Happy Birthday LuLu!

Your Royal Tininess ...

It's been a joy to watch you grow up; to see your personality develop and to learn about who you are. You're just such a cool little person, and I love everything about you. Happy Birthday, sweetheart.


One year

Two years

And three

When you're chewing on life's gristle, don't grumble - give a whistle

The Thanksgiving break was, I think, a little hard on the Big Girl. Not that she minded the extra home time. It was the change in routine that threw her; a few days at 'daycare' (which she declared was "too little for me; the kids in pre-K just don't *know* anything"), and was a complete break for the predictable routine she has at Kindy. Then a lot of special togetherness days at home. With me. At home. For several days. Just me, Bean and Her Royal Tininess. And the glad tidings and thankfulness that go along with that togetherness. (I mentioned that it was a lot of days, right?)

So it really shouldn't have been a huge shock when she started to get a little ornery. But it was. And I reacted as well as those who know me would expect, after several days at home, with my kids. I get a little ... ahh ... twitchy when I feel trapped.

There was this time, many moons ago, when I still lived at home with my folks in Sarasota. As Florida thunderstorms are wont to do, there would sometimes be epic rainfall that would flood us into our neighborhood. Regardless of whether I *planned* to go out that day/night, knowing I couldn't leave drove me batty. I probably would have built a damn raft, knowing all the while the water would be down in a day or two.

I'm like that guy who cut of his own arm after being trapped under a boulder for five days, except, you know, less patient and way less ballsy. A few days of not being able to get 5 minutes alone makes me contemplate things like how nice it would be to have appendicitis and be hospitalized. Sure someone would come in every 2 hours to take my vitals, but if I said "Can you bring me the clicker?" there wouldn't be a 10 minute discussion about why I needed it, who invented the clicker, who invented the TV and what the phrase 'hand to god, I could drown myself in a bucket' means and whether it's a figure of speech or a myth.

But all that together time did yield a lot of great moments, and a lot of fun. We got in some time at the newly rebuilt neighborhood park, dinner with my folks and decorating the house. The girls are just awesome little people, each totally their own person and totally comfortable in who they are. I'm so proud of who they are, and how much love they have in their hearts.

Park time, Thanksgiving morning. You'll likely notice Bean's boots - she hasn't worn anything else since I got them for her. Personally, I think they take her style to a whole new level.

Our bling-tastic Christmas decor - magenta, silver and purple ornaments, and hot pink lights. They wanted pink and purple lights, but I talked them down to pink and white to minimize the bordello theme they were driving toward. Just call it the Best Little Christmas House in Texas.

And the extra fabulousness of our Shrine-to-Santa. Yes, those are pink trees. And no, I don't remember what Her Royal Tininess was all about back there ... but the picture is totally reflective of life with them: one is full-on, all the time, the other is comic relief.

Bean's latest tome

Texas Chili

For Miss O's 2nd birthday party, I made a Texas-style chili that everyone (very kindly) raved about. When I was invited to a soup swap recently, I decided to replicate my efforts, and actually (a first for me) keep track of what and how much I used to create a recipe. I tend to just be a wing-it type of cook; I'm not really a details kind of person when it comes to cooking (which is likely why I suck at baking), but more of an "start with stuff that sounds good, add more or less of other things to taste, cook it 'til it's done" kind of cook.

2.5 lbs lean stew meat
1.75 lbs lean chili meat
1 large onion, diced
1 24-oz jar of salsa
2 28-oz cans crushed or diced tomatoes
1 jar mole
1T sugar
1T oregano
½ tsp chipotle flakes
½ tsp ancho chili powder

Brown meat.

I cut the bigger hunks of stew meat into smaller bits, and crumbled the chili meat before browning so nothing stuck together in clumps. You can probably skip browning, but I think it adds flavor. While I was browning the meat (in several batches), I added a generous sprinkle of garlic salt to cut the browning meat aroma. I love red meat, but hate the smell of it browning.

Dice the onion and sautee it in the last round of beef drippings (for all the others, I soaked up the fatty runoff with paper towels) until softened with some browned bits.

Start dumping everything in the slow cooker. For this recipe, I used a 6-quart cooker. I started with the meat, then onion, mole, tomatoes and salsa.

