fully enjoy camping is when we find ourselves in PRIMITIVE. Yes, that's exactly what it sounds like: No facilities, no electricity, and a shared water source. But, I've done that many times, and always managed to survive, so like they say: What doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger. (Just don't try to tell me that when we're stuck for a few days in primitive, and it's very, very hot--OH, I HATE camping when it's HOT--and it's that time of the month!! Yes, this too, has also happened to me!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Head West, Young Man! Part 6

Eventually, we did find our way out of the "gold rush", and we decided to head for Bozeman. Once there, we’d find a place to eat and a place to camp. We did both successfully, and were very, very happy to set up camp at a KOA right next door to the Bozeman Hot Springs. YES! Another hot spring! But, this was even better: admission was WAY cheap and the pools (yes that is plural) were indoors (and clean)! Altogether, I think there were 9 pools—at varying degrees of HOTNESS. The hottest one, at the center, spilled into the next, and so on (4 total), until it reached the large swimming pool (which was lukewarm, tepid, at best). One pool was outside, but it was too doggone hot for me. Then there were 2 warmish pools under an atrium (these were my favorite). And, strangest of all, there was one that was freezing (I really expected to see ice cubes floating around)! This place even had 2 saunas (I’m not a big fan). One was “Rainforest” and it felt like being back in Mississippi in the middle of August (WAY HOT and WAY HUMID) and the other was “Sahara” which was so HOT and DRY that it seemed to suck the moisture and breath right out of you! I couldn’t even get past the door of either—just opening the door made me lightheaded, dizzy, and disoriented. R LOVED the “Rainforest,” while I was perfectly happy soaking in the warmish pool and people-watching. I don’t know how they did it, but some really old men would go in the sauna for like 15 minutes, then come out and quickly jump in the ice-cold pool! I thought they were nuts! I couldn’t even stand to put one foot in that cold water (it was like soaking in a cooler of melting ice)!
Ah, I’m getting warm and relaxed just thinking about this place! Can you tell that we really enjoyed ourselves? We stayed there until late (almost 10pm), and were so relaxed and pruney that we didn’t even need showers—we just hopped right into bed!
The next morning, we reluctantly packed up camp and headed towards Livingston (Please God, let me live there one day!) for lunch. Ha Ha, R even ate a buffalo burger! Our planned route would take us straight south through the so-called “Paradise Valley” and to the north entrance of Yellowstone (see, I told you we’d be back). The drive down was long, but very, very beautiful! We saw signs for Chico Hot Springs (we can never get enough) on the way and though maybe we’d treat ourselves on our way back up. But, mainly we were headed down to see more of Yellowstone. We saw the Mammoth Hot Springs, Boiling River, Norris Geyser basin, and hundreds of buffalo! The buffalo were crazy! They would just walk down the side of the road, then oh just decide to cross right in front of a car! We saw the Obsidian Cliff and the “Devil’s Slide.”
The entire day was amazing! Somehow, we had managed to cram a lot of Yellowstone into two (partial) days. And, the drive from Livingston south on Hwy 89...oh, just breathtaking! It truly is a Paradise Valley!

...please stay tuned...part 7...coming up next...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Head West, Young Man! Part 5

