Saturday, November 28, 2015

Electrifyingly Impactful

Ninety-nine percent of the time, I hate when people put Christmas lights up before Thanksgiving.

Up until a few days ago, I would have griped about any and all folks who dared to rush past my favorite holiday. We will get to Christmas soon enough, people. No need to take things out of order.

But I have graciously granted an exception to my good neighbors at Electroimpact, who proudly plugged in their nativity display well before Thanksgiving weekend.

^ A hulking, cavernous industrial building is lurking in the shadows, its white rectangular sign barely visible at the base of the shimmering star. The nativity characters - more or less life-size - line up along a sidewalk that runs downhill, which is why they look all tilted. 

It's all part of the Electroimpact-y charm, and this is just one scene on a street full of their decorations. 

                                                                       * * * * *

Wait a minute, you're thinking. Electro-whatty-did-you-say?

Two miles from my house, on a street of light industrial businesses, stands the main campus of Electroimpact. Jam packed with delightfully geeky design engineers, this is a business that makes tools for building things. Big things. Like, say, airplanes. And considering that Boeing's final assembly plant, where wide-body 747s, 767s, 777s and 787s come together, is also in my back yard, this all makes plenty of sense. 

Now why, you might ask, is a group of tech nerds so pumped up about getting their Christmas on?

I don't honestly know but therein lies my fascination. Finding myself drawn to their perplexingly eager holiday spirit - not to mention that impressively towering star - I can't help but love what the guys have done to the place.

[Side note: I'm sure Electroimpact is a equal-opportunity employer, offering jobs to both genders and all races. But my empirical observation (I drive through the campus at least two times a day) is the company employs a never-ending stream of tall, skinny white guys with bad beards and fleece jackets.] 

So carry on, my brothers; I applaud your sincere if a tad early efforts to ring in the Christmas spirit. 

Your impact on my holiday mood is, umm, electrifying.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

My Thanksgiving Dinner Plate

apple stuffing
flaky biscuit
green bean casserole
macaroni and cheese
and a dollop of cranberry sauce in the middle 
with a toasting flute of sparkling apple cider

Cheers! Thanksgiving dinner is finally here.

I don't know why I feel compelled to take a photo of my heavily laden Thanksgiving plate each year,
But I do.

Maybe that urge is driven by the many hours were spent preparing the food.

Or the many hands that helped to get it ready.

Or perhaps I'm trying to capture and preserve this food as the symbolic blessings of all the good stuff in my life.

Could be any or all of those things.

The fact remains that I cannot help but pause, after praying and filling my plate, to take that photograph. And I'm talking about a rearrange-the-setting, eliminate-the-weird-shadows, stand-up-on-my-chair kind of photograph.

Clearly, I am not messing around.

So let's raise a toast to my dinner plate and yours, and all the many blessings for which we give thanks.

* * * * *

More Thanksgiving stories!

Happy Thanksgiving

Gratefulness is not a feeling or a mood.

It's a mindset
an attiude
a fierce determination

that I have to choose every day. Even the crummy days.

Setting aside one special day each year to reflect on our blessings is a genius idea. But really, a daily habit of thankfulness is what we need. That's one more reason I love the practice of sharing highs and lows each day - we can be thankful for our highs, and grateful to have survived our lows.

I'm often tempted to fall into the trap of feeling sorry for myself for things I want but don't have. To snap out of that selfishness, it helps me to think about things that I'm glad I don't have.

Like cancer.
A felony record.
Or cankles.

When my faith was young and I was trying to figure out how to pray, somewhere I read that if, in your prayers, you only said thank you, that would be enough.

Over the years, that advice has helped me a lot.

As in many families, I've tried to instill the ritual of going around the Thanksgiving table and asking each person to share what they are thankful for. But as my daughters have often reminded me, it's always people - family and friends - that we appreciate most and once the kids are older than ten, the exercise sometimes feels redundant.

Still, I need to remind myself to appreciate each and every person who makes a difference in my life, and on this Thanksgiving Day, I'm going to do my best to reach out to them and tell them what they mean to me. 

That will be a good project to work on while I'm sprawled across the couch in a food coma.

Wishing all the best to you and yours on this pure and simple day of thanks. 

* * * * *

impala trophy, string of lights, side table | target
rug | cost plus world market
christmas cactus | my grandma
banner, dining table | diy
red chair | IKEA
wood chair | been around forever

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Why Are Muslim Men So Mean?"

