Monday, December 31, 2012

Developing Habits

Because it's a day away from school, and because I've been up since 12:35 a.m. this morning (never happens, but I have SO much to do and that just happens to be when I woke up!), I decided to write in my journal this morning rather than wait until my usual evening routine in order to close out the year.

I've developed this habit of writing in my journal every single day. I didn't ever start keeping a journal until I was sixteen, but back then, it wasn't a daily habit. And then on 1 January 1991, I decided I would do it every day for that year. And I did. I actually kept that goal. And then I kept going. And today marks the end of twenty-two years of writing in my personal journal (by hand!) on a daily basis, never missing. That means I've had the habit for over 8,000 days in a row. Too bad some of that discipline hasn't carried over to weight loss!

To be sure, not all of those journal entries have been what you would call "high quality." Some of them are pretty good, but not all. There were many lazy days where it was all I could do to write the day, date, month, year, city, state, and one other tiny little thing before hopping into bed. It's been great, on the other hand, to be able to look things up. Even K asks me to check my journal so we can remember the last time we did something or went somewhere. My journal helps me to see God's hand in my life. It helps me to count my blessings.

On top of my journal, we have a special camping journal, we have our NPS Passports, and we have our blog. So, I think I've done a fair job of documenting my doings. However, we have no posterity, so I really don't know what the point is other than my journal helps me. I suppose all the moms out there with posterity don't have as much time as I do to keep a journal and there's the juxtaposition of it all.

Here's to the New Year and the practice and development of more good habits!

Cold Chicken and Pine Nuts

Our neighborhood was suddenly adopted a couple of months ago by these chickens. They sleep in this pine tree every night and then they jump out and walk around during the day. Some people have seen them on the sidewalk. I sometimes see them near the kids at the bus stop in the mornings. More often, I see them across the road and I always wonder, "Why DO the chickens cross the road?" They don't seem very worried about cars and such so I'm really surprised they've made it this long. Don't know much about chickens, but they sure seem to be handling the cold temperatures. K keeps asking, "Where did they come from?"

I just had to take their picture this morning. They weren't very happy about it. Didn't make a peep, but they were on high alert. They crow a lot (or would that just be him crowing a lot?) and some people find that disturbing. Personally, I think it just adds to the music of the wetland preserve on the other side of the neighborhood. Chickens on the South and ducks laughing uproariously on the North. Seriously, those ducks sound like they're attending one whale of a cocktail party! Hope they don't mind when I chime in with my own cackling.

Hey, Stalkers!

Quite a lot of people mention to me that they stalk our blog. I usually say something like, "It's totally public! Anybody can read it." However, if you feel like being brave in the new year, you could officially "follow" our blog (looks like we have a grand total of 13 followers at the moment--not so popular) and you could even leave a comment, occasionally. They say it really helps to know your audience. I guess I, in turn, need be following more and commenting more myself. So, while I've got you here, and because I'm too lazy to click around and look it up (headed to the fitness center) and because I do NOT find Blogger easy to use, how do I go about getting my blog made into a keepsake book? I hear of other folks getting their blog printed up every year...what would that take? Please advise and Happy New Year!

Getting Jazzed!

Back in July, we were gifted two tickets to the Utah Jazz with seats in the Lower Bowl! Everyone's been asking, "Who gave you the tickets?" Well, it's our friend, Ann! I have her blog listed on my blog reading list. She's been teacher of the year, her blog won best educational blog of the year, and she's incredible in many ways on top of all that! Ann has the distinction of being the first person to ever take me to a Jazz game several years ago, and THAT was a playoff game! We hadn't been to a game for a couple of years, so this was a real treat!

The photo above documents the first time in the game the Jazz were in the lead.

Meet Linda! She is the Guardian of Portal L. Nothing gets past this woman! If I had season tickets, I would want them to be in Linda's portal! Teenage hoodlums tried shlepping in, but she asked to see their tickets and they shlepped right back out with their heads down, guilty as charged. When we arrived and showed her our tickets, she said, "Oh, you must be Annie's friends!" Yep, we are! Every now and then I could hear Linda yelling, "Keep your cool, guys, keep your cool!" She confided to me that she really likes the younger players because they haven't been around long enough "to get an attitude."

Shucks.'s New Year's Eve!