We cheerfully cleaned up camp the next morning, happy to still have all of our limbs, and headed back into the great state of Montana. Okay, no, we didn’t just pick up and hightail out of Yellowstone, we’ll come back to this later…Trust me.
We stopped at a cute diner in West Yellowstone and had a wonderful breakfast as we poured over our plethora of pamphlets. Lo and Behold, what did I find? “Historic Mining Town,” “Ghost Town,” “Operating steam locomotive”…in Virginia City and Nevada City, Montana! It was a long drive up there, but a beautiful one at that. And Virginia City was UNBELIEVABLE! It was all old wood-sided buildings, dirt roads, and a very cool train that we HAD TO ride!
We bought tickets, grabbed the cameras and “All Aboard” the Alder Gulch steam engine! We rode 15 or 20 minutes to the neighboring town, Nevada City, which was EVEN COOLER than Virginia City!
We only had 30 minutes “in town” before the train would leave…so off we ran to the hotel (still operating, complete with antique furniture, creaky stairs, and this cool balcony), saloon (we even played a few songs on the very, very old jukebox—what were they called back then?), and…the “museum.” This museum was FULL of things…oh…how can I describe it all? There were “picture shows” where you put in a nickel and watch a “movie” in moving pictures, and music players where you put in a dime and watch the gears turn to play multiple instruments, and oh, so MANY things! We were just getting started, when we heard the train whistle! No! It was time to go!
Sadly, we re-boarded and headed back to Virginia City. On the way out we saw some old mining equipment, and what did that say? “Learn to Pan for Gold.” Really? Oh, we HAD TO come back! About halfway through our return trip, we heard GUNSHOTS! What happened? We were being held up by a band of local misfits! There were 4 or 5 guys with bandanas covering their faces, holding rifles and revolvers, demanding all of our gold and jewelry! Somehow, we made it safely back to town, only to see the same “misfits” wearing deputy badges and chit-chatting with the “sheriff!”
Of course, nothing in Atlantic City could have held R’s attention—because the words “PAN FOR GOLD” were ringing in his ears. We loaded back up in the car and drove a few miles down the road to Nevada City. We pulled into the parking lot for the gold panning place and went inside. Long story short, a young man brought out all the equipment we would need, told us to pick our “bucket of dirt,” and showed us the CORRECT technique to PAN FOR GOLD! R sloshed and splashed, shook and strained, and at one moment it all came together—he found gold! And, ultimately, I knew that even if we didn’t see another thing for the remainder of our trip, R would be entirely content!

I guess since this post is the one with fewest pictures, I'll go ahead and tell y'all why I've made so many comments about my *lack* of *pictures.* See, over the course of this 3-week vacation, we had taken over 500 picture (I think it was 520 or something like that). Well, throughout the trip I would download the pictures to my computer to "empty" the camera's memory sticks. Once we returned home, I saved 45 of my favorite pictures to a disk so that I could make prints at WalMart. I also saved the rest of the pictures on another disk. A few weeks after returning home, my computer started "acting up." R decided that it needed to be reinstalled (like starting "fresh"). Well, after the reinstall, when I tried to get the pictures off the disk, I found out that there was a problem. Not a single picture had been saved! So, all of the pictures that I've posted (plus the ones that will be in future posts) are the 45 "favorites" that I had initially saved on disk. Well, that's all I can say about that. I guess we're fortunate to have about an hour of video from random parts of our trip, too. So, check out the links I've put up, there are lots of awesome pictures (probably some that I took, too).

Stay tuned...part 6 coming soon...

Friday, January 06, 2006

Head West, Young Man! Part 4

So, we had finally made it to Yellowstone National Park! The day was young, and we needed to come up with a plan. First, we followed the signs to Old Faithful Geyser. We walked around, sat on the viewing platform for a while, and then decided that we didn’t want to “wait around” for the thing, cuz we were HUNGRY! So, we got back on the road, drove s.l.o.w.l.y through the park and made it to Montana! What? Yes! We were FINALLY in MONTANA!!