The first few Facebook conversations with my newfound Malaysian friends were light and high-spirited, focused on getting to know each other through fun, easy topics.

But once I sensed that we had navigated ourselves to the calm, still waters of friendship, I dove right into a deep and dangerous topic.

"Why are Muslim men so mean?"

* * * * *

It's only fair to say that my Malaysian friends were not my first Islamic rodeo.

The very first Muslim friend I ever made, back in 2000, was a four-year-old boy named Mehdi. Despite his dark hair and Arab skin, Medhi's piercing blue eyes were the color of the palest spring sky. His smile started at the tips of his toes and spread up, lighting every inch of his tiny frame with joy. His family attended the same school-for-homeschoolers as mine, and he often pulled up next to me in the Interactive Project Collaborative Lab, happily coloring or building LEGOs while chatting a mile a minute with me.

I loved Mehdi, and got a huge kick out of his expansive and gloriously happy little being.

^ No one cares about head scarves when you've got hoodies, a hammock, and unlimited camera space.

We were new at the school in those days, and I soon discovered that many Muslim families studied alongside us. Those kids - mostly American-born of Middle Eastern parents - ran around with the rest of the students, every bit as funny and smart and carefree. True, the Muslim girls wore head scarves and kept their arms and legs covered, but we often saw them in the bathroom with their scarves off and their hair down, and we knew they were just like us.

So I was not entirely surprised when one of my daughters chose a Muslim schoolmate as her boyfriend. He was an enjoyably all-American kid, polite and respectful and funny with his hoodies and checkered Vans and skateboard tucked under his arm; every mother's dream of a first boyfriend for her daughter. Over the months of their relationship, he spent many an afternoon at our house, and I kept my fridge stocked with frozen cheese pizzas to work around his halal dietary needs. Other than that, his Islamic-ness was a complete non-issue.

I loved my daughter's boyfriend and welcomed him - as well as his younger sister who spent lots of time with us too - into our family life.

^ My daughter's boyfriend's sister on the left, my fourth-born on the right, and a third friend with great sideways eyes in the middle. 

Through the school grapevine, the story of these kids' family life came to light and it wasn't pretty. Suffice to say that not one but two fathers had failed them; the four oldest children were now in the care of a good woman but had suffered far too much violence, abuse and neglect for their young lives.

My fiercely protective heart burned with rage against the men who had hurt these great kids.

^ Now that's what I call shock and awe. 

I also learned that little Mehdi was in fact one of three younger siblings who had been adopted away from the four older children. He was my daughter's boyfriend's younger brother. Though Mehdi was now with a wonderful family, my frustration and anger surged even deeper to know that he also had been wounded by these men.

To be honest, as much as I accepted and loved the Muslim women and children in my life, I began to hate Muslim men. Granted, I was generalizing wildly, but anyone who could inflict such cruelty upon their wives, sons and daughters could not be the men of God that they so boldly claimed to be.

* * * * *

Back on Facebook, my first Malaysian friend - a  Muslim man himself - listened patiently as I shared this story and demanded, once again, an answer to my question:

"Why are Muslim men so mean?"

His first response was to ask me a question: "You said these men are from which countries?

The Middle East.

"Well," he thoughtfully continued, "then they are Arabs. Arabs have their own culture, and the Arab men are very strong. But that is not because they are Muslims; it's because they are Arabs. Muslim men come from many different cultures and each culture influences how they behave. We are not all the same."



That made perfect sense.

Today, I still perceive Arab Muslim men as rough - maybe it's the hot desert winds or the political upheaval or the sand constantly blowing up their thawbs, I don't know for sure. But in my personal experience, Arab Muslim men tend to be a serious, commanding, and hot-tempered lot.

But it's also been proven to me countless times that the Malay Muslim men are a totally different breed. Light-hearted and quick to laugh,, they are patient and easy-going as a rule. Rather than dominating family life, my Malay Muslim men friends put their wives' and children's needs first.

I've watched these men carefully feeding rice to their toddlers, or gently soothing a crying babe,

I've listened from the backseat as many a Malay Muslim wife scolds her husband for a wrong turn, and noticed only restrained silence in return.

I've seen my friends carefully meting out the last bits of a meal, taking care to ensure that everyone at the table gets their fair share.

^ The image is blurry but the sentiment is perfectly clear. 

And so, thanks to my wise friend, I have learned my lesson well:

Religion and culture are two different things.
Some cultures are more stern than others.

