Friday, September 13, 2019

Of Cats and Bones

After my last lovey post about cats, today, I have something else to say. Last summer it came to pass that I broke some toes but didn't know it until weeks later.  It was the dumbest thing ever and has been the biggest thorn in my whole left side since then.  Allow me to tell the tale. Also, you're in luck because I have illustrations (photo and drawn).

First, here's how it initially happened.  The Big Fat (cat) was near me and in a state of being wild and crazy. His primal instincts kick in and he develops a simple need to hunt and kill, no biggie. When this happens he has to be shut away or if he can he'll sneak out into the night to sow his wild oats.  But he is utterly unknown to himself. It's like he transforms from a cat to a were-cat. Very few differences. But oftentimes when this happens we'll have a standoff. I have come to be able to read his signs very well and know what he's feeling and what he plans to do.  Often when we face off, he'll accept the challenge and I do all I can to be the dominant one. It's a battle of wits and prowess. Me, with commanding voice and height but zero claws and boring human teeth, vs him, with animal instinct, insane reflexes, and, of course, sharp claws and teeth, though small and short, with wimpy voice. With finger in air, I scold and warn him he does NOT want to attack me or he'll be very sorry.  "NOOO! NO" i say. Finger held aloft. He usually submits but not without a short pounce and a nip at the ankle that isn't very hard. He just has to get his nip in so he can quietly tell himself, "I won. Me. I did." 

Well, one day, such a thing occurred and he looked particularly out of his mind with aggression. He wasn't, but I have to get over my own instinctual fear of cats hunting me but unfortunately have yet to be 100% successful. So, when he did pounce, which wasn't very hard, I completely and insanely overreacted and reflex-kicked to the side to avoid getting a bite (which again, is never hard) and rammed my ever-loving foot SO HARD into the stair that I was unwittingly standing very close to. Too close to.  Illustration:

"SON OF A BIH!!" I may have yelled.  It was a doozy.  I held my foot and cursed the cat a good long while, as one would do.  The toes were red and angry but I did nothing to mend them for nothing was broken that I could see, and after a few tender days, they more or less felt fine. I didn't know that little compact toe bones can still move even if they're broken.  Fast forward a few weeks when my toes feel ok but my ankle starts bugging me quite a lot.  It was all very new and mysterious to me as I had not, up until this point, ever broken a bone (to my knowledge, anyway. more on that) nor had any similar injury.  But I put two and two together and guessed this new ankle pain had something to do with my toes and the EFFING CAT.  (still mad)

So I made an appointment with the podiatrist and they took some x-rays and sure enough, I had broken two toes with that initial stair kick. Also, he pointed out to me, I had apparently broken another, different toe long ago. What?!  And I seemed to recall a bad day long ago when my pinky toe suffered greatly but couldn't remember details.

The ankle, of course, was due to tendinitis from walking on the outside of my foot because I was tendering those poor broken toes, numbers three and four. So I bought an expensive brace and learned how to wrap my toes which I did for a while which was annoying. Any time someone would ask me what happened I would have to tell them the slightly embarrassing but still rage-filled story. It was just so stupid. So stupid. Stupid... [echo]

Well, since then, and what I think is due to cursing my cat (I should know better) he has inflicted a curse of his own on me, for I have shockingly repeatedly injured these same toes on countless occasions. Countless.  Often it's tripping over stools, whose legs jut out a little bit and are in cahoots with the cat.  One day, waaay too soon after the initial injury I slammed those toes so hard into the stool leg I just knew I had rebroken something. It was awful and I had to try so hard to hold in my curses because I was afraid of what would happen. I started to get really freaked out that my toes would eventually just shrivel up and fall off after being beaten and battered so many times. The same toes.

Well, the cat wasn't just in cahoots with the stools but with the kitten as well.  One day I was descending those same fateful stairs when I spotted, too late, the kitten reclining leisurely on one of the stairs. I think I may have been carrying something too, like a basket of laundry or something, because I feel like my vision was obstructed.  Not wanting to step on her, I stepped on the air over her, which is impossible, so what happened was I sort of stumbled down the rest of the stairs, on my toes bent over forward. Yaaaay.  To illustrate:

see my folded-over toes?

Of course, I still blamed the big cat for this because I can't be mad at the kitten. But seriously?? Again? AGAIN WITH CATS?! This time, I took a picture because are you effing kidding me. It's important to mention here that this injury occurred on my second toe. At the time, I had assumed I had originally broken my second and third toes and was re-injuring my second toe. Sean and I had some debate over it, as he was one who frequently helped me tape them, and thought it had been numbers three and four.  But, it was a year ago, so the details were hazy for both of us.  But I saw the bruise and thought, there, surely that's done it. These toes are toast.  Pics:

bruise right above my thumb

feet are disgusting and i'm sorry

That was several months ago. And I guess over time, since I kept hurting my toes (over...and over... and over again), I began to subconsciously-- you guessed it-- walk funny again, thus bringing on the tendinitis. This of course affected not only my ankle (again) but also my knee something terrible. And I knew it was only a matter of time before it would get to my hip and take down every last joint I had.  Recently, my whole left leg was completely gimpy and the pains spotted the land, this time with numbness and tingling. Ugh. It hurt to walk, lift my leg to climb stairs (like, my knee could not handle a suspended leg) sit, cross my legs, or wear shoes that were remotely tight.  And, once again, I shook two bitter fists to the heavens above, forever to rue that pivotal day last summer when all of this SHIZ began.

One morning, due to the new developments of the worrisome tingling, numbness, and general pain (even though I knew for that, i prob just needed to put the brace back on), I decided to make another appointment with ye olde podiatrist, just to confirm all of my theories, tell my tale of woe, and see if I could do anything to avoid that old neuropathy. It was early in the morning that I made this decision, because I remember wondering when the office would be open and that i'd try to schedule it as soon as it did.  Immediately after having this thought, I then TRIPPED OVER THE KITCHEN MAT and freaking BUSTED number two AGAINNNNNNNN.   Like, completely folded over. Again. {cry cry cry}

Same toe, different bruise:

different nail polish so you know it's legit. also my whole left hand looks bruised. ignore that.