In a nice little town aptly named West Yellowstone, we found McDonalds, grabbed lunch and started looking for a place to stay that night. See, initially, we had planned this whole trip as an “outdoor thing,” but, other than the family camping in New Mexico, we had yet to sleep under the stars. We considered a few campgrounds, but finally decided to go back to Yellowstone, and stay at the Madison camp area. We got a spot and were “lectured” on BEARS in the area: Do not leave food or trash out. Put coolers and cooking equipment in the car. Put dirty clothes in the car. Do not wander around alone at night. Etc. Etc. Yeah, seriously! We quickly set up camp (we’re professionals at setting up tents, let me tell you!) and talked about where we wanted to go next.
Looking at the maps of the park, we decided to head back towards Old Faithful and stop at the few other things along the way (as much as we could see before it got late). There weren’t many things to see on the way; mostly just some (A LOT OF) buffalo. But, we made it to Old Faithful in good time.
We arrived early enough to walk around the smaller surrounding geysers and then catch the last “narrated” Old Faithful eruption. It was…nice. That’s about all. Ah, now that I’m trying to remember more details, I remember we were sitting and waiting, and waiting, and waiting…and some of the more obnoxious adults were making silly comments about the park manager forgetting to “turn the water on” and that Old Faithful was “shy” and wouldn’t be able to “perform” for us…yeah, stuff like that. Then, these cute little birds flew to a puddle right in front of us and started bathing and splashing. We later decided that they were providing the “pre-game show.” Because, a few minutes after they arrived, the ground started gurgling and PHEW! It erupted! By then we were pretty cold, and tired, and hungry. After a 45 minute WAIT, the eruption only lasted 3 or 4 minutes!

We made it safely back to camp, cooked up some grub, and heard about a “talk” that some park ranger would be giving later that night. “Cool,” we thought, “maybe we’ll hear some interesting things about the park.” And, actually, besides being cold (and a little worried about BEARS), it was a really neat presentation. Ranger Bob told us all about the evolution of Yellowstone (including earthquakes, volcanoes, and lots of cool rocks). Now let me go ahead and say it. Yes, I am an experienced camper. I love being outside, hearing the rustle of wildlife, feeling the clean breezes, etc. But, that night. Eh, that was a looooonnnngg night. All I could think about, as I carefully drifted to sleep, was that I hoped I had enough layers of clothes on to keep warm and keep my b.o. from attracting any BEARS!

...To Be Continued...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Health update

Okay, so I went to the doctor and she said that it normally takes 7-10 days to "get over" this type of thing (cold or sinus thing, whatever). So, she said I've been lucky to have always gotten over my colds in 3 or 4 days. She said to stick with the Sudafed + Tylenol + Robetussin in the day and Nyquil + Aleve at night until Friday. And if I'm not feeling better by Fri afternoon, call her back & we'll see about antibiotics. So, I'm waiting. And, I'm feeling a little better. Still a lot of sinus congestion and some cough, but not unbearable.
On the other hand: Well, I think I forgot to mention my toothache that started Monday night. Anyways, I went in to the dentist yesterday. You know how when you go to the eye doctor and you're looking through that big "glasses" thing and they ask: "Which is clearer, 1...or 2?" And you feel like you might give the "wrong" answer? Well, that's how I felt at the dentist when I was describing my toothache. See, I have a sensitive molar on the right, so I favor it and chew mostly on the left. And, this new toothache is on the left. I never had problems before, then I was eating some chocolate covered almonds monday and it just started hurting! Now it doesn't really HURT, it just hurts (dull ache in my upper jaw). But my sinuses hurt too, and I can't tell the difference between the two hurts. The dentist took an x-ray, but didn't see anything. Then he told me he wanted to try something. He poked my tooth with this hard plastic thing and told me to bite down slow and hard, then let go quick. He put it in a bunch of different spots and at ONE SPOT IT HURT REAL BAD! He said, "I'm sorry to ask this, but I need you to bite it again and tell me if it hurts when you bite down or when you let go." So I bit down, and thought "Uh-oh, was that the wrong answer? It's not hurting now!" But then as soon as I let go: OH, IT HURT!!! He said "Mmhm, just what I thought. You have a cracked tooth." He explained it all to me, how it happens, what options to fix it, etc. But see, I haven't even had a cleaning or regular exam in almost 2 years, and he's going to be my new dentist. I have an exam and cleaning appointment in 2 weeks! Yeah, great timing, right?! So we decided to wait until after they look at all the rest of my teeth to decide my "Treatment Plan." I can handle it. I'm already on lots of meds for this cold, and as long as I try not to chew so much on my left (and no HARD stuff) it should be fine. Whatever! Now that he poked at it and I'm paranoid about chewing, it hurts even WORSE! Achy, achy!
Arrrgghh! And, I have these papers I need to finish and mail out by Monday, for some conferences I'll be going to in March! And, I need to get started on typing up my thesis/dissertaion. And, I forgot to mention grampa. He's been in the hospital since Christmas day, and he's not doing so well. He has Alzheimer's and has been in a nursing home for the past year, then on Christmas morning (or Christmas Eve night?) the staff found him passed out and at the hospital they found a blood clot in his lung! Oh, I can't talk about that now. He was such a wonderful, funny, and loving man, but his Alzheimers has been progressing for years, and he's just not my grampa anymore. I really miss him, too! You know, he'll be 67 on Monday--still so young, huh?
I promise, I'll get back to the "Head West" series soon!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Waxing Philosophy