But Muslim men, as a rule, are most definitely not mean.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Among Muslims

My tried-and-trues sending me off at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.  
Can you guess which one is me?

Seven years ago, an extraordinary thing happened in my life.

 I, an American Christian woman, was befriended by a pack of Malay Muslims.

You can read all the details here, but the short story is this:

What started out as a chance meeting on Facebook with a Malaysian Mob Wars buddy grew to ever-expanding circles of friends, now numbered well over one hundred. Right off the bat, we discovered that we all had very much in common.

We listen to the same movies and music.
We laugh at the same jokes.
We love our families and friends with the same commitment and abandon.
We share the same hopes and dreams for our lives.

Exploring ancient Portuguese forts in Melaka, white legs and all.

In the intervening years, especially during the two visits I've paid to their motherland, our relationships have deepened and grown beyond anything I ever could have dreamed. I've been accepted, adopted and very well loved by people who are quite a bit different from me.

And make no mistake, as much as I share in common with my friends on the other side of the world, there are many differences between us too.

Differences in culture and custom,
Differences in dress and social mores.
Differences in religion.

Especially in the early years, those differences frustrated me and confused me.

During my four months in Malaysia, when my dear friends took me into their homes and cared for me like one of their own, those differences sometimes left me feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable and very much alone.

But that is not where our story ends.

Blurry selfies during rush hour. 

My friends and I keep talking.

I've asked literally hundreds of questions which my faithful friends have patiently answered. They have asked a fair share of me. We care about one other enough to trustingly work through our differences rather than letting them come between us. Interestingly, as my Malaysian Muslim friends and I open new doors of understanding, I find that our differences actually make us closer.

Girl talk at the beach.

* * * *  *

In a world today that is torn apart with understandable fear about terrorist attacks, jihadist extremists and suicide bombers, differences between Westerners and Muslims have become an ongoing topic of conversation, often invoking confusion and fear.

But I hope that is not where our world's story ends.

Let's keep asking questions.

Let's listen to one another's answers.

Let's see if maybe, just maybe, we can open new doors of understanding between two remarkable but markedly different cultures. And maybe, in the end, those differences may actually make us grow just a little bit closer

My favorite Malaysian playmate and Malay language instructor.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Symmetrically Satisfied

Sometimes I just crave me a little symmetry.

Granted, most of the time, I'm more of a grouping-of-threes type decorator. I like my rooms to feel a bit dynamic, a tad collected, and a lot surprising and unexpected.

But I'll admit, on that late June evening when I decided that my living room was a muddled mess and committed myself to completely rethinking the space, I was ready to try anything.

This inspiration photo soon jumped into my eyeballs and imprinted itself on my brain. 

I mean, this room is a little over the top for me. It's a bit shimmery and shiny for my organic tastes but that's not the point at all. What I really loved was the calm, controlled balance of that clean, cut-it-down-the-middle-with-a-knife symmetry.

Yum. Slice me up a piece of that pretty pie.

Now it's true that my financial resources are entirely limited, and I'm mostly making do with what I have. Lord knows I'd love to drop a few grand on some new white couches, and my pillows and artwork are definitely works in progress.I wouldn't hate a fresh coat of bright white paint on that woodwork, either. 

Still, I happy to report that my living room has slowly but surely evolved into the feng shui-friendly haven that it is today.

And for that, I am symmetrically satisfied.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Tales From The Windstorm

This story starts with a nap.

Yesterday, I came home from a busy day of teaching to find my dog and my fourth-born taking a lovely siesta on my bed. As the rain pitter-pattered peacefully against the window, I was irresistibly drawn to join them. Tugging on a free corner of the down comforter, I curled up in the last remaining corner of the bed and soon fell into a sweet dream of my own.


I awoke to sounds of great distress and destruction. Fierce winds had stirred up during my nap and now howled through my backyard, only gaining in force as they funneled between the rows of houses. But what caused the crash?

As I jumped up to pull shut the window, I suddenly understood. Two large panels of my six-foot cedar fence had burst from their supports, and now lay pell-mell across the garden. 

A homeowner's tragedy to be sure, but I've been lobbying to get those four-by-fours replaced for years now. Looks like my fence has finally earned itself a spot at the top of the to-do list and I can't say I'm all that sad. 

This is the first of my tales from our big wind storm, but it is not the last. 

* * * * * 

^ The gnarly winds whipping up the hill reached upwards of 60 miles per hour around my house, and reportedly topped out at close to 120 m.p.h. in the mountains. Lucky as we were, those gales still managed to wrestle this massive rose off my front trellis and deposit it on the sidewalk and street below. 