What does one write about on the last day of a whole year? Turkey soup, that's what! Oh, how I loves me a turkey carcass! After Thanksgiving, K and I made our own turkey dinner and later I made this soup. It looks a little green but I think that's because there are no carrots, as per K's request. The noodles were made by the Amish folks and purchased in Iowa. I know it's not right to brag about your own cooking, but this soup was SO good. So, so good!

The soup was good, but I still managed to catch a really bad cold. I've officially been sick since 12 December! I'm almost better. Almost. I rested, I pushed water and other fluids, I avoided dairy products, and I did the steamy shower therapy which doctors have been prescribing for me my entire life: close the bathroom door, get in the shower with the water just as hot as you can stand it, force yourself to cough until you spit out as many green and yellow chunks of mucous as you possibly can, cough some more, go back to bed with a couple of humidifiers, and don't get out until your bladder demands that you must. Repeat daily. Hey, I've had pneumonia four times in my life (twice before the pneumonia shot and twice after). Shower therapy is preferable. Let's move on to our drive to Iowa for Christmas, shall we?

This is like the only picture I took the whole trip. I had my camera with me everywhere I went, but I was just out of steam, you might say, for snapping pictures. It probably had something to do with my illness, my mom's passing, and sheer exhaustion. People complain a lot about that drive across I-80 and how there's "nothing to look at." Well, if you'll just open your eyes, you'll admire those stalwart cattle in Wyoming making their living on windy slopes at a balmy five degrees. You might also notice the sculpted snowbanks that look like whipped cream and merengue. You might somehow feel motivated to actually snap a picture of a semi that had been on fire, since traffic was backed up anyway. My favorite sites were the aftermath of the blizzard: fourteen vehicles strewn across one little patch of I-80, one of them a semi upside down surrounded by thirteen other unluckies. It's kind of a challenge to count that fast as you speed by! Can't tell you how many big trucks we saw on their sides waiting for the tow-ban to be lifted.

Bottom line is...God has blessed us for so many miles! K is a good driver, I'm a good driver, we maintain our vehicles, we pray our way across the plains and back, and everything has worked out to our benefit. Anything can happen at any time, even to good drivers who try hard to be prepared, and so we just thank the Lord for watching over us!

Friday, December 28, 2012

My Husband's Ancestral Home

I, for some reason, started referring to Des Moines as my husband's ancestral home. I used the phrase a couple of times over the Christmas holidays and a few people chuckled. Here's the thing though, except for the first six months of his life, he's only ever lived in that house. Well, you know, until he left for college. This is amazing to me. A lot of people move around more than that. When we pulled out of the driveway the other day to return to our Marriage Home, he said aloud in the car, "Goodbye, Childhood Home!"

And then there's my mother-in-law's ancestral home, also known as Grandpa's Farm or The Farm. My MIL has spent every single Christmas of her life out at that farm! I love being attached to a family such as this. Grandpa is as cute as ever, cracking jokes, teasing, and telling me, "You're a good member of the family."

My husband's parents are amazing, sweet people. They are so loving and kind. Salt of the Earth. Who else would sit at the table with me first thing in the morning and play seven games of Aggravation? At first, FIL was reluctant to send my marble back to base saying, "It's early in the game, no need to get ferocious." However, once I started sending his marble back to base, he wasn't quite so hesitant. As far as MIL goes, she's out for blood every single time! And BIL beat the socks off all of us in Michigan Rummy.

Aunt J., cousins, babies, was a nice, nice Christmas!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Starring Santa!

We painted our wooden Santa Stars today as I have been doing with my students every single year for many years (thanks to the idea from Tim) and...I had a new experience with those stars this year.

The Early Birds had just left for the weekend and the Later Gators were transitioning into Literacy. What was I doing? I was speaking to the physical therapist because he had stopped by my classroom to chat about a student of mine with whom he works weekly. So, yes, the Later Gators were a bit chatty, but I knew Mr. PT would be gone soon, so I was making eye contact and actively listening to him when one of my girls yelled loudly in a most ferocious tone of voice, "SANTA'S NOT GAY!!!"

Show stopping to be sure.

Mr. PT quickly finished and left. It was all I could do to to hold the laughter in thinking, "Am I going to get a call from a parent over this?" I mean, how would one anticipate such a circumstance in the classroom? One doesn't. So I gingerly asked, "What brought about that statement?"