The mole is a pain in the tush to work with, but the flavors it adds are *so* worth it. If you’ve never used mole, opening the jar is difficult, and there’s an inch or so layer of oil on top. Oh, and the opening instructions are in Spanish, so enjoy that. I'm pretty sure the instructions say "locate the three dots, then pry the lid off at the dots". Either that or "get a beer, find a cute guy to open this, take it back after he's figured it out." Potato, potahto.

Below the inch of oil is a solid brick of mole. You need to puree the mole with water or broth or something before you add it to the pot – it won’t melt down. (Yes, that's experience talking.)

Cook for at least 6 hours – I did about 18 hours. Give it a good stir as often as you like. My slow cooker has a 10-hour setting, and that’s what I used, but it still boiled the chili and could possibly burn the bottom layer if you aren’t stirring or using a slow cooker liner.

The result is a sweet, rich, somewhat spicy, earthy, meaty chili that is to. die. for. Unless you're a vegetarian. Texas chili is pretty universally accepted as being bean-free. When I went through my couple years of vegetarianism, I really grew to like chili made with fake meat crumbles and dried, rehydrated, beans. Using the dried beans meant they retained just a bit more firmness and held up better for a 6-10 hour slow cooking. But now that I've done Texas chili, I don't know if I can ever go back to fake meat and beans.

If only Rudoplh would BTFO ...

Was talking to Miss O today about the joy that is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ...

... and *honestly* - is that not just the suckiest message for kids? Ever? His parents are embarrassed of him because he looks different, the other reindeer mock him and even Santa thinks he's worthless because of his nose. "Rudolph, those are some mad flying skillz, but you've got a shiny nose, so tough tiddlywinks." It's only after he saves them all from certain death that he's worthy of flying a sleigh. I've thrown out everything Rudolph-related in my house ...

Anyhow. Her Royal Tininess and I were chatting on the drive between dropping Bean off at kindy and dropping HRT off at daycare, and she was talking about Rudolph.

HRT: Mumma, Rudolph has a shiny nose
Me: Yes, he does. And the other reindeer are mean to him about it. Is it okay to be mean to someone because they're different?
HRT: No. That's not okay. Who was mean to him?
Me: The other reindeer
HRT: What other reindeer?
Me: The other reindeer in the story.
HRT: No, mumma. What were their *names*?
Me: Well, I believe it was Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen.
HRT: But not Clarice.
Me: No, Clarice was the only one that was nice to him.
HRT: His mommy and daddy were nice to him.
Me: Right, they were. Mommy and daddy and Clarice.

Her Royal Tininess thinks on this a spell.
HRT: Mumma?
Me: Yes?
HRT: What do you do when someone makes the mad face at you?
Me: Ahhh ... Well, if someone makes the mad face you should probably just leave them alone and give them some time to feel happy again.
HRT: Why didn't he leave them alone?
Me: Who?
HRT: Rudolph. When the other deers made the mad face, why didn't he leave them alone? If he just goed away and let them be happy, they'd like him.
Me: ...
HRT: Maybe they were mean to him because he was annoying.

She has a point, you know ... It's a message I wish she'd pass along to her big sister.

Austin Zoo, 11.28.10

We love our Austin Zoo membership and visit often. We got there right around opening time today, and the crisp, cool air made for great visit. Miss O was most taken by an orange kitty cat, not at all wild or exotic, and would have been content with a visit that consisted of just hanging with that kitty. Said kitty is missing an eye, and Miss O declared "I can be the person that finds lost kitty eyes and gives them back to the kitties that losted them." A highly specialized niche, no doubt.

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Kiddie Acres November 2010

Fueling up

Riding the carousel

Budding pilots

My little horsewomen

Making new friends on the ferris wheel

Going home

I'm thankful for ...

Looking back over the past year, I'm thankful for



Snow Days







My girls

I'm thankful for so many things ... I actually kind of consider Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good" a theme song of mine. Well, that and Frank Sinatra's "My Way" ... but "My Way" isn't quite as giving-thanks-y. I mean, I'm thankful that I can and have done things my way, but that's not the point today.