^ So this afternoon, armed with various trimming devices, an eight-foot ladder, heavy pair of gloves, and my able assistants, Daughters Number Two and Four, I wrestled the beast into submission. 

* * * * *

6:09 p.m. - Me, realizing that our power has miraculously survived the storm, so far:
                  "Tessa, maybe we should light some candles, just in case the power goes out."

                   Tessa: "Okay, I'm on it." Lights candles.

6:14 p.m. - We lose power. 

6:29 p.m. - Husband returns home from work: "So, what's the dinner plan?"
                  Me (pathetically): "Umm, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?"
                  Husband (purely logical): "But we're out of bread."
                  Me: "I just took a new loaf out of the freezer. We can defrost it....oh, well, toast it...."
                  Husband (who almost never suggests that we eat out): "Frozen PB & J? Let's eat out."
                  Me: :)

6:40 p.m. - Driving along the main drag through town, we realize the power outage is more                                   widespread than we expected. We pass one low-cost option after the next, all dark and                          clearly closed., Before we know it, we end up at Alderwood Mall, where the power is on                       and business at all the big chain/pricey restaurants is booming. 

6:55 p.m. - Husband: "Tessa, you have a lot of dietary restrictions. Where do you want to eat...the                          food court?"
                  Tessa, kind of joking, kind of not: "The food court is for hobos, How about P.F. Chang's?"
                  Me: "HOBOS? Really?? There are hobos who eat at the mall???"
                  Husband: "Alright."

7:15 p.m. - Me, happily tucking into my bowl of Singapore Street Noodles at a restaurant that I've                          been wanting to try for years: :)

* * * * * 

^Thankfully, my big red balls survived the storm virtually unscathed. One, obviously, was upended, but all the rest of the aerodynamic darlings stayed right in place, rather than rolling down the hill to crash in a billion pieces, as one might expect. 

* * * * *

Early this morning in the still hours before dawn, my brain emerged from the fog of sound sleep to hear Ranger scratching at my bedroom door. Slowly, I put together the facts of the matter.

Ranger wanted to go outside for his usual bathroom break.
He had missed the opportunity to slip out with my husband when he went downstairs.
It was in my best interests to help my dog make his way to the nearest bush.

And as I tossed back my covers, a fourth fact emerged:

The power was still out and it was freaking cold. 

I stumbled to the door, eased it open past Ranger's eager nose, and let him out first. Much to my delight, I found my husband, still at home, walking up the stairs with a flashlight to retrieve Ranger.

When Ranger scratches at a door to go out, the whole house knows what's up.

Ready to leap back into my warm bed, I paused for a moment to watch the merry twosome head downstairs. My husband descended the first two steps, his flashlight beam trained on the wall ahead, his feet finding their way on the dark steps.

Ranger, however, froze at the top landing. He stood, expectantly watching and waiting, though I couldn't imagine why. 

Then, on his own accord, my husband shifted the beam of light so that the steps themselves were now illuminated.

And Ranger immediately resumed his journey, safely trotting down the well-lit stairs.

All bragging aside, he is a remarkably smart and adaptable fellow. :)

* * * * * 

^ Here's the scene of the backyard crime. The fencing panel on the left is hanging as precariously as a six-year-old's front tooth; the gap to the right represents the second panel which fully crashed and burned into the neighbor's shrubbery. I wonder how long the queue will be to get fence repair after this mighty storm. 

* * * * *

Due to a downed power line drooping dangerously low over the street, Ranger and I were forced to alter the route of our daily walk today. When I veered off in this unexpected direction, he looked up at me in concern, clearly wondering if I had lost my mind. But as I rerouted us through a parking lot to eventually rejoin our normal path, he marched along happily, following my directional instructions and evidently trusting in my leadership. 

All that changed the moment he caught sight of our normal trail. Though it was now within sight of our vantage point in the parking lot, we could not feasibly get to our walking path of choice until we hiked to the far end of the second lot, and then looped back onto the trail.

But while Ranger originally trusted my guidance, as soon as he saw the familiar pathway in plain view, he was bound and determined to get us back on track. He obediently returned again and again to my side upon command, but each time I let him wander to his own devices, he bee-lined right back toward that trail.

Happy and satisfied was the little guy when we finally completed our short cut and returned to the normal circuit. And amused was I to learn just how much our daily traditions mean to him.