As it turns out, one of the boys had grabbed someone else's Santa, made it face his own Santa's face, and made kissing noises and motions. I explained that these Santa Stars were intended to be holiday ornaments and then distributed baggies so that each child could put theirs in their backpack.

What would you have done?

Monday, December 10, 2012


I started bawling yesterday morning when we packed up to leave Fairfield. Every single other time I've left, I had hope of coming back to visit my mom. Now, I know for sure she won't be there anymore.

I cried off and on all the way home. K kept asking in his gentle way, "Do you need a tissue?" He listens to me. He inquires about how I am doing. I'm so glad he was by my side for all of this.

I had a dream last night that my mom called me on my cell. I answered and she said, "Hi...this is your mom." And then the phone went dead. I said a little prayer asking Heavenly Father that if it's okay with Him, I would rather not continue having such strange little dreams as that (unless it's important, necessary, or just part of the process).

The service was very short (less than ten minutes) and extremely cold (too cold to cry). We all should have left our vehicles idling, but no one did. The temperature on the car said sixteen degrees. There was lots of gusting wind and biting cold. There were about twenty people there, perhaps more--I didn't think to count. I was able to read the poem L requested with a clear strong voice (answer to another prayer). L and K and I watched them place the remains in the burial site. My sisters decided to have that Yahtzee cup put in there with the five dice. The funeral director shook the cup one more time and let me tell ya, that sound of the rattling dice took me right back to my childhood. L placed a rosary. The Catholic ladies provided a wonderful luncheon/reception afterward and it was great to visit with folks. L's son and daughter-in-law brought chili to the house for our evening meal. All five of my sisters were there and my dad also came for the day with his wife. He said he thought it was all very nice and that Mom would have approved of the way we did everything.

The story was told of Mom's first official date with L. They had gone to Great Falls to go dancing and Mom was driving. On the way home, L kept inching his way closer and closer across the front seat toward my mom. Mom was wondering if this guy was trying to get fresh with her on the drive home. Turns out that Mom had too much to drink and L wanted to be ready to grab the wheel if needed. L said, "It was quite a ride!" Baby Sister said her first speeding ticket happened while following Mom into Great Falls. She was trying to keep up with Mom, but got pulled over! Eldest said she was stopped for speeding once and Mom came along behind her, paused, rolled down her window and said, "That's my daughter." The officer smiled and said, "Okay!" He let Eldest go with no ticket!

Back to the salt mines!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Roller Coaster

When we visited Mom in the nursing home, she was in the process of standing up from the bed in front of her walker, in order to visit the restroom. I was standing near in case help would be needed. When she stood, I was pretty much standing directly in front of her with nothing but the walker separating us. She reached out and patted my belly with a smile on her face. I don't think she's touched my belly for decades, you know? But she was smiling and just teasing me and being silly. My husband laughed too.

L. asked me to read something aloud at the service tomorrow. Hope I can pull it off! My cousin from Michigan called to express his sympathies using the words, "Wonderful, wonderful memories!" We stopped by the funeral home to look at the flowers since the high tomorrow will be twenty degrees with lots of wind and blowing snow. Each card just put me over the edge emotionally. People are so sweet. All those same-sounding notes on Facebook? They make me tear up--every single comment!

My five sisters and I met for breakfast this morning at the Cozy Corner Cafe. A lovely Mennonite girl named Suzanne was our server. She took us all in stride. We drove out to Sunset Hills to look at the burial site because it might be hard to find in the morning with all the snow. Yep, still riding the roller coaster!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dance the Watusi

My mom had all these interesting little phrases she used such as, "She looked like she wanted to dance the Watusi!" It took me a few years to figure some of them out. Another one was, "Well, just give me a New York minute!" One of my personal faves was, "I about had kittens!" I remember her taking me to the doctor when I was young and informing him that, "She 'flipped her cookies' twice last night." When you're a little girl and don't have much background schema for such phrases and meanings, it does tend to help you visualize some pretty interesting scenarios! She loved to chat with people and I spent a lot of time listening to her. I learned to tell stories from her.