Sh*t My Three Year Old Says

Technically, she won't be three for a month, but close enough. Lu has been on a roll lately with the things she says. Below are a few I've captured for your reading pleasure.

"We can't hang Bean's picture outside because hopper-grasses will get it!"

Lu: "Get off of my finger, you silly things"
Mommy: "It's probably just glue"
Li: "It's skin. From dolphins. I don't know how to get the skin from the dolphins off. Bad dolphins"

Lu: "Mama! I have a deal: you don't make the mad face and we will get our butts in the chairs and stop whining. Okay?"
Mommy: "Okay"
Lu: "No. Say 'deal'. Say 'deal', mama!"

"Mama! Thanks for coming home. You drove your car and you came home. You're the best mama!"


Oh Bwunhilde, you'w so wuvwy!

After a long five days without them, the girls are back. Their dad will be out of town on his regular Thursday, so he picked up the Monday shift. I had a 9:00 meeting today, so his timing was pretty good. Except for the fact that he returned Bean to me with a sore throat ... and he's heading out of town tomorrow. Just once I want to be the one leaving town when a kid is getting sick.

Regardless, it was a happy reunion, with neither of them wanting me to leave a room they were in, and both snuggling in close at bedtime. I told O she was my snuggle-bunny, and she replied "No - I'm Little Bit!" (That's one of my nicknames for her - she goes by LuLu, Little Bit, Bits and Llama Llama, depending on her mood.) I tried to explain, but she was having none of it. She's my Little bit and I'm her Best Mama.

Between dinner and bed, Bean colored and O took out one of her little houses and played with her "dollies", which are a bunch of random 3-5 inch figures, like the Playmobil people, a couple Disney Princess dolls, some old-school Fisher-Price people and other random people. She sets up a little village with the small-scale dollhouses and the big wooden parking garage we have and enacts various little household dramas, all set to song. In my head, I see her as an opera singer, complete with a tiny little horned hat, cape and pointy stick.

To get you in the right mood, here's Miss O's opera du jour, to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine". The ellipses are when I couldn't understand her, so I waited for the next stanza

And now we're here
at mommy's house
Strawberry Shortcake
is the big sister
and now the big sister is me
Her name is Ariel
and she is my mom
my mom is Sarah
and she doesn't know
And then she's fallin
in the di-irt
and then she's stuck
in the dirt all day

And for anyone who, like me, thinks Bugs Bunny is comic gold, What's Opera, Doc?

Oh balls ...

As my kids have aged, it's led to phone conversations with the in absentia parent. Sometimes these are brief, parent-initiated calls, and sometimes they're more involved kid-initiated calls. I've called them at their dad's several times, wanting to say hi, only to hear them say politely "no thanks" when he asks them if they want to talk to me :)

But miss a kid-initiated call, and you'd think they actually saw you purging their toys while they were away. I've had several whining messages from Bean on my voicemail when I miss their call. I can hear her dad in the background, trying to talk Bean off the building's edge when mommy doesn't answer.

Yesterday was one such message, so when I called back, Bean had tons to talk about, including the request that I pick her up. It went much the same with Miss O, who insisted that I could come pick her up. As my conversation with her reached it's (mercifully soon) end, I asked to talk to her sister again.

Miss O: Okay, bye mommy
Mommy: Can I talk to your sister?
Miss O: No, you've already talked for her. You haven't talked for my daddy.
Mommy: That's okay. I'd really like to talk to Bean again.
Miss O: (firmly) You already talked for Bean, and you've already talked for me.
Mommy: (realizing the only way to return - as promised - to Bean) Ah, okay. Can I talk to your daddy?
Miss O: Daddy - come talk for my mommy!

In the car the other day, Bean was thrilled. She'd read the required 15 books in October to score a free Pizza Hut pizza. Her dad called to say hi, and she told him about it.

Bean: Daddy, I got a pizza coupon for reading 15 books! I'm going to take mommy to dinner!
Daddy: That's great! Next time we can go to dinner ...
Bean: Only if you marry my mommy.

Thankfully, I'm not held to the same standards. No-one tell her the certificate is only good for a personal pan pizza, okay? She's very excited about paying for dinner, and told me "This time you don't have to spend your money - I'll pay for dinner!"