* * * * * 

^ Thank goodness my pallet garden was not harmed in the fence blow-out. I would have rebuilt it before dinner. 

* * * * *

The storm blew itself out before bedtime last night. Our power came back on around noon today. 

And when things got back to normal, I breathed a nice, big sigh of relief:

The load of laundry that was on spin when the storm hit can finally finish up.
Wool hats in the unheated house are no longer necessary.
The router is back online and hallelujah, the wifi is up.

And we can finally catch up on that all-important season finale of Below Deck that we so tragically missed last night. 

But I will admit, for all the drama and inconvenience, I had some fun during this wild adventure and I am a bit sad to see it end; I'll remember these tales from the windstorm for a long time to come. 

* * * * *

^Though the cats were a bit anxious during the heart of the storm, Luna quickly recovered his cool and headed back outdoors to supervise our clean-up.

Ooops, Looks like we missed an overturned chair. Sorry, boss. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Another Rainy Day

This morning, I woke up yet again to the patter of rain falling on the patio beneath my window. 

Scratch that verb. Unlike most Pacific Northwest rainy days, I heard not a patter but a drumbeat of steady, hard rain, accompanied by intermittent gusts that sent soggy leaves tumbling across the grass and whipped my wind chimes into a frenzy.

In these parts, we call that a monsoon.

Despite these dark, dreary conditions, a photo shoot sat at the top of my to-do list for the day. Finally, finally! After a solid ten weeks' worth of construction setbacks and snafus, I had put the finishing touches on my brass hanging planter and the little darling was ready to vogue for the camera.

But when I set up the shot in my library, on the north side of the house, the photos were dark and grainy to the point of being unusable.


I reconvened in the south-facing kitchen, brightest room in the house. And while I managed to eek out a few marginal photos, the dismal conditions did nothing to showcase the ridiculous cuteness of my creation. 

Brass tubing wired together Himmeli-style makes a clever design for a tiny planter; and I love everything about this delicious morsel, from its wrapped leather lead to the pentagonal pouch that cradles a bitty succulent. 

When I couldn't find a small white bowl that suited me, I ended up making my own out of clay. I know. Call me stubborn but I am fiercely committed to the DIY.

Double sigh. 

I considered deleting the whole crop of shadowy shots and doing retakes tomorrow. But let's be honest. It's been dumping rain for weeks now, and there's precious little sunshine in Seattle's November forecast. Every day for the foreseeable future promises more of the same murky atmosphere.

Today may be just another rainy day, but I've decided to accept it and make the best of it, gloomy photos and all. 

* * * * *

In my opinion, you can never have too many succulents, and you can never have too many stories about succulents. Here are a few to choose from:

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Pray For Paris

Open fire.
Suicide bombers. 

I am making a point to stay away from speculation and rumor-mongering about who did this and why. Until we have solid facts, I prefer not to play the blame game.

But I will say this.

No cause, no motivation, no explanation can justify these actions. 

No political stance,
No religious imperative,
No frustration with the way things are will ever make it okay for humans to intentionally kill other human beings.  

I still dare to dream that we can do better than this. 

I pray for Paris. 
I pray for us all.

Friday, November 13, 2015


For the past few nights, I have broken my own rules to stay up late and work on this planter.

First, about the project. Back in the seventies, my little emerging self loved hanging plants. With my hard-earned money and my mom, I marched myself to the Ann Arbor Art Fair each July and picked up a few more hand-made pottery hangers, and within a few years, amassed a sweet collection. My bedroom windows, both at home and at college, hosted seven or eight of these beauties, each with a luxurious trail of greenery.

When the eighties came into full swing, I boxed up these bohemian treasures and left them to sit in various attics until a few years back, when the fashion of hippie-dippy hanging plants returned. Sadly, most of my collection crashed and burned soon after excavation. Besides my favorite little teacup of a planter who lives on to this day in my kitchen, only one other survived, albeit with a huge sprawling crack and frayed cords. 

After months of eyeballing this poor beaten treasure, I finally decided to show some mercy and fix it up. Over the past few late nights, I Gorilla Glued the cracks and wove new macrame hangers; today I planted her up, and now my eighties princess is all ready to hang. 

Second, about the late night. The biologically inarguable fact is that I am a night owl. However, I feel equal parts guilty and socially out of step when I keep late hours, and at predictable intervals, vow to make a change. This fall, I pledged to turn over yet another new early-bird leaf, and for the past few months, I've held myself to a bedtime of midnight. Ish. 