This time it was bruised at the joint same as above but also at the space below, directly above my thumb. I should have drawn circles on these pictures.  But yeah... {deep breath} are... you... seriously...effing...freaking...fudging...kidding me. Like, what is happening?!?!?!?  Am I dragging my feet now? Dragging my toes?  Are they truly so gimpy that they just simply catch on things now? Are they jello now? Do I start calling them jello toes? with jello bones?  I had no answers except for the cat's curse.

It had become par for the course for me to injure a toe on my left foot on any given day, at any given moment.  It was laughable that I had done it again on the day I had planned to schedule an appointment. Also, this was when I still thought the original broken toes were two and three, not three and four, as it turned out to be.  We discovered that later that day when I was in the foot doctor's office and, after having told my tale of woe, congratulated number two for joining the ranks (ol' pinky toe was a long ago veteran that never even got to have a moment of recognition).  The doc said the neuropathy didn't seem severe and would probably go away after a week or two.  I wasn't jazzed about this guy because he was super distracted and I had just finished explaining my foot and leg had been hurting and going numb for a good couple of weeks so... like.. it takes four weeks to fully heal? But, then, I hurt my toe again that morning so maybe that reset the healing. I don't know.  I opted to not have an x-ray even though I'm super curious to see if  that second toe was broken. It was bruised for days and I find that I must be gentle on it.  I guess I'll just find out when I have another severe toe injury sometime down the road and get it x-ray'ed then.

So that's where I am now.  My knee is better (thankfully) and my ankle is struggling but I'm back to taping the toes and wearing the brace, which helps. I'm thinking I'll probably do this for.. the rest of my life? Just to be safe?   Sitting here, my final thought about all this stupid, stupid business is how that darn cat seems to have won in the end, after all.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Hidden Kitten

Time to talk about cats.  I told some people the other day that I could honestly and sincerely talk about my cats for the longest time. We all laughed and then I continued to do so, to everyone's discomfort (but mine).

When we got our second cat last December i learned a lesson. It was: OH YEAH, I AM ALLERGIC TO CATS.  Just her special recipe of dander, apparently, because the big one never bothered me like this.  I sneeze approximately 1,000 times a day. I am seriously considering tracking how many times because I really want to know. I've gotten really good at it, too. I let each sneeze out like a cannon, loud and hard, fast and free. KA-BOOM.  That's my achoo. And it's funny, every time I do it, it's so hard and feels so complete, I think to myself, there, now. Surely that's the last one. Surely I got it all out. There can be nothing left to sneeze. I will never sneeze again.  But no, I am always wrong.  I always do.  But I do think this every time. Maybe this'll be it... finally...
The little one is all grown up, yet like all babies of the family, she will always be a kitten.  She is also our favorite and we all beg for her love which she doles out sparingly and randomly.  We think she may be on edge a lot due to the Big Fat but she is calming down a little bit more each day. I think. It's hard to tell. I also wonder how much human contact she had before we got her.

The other night Sean and I were watching TV and normally what happens is she will jump on the couch, I think in search of love and affection, not know how to get it, get scared and bolt off the couch and flee.  She'll do this multiple times in an evening.  Well, this night we were sitting there and she jumped up, we reacted very calmly and rationally ("hold absolutely still. her nerves are based on movement") and she actually curled up and laid down next to us! Even touching one of us! It was magical. We felt so lucky, so privileged, so humbled.

We love a lot of things about her.  One of those things is how, amidst her nervousness, she'll sometimes flop right in front of us and roll over, exposing her soft snowy white belly which is the greatest gift of all. We don't know why she flops. Maybe her fear turns into paralysis (omg, I just typed "paralyzation" over and over for FAR too long)  which is sad. Or, I think I've read that some cats are just floppy. I think this might be an attribute of the rag doll cat breed?  Anyway, it cracks me up every time.  Sometimes when she's flopped near the edge of the couch on the floor, we cannot resist and must plunge our hands into her soft belly and she'll just roll underneath out of our reach. Julian calls her a cinnamon roll and I'm like dang, that would have been the perfect name.

Another thing I love about her is how she loves to go outside but won't go far.  Also, if we don't crack open the door a bit, she'll freak out and come back, crying to be let in.  She just needs to know she can come home if she wants to.  Yesterday she was out in the backyard along the fence and I opened the door and called out to her to come in.  She mew'ed back and we talked back and forth like this several times, "Come on! I need to go! Come on in!"  "mew!"  She doesn't use her voice much so when she does, i love it. Anyway, I said, "ok, then, I'll come near you and then you'll have to escape."  So that's what i did. I just walked over to her and she darted back into the house.  It's like she really didn't want to come in but is also a little scared of me which is also sad but it's not from neglect or for lack of effort on my part, I assure you.

But one thing I love most of all is how she loves to hide.  She feels safer, I think, if she can burrow in somewhere.  Often this is under the blanket on the cat chair.  If she can make a tunnel out of something, she will, and she will snooze there and be so happy.  This presents hazards, of course, if we were to want to sit on that chair or our bed. We have to be careful. I've shown this picture before but it's worth another view.  We generally don't let the cats in our room but sometimes I can't help it with the little one.

This next picture is just the two cats trying to get at me (or something) in the bathroom. They sometimes fight, they sometimes play and chase, she's kind of obsessed with him, he doesn't usually care until he wants to.  But when they do things like this together, it sort of warms my heart and just makes me laugh.

What I love most about her hiding tendencies is how she's often not totally hidden even though she thinks she is and I know that's how she'd wish to be.  She'll run and hide but juuuust barely. She'll tuck herself underneath a dresser or bench and almost always, some little part of her will be sticking out and we'll be like, "ohhh look who's so hidden! Where is that little cat? I just can't see her anywhere."    Examples:

kitten burrito!

where, oh, where?