Today's foray into cooking is muffin pan meatloaves. This is a serious win, because Miss O likes meatloaf but won't eat meatballs, and Bean likes meatballs but won't eat meatloaf (I seriously cannot make these things up). This way I can market the same product to my two disparate audiences: "Look! A big meatball!" and "Look! A personal meatloaf!".

I also used this to sneak in some veggies; jarred pasta sauce has veggies, and some of the newer baby foods sneak in some of the more exotic veggies (seriously, what typical American diet kids actually eat lentils?) Another cool thing about small-scaling? Way easy to freeze daily portion sizes.

Muffin-Pan Meatloaves/Meatballs

2 lbs protein (I used 1.25 pounds of 93/7 ground turkey and .75 pounds of 85/15 naturally-raised ground beef)
1 cup bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 3.5 ounce package Sprout Organic Baby Food, Pasta with Lentil Bolognese, Stage 2
1/2 - 3/4 cup Ragu Organic Traditional Pasta Sauce
1/4 - 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Mix all the ingredients together. I actually did it in a gallon zippered plastic bag to shield myself from the dreaded "raw-meat-under-the-nails" syndrome, but, alas, when it came to making the balls, I had to sully my manicure.

Form into racquetball sized balls and drop into a standard muffin pan. This recipe made ten big balls (I loved typing that) - you can experiment with the ball size (giggle) and cooking vessel that suits your whims.

Cook at 350* for 30-40 minutes.

More sophisticated palates than those my children possess may note the blandness of the recipe and the sauce. I zinged my serving up with basil, oregano and garlic salt and it was nom-a-licious. If I were cooking for people to whom a McNugget was not haute cuisine, I'd have used onions, garlic and tomato paste. But the lentil Bolognese wasn't noticeable at all - I'll probably step that kind of element up on the next go-round.

(My conscience dictates that I note I'd really prefer not to use conventionally-raised meats, or even meats at all for the most part. But as I'm cooking for two picky kids on a single mom income, sometimes I just have to go with what works. Once I've got a couple rounds of this in the "accepted by both kids" pile, I'll switch to locally-raised, pastured meat. Another aside: my 5-year-old will eat, by the pound, these eggplant meatballs, so if her sister would deign to try them, that might be all I used.)

Do you know the muffin chick?

It's funny; I used to always have my blog set to the WYSIWYG editor, but lately I've been firing it up using the HTML editor. Technically, the Blogger interface should be called the "kinda-sorta-html-editor", as you don't have to format text or paragraphs or anything, but it's the HTML editor. And I sound damn cool saying I'm using the HTML editor. (My mom is still trying to figure out what I'm talking about ... it's cool, mom, just skip to paragraph four.)

At my job, a switch from sending Outlook-based emails to sending them via an email marketing service means that I've had to gradually learn basic HTML coding. And I'm starting to realize that I'm more comfortable producing documents in HTML and doing most of my own coding, than I am trying to make the email marketing interface do what I want. So I created templates in Sharepoint Designer (the software formerly known as FrontPage), since that lets you switch between the WYSIWYG and HTML editing seamlessly, and then I tweak all the coding I need daily.

It's cool, because, really? Who doesn't want to know a bit more about how things work? And when you're a closet control freak like I am, well, that extra degree of "ha! I am the lord of all I survey! Or, at least all that I survey and know how to do!" is just icing on the cake.

And that's how I lost my virginity.

See what I did there? I told my mom to skip to paragraph four and ... nevermind. It was funny as hell to me.

So I'm on post three out of the five I should have done by now for NaBloPoMo, but I think that's officially two more posts than I did in all of October, so go me. I have banana chocolate chip muffins hot from the oven, Parmesan bread rising in the bread maker and my windows wide open, so it must be fall in Texas. I also have all of the accompanying detritus in the sink, and I am not at all looking forward to cleaning up after myself.