And while it's nice to get eight full hours of sleep, I've not been feeling quite right. This may sound strange to anyone who is not a night owl, but trying to get my artistic jam on during the daytime just isn't the same. My creative energies fully unleash themselves only when the rest of my family has gone to bed, the house is clean and I am peacefully, blissfully alone.

This chunky, funky planter has reminded me how good it feels to hit that late-night sweet spot and abandon myself to full creativity. I may drop a few minus signs during my algebra classes in the morning, but working on art projects late at night is what I need to feel fulfilled. 

* * * * *

More macrame projects to light your fire:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


^ Tonight, midnight found me applying Gorilla Glue to the thirty-five year-old-cracks in this groovy seventies hanging planter.

Clearly, this was a job that simply could not wait one more minute.

^ Last night, at roughly the same hour, I was transforming these once-turquoise geometric elephant drawer pulls to gold, and creating three clay pinch pots.

What can I say. As a biologically hard-wired night owl, my creative energy peaks long after most people have tucked themselves into bed for the night, and as much as I try to keep hours that are "normal," these late-night power surges are normal for me.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Almost Home

During our summer road trip, we saw more interesting sights that I could squeeze into my real-time posts. Now that I'm back home and have fished all 548 photos off my devices, I have a few more road trip stories to share. 

To catch up on the rest of the trip, start here.

Drawing close to home is a pivotal moment in any road trip. But when you hail, as I do, from Seattle, Washington, where we find ourselves tucked all the way up into the extreme northwest corner of the continent, it's kind of a special big deal.

When we come back from the open road, there's a sense of retreat, of withdrawing from the wider world to our private little niche; a place that no one goes through; only to. During my early years in the Midwest, I returned from road trips to more centrally located, along-the-highway type hometowns, and the sense of retreat and return was considerably less emotional.

Hello, mighty Columbia River. I've been a Washingtonian for decades now, and I still can't believe I live so close to your wild, beautiful self.

^ Crossing your home state line certainly qualifies as a major milestone on any road trip, but in geographically bipolar Washington, the east side of the state feels as foreign as the moon to us west-siders. For me, it's not until I cross the mighty Columbia River that my heart truly begins to stir. With the wheat fields of the Palouse behind me, and the slow steady climb up the lee side of the Cascade Range about to begin, I sense the terrestrial tides beginning to turn.

Infinite stands of deep green firs growing thick and deep green across the mountains? Moody, overcast clouds? Dreamy patches of fog drifting across the landscape, even in the middle of a summer's day? 

Check. Check. And check. I'm definitely back in the PNW.

But the high point - quite literally - of every trip home is arriving at Snoqualmie Pass. Here, at the crest of the mountains, the dry forests of eastern Washington give way in a rush to the lush, foggy Douglass firs, and the true Pacific Northwest begins.

From this summit, it's an hour max to downtown Seattle and the western terminus of Interstate 90. How satisfying it is to come literally to the end of the longest interstate in the US of A, and bumping smack dab into the little chunk of Pacific Ocean known as Puget Sound. You definitely know the road trip's over when you run out of land.

Then, with one last right turn, we head north for the final twenty minutes of our journey, rolling through the familiar city streets and suburbs of our normal, everyday life.

And then we are home, cozy in our little corner of the great big world, where we live our happy lives and wait with anticipation for the next road trip to begin.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Yellowstone In The Evening

During our summer road trip, we saw more interesting sights that I could squeeze into my real-time posts. Now that I'm back home and have fished all 548 photos off my devices, I have a few more road trip stories to share. 

To catch up on the rest of the trip, start here.

Our day at Yellowstone National Park was quickly drawing to a close.

^ Contentedly, we made our way west along the Madison River, recounting all our favorite moments of the day.
We saw windswept Yellowstone Lake, icy blue beneath her windcapped waves. 
We hiked to the upper and lower falls on the Yellowstone River, taking in their beauty with a billion other tourists of the day. 
We spied several herds of big, bad bison who blithely ignored us and went about their bison business. 
We picnicked in a windy grove. 
We explored less-frequented trails and off-the-main-road drives, finding scenic treasures far from the madding crowds. 
And we walked among the geysers and hot springs and mud pots and steam vents to our very hearts' content.
Granted, we had hoped to see a moose but that's always a long shot.

So it was with our cups already overflowing that we noticed a sudden back-up of traffic along the park road.

Well. That's always a sure sign of a wildlife sighting.