Mom never completed the ninth grade. However, she loved to read and believed in sending us to school. The woman never once took me to a public library, but she always let me order books from Scholastic and I think of her every month when I send the same Scholastic book order forms home with my fifth graders. Mom and Dad purchased a set of World Book Encyclopedias for us when we were young. Mom read them the most! She would choose a volume, such as "P" and take it to bed every night for weeks, learning all sorts of random things. She subscribed to the Reader's Digest and so of course, I bought the December issue in the Denver airport the other day. I remember her laughing in the old Suburban while reading excerpts aloud to the rest of us. One of my roommates mentioned once that my habit of reading the newspaper every morning seemed like such a male thing to do. This surprised me because my mom loved to read the newspaper every day--I never thought of it as a gender specific activity.

She was blind in one eye and her good eye had an infection this last while. She was so happy when it started to clear up enough that she could resume reading the paper and working her Sudoku puzzles. She loved to play Yahtzee by herself. All of my sisters and I have memories of that Yahtzee cup shaking and shaking with the dice spilling onto the dining room table late into the evening. It was her way of winding down after a long day at work. And then they invented the hand-held electronic Yahtzee. Mom kept notebook after notebook with lists of all her scores. She would talk about "beating him" or "beating the man." As a young girl, I couldn't quite figure out who that man was when she played Solitaire and other card games. I think I'll play a game of Yahtzee now!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


The day has come when my mom is no longer living on the earth.

I sure hope I can express myself appropriately. I thought I would wait until after the services, but I'm afraid I'll miss important little bits of conversations and thoughts if I wait. I don't think I'll upload many pictures just now.

Mom passed peacefully in her sleep on Monday 3 December 2012 at 8:55 a.m. at the hospital in Great Falls, Montana. We hugged and kissed her goodbye the Saturday after Thanksgiving after visiting over a period of four days. SO GLAD we got to see her then (nine days before she passed) as well as in July! SO GLAD she had all of her intelligence, wit, humor, and sarcasm! She would say things like, "I don't know what you have to do to get a cup of coffee around here and when they finally bring it, it's strong enough to float a battleship!"

I asked, "Mom, how's the food?" She lit up with a huge smile on her face and said, "Oh my gosh, the RICE is amazing! I just love the rice! I get it twice a day every day!" She hated rice. She kept asking them to stop bringing it.

I called the lady at Meals on Wheels to suspend Mom's account while she was between the hospital and the nursing home these past three weeks. Being a small town, Bertie inquired about Mom's welfare, etc., so I told her, "She doesn't like the rice!" Bertie chuckled and said, "Oh, we all KNOW she doesn't like rice! We try real hard to keep it out of her meals!"

She was craving food like a Holocaust victim. We would be chatting in her room and a commercial would come on the television. Mom would stop and stare and ask, "Doesn't that lasagna look SO good?" She talked about cheesecake, wraps, burgers, and more. I called her the other day and she said, "Describe for me...what you are having for supper tonight."

Supper. She cooked a lot of those and she was good at it. And she could get it on the table faster than anyone you've ever met. She used to own a restaurant and all those years in that industry transferred to the home. Not even Costco can beat her pumpkin pie, in my humble opinion.

She was supposed to be released from the nursing home this Friday, the day before her graveside service. She was doing so well! She just wanted to go Home and I guess she sort of got her wish! She was getting stronger every day, doing things more independently, and getting rave reviews from her physical therapist, Jane. Mom knocked the socks off Jane every time they had a therapy session together. Mom was the toughest, strongest, most determined person ALL of her doctors had ever worked with--we've been hearing this from them for a long time. One medical professional told me, "I'm not sure why she's made it this long, but I have to admire her sheer grit and pioneer spirit!"

I will conclude this post by saying that between the sporadic crying jags and the funny stories and memories that keep popping up, I have been enjoying a great measure of Peace. It's hard, but it's all okay. God is watching over us!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Giving Thanks

We went to Montana to visit my mom for Thankgsiving. Like Lewis and Clark, we took a bit of time to explore the Missouri River. First up, a little geology.

K's mom was just teaching us about "concretions" earlier this summer! Those are the potato shaped rocks embedded in the the river bank rock.

We noticed this pelican just hanging out, as if walking on water is easier than floating in it.

We saw plenty of "Sign of the Beaver."

We parked at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and walked to Giant Springs State Park. It takes "less than 50 years" for the water to get to Giant Springs from the Little Belt Mountains.