But I will share my muffin recipe :) I've kinda bastardized a couple recipes and used spelt flour in place of regular flour.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Preheat oven to 350*

Wet ingredients
3 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup mashed banana
1/2 cup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Dry ingredients
2 cups spelt flour
3 teaspoons baking power
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 - 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

(You can do a cup of banana and 1/4 cup of milk, if you want. I just use whatever bananas I have and beat the crap out of them with the mixer, then use milk to reach 1 1/4 cups of banana + milk.) Cream the butter and sugar with a mixer. Add eggs and mix well. Add the already mixed up bananas (I did them first and measured so I knew how much milk to use) and the milk and mix it all until smooth.

Put the flour, baking power and salt in a bowl, and make a little well in the middle. Pour the liquid in and, using a spatula or big old spoon, fold, rather than stin, everything together. Mix thoroughly, but no longer than necessary, and then fold in the chips.

Spoon into greased muffin pan, bake at 350 degrees for 18-25 minutes. Makes 8-12 muffins, depending on how much you fill the cups in the pan :) Eat them right out of the oven for best results; you can also cool and freeze.


Wordless Wednesday

Howdy, y'all

Happy NaBloPoMo!

For the less-bloggy, it's National Blog Posting Month, where bloggers commit to posting daily for the month. I've been slacking so badly on my blog, I'll give it a whirl to see if it kicks my butt back into posting more regularly.

I'm trying to reconcile it being November first with having to still run the air conditioning. I so miss North Carolina in the fall ... windows open, maybe even running the heat in November ...

But I'm a Texas girl. Well, at least until I can move to Alaska.


After a bumpy start to Kindergarten, Bean has been settling in really well. She's reading like crazy, and her teacher even assigned her another child to mentor. Since I've always likened Bean to a Border Collie (as in, she does better with a job, and gets in trouble when she's not challenged and busy), so I'm happy to see her teacher harnessing some of that energy for good instead of evil.

Speaking of evil, here's my favorite exchange she and I had on Halloween:

Bean: "Mommy, why is everyone dressed like a princess?"
Me: "Because they like princesses. Why are you dressed like a witch?"
Bean: "Because I like evil."

Miss O is just a little pistol. She's alternately sweet, funny and temperamental. She's doing fabulously in the new preschool she started in August, and 97% of the time she's a delight to be around. But since she's in the middle of the "Terrible Twos - Terrible-er Threes - F'ing Fours" cycle, the 3% of the time when she's *not* a delight to be around can make a mommy long for a Valium drip.

But if anyone thought Bean had the lock on saying stuff that makes you laugh out loud, Miss O is officially giving notice that she's giving her big sister a run for her money. As evidenced by the following exchange between them:

O: "Mama, how do you spell horses?"
Bean: "h-o-r-s-e-s"
O: (pauses a beat)"Are you the mama? No. Mommy is the mama"

Oh yes. Yes she did.

Be the change you wish to see in the world - Ghandi

There's so much going on these days, in my life and in the world. It's so easy to lose track of something like a blog; it's kind of a conceit (in the fanciful trifle sort of way, not the ego way, but blogs are kind of ego-driven, as well).

I'm struggling a lot with how unkind the world seems to have become. It's due in large part to the recent surge in suicides among young people who have been bullied. I don't understand how the world we live in has gotten so mean, so cruel. How kids are growing up today without any compassion or regard for how their actions affect others. I've cried and wanted to scream this week as I read story after story of children bullied to death.

What are parents doing wrong? Because make no doubt - this is on us, as parents, and on us as adults. As they watch "adults" speak with hate and intolerance toward others, our children learn that it's okay to belittle and berate people whose ideas and lifestyles you don't agree with. "Adults" show them that it's okay to disrespect the president because you don't like a black man in office, it's okay for religious leaders to condemn gays for the way they are born, it's okay for people to burn other peoples' religious books because you have some whack-job idea that their religion is from the devil ...

Why aren't parents - all parents - teaching their children kindness and compassion? That's something that spans all religions, all beliefs. Why isn't the message kids receive today, regardless of their faith or lack of faith, that people deserve compassion and a basic respect of their right to just *be*?

I've been laboring, daily, to underscore to my children that I don't care about perfection or grades - I care about love, kindness and compassion. And while I know those are qualities that still need work in me, I hope they still hear me.