First of all, I want to give a small disclaimer. I am still sick (will finally get to the doctor tomorrow). So, I will try to make this post make sense, but if it starts to ramble or veer in some strange direction, please, just stick in there. It has a point (and a good one at that).
As I have become older (and wiser?) and started my own family (albeit a small one, currently), I have realized many things about that term family. In light of the New Year, I'd like to discuss my resolutions, or rather, my revelations, and how they will affect the me of 2006.
Often I find myself commenting and criticizing people and their actions. I was raised to be polite, however, so I usually keep my negative thoughts to myself. But, over the past year I have realized that I am becoming a more negative and pessimistic person. Maybe I'm not such a joy to be around. Hmmm, what a concept. Since I was young, I've always been told that I can be bossy and moody, but I never judged others. So, when and why did this begin? I don't know. Maybe I should ask my mom--she would give me the truth (too much truth, sometimes). Well, what this leads to is me having negative feelings towards people who have done things that I don't agree with. They make seemingly negative decisions, I'm too polite to speak my mind, and I end up keeping it all inside.
That's also why I've made comments about not wanting to offend certain family members on this blog--since it was developed in part for them--but now I'm going to just do it. Y'all, please don't get upset with me. I just need to get a few thoughts out of my head and off my chest.
To be fair, let's start with my family. I have a "mixed family." My mom had me when she was 20 and raised me alone until I was 9. Then she married my dad (okay, step-dad, technically). When I was 11 she had my sister (yes, half-sister, technically). Then when I was 16, my step-brother and step-sister (15 and 11) came to live with us. I remember being very unhappy (maybe disappointed) when my life started changing. Had to share mom with dad, had to share them with sister, had to share room with "baby" sister because "they" were moving in, etc. But then, magically, it happened. TOGETHER we were a COMPLETE family. And, I wouldn't trade my life with them for anything. I love my family very much and I respect each member for all of their strengths and all of their weaknesses. And, I absolutely love being the big sister!
Okay, enough with butterflies and rainbows, we have our problems, too. When someone in my family does something that I don't agree with, I tell them. They'll listen, or not. I just want to know that I let them know how I feel. That way, when I make decisions to include/exclude them from certain aspects of my life, they'll know why. I know that no matter what they decide, I'll still love them and care about them, but I have to make my decisions based on what's best for me. Get it?