When this happens, it is physically impossible not to boop whatever is poking out, which she hates, but we do it anyway.

Ha ha ha, she's sticking out sooo far. This looks mid-hide but no, she was lying there, completely still.

 But I know she wants to be hidden. Just kills me.  "Good job, you! Found a gooood hiding place. No one will find you there." 

I spy! Also, look at the nice big blue couch chew toy we got for our cats. 
the little pawzzzz
peakaboo! Julian and I squeal and fawn over stuff like this. In fact, most of the time it's Julian who initially points these kinds of things out to me. As he should.  Too cute. Also: curled paw!

Here's one of the big cat so he doesn't feel left out. He loves my bed but I do not allow it. However, the other day I left the door open and he snuck in and seized his moment. When I returned I found this, but what made me laugh was his wide, fearful eyes. He knows he's not allowed on my bed but I could just hear him say, "I want to be here- LET ME STAY HERE. JUST LET ME STAY. SEE, I'M SLEEPING."

So that's about it about the cats for this weektoday, now. Speaking of, I just went downstairs and saw her standing at the open doorway, staring at me like a statue.  I think she wants to go out but feels anxious and needs a friend, so I will go get my book and appease her wishes.

Thursday, August 29, 2019


Julian turned ten a few days ago.  TEN. Honestly, it's hard for me to even find the words to celebrate him. There's just so much there and some of it quite complicated.  Once again, about a week before his birthday, something was going on... I can't remember what exactly but I looked at him and he looked at me and I said, "Oh. You're ten now. It happened."    Turning ten is huge, the "first big number," as poet Billy Collins said. And there are a lot of examples where this is true and maybe I'll put them down here:

1.  Julian had a birthday party this year. His first ever, where it was just kids, no parents and actual games and activities planned.  In all the years before we would have a park gathering with cake and a pinata and then when we moved here where no one goes to parks, we invited people over and did basically the same thing.  One year, for his 7th birthday, we did invite kids and people for a dance party but parents were included and we didn't do anything but set up a dance floor with spinning lights and music and Julian was there about 30% of the time. But it was freakin' fun for those of us who just needed to get our dance on to ring out the end of summer.   This year he said he'd like a party and we considered it and realized he could handle it whereas years before, we conjectured he'd likely end up being the birthday kid who had to spend it in his bedroom due to overwhelmed'ness and hard to control emotions.  Also it always sounded like a big drag to me, i'll be honest.

But, we decided we could do it and he deserved it. He invited 12 kids, boys and girls.  He thought of the jello-eating contest which was awesome. We had three categories of prizes: the clean award, speed award, and style award. Prizes were school supplies- ha ha ha. But cool ones, like black pencils and a battery-operated pencil sharpener.

We also had pin the glasses on Julian and a huge inflatable water slide.  Always a winner.

We played a get-to-know-you game called Three Weird Things. I made everyone come with three weird things about themselves to share because I celebrate weirdness and it's much more fun to have weird things in common than something normal.  If, when you said your weird thing, someone else said "me too!" you both get an M&M from the bowl.  The kids were hesitant at first but after someone started sharing, the others warmed up and it was pretty magical. I especially loved when the twins would share things like "[holiday] is my half-birthday."  "me too!"  Good job, twins.

Beforehand, he and I practiced how to receive gifts. I'd throw out different things and make him practice responding nicely and equally to each one:

"Smelly sock!"

"This is great, thank you!"

"Lego set you've been wanting for a long time! Keep it fair."

"Oh, awesome, so thoughtful, thank you!"

He did so well and, though I could tell he had some party overload, he kept up the enthusiasm and graciousness.

So, he's come a long way.

2. School started three days later.  He began the 4th grade and wanted to ride his bike to school. He got a new bike lock and was excited about it.  I jogged along with him realizing how silly it was. Because he clearly didn't need me and I couldn't even keep up. After helping him lock up the bike, we hugged and parted ways.  This is a huuuuuuge difference from a few years ago when he would cling to me and cry and I'd have to peel him off me, shove him in and slam the door.  Last year he was pretty nervous but had a friend in his class.  This year he didn't know of any friend in his class and still was a-ok to go on his own.   His independence astonishes me more and more. I guess all of this is pretty standard but still, it's so weird when kids change so drastically and you're like, what?

3. He's not afraid to be alone. He doesn't have a lot of friends but he's content to either be on his own or join the group, whoever it is.  He'll play with kids and never learn their name.  It's amazing to me. I often remark to Sean how I'd have never done that as a kid. But then, i didn't have to, I had all these siblings.  He often tells me stories from school, how sometimes he'll eat lunch alone or sometimes he'll find some people or they'll find him.  He is so nonplussed about it. I admire that so much.  Such a champ.

Other things about Julian:

4. He generally thinks fast food is gross. (Except for you, Chik-fil-A. {heart}) It could be one of his Weird Things.

5. He will spontaneously declare, "Life is a gift!"  I think I've been morbidly telling him his whole life to just be grateful for every new day because you never know what's going to happen. But I stand by it. I think I heard a quote from Black Panther about how, if a parent doesn't prepare his/her child for the parent's death, they will have failed as a parent.  And I was like, yeah! Yeah.

6. He loves to read with me. I've decided you're never too old to be read to and even if you are, I don't care, I'm still going to do it when you're 18.   We read a bunch of books together this summer and it's my favorite thing.

7. We were sitting together one day talking about life and things and I casually mentioned a hypothetical situation describing if he were to get mad at me for something and he said to me, "Mom, I've never been mad at you!"  And I sat there and choked up a little when I realized he's right. He's never been mad at me. He's been upset and frustrated and super rage-y at times but I was never the subject.   And I vowed to never be mad at him again. I might get upset or angry too, but it will never go to him.