The Dalai Lama said: "I believe that at every level of society - familial, tribal, national and international - the key to a happier and more successful world is the growth of compassion." I believe this too. Can I count on you, my friends and family, to work toward a similar goal? Because if we don't all do something to turn the tide, I fear that one day the child whose life is lost will be one that hits much closer to home.

Encourage your children to love and laugh, to embrace one another. To cherish that which makes them different and nurture that which makes them the same. To have kindness and compassion in the hearts above all else. I'm so scared of the world that I see now - and I know that you are too. Let's change it, starting now.

The first day back. It always gets me.

How much do I suck at blogging?

I spend all day at work on the 'puter, and when I get home, it's just hard to motivate myself to typing up a blog post. It doesn't help that I'm starting to develop signs of carpal tunnel in my right hand again. I had brutal CTS when I was pregnant, in both wrists, so at least it's just the one side now. I'm sure steroid shots are in the near future, and possibly even the release surgery. So sitting and typing a blog entry at the end of the day, not tops on my list.

But it's a big week: Bean started Kindergarten! On Monday, my Big Girl stopped being a preschooler and became a Kindergartener.

For some folks, this is a huge deal because it's the first time their kiddos have been away for so long every day. For full-time working parents, it's not the same. We're already used to being away from our kids all day, so it's a change, but not a dramatic one. So while I watched/heard parents talk about crying, and being faklempt about Kindy, I went about my day pretty much normally.

Bean was pretty low-key about it all, but I keep forgetting that for *her* this is a big change. She's doing after-school at the new preschool that Miss O attends, and she rides the preschool bus from Kindy to the preschool. She loves that :)

On her first day, my good friend Julia hosted a potluck brunch at her place for all the new Kindy parents. I asked for the day off so I could join in. It was great to see everyone whose kids mine have grown up with and realize how far we've all come. We were all there with kid #2 in tow (I let O play hooky with me), and it was such a different playdate than a big kids playdate - much quieter and more low key.

I picked Bean up right off her bus at aftercare. Man, was *that* a rookie mistake. She threw a hairy sh*tfit of epic proportions. She wanted to stay and me, being the "worst mother in the WORLD", screwed those plans up. She creamed, she cried, she kicked, she ran away. "I hate you! I never want to see you!" It was awesome.

On the plus side, any lingering "oh, I wish I could still be a SAHM" thoughts were not only squashed, they were eviscerated.

Tuesday pickup was much the same, as I arrived right when they were starting a movie. Cue another epic hissy.

Tuesday night, I firmly explained to her that I was always going to be showing up and interrupting something - that she needed to accept that and deal with it. Wednesday, I showed up for pickup with a stunt double: grandma. Whether it was that or my talk, pickup was much better. Thank bast, because another hissy might have pushed me to the breaking point.

Thursday was all Dave, and he said it went well. Friday went well, too, so I'm hopeful that particular transition stress is over. Transition + Bean = difficult, but she's got to get a handle on how she reacts.

She's struggling a little with relationships in her after care; mostly with listening to her teacher and doing what she's told / not doing what she isn't. Her aftercare teacher is pretty firm with her, which I like, in a way. But Bean says she's getting madder at her more often. I can understand - it's incredibly frustrating to tell a 5 year old something and be ignored. Over. And over. So I'm working with Bean on the listening/compliance thing; but since something in *my* brain is hardwired to resist the "because it's what you do" reasoning, I'm thinking she may have some of the same genetics ...

Struggles aside, tho, she's just been amazing with all this. On Friday morning when Dave dropped her off, he asked: "So, we park and I walk you to class, right?" And Bean said "yeah... wait - I want to walk by myself. I need to do this." She admitted she was scared about it, but made herself do it. I'm so damn proud of her for that.

Later Friday afternoon, her teacher called to give a first week progress report. She said Bean was doing really well, and - here's the part where my heart grew two sizes - "Her outgoing personality has helped a lot of kids adjust; there isn't a kid she hasn't reached out to and made friends with."

Bean doesn't like the noise of the bells, or the auto-flush toilets, so her teacher lets her use headphones to block the sounds. Paired with Bean's fashion sense, she must look like all she's missing is a football helmet some days ...