Well, now we're getting to the sticky part. My in-laws (da da dum). Altogether, they're wonderful, caring people. R loves each of them very much, and through him, I have learned to accept their strengths and weaknesses and love each of them myself. And, I hold them to the same standards as my own family. But, see, they're different. R doesn't feel the same obligation to tell them how he feels, well, not all of them. I'll just say it. He doesn't talk to his sister. She's 4 years younger than him, and they had a tough childhood. He left home at 18 to go to college, and only returns home to visit. This is the part I need to get out of my heart and off my chest. I love his sister a lot (like one of my own sisters), but I feel like I'm not allowed (or supposed) to. Over the past several years, she has made a lot of personal decisions that seem to contradict the kind of life she had always talked about wanting (and the kind of life anyone would want/expect for a loved one). And, R feels like he can't/shouldn't talk to her about them. I've asked if he would mind if I did, but he doesn't like that, either. I think he tries to protect her (but from what?). He says that she's "old enough" to make her own decisions, yet I'm left wondering why she's not "old enough" to hear the truth (his views and opinions). So, this is my inner conflict. I love this woman as my sister, and I disagree with some of her decisions, and (perhaps) I have some input/advice/suggestions that (might) help her, but I can't (am not allowed) talk to her.
On Christmas Day, we (R, his sister, and I) finally had the opportunity to talk. Now ask, "how'd it go?" Well, a lot of issues came up that we had no idea were weighing on her heart and mind, and we were able to share some of our thoughts on the current situation. Did we accomplish anything? I don't know. But, at least now she has some idea of how how we feel.
I guess the thing we all realized (and this is where I'd appreciate y'all's input, advice, opinion, experience) was that it doesn't matter how much love, life history (shared childhood), or honest concern you have for a person (even your own sister): Children grow up, we start our own families, and we choose our own Individual Life Path.
All R and I can do is pray for her to find her own happiness. And, we have to move on and carry on with our lives. It's just sad. To think that the One Person In The World who knows your childhood, your history, and has the potential to be a part of your Whole Life--doesn't.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Head West, Young Man! Part 3

We made it as far through Colorado as we could, drove through torrential rain, and stopped at a hotel just north of Denver.
Early the next morning, following the continental breakfast, we continued our journey into Wyoming. We were surprised, however, when we stopped at the visitor’s center: The attendant had “never been” to northwestern Wyoming (the direction we were headed)! So, we grabbed a few maps and pamphlets, and started on our way. On the road again, we shuffled through the papers and chose our route.

We decided that since it would take so long to get to the opposite corner of the state, we wouldn’t choose “attractions.” Rather, we would take the “scenic route” and just head towards Yellowstone. We drove west and north through the Medicine Bowl Range and across the Snowy Ridge Pass, witch cuts through the mountains at over 10,000 feet! Now don’t get me wrong, we have been in the snow before, but never in June! By the time we made it to the “top,” it was snowing so hard we couldn’t see beyond 20 or 30 feet! And, the warmest clothes we had packed were a heavy sweatshirt (me) and fleece pullover (R)! And, to top that, they were packed in the trunk and I had to get them (R is a big baby when it comes to the cold)!

We made it safely across the mountains, and found ourselves in the small town of Saratoga. According to our maps, there was a hot spring in town! Admission to the “real” pool (filtered) was only a few dollars, but they were closed anyways. So, we headed back to the “Hobo Pool” and found a smaller pool complete with raw rock and concrete walls, half-naked old man, and globs of algae. This little hot-tub-looking area is where the hot water (yes, natural spring) is pumped into the pool. Normally, I’m all for hot springs, but as if the floating algae wasn’t enough, the water was really, really HOT! (I’m talking like 120-130!) Personally, I prefer warm (not hotter than…maybe…100 degrees). Yeah, I’m not too keen on sitting in water that feels like it’s slowly cooking me! R, on the other hand, just LOVES it! We stayed nearly 2 hours while he soaked and I read my book and *took pictures*.
We had a nice lunch and continued towards Yellowstone. In our collection of pamphlets, we found out about the “Historic Gold Mining” towns of South Pass and Atlantic City. We drove through quickly, and made it in time to walk around South Pass, buy some gold panning tools, and prospect in a nearby stream. Not surprisingly, we really had no clue how to do it, but I think R had fun anyways. Further down the road, we made it to another small town, and decided to stay in a cute little cabin/hotel so we could fully enjoy the view of the Grand Tetons in the morning.
And, was it ever worth it! Even with the overcast and somewhat dreary weather, the views were amazing!
We drove, and drove a little more, and finally made it to Yellowstone. Nearly immediately after entering the park we had our first run-in with the local wildlife. Several cars were pulled off the side of the road and groups of people were standing on the roadside taking pictures and pointing. What was it? A BEAR? (That’s all we really wanted to see!) Nope. It was a momma moose and her fawn (is that right?). And, they were beautiful! Sorry, *no pictures* of them. But, please stay tuned...

.…To Be Continued.…Part 4….