Far be it from me to pass up a close encounter of the nature kind, so we pulled over and I hopped out to do some scouting.

^ There they were. On the far side of the river, safe and secure in their little threesome, stood a trio of female elk. Grazing in the lush grasses, their golden fur and white tails ablaze in the evening light, their beauty was breathtaking. My daughters soon joined me, and we stood transfixed, watching and expectantly waiting for whatever might happen next.

But never could we have predicted the unearthly sounds that soon rang out from the line of trees behind the cows. Bellowing trumpet calls like nothing I had ever heard before.

Now a massive male elk stepped boldly out from the forest, maybe twenty yards from the females. He paused, emitted another majestic cry, then nobly strode out toward the river, pausing now and then to stop, draw a scent, and evaluate his circumstances. Again, and again, the bugling cries rang out.

And just when the situation seemed almost unbearably fantastic, a second male broke from the forest, between the group of females and the first male. Suddenly I realized that both males were trumpeting, calling back and forth to one another, clearly competing for the attention of the females. Closer and closer they came toward us, still safely separated by the breadth of the river, but now we could see through our binoculars their massive antlers turning this way and that, black noses quivering on the wind.

It might have been ten minutes that we stood and stared; it might have been forever. Eventually, first one male and then the second regally climbed back up the ridge and disappeared into the trees. The females, for their part, continued with their meal, seemingly unimpressed by their menfolks' commotion.

As for us, we made our way back to the car, and rode in stunned silence to our hotel, remembering a morning, an afternoon, and a most eventful evening in Yellowstone National Park that we will not soon forget.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Yellowstone In The Afternoon

During our summer road trip, we saw more interesting sights that I could squeeze into my real-time posts. Now that I'm back home and have fished all 548 photos off my devices, I have a few more road trip stories to share. 

To catch up on the rest of the trip, start here.

After surviving an icy, wind-blown morning and a picnic lunch served inside a tornado, we were ready to take on the afternoon blitz of our one-day whirlwind through Yellowstone National Park.

Here's the most fascinating fact about this fabulous wilderness:

The park sits on top of an active super volcano. 

Not even kidding. 

Technically called a caldera, a word meaning "cauldron," the low, flat area of the park lies within the crater of the original volcano. Calderas are formed when the magma chamber beneath a volcano empties out during an eruption; the Yellowstone caldera resulted from three super eruptions, the most recent of which occurred 640,000 years ago. 

Which simply means that the park is full of hot spots that bubble and boil, blast and steam, with appalling individuality and charm.

^ Active geysers, as the hot spots are generally known, make themselves known at a distance. Though the features may take several different forms - mud pots or steam vents, for example - all involve heat escaping the earth. Thus, these lovely steam clouds pop up here and there, their white presence even more striking as temperatures drop.

Gorgeous at a distance, the thermal features invite visitors to come closer. Though it's wildly unsafe to march across the weak surface of the hot spots on your own, the park offers countless boardwalks for humans to get up close and personal. Bison and elk are on their own, and often wander through the thermal areas while ignoring the huge crowds of people. We also came across several examples of big muddy hoof prints stomping along the walkway.

^All the thermal features are created by the same phenomenon, more or less. Water seeps through cracks in the ground and reaches the super heated magma, and returns to the surface as water, steam or mud, depending on its route. The speed of the return trip also varies, and water that is forced through narrow openings can shoot up under fierce pressure, creating world-class geysers.

This video shows a fairly typical spring, and features an off-camera interaction between an adorable Asian-American, my husband, and Ranger.

^ Personally, I'm a huge fan of the mud pots, with their thick, sloppy bubbles and soul-satisfying burbles. If I knew I wouldn't be scalded and then arrested, I would be tempted to hop right in.

^ Besides entertaining the eyes, the hot spots affect several other senses. Many emit some kind of sound - splashing, burbling, or even high-pitched squeals of gas escaping under pressure. This feature, cleverly named Dragon Geyser, produced a roaring sound that wasn't captured well in the video but you can use your imagination.

Also, keep in mind that a primary chemical component of these features is surphur. Yep, the whole place smells like rotten eggs. Or worse. 

^ But the dramatic, other-worldly views are worth it all. Though the afternoon skies continued to churn out dark, threatening storm clouds, the sky did not burst.

In fact, the day slowly grew calmer and more temperate. As the sun slipped low in the sky, we left the geysers behind to head back into civilization and our hotel in West Yellowstone.

^ One last herd of bison stood on guard to witness our departure, but before we left the park, we had one more surprise in store. 