8.  He apologizes for things from the past, so unnecessarily. Things where he recognizes it might have been difficult for me.  For example, I used to take him to a kid hair cutting place in Bklyn that was also a toy store with cool toys and a train table. Like, it was the best. The seats for the haircuts were race cars and you could choose a movie to watch.  But it was a struggle. One day not long ago, he said to me, "Remember that haircut place I used to get my hair cut at? I HATED it. I am SO SORRY."   He was four when we moved away.

9. And a good quote from several months ago:

"Reality never agrees with my ideas! I have all these good ideas and reality RUINS IT."  {cry face}

10. And one from a few days ago:

"I don't think I make very good sarcasm, and I'm going to have to when I have kids."    

True story, son. Let's keep practicing.

To close, I'm experiencing a shift, a turn of the tide.  Like I'm stepping way and Sean's stepping forward. They go on bike rides or running every night to make sure they both get in some exercise. He has taken Julian camping a few times this summer. I told Sean I wanted him to go and teach him everything.  It is weird though, to be #1 for ten years and then be like, I think less of me would be better. I guess all parents have a moment where they realize they need to step back and this has been a big one for me. He's growing up and I just hope I don't get in his way.

To really close, I should like to leave the poem by aforementioned Billy Collins. It's a little depressing but that never deterred me none. I read it on Julian's birthday to some family members and again at a friend gathering some days later and bummed everyone out. But I love it:

On Turning Ten
Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.


Now for a bunch of pictures.
"Why would anyone sit in a chair normally when you can sit sideways?" CONCUR.

Sean always reluctantly makes me a sand sculpture and then does it way too close to the water.
This one was wiped out 30 seconds after this picture. Sort of makes me mad. 

As much as he loves it, Julian is freaked out at the ocean and insists on wearing this life jacket, which I fully support. 

There are too many pics here but I realized I am much better at printing blog books than I am regular photo albums. 
hiking buddies
piano practice: a separate universe.

recital time

all the awards

make yourself at home, julian. honestly, it's his happy place. here he is reading and giggling like crazy on the nasty library couch, making it nastier with a full sprawl. 

Sean sent this to me the other day and said they're still working on braking. But check out the skid mark! Also this was exactly how he looked. Sean made him freeze after the crash so that he could take a pic. Good job, Sean.
Occasionally we try to carry Julian how we used to. Sometimes I'll have Sean hoist Julian up onto me so I can carry him on my hip for .2 seconds before I collapse and break all my bones. 

To prolong the bedtime, I'm sure, Julian always has something up his sleeve as he's getting ready for bed. Often it's a skit or performance of some kind with costumes. This one was a presentation of "Julian Two" and.. ho-ly crap, i'm shook. He actually did apologize for the terrifying antler feet; it was all he could find. We were like, "so you wanna go to bed with that thing there?? Nighty night." 

We took him school shopping even though he didn't really need anything nor care about anything except for finding a sport coat. He is hoping to look really cool this year and this jacket fit the bill.  So dang funny. He couldn't decide between a normal blazer and a velvet one. We urged him to choose the velvet, which he did, and it is awesome. Cracks me up.

We made buttons at a museum a few days ago and he asked me to pin his to his bum. I asked him if I could put this pic on Instagram and he said no but he didn't say anything about my blog and I didn't ask. 

another Seansterpiece

backyard party

everywhere but.
I was really proud of the gift bags filled with Julian-specific items + a few extras:
boxes of jello
instant mac 'n cheese
trident gum
post-its and erasers
little practical joke/prank toys
kitty cat bookmarks
and i can't remember what else. but it all made me laugh. "here's your box of jello, thanks for coming!"

official summer list of 2019. well done, everybody.
And the first day of fourth grade. Teacher: Mrs. Kaylor.  Feelings: Quite ambivalent.

"Well, here's to another year of pain and suffering!" 

this blog post brought to you by bedtime bathroom selfies.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Tour de Wyoming

Well, this summer has been a pretty great one.  We've gone on a couple mini-trips, had a beach trip, Julian tried out a couple new camps. We read a lot, we had festivals and parades and fairs and little things to fill up our summer list of what we did.  But one big thing was renting an RV and driving to Mt. Rushmore and back in six days. In the words of Julian, this trip was EPIC.  A grand adventure, we learned so many things, saw so many things, did so many things! It was so much! And now I'm going to blog about it in case you want to do it too.  First, the map:

picture of a computer screen? yes, please. also, the walmarts are for if we needed to make an emergency stop, ha ha. also, i have to know where the walmarts are wherever i am. i think this map is unfinished meaning we added more things to it later. but you'll read alllll about it in the following novel that took me quite some time to finish. 

1500 miles, in case you were wondering, is what we drove. We didn't know exactly how to do this trip and Sean and I sat down and planned it out like two days before departure, so there could have been many ways to do it.  Our main goal was Mt. Rushmore so we mapped out the route and looked up things to do and see along the way.  I've debated how to share but I think I'm going to try chronologically. There were multiple themes to our trip but I think it'll help me make better sense of it if I do it in order, and maybe it'll be easier to read.

It's funny when I tell people about this trip. Going on a "tour of Wyoming" does not sound exciting. I know it.  But our eyes were opened and boy, did we have a time of it. Immediately we felt as though we'd entered a time portal, a persistent feeling throughout the trip. A feeling of, things are... different here. Also, I love visiting an unsuspecting place only to discover a real gem.  To quote Sean, "It's nice to go to a new place and discover that it's wonderful."