There was a vending machine for feeding the fish. One big handful for $.05! We splurged and spent $.10! So much fun for one thin dime!!!

Rabbit, rabbit! It must have been a great time of day for the bunnies.

There are pretty things to be seen on an autumn day.

Mom was released from the hospital awhile ago. She is doing better and getting stronger. L. was released also and is doing great! We are so thankful for that good news and thankful for all the people who love and look after Mom while we are living states away. We get so happy about all the little things, like the ability to walk along the Missouri River. Not such a little thing afterall. Eyes with which to see bunny rabbits, ears to hear the spring water bubbling up and cascading down... So much to celebrate! We dined at Wheat Montana and brought some things home from their store. We spent the night with Suz in Sugar City, Idaho--so great to have her all to ourselves for a few hours, but not enough time to ask her all the questions that run through my mind. On the way to Idaho, we passed through a part of Yellowstone and stopped to switch drivers. Snow in Yell. No surprise there! The red and orange shrubs along the river were outstanding against the white snow. Wonders everywhere to make your heart sing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Eight is NOT Enough!

We recently celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. What a blessing it has been to have been married to Mr. K for these moments, days, weeks, and years. He continues to impress! I never would have pegged him as someone to order an edible arrangement, and yet he did, and there it is, photographed on the kitchen counter. Nope, eight is not enough anniversaries, however, I shall always be grateful that we've had at least that many.

Another lovely thing he did was take our wedding rings back to the jeweler to get cleaned and shined. They are so sparkly! Everyone knows how a ring is a symbol. For us, getting them cleaned and shined (what's the term...plated?) is a symbol in and of itself--sort of an inventory about how we're treating our marriage and each other. With daily wear and tear, our rings will wear down a bit and lose that sparkle. The same thing can happen to a marriage unless you pause occasionally to check in and see how things are going. Thankfully, K has really embraced that big idea of "wholesome family recreation" to ensure we're spending time together, talking and walking and working on things so that the memories and happy times are always there. I really appreciate that about him.

We were lucky enough to attend the temple on our special day. That was a peaceful, pleasant time of reflection and joy. We were so smiley and happy and K kept giving me little kisses on my forehead. I will never regret getting married in the right place by the right authority.

This year, our anniversary dinner took place at...Wallaby's! Wallaby's is the restaurant we hired to cater our wedding luncheon. We are not fancy people and yet we wanted to have some kind of a luncheon, so we chose them to cater it. They drove all the food clear out to Eagle Mountain and set it up in the middle of the cultural hall at the local chapel. Our guests LOVED it!!! Some of them still talk about it! I guess folks were expecting more of a hoity-toity luncheon with watercress sandwiches and delicately sliced fruit on petite plastic plates, but no, we fed them heartily: plenty of smokehouse pulled pork, fully loaded mashed potatoes known as Smashers, fresh hot rolls, and green salad. That was it and yet the guests were raving about it. There was a lot of food, so everyone who wanted more got more. I decided to order the exact same meal and it tasted just as good as it always has.

The anniversary comes but once a year and then we move on to other holidays and events. What a privilege it is for me to have K by my side as we continue walking straight into our bright and happy future. To quote a band, "These are the moments, these are the times, these are the best days of our lives!"

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cake and Presents

But first, a photo taken from inside my classroom of a visiting soldier bailing out of one of the playground swings. My students loved it. Go Army!

Now on to the cake. My husband loves cake. He grew up in a home where cake was a big deal--only for birthdays. His mom worked so hard on each cake! She bought special pans molded into special shapes and she spent hours decorating the darn things. I've seen lots of family photos and the discussion goes something like this, "Was that the year we had the Garfield cake?" Eventually, my husband grew up and moved away to college at which time he began cooking for himself.

One day, he took a closer look in the baking aisle and discovered (as in LO! and BEHOLD!) cake mixes. And frosting. Many flavors of instant frosting. And so cheap. So he read the directions on the back of the cake mix and found out this: so easy! He couldn't believe that it was so cheap and so easy to make a cake. With frosting and everything. And since then, he's been in love. Mostly with frosting. He may have even felt a teensy bit betrayed that his mother had kept this secret from him his entire life. So he went home, baked a cake, frosted it, and enjoyed every bite. He's been a fan ever since.