Click here for the story of our last great Yellowstone adventure. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Yellowstone In The Morning

During our summer road trip, we saw more interesting sights that I could squeeze into my real-time posts. Now that I'm back home and have fished all 548 photos off my devices, I have a few more road trip stories to share. 

To catch up on the rest of the trip, start here.

After a lovely night spent on the east side of the mother of all national parks, we drew a deep breath and set off for Yellowstone proper. Once we crossed the park boundary, one magically majestic splendor after the next materialized before our very eyes. 

I am not exaggerating. Check out these highlights of our morning's adventures to see for yourself.

^ Welcome to Lake Yellowstone. Family lore has it that as a little boy, my husband and his family were out fishing on the lake one summer's day when a huge thunderstorm blew in. Lightning began to strike in terrifying proximity and they rushed to the relative safety of the shore. 

Also in the family archives is the story of the time we came here when Ranger was a tiny pup, and a raging snowstorm met us on the eastern shore of the lake. 

This visit, the weather conditions threatened to storm yet again, and when we hopped out of the car at this windblown viewpoint for photos, my third-born and I found ourselves horrifyingly under-dressed. On the spot, we declared that the next stop would be the Fishing Village gift shop, where most certainly warm woolen beanies would be available for sale. They were. We each bought one and wore them all day long. 

^ The Hayden Valley flanks the Yellowstone River, winding through the center of the huge park. This, according to my safari-minded father-in-law, is the prime vantage point for viewing wildlife, and sure enough, we saw the obligatory bison herd across the golden plains. 

As much as I lvoe Yellowstone in the bright days of summer, I must admit that these September visits offer a special atmospheric beauty. Those dramatic clouds scuttled across the sky on a wild wind, and other than the shocking cold, the effect was thrilling. 

^ For my money, this is the most iconic view in the park. The Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River cut through the colorful rock that gave the park its name. I can only imagine the dropping of jaws that most certainly occurred when the first white explorers stumbled onto this sight. 

And the explorers who come to this place today continue to drop their jaws. As usual, the viewing areas here were jammed with an amazing variety of humans. Babies, grandmas, folks in wheelchairs, mobs of Asian tourists, and untold numbers of urban adventurers clogged the guardrails to gaze in admiration. Literally everyone over the age of three held a camera and engaged in the great art of selfie-ing with the scenery. Honestly, I felt like I was at an art gallery or a club, and while perhaps not as poetic as a lone visit, the experience definitely got my blood pumping.

* * * * *

Time for lunch. Have you ever picnicked while wrapped in two sweatshirts and a blanket, while the howling wind attempted to blow every morsel of your meal to kingdom come?

Click here to see if we survived.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Yellowstone National Park: The Prequel

During our summer road trip, we saw more interesting sights that I could squeeze into my real-time posts. Now that I'm back home and have fished all 548 photos off my devices, I have a few more road trip stories to share. 

To catch up on the rest of the trip, start here.

Yellowstone National Park.

The jewel in the crown.
The apple of my eye.
The perfect red cherry on the banana split that is our country's collection of beautiful and breathtaking landscapes.

Though my heart beats fast whenever I visit a national park, Yellowstone must surely be the greatest and grandest of them all. Nestled in the northwest corner of rugged Wyoming and spilling over into bits of Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone captures all the best of the west and rolls it up into one delicious destination.

Amazing too were the sights to be seen during our overnight stay in nearby Wapiti, Wyoming. Yes, before we even set foot in the park proper, We were treated to the sights, sounds and soul-satisfying tastes of a genuine western experience. 

But you don't have to take my word for it. See for yourself. 

^ We rolled into the Yellowstone Valley Inn after dark and went straight to the dining room. Bison burgers and hot turkey dinners under the elk horn chandelier? Yes, please. And you know there was a moose head mounted over the fireplace mantel. 

^ Who would not dream sweet dreams in a bed of hand-hewn lodgepole pines and white rumpled sheets? I personally slept like an angel. Ranger had no complaints.

^ Our room opened on to a little patio out back, and when I peeped my head outside in the morning, this is what I found. Good morning, Wyoming!

With another amazing meal of down-home cooking under our belts, we pulled up our tent stakes and set off westward for our eagerly anticipated day at Yellowstone.

^ Even Ranger, with his sweet red head popped out the backseat window, was excited to see the sights.

* * * * *

Tomorrow's burning question: Will we find beanies before hypothermia sets in? 

Click here to find out.