In many ways, Wyoming was exactly how I imagined it but also not at all. I guess seeing it in real life gave it a more concrete shape but I had trouble processing it the entire time. Sean felt the same. This could have been because we did so many different things in a short amount of time. It was a little disorienting and didn't give us a lot of time to reflect.  I am always eager to capture the "essence" of a place. Its spirit.  So what was Wyoming's?  One thing was how beautiful it was and vast, with open spaces.  Rolling hills, little bit of red rock, badlands, grasslands.  Other than the Tetons in the distance, we didn't see much that was mountainous.  A lot of flat lands bespecked with the occasional small town or two. And I emphasize occasional. I'm convinced Wyoming is 90% open land. It's the main inhabitant, with wildlife being a prevalence as well.  Immediately we saw deer and antelope along the roads and we were like, is this a joke? Obviously Home On the Range immediately came to mind and was played on a constant loop.  Sadly we didn't see any bison or buffalo but we definitely saw signs warning us about them.  Here's an example of signage we saw:

not exactly beautiful here, perhaps. but great sign.
And another goodie:


Also, let's talk about the RV for a minute.  We had a small 19-foot one, big enough for three people exactly.

It was a strange and fun experience, going from large spacious car in the day to tiny cramped house at night.  We learned a lot about using all the hook-ups and experienced a bit of the heretofore mysterious RV culture. Sean in particular has fond memories of holding the black water tube to the hook-up only to have it come loose on him. Witnesses, Julian and I share that fond memory with even more fondness.  We stayed in some nice woodsy campgrounds and some pretty dismal parking lot-type RV parks. We learned that some people RV for life, or at long lengths at a time.  We saw people with welcome signs on their vehicle and permanent looking fixtures around.  We learned a lot but, having only scratched the surface, I think I came away with more questions than answers. But the RV was a major player in our whole experience. Julian was super psyched to sit at the table and not have a cross-over seatbelt, just a lap belt, and to have a buddy sit with him to talk to.

the front

the back. invisible bathroom directly behind me. fridge and microwave to my right.

Are you sure this paved road wasn't JUST put in? Seriously, it was hard to gauge the passage of time.

  We had to get to Lander in a day so the first day was a lot of driving. Our first stop was Kemmerer. Small Western Town, USA and our first time experiencing the Wyoming attitude.  I've referred to it as "Wyoming-*shrug*"  Not to mean my indifference, but the general vibe of the people there. Like, whatever, we don't care. Easy, chill, calm, simple, quiet. Can't be bothered about too many things.  It was a bit surreal at first (and throughout the trip). An example of this was when we stopped in a few antique shops where we chatted with very friendly people and I bought a ocean blue vintage electric typewriter for an astonishing $8. Sean and I thought we walked away with such a steal but--*shrug.* We saw some other older crazier typewriters and I very much had heart eyes. Look at this weirdo:

look closely--i have a key pressed. what the what?

Our next stop was in Farson, home of the giant ice cream cones and more of the laissez-faire attitude.   So if you want an extra large scoop on your single scoop cone with no price differential, why not? *shrug* Also I got the world's coolest hat here and I reprimanded Sean for not getting one there too because they were all awesome. He got one later but I thought he missed out. We spent much of the trip boasting of our hats and respectively declaring ours the best. Seriously though, the next time I need a hat I might just drive up to Farson. 

look at that hat! explanation of this photo to come.

We spent the first night in Lander at a campground.  The table folded into a bed we thought Julian would have with me and Sean on the overhead bed. WRONG.  I climbed up there, spent about 5 seconds staring at a ceiling inches above my face and i was like, NOPE. So even though he had fallen asleep by then after a long day and late pulling in, we woke him up and made him trade with me because there was no way I was sleeping up there.  This was just after I had told Sean that growing up, and even now, I'd always get the shaft with the sleeping arrangements.  Whatever the worst thing was, that was mine.  Well not anymore! I took that nice low single bed next to the big window and felt great about it.  We discovered the boon of camp showers, far superior to the thought of using ours in the already cramped toilet (can't really call it a "bathroom.")  In fact, I don't think Sean used the RV bathroom once the whole trip but Julian and I sure did. Why? Because we COULD! Having a bathroom whenever we needed is a nice and weird kind of luxury.

Julian, at bedtime one night as we were all shuffling around trying to get ready:
"I tickled Dad and he smacked my butt. I should have known better than to tickle him while I was naked."
Tickling Sean is Julian's new favorite thing. He can't not, and I get it. 

The next day we found the Sinks and the Swell, a section of the Popo Agie River where the water just sinks into the mountain to nowhere.  Actually it resurfaces down the road a bit to the swells, calm pools full of trout fish you can feed from up above.

Sean has this persona that we call "Vacation Sean/Dad."  Basically he's really happy and kind of over-enthusiastic about every small thing, and the dad jokes and commentary abound.  He's great when he's not on vacation but perhaps a little more stressed and subdued.  So Julian and I are highly amused.  Vacation Sean greeted us at this river and we returned with a hearty hello.  He loved the visitors center full of stuffed dead animals and various facts about the local wildlife including Bam Bam, the local Ram who up until a few years ago, was known to bash people's cars.  Seemingly beloved, it was weird to see him dead, staring at us, when he had been alive not long ago. In fact, do yourself a favor and check out his obituary.  The quotes from the locals are particularly good.
Speaking of quotes, I'll throw some of ours here and there in the post.

flowing to a cave to nowhere

closer up. it was just weird how it just...ended.

Sean: I like big buttes and i cannot lie.

Next up, more driving.  We stopped in Thermopolis for a quick dip in the hot springs and a shower and I had a moment that added to my increasing disdain for public swimming pools.  Especially when the water is lukewarm and slightly smelly. I was standing there, watching people around me doing various gross things and, increasingly grossed out, I just backed up to the edge and slowly lifted myself out.  I wish it weren't happening but it is and I don't know if I can stop it.  I was wearing big sunglasses at the counter when we arrived and the man behind it said, "Sorry, we don't allow big butterfly sunglasses here."  Amused, I said, "Oh, are they not cool here?"  And he laughed and was embarrassed and I was entertained and really enjoyed getting a bit of the "public regional opinion" aspect of this interaction.  I wanted him to tell me more.  But he was too embarrassed.

sunglasses of shame

Over the hills and through the Badlands, my aunt and cousins live on a huge ranch in a tiny town called Ten Sleep.  Their mailing address is a PO Box and I have been getting a little bit reacquainted with them through Christmas cards and other correspondence.  But they are the oldest grandkids on my mom's side (this aunt being the oldest of four, my mom being number three) and I am one of the youngest grandkids so I barely have any memories of any of them.  We followed the very specific instructions sent to me by my cousin because there was obviously no GPS address we could use. Turn onto this highway onto this road onto this dirty road onto an even dirtier road until you come to a fence post that's bent a little, then turn down that.  We bumped down the road to a house "as old as the hills" that was super old when my aunt first moved into it when she was first married in the 50's. This whole experience was quite surreal for us.  Eleven dogs (not an exaggeration) greeted us as well as all the cousins who happened to be there and they were all so welcoming and nice and it was so good to see them.