The first time he invited me to his apartment for dinner, he served cake for dessert and I must say, I was rather impressed that the man cooked, actually served a VEGETABLE, and had cake for dessert. One he obviously had made himself. Not bad.

A couple of weeks ago, he made a cake. It was a strawberry cake with pink frosting. He told me they have this new vanilla frosting that's already colored pink (or you can buy it in blue). It came with sprinkles, so, bonus! After the cake cooled, he asked me to frost it, because I like to take time making swirls and stuff. I decided to take pictures. I proclaimed to my husband, "Well, either we're headed for a baby shower or Easter dinner at Grandma's!

Now for the presents. At risk of spoiling the surprise here on my blog, I'm going to distribute these along with our class cookbook as we head out the door for Thanksgiving Break. It's one of the ingredients in the recipe that I'm submitting. Each one of us had to choose a favorite recipe/food and write an essay about "the story behind the recipe." I love reading why these children love these foods! One boy wrote what I thought was a charming little essay about how Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup just hits the spot, especially right after swimming. He explained how to open the can, mix the water, etc. However, his mother emailed and revealed that she had found the paper I sent home with guidelines for this project in his closet behind his laundry hamper! She made him do it over and his recipe is now an actual cook-from-scratch recipe.

It was soothing to be able to sit on the couch for awhile next to my husband on a rainy Saturday and tie a few ribbons around cute little bags. These small moments and tasks are part of the happiness in my life!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chip and Dale

I remember some sort of television cartoon from my me out. I believe it was two rodents, possibly squirrels, who were so incredibly polite to each other that it was funny. At least to me. I believe they were forever insisting that the other go first, and they were full of "thank you, after you, and pardon me." I believe their names were Chip and Dale. Does anyone else remember this cartoon?

Mom hasn't been especially well, especially lately. I began getting phone calls from my sibs about ten days ago. There was a doctor appointment in place until the weather became too severe to travel. We all worried, but couldn't change the weather.

A few days ago, at 10:30 p.m., my phone rang and I said aloud, "That's not good." It was a sister telling me she got a phone call from the ambulance crew. Right after that, another sister called telling me she got a phone call from another ambulance crew. And since then, we've all been getting and making a whole lot of phone calls.

Mom has a significant Significant Other named L. He is so amazing, that sometimes we refer to him as Saint L.! Well, St. L started having chest pains and a call went in to 911. The ambulance arrived to load him up and help him out. However, L. wasn't about to leave Mom alone. Mom was so worried about L. that her breathing, which has already been compromised, became worse and the EMT's could see that she also needed help, so they called a second ambulance. That's when the argument ensued. "You go first, I'll wait." "No, I'm fine, you go first." "No, I'll be okay, you need to get going now." Et cetera. Isn't that hilarious? The EMT's settled the score and took L. first since that's what the 911 call was about. The roads were horrible. Horrible. They advised my sisters to stay put, but Eldest went barreling off to the hospital anyway. It only took her three and a half hours to get there.

L's ambulance crew called Baby Sister and so she naturally asked if they had any information on Mom. The only thing the woman could tell Baby Sister was that Mom was being "cantankerous." Yeah, they had to strap her down to keep her from ripping her mask off. That's our mom! L. had a heart attack and they put a stent in. They are both still in the hospital and it looks like L. will be released first, possibly today. Mom has more healing to do.

I just think it's fantastic that two people care enough about each other that even during a medical emergency, they can both sputter niceties such as, "Oh no, after you, I insist!"

Friday, November 9, 2012

Mojave Magic

Mister Park Ranger drove out to California to attend the annual ANPR conference, more popularly known as Ranger Rendezvous. We still like each other a lot, so he begged me to join him. I flew into Long Beach on Halloween.

Have you ever flown on Halloween? Not too bad. It was a very "open" flight. I must say it was a sweet ride with Jet Blue for less than eighty bucks. AND...they served Caramel flavored Popcorners, my new favorite snack.