Alaska Day One: Anchorage --> Portage Glacier

I'm not sure anyone really *cares* about the details, but I have like a thousand pictures and I've been missing Alaska something fierce, so y'all are stuck with a day-by-day series of posts. Actually, you're not stuck. The little x on the upper right (or left, for Mac users) corner can make it all go away :)

My first day in Alaska I drove southeast on the Seward Highway along Turnagin Arm. Along that route, I swear there's a trail or an observation area every 5 miles. I'm sure they do this in other parks, but there every park or maintained trail I found had a little box for you to just write down where you parked and put in $. To me, it kind of underscored the "you're on your own" aspect of the trip. It was both liberating and (a little) intimidating.

One thing I can't capture in film or video is the smell - it's a sweet, flowery smell. Of course it's not *everywhere*, but in the natural areas, you smell that more often than anything else. Even at the marshes and right by the water.

My main stops were Potter Marsh, Beluga Point, Portage Glacier and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

I'm hoping this photo slide show plays well and does the area a small measure of justice. If you want to view the photos at your own pace, just click on the slide show and it should take you to the album.

Lu-Lu's Opera

(All sung to a baby doll and two stuffed Bambis, unless otherwise noted. And we all thought Bean had the lock on unintentional comedy.)

I want my gramma and my grampa
Grampa is my favorite
Grampa is my favorite boy
I forgot my deer
I'll go get it, I'll be right back
Can I come with you?
No, you can stay right here, I'll be right back

Mama, I'm getting my baby deer
her name is Bambi

I found her

(resume opera)
I found it

Nice to meet you, nice to meet you.

I love you horsies; I love you guys deers

My name is calypso and name is Ayssa
neigh-neigh (because all deer say neigh-neigh, apparently)

Are you pickin' on your nose guys?

Neigh! yes! We're just pickin' on our nose


To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.

(Title quote from John Muir)

I've been home for almost two weeks, and Bean's b-day got it's spotlight, so it's time for the rundown on my trip to Alaska.

I was off-duty July 4th weekend, and had the 5th off, so I decided to extend it a little on both sides and take myself on vacation. I had considered Wisconsin to visit family, and Florida to visit friends and my sister, but - much as I love my friends and family - the options just weren't dinging my bells.

I wanted to push myself to do something that scared me. Trekking around Alaska alone was the gutsiest thing I could think of to do as a solo trip. And I’ve wanted to visit the 49th state for a long, long time.

(Spoiler alert: I could *not* see Russia. From anywhere. Not from a back porch or from a mountaintop. I even tried with my spiffy new 75/300 zoom lens. No dice.)

Alaska has been calling my name for years. There’s just something about it that speaks to my soul; all that wide open space, all that natural beauty, all the wildlife … And it’s Alaska. One of the last truly great wild spaces on such an epic scale. Denali. Countless other mountains. Rivers and streams. Humpback whales. Black, brown and polar bears. Killer whales. Seals. Wolves. Bald eagles. Caribou. Moose.

I’m seriously wishing I was back there already.

I went without any real plan or itinerary, other than flying in and out of Anchorage and staying 4 nights in Anchorage, then driving down to Seward for a night before flying home. I reserved hotel rooms and a car, and winged the rest. And you know what? Traveling like that rules.

Actually, traveling solo kind of rules, too. Next time I go I’m bringing CD’s for the car, because there’s plenty of dead air as you drive around. But then you pick up some random station and listen to local public radio stories about Raven's Radio Hour, which I wish I had seen while there. And then that goes away and 20 minutes later you can indulge in some guilty pleasure sing-alongs with Journey and 38 Special (you know you know the words to both of those) as a staticky classic rock station penetrates the mountains all around you.

It's just an amazing place, and using Anchorage as a base was brilliant, if I do say so myself. There's just so much to explore within a 2-3 hour drive. In that time you can get to Seward or Talkeetna, on any of hundreds of trails and activities between them. You seriously can't drive more than 15-20 minutes heading toward either without somewhere to pull over and just walk in the woods.

I'll give y'all the day-by-day breakdown in the days to come. It's the most beautiful and amazing place; one I'll return to many, many times.

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