I've always been a little sad that my parents, both farm kids who come from small towns near Idaho Falls, didn't have kids who continued down that kind of life path.  A few of my siblings garden but that's about it.  I myself could not be more opposite of my parents in this regard and I felt so utterly useless being there with my legit cowboy cousins.  I saw how they had to live on the land, come to know the land, work the land, and develop so many skills to become self-reliant in all that ranch life required of them.  While I recognized with shame how useless I would be if I were to live here, inversely, I was very glad to see that they very much continued the legacy of my grandparents and their kids, that they won't be totally forgotten when our parents have gone like I was afraid of.  It was alive after all, in this family. Julian even called the ranch a "second dry farm" which I think helped to heal his little broken heart since it burned down and he still can't bring himself to talk about it. One cousin has a boy his age and they played on farm equipment, his happy place, well into darkness.  Also, one funny moment was when this kid, the son of a cousin asked us about where we live and if the city was big.  At first Sean and I said, "No. Welllll..." because compared to 250, maybe a population of 10,000 was big.  This feeling was a common theme throughout the trip.

My aunt's kids live nearby and own land themselves with cattle and sheep and who knows what else. One is a schoolteacher at a school for kids age K-12 and it was just a marvel to catch a glimpse of the Wyoming life they live.  One cousin lives on the ranch and runs it along with his kids, passed down from their father, my uncle, and another cousin there is a horse whisperer.  She "does"  the horses (I don't even know what to call it)  to drive the cattle and the dogs help the horses with that.  She was on crutches because an anxious "brood mare" (I learned a lot) kicked her and fractured her FEMUR and it was like, gosh dang.  So annoying.  Oh well, there's still chores to do. Every story we heard from them, bizarre bordering outrageous, and the nonchalant manner in which they were told, like a sidenote or a passing comment had me and Sean be like:

 "Wait--what? What?"

For example, a few days before, a mountain lion cub had been treed by the dogs right out front. So they had to call someone to tranquilize it out.  Another was the story of a local crazy guy who drives up and down the roads harassing people and injuring cattle(? I think), at least he's suspected of doing it. He got into a row with my cousin about a deal they'd struck that he didn't own up to and actually kicked my cousin in her broken leg. Like, WTFUDGE?? And apparently he had been banned from the next county for harassing girls.  Literally banned.  Things just happen and people have to take things into their own hands because law enforcement is spread out and you're on your own.  The show Longmire on Netflix is set in this area and they are big fans and so is my mom. I may need to watch it now that I understand the place a little bit better. 

oh this? Just a poor two-headed calf born there. Had to put it down right away because it couldn't eat.
And then they, you know, taxidermied it themselves. 

i am horrified. 

It was all so surreal and we could not have felt more city-slickery.  The most unusual thing that happened was, being there in person and seeing all of this for myself, I began to view the lifestyle differently than I had before.  Where I previously had no inclination to a life like this, I could now see its allure and wished I had at least some of the skills required to live this kind of life.  Like, one or two, at the very least.  I was a little embarrassed.

the ranch at dusk

 That visit had a big impact on all of us and I hope we can make it up again one day.  There's something important about connecting with relatives who are so connected to the land and to each other.  I admit I felt a little envious.    We left the next day and headed toward Buffalo where a Longmire festival takes place every year.  I made it a goal to purchase postcards in every town we stopped in and I did pretty well. I also had the wherewithal to buy some stamps so I could write and send at my leisure (if I could find a drop box or post office, that is, neither of which an easy guarantee).  But this is my new fave thing to do while traveling.  In Buffalo we stopped to do some cowboy shopping in a store that had a sign that sincerely read, "Western and work wear. Get rodeo ready!"  Sean loves the cowboy shirts, the ones with snaps. 

yes, sean, get the shirt. you know you want it. this is not the "western and work wear" shop, to be clear. 
We also stopped in an antique shop where I parked it in front of a drawer full of old post cards. Yeah, see you in a few hours.  Got some goods and after a nice chat with the owner, we were off again.

If I were to divide up our trip into three sections or phases, they would be:

I. Current Cowboy Experience
II. Native American Exposure
III. The Great Western Expansion

The quote from Phase I of our trip is from Julian:  Are you sure we can't cuss a little when we get back to Utah--show off what we learned?

Onto Phase II beginning with Devils Tower National Monument.  This was our final destination of the day and we arrived just in time to take it in and do the hike around it.   On the road there, we read up on the legends and stories about it.  One was that a bunch of little girls were playing and a bear was chasing them. They prayed to the land to save them and the earth responded by shooting them high up into the air. The bear scratched and climbed but could not get up to them. And then the girls were turned into stars and formed the constellation Pleiades. Unfortunately "Devils Tower" seems to be a mistaken translation from one of the Indian tribes so now I feel dumb for calling it that.  Especially because it's viewed as a holy place, where people go to pray and tie prayer cloths on the trees, and after being there, we could see why. It felt like a holy place. This thing was massive. We were in awe just to be near it.  The walk around was magical with woodland creatures every which way and it was just so cool to see it at every angle.  So we may have heard about it from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but it was an entirely unique experience to see it for ourselves.  Highly, highly recommend.  We all loved it.