It was only my second time flying into Long Beach which seems to be a quick and handy airport. It's all outdoors--you get off the plane outside, deplaning at the rear of the aircraft, you go to the restroom in these little facilities outside, you claim your baggage fact, I'm pretty sure the Long Beach Airport doesn't really exist. I'm beginning to think it's a plywood wall built on top of a big piece of tarmac to make people think it's an actual airport, but it's not. It's just a big parking lot for planes to unload their passengers with a rental car facility nearby, after you successfully walk all the way around the plywood wall (because they want you to suppose there's an airport on the other side of the wall, but you never get to go in to said airport, which is why you realize there's no such thing as an airport in the middle of this big parking lot for jets). I swear, it's a California Conspiracy! Anyway, there was my darling husband, smiling, kissing, hugging, ready to whisk me away for lots of fun.

We drove off toward the desert and began to chat. K asked, "So, did you meet anyone, sit by anyone interesting, or talk to anyone?" I paused to reflect. I began, "No, not really, but a man in Salt Lake dropped something and when I brought his attention to it, he picked it up and yelled out to me, 'Oh, THANK YOU, I LOVE you!!!'" K laughed. Then he asked, "Wait, was he skinny with long bleach blonde hair and carrying a red briefcase?" I replied, "Yes, do you know him?" K chuckled and said, "He must have been the first guy off your plane because when he came through he stopped and yelled out, 'HelLOOOOOOOOO California!!!'"

K got to stay at a very nice resort in Indian Wells called the MiraMonte. And...he got to stay there for the "ranger rate." The conference was closing the following morning so I slept in while he attended. At break time, he came to get me and I sat in on the two closing speakers of the rendezvous. Wonderful talks. Kept my mouth shut since I'm not a member. I also got to see some other rangers that I know from my own NPS experiences. Rangers are the best!

We headed off to play. First stop, Indian Wells Tennis Garden. We got a free personal tour. Paulette grabbed the keys and gladly walked us over--so nice!

Next stop, Shields Date Farm. We learned more than we ever knew before about palm dates. They are a lot of work. Of course, we bought some.

Next stop, Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Sorry, no actual pictures of the actual tram or ride to the top, but it's amazing. We went up to around 8,500 feet. It was a great way to cool off from the desert heat. While up there, we hiked a couple of miles to all the notches and lookouts. The Jeffery Pine, which looks a lot like a Ponderosa, has bark that smells like vanilla, so yes, we really were hugging the trees and doing a litle scratching and sniffing.

We found dinner and then headed back to the resort for a swim. This was just one of their pools and it happened to be the first thing you saw when you opened the door from our hotel room. There's a heavenly hot tub back behind the pool and we had both all to ourselves!

There are over a hundred golf courses in the Palm Springs area. We noticed a TON of pharmacies. I guess it's an older, retired population. And thus...

The next day, I finally made it to Joshua Tree National Park. I first "met" Joshua Trees while living in Nevada, but I never got up close and personal with one until now. We did a lot of desert hiking and went on a four-wheel drive geology tour in our vehicle. Of course, we found volcanic stuff again (if it weren't for volcanoes, where would the world be?). My big, big FAVORITE find of the day was the Cholla Cactus Garden. The light was beautiful in the afternoon, but I couldn't capture it all on camera. A nickname for these is "Teddy Bear Cactus" because they look so soft and fluffy. However, each visible spike has gazillions of microscopic poisonous whatevers, so you really should never touch these guys. The sign said, "If you're not a Cactus Wren, steer clear! (or something along those lines)" The other name for these guys is "Jumping Bear Cactus" because if you try to touch the Teddy Bear, you'll immediately turn into a Jumping Bear! Warnings all around to watch pets and children. Ouchie. So beautiful. Can't tell you how magical it was for us to be there. They went on FOREVER.

The following day, we drove through Joshua Tree again and saw a few different things. We were hiking along and found a sign about mortars. K had already seen these elsewhere during the service project the rangers had done a few days prior. They were very cool.

Agave? Yucca? Sorry, I can't keep it all straight. But I love the curly swirly things.

After Joshua Tree, we started heading toward Vegas via Mojave National Preserve, another NPS site. We stopped at the Kelso Depot for lunch and checked out a few sites after that. We were jealous that Bob had time for Hole in the Wall. As always, unfinished business awaits in the Mojave. K pointed out two trees growing in the crevice of a big rock. One is a Joshua Tree and one is a Juniper, so let's call them Josh and June. Who do you think will win?

K got us back in time for Church. It was great fun being two love birds sharing a little Mojave Magic together. Home really is where he is!