The first national monument declared in America in 1906 by Teddy Roosevelt. 

one of the columns lying at the foot. so cool.

We stayed in a huge KOA that was so weird and, again, huge.  Sort of campgroundy, sort of woodsy parking lot.  There's a cabin with a gift shop and a small cafe. A swimming pool.   Again, RV'ing.. such a new experience.  But it was cool to be so close to the tower.

i am wearing this same shirt as i type this.

Next stop: crossing the border into South Dakota to Rapid City and then Keystone, home to Mt. Rushmore, our raison d'etre.  Sean and Julian had been watching North by Northwest in sections to prep and finished it just in time. The monument was fantastic to see in person.  First, HUGE shout out to the Black Hills which were insanely beautiful and so different from woods I am familiar with, a feeling I love.  "Ooo.. it's different here." So piny green with huge jutting rocks. Just so beautiful.  The climate felt different, everything felt different.  At the monument, we listened to a lecture at the artist's hut (I half-listened while vigorously writing on postcards) and gave major props to Gutson Borglum, head sculptor. What a feat.  So whereas the devils tower was a feat of nature, Mt. Rushmore was an awesome feat of man and we applauded both sincerely. It was so fun to see the faces from different angles. I have been reading more on this monument and feeling those uncomfortable feelings that come from learning there was stolen land and the indigenous people treated very, very poorly.  So I don't really know what to think about this monument. We loved seeing it but now I'm confused and should probably explore that a bit more instead of ignore it.  I felt this feeling a lot actually during Phase II.

sean's inferior devils tower hat.

to quote julian: i've got my eye on you, jefferson!

sean tried to get a group selfie as often as possible. did you want to include the heads in this pic, sean? or no...
i love this kid. that's all.
After this we drove down the road a bit to the Crazy Horse monument, a similar sculpture in the mountain that is not yet finished yet perhaps one more appropriately done.   Many years ago a man named Korczak Ziolkowski who'd worked with Gutson on the presidents, was commissioned by a Lakota tribe elder, Henry Standing Bear, to build a monument dedicated to Crazy Horse. Construction began in 1948.  I tried to read up on this and we learned a bit at the visitors center.  He was a war hero and fought the US federal gov stealing their land and I felt his overwhelming sort of shame or reprimand come over to me that--duh-- the Native Americans are very much around and should not be forgotten. I felt embarrassed at how little I know. This place was cool and I was glad we got to see a bit of it mid-way.  Right now all you can see are his face and the top of an arm sort of.  Eventually he'll have his horse in front of him. Korczak's ten kids took on the project after their father died and are continuing the privately funded legacy. (I really hope I'm not getting my details wrong. Just go look at the wiki page)

can juuuust make out the face. 

group selfie

We spent the night at a campground in the Hills and it was pretty magical.  Sean and Julian went for a swim at dusk while I showered.  They got in the RV just in time before the hugest torrential rain storm hit and rattled the vehicle all night long. Constant lightning and thunder. Just continuous flashes.  Again, this is not a kind of storm I am familiar with. Felt so fun and cozy, though we all slept very ill.

The next day I was feeling pretty claustrophobic in the RV.  If we could make stops it was ok but if we did a lot of driving and then went to bed? Ugh.  So I had to muscle through that feeling. Sean told me to imagine we were on the Space Station.  It helped. We had to start the journey back and had two days + a few hours to do it in.  We said a sad farewell to the Black Hills and headed out, but not before stopping at the Cosmos, this weird place in the mountain where everything is topsy turvy.  They claim the gravity is weird there but it's really like a big, really good magic trick. So good that I had to BAIL.  Because I can't handle it if I can't get my bearings! Ha ha, it's sooo lame.  But what appeared up was down, and vice versa, and I started to get totally queasy and woozy like I do when I ride carnival rides where I can't see where I'm going. I guess I need a proper horizon.   But Sean and Julian had a good silly time and got some pictures while Grandma Jen sat on a bench back in the hut and then left her postcards there when it was time to go. :(

these pics are so cool. It's too bad I COULDN'T HANDLE IT. (so lame)

I should really be distorting people's faces in these pics. 

Sean: I feel like we've been further away than ever before, and yet it's just Wyoming.

Goodbye, South Dakota.  We drove through the Buffalo Gap Grasslands (I think), also beautiful and fun to see a different kind of scenery.

goodbye, black hills.

 This was a long driving day and it showed:

hey, hat.

This pic cracks me up.  I packed this big ol' bag full of card games and activities only to have Julian refuse all of it because he'd rather look out the window, talk to one of us if we sat by him, or just think his thoughts.  Ahh this little weirdo. Look at him, having the time of his life by himself.  Kills me.

Sooo much driving.  Finally, made it to Casper where we visited the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center and entered Phase III of our trip. This Center was cool.  We learned all about the Oregon Trail (a common theme of our trip. We saw so many sights and I sorely wanted to play the game), California Trail, Mormon Trail, and the Pony Express, general wild west and the old frontier times, etc. Though I used to think this was the most boring part of Disneyland, I kind of get it now. All of it is fascinating and I was very glad to learn a bit more about it all.  It also feels really real there, since it looks unchanged.  It still looks like a wild frontier.  I love it.  I decided my role in all of that, were I to live in that time, would be as a rider in the Pony Express (obviously).  It would feel so important to get people their mail, to make sure I get to the hand-off in time. If I don't ride out there to the middle of nowhere, the mail will not get delivered.  I just hope the coyotes don't get me. That would be the only reason why you didn't get your mail.

We chose what I believe to be the fanciest restaurant in Casper to dine at even though we were all feeling pret-ty gross digestion-wise with all the sitting. It was nice to eat some real food. Cuisine was not a highlight of this trip, let's just say. We stayed the night in a pretty bleak RV park/parking lot.  We saw a lot of permanent RV's there and again, went away with more questions than answers. 

The last full day of our trip, we drove from Casper to Rock Springs.  This was a very fun day full of many interesting stops.  The first one, Independence Rock, a landmark for the trail-goers.  If they could get to it by Independence Day, they'd make it to Oregon/California before the winter storms hit.  Here was another example of the *shrug* Wyoming nonchalance.  You are allowed to park and just go out and climb up the rock with a small warning to "please not walk on the inscriptions."  There are engravings of people's names and the date who made it to the rock and seeing them was extremely cool though we kept being like, really? This is ok? Are you sure?? Sean was certain we were standing on a place that, in the future, will be roped off and seen only from a constructed designated pathway due to erosion and meddlement.  But it just made that whole time of expansion and the wild west come alive, seeing people's names and standing where they stood. We gave them a spiritual high ten and offered a prayer of congratulations.  The rock was super weird and we could see why it was selected as a landmark:

group selfie

Not everyone made it in time, of course.  Our next stop was Martin's Cove, where all the Mormons go for youth Trek in this part of the country as a pilgrimage to the pioneers, and we learned more about the handcart companies that left England too late, arrived in Missouri too late, and still decided to embark west.  The center there is cool and there was a little museum dedicated to the family who used to own the land.  Devil's Gate is nearby and that, too, was cool to see.   Oh, what a barren land with a meandering Sweetwater River by and by.  When the land appears unchanged, the realness is more palpable. I think that might be what gives Wyoming some of its magic.

Why does the devil get to stake a claim to so many cool things? Huh? 

The last stop before Rock Springs was Rawlins where we took a tour of a creepy old prison.  Words cannot describe this experience, perhaps the strangest, creepiest, most surreal thing I've ever done.  But I'll do my best.  The prison was open from 1901-1981 and when we arrived for a tour, a tour guide said "ok, let's start" and took just the three of us on the tour. This just felt weird. This place was LEGIT disturbing and the way he gave the tour-- as if he worked there and it was running presently really added to the vibe. "So what we do here is... and if the inmates do this, then this happens.."  He first took us to a room full of pictures of actual inmates and their crimes and he locked the doors behind us and we honestly were so tripped out, wondering if we were actually going to come out of there alive.  Julian was scared out of his skull and hung back at every turn. I laughed through my own fear and unconfidently held him close. It was easily better/worse than any spook alley or haunted house I've ever gone through.  The line between real and not real was very, very faint.


drawing by an inmate in a cell. :(

We saw where they slept, where they ate, what happened if they misbehaved. We learned how they would intentionally get in trouble so they could be in solitary confinement in total darkness in the more modern wing because there was actually heat there.  We saw the gallows and learned how they worked, we learned of the Johnson Lock--invented by a dude named Johnson which is the prison lock the locks all the cells at once. Tour guide gave us a demonstration. The sound of it--*shudder* We saw the chair where the death row inmate received a lethal injection. Located in a domed room with windows around so that doctors and experts could witness and reach through little holes with stethoscopes to confirm death. (Sean wants me to put quotes around those titles)  We walked the grounds outside and saw old basketball hoops and reinforced walls because the old wooden one was too easy to break out of.  I don't know about the other two but I was extremely depressed throughout.  We unwittingly walked through some kind of hall of doom and sadness. Like in Fangorn Forest, when Legolas stops and says, "this forest is old... full of memory. And anger."  That's how it felt. At one point I asked the tour guide how long he'd worked there. Eight years, he said.  I asked him if he ever, like, "felt things" from being there for so long.   He said, "Like, paranormal things?"  "no... like, has it had an effect on you?"  He didn't seem to understand my question which makes me wonder if maybe he didn't work there for a reason, like it really suited him. Or, if he was even real at all, because  I was sure of nothing.

and then this.

After using the creepy bathroom and purchasing a water bottle as a souvenir and my postcard, we left the place, somber and silent and shook. (But not before a group pic)

this picture does not capture our feelings. well maybe julian's a little. grimace smile.

Julian was deep in thought for a long time and finally said something about it being life-changing what we did.  We agreed, and drove around until we found a mail box and some strangely delicious Thai food in Rawlins, WY. 

That is the end of our trip. Exhausted and reeling from the events of the previous week, we stayed the night in Rock Springs and drove the final 3.5 hours home the next day.  As for the RV, would I recommend it? Definitely. I think there are probably many ways to RV. Our way was intense as we were driving a ton. We also realized cooking was more of a hassle than we wanted to deal with so we made microwave food (microwave individual-sized oatmeals for the win) or stuff that didn't have to be cold, as the fridge was pretty useless.  Honestly, I don't even know how to end this post because I'm still thinking about the prison. Again.  We got home a couple of weeks ago but it still comes up.  The other day, Sean and I were still talking about it and we concluded there must definitely be a looming presence in a place like that, like Fangorn.  I'm not sure I'll ever forget it. And add it to all of the other places we visited, so different, so amazing, so eye-opening, time-travel-y, adventure-filled, unexpected, educational, informative, awe-inspiring, humbling.  These, and all of the words I cannot think of-- that pretty much sums up our Tour de Wyoming. 

As I was journaling about this trip, trying to get everything down before I lost it, I concluded with this:

We got home yesterday and we are still recovering and, in my case, processing what we just went through.  We’ve been doing heaps of laundry and trying to get back into things even though we feel very reluctant about it.  There are too many people too close by with too many chain restaurants and not enough sky. Too much noise and too many cars and not enough animals and not enough stars.  Not enough space to play and to roam, too much in Utah to call Wyoming home. And there’s a spontaneous poem for you.



If you plan to take a WY tour of your own, here's a list of movies we jotted down to aid your visit:

1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
2. North by Northwest
3. Any Western
4. Dances With Wolves (immediately watched upon our return)

Also play Oregon Trail and sing Home on the Range whenever you can. 

 Epilogue pictures:
no sleep, never enough sleep. 

the cost of filling up the tank

and what i think about it.