Monday, January 29, 2018

Sitting on the Porch of the Dock of the Bay

We are dog and house sitting in Orange Beach this winter.  I wasn't sure about this.  Last winter, our first since we retired, we spent January through March in predictably warm weather in a little retro house we own near Fort Myers, Florida.  It's a yearly rental of ours which luckily happened to be available January through March 31.  We had a pool and were on a canal.  The sunsets and sunrises were as brilliant as they are in the Southwest, with wow-like oranges, reds, and yellows.  I went down and stood on our dock every morning with my coffee in hand, just to smile and breathe in the beauty of the beginning of the day.  The days were warm and in the 70s and it was mostly lazy and wonderful.  But, Alabama.  Who winters in Alabama?  And our friends who live in the house we are "sitting" are flying off to the islands in the Grenadines for February and March.  Shouldn't we be catching the plane to the islands, too?

However, we had visited here last fall and I kind of fell in love.  First, our friends are gracious and amazing hosts. Second, we have a 10 year-old crazy lab we cart around with us and since we are dog sitting she gets to come along.  For those logical reasons Alabama for the winter made sense to us.  But, I also really love living on the wide open water.  We did that for 13 years, a few years ago, when we lived on a little island in Maine. I still miss the mesmerizing sunsets and watching the ice flow down river in spring or the sea smoke, that mist that seems like a cloud hovering above the water.  I also lived on an island, in a caboose, during undergraduate school (whole other story!), on Rockaway Beach on Bainbridge Island, WA.  And, growing up in Seattle, I was surrounded by water, seeking the water's edge whenever my mood was dark and confusing.

At this point in our lives, I prefer the peace and quiet of the woods where we now live, and the comforting "hug" of the husband-hand-built post and beam house along with the soul warming wood-burning stove once the temps fall.   However, I do miss the continually morphing moods and feelings that come with unpredictable sunsets, weather changes, moon rises when you live right on the water.  Right now I look out from the porch and see little white caps stirred up by the wind on the water in the bay.  This morning it was flat and calm.

I scoped the weather out for months, prior to making a commitment to come to the coast of Alabama for the winter.  The weather here off-season is neither hot (maybe pushing low 70's but generally in the 60s) nor cold (rarely below freezing but 40 or 50 in the morning is not surprising), and yet it's perfect.  Perfectly quiet because summer people are not here, a summer town in the winter.  Perfectly beautiful because it's like a little nature preserve out our back door, leading to the dock that wanders out, over and into the bay.  Being a contemplative and introverted soul by nature, this kind of place suits me well.  My easy-going husband likes it too.

And, although I love the interior of our winter "home" here in the seacoast town of Orange Beach, with lots of original colorful art, driftwood frames surround vibrant paintings of faces, mermaids and the like, which inspires my creative self, my favorite place is the backyard porch.  Connected to the back of the house, this giant screened-in porch looks out over the bay, with a swinging double bed that you can lazily rock back and forth on, as it hangs suspended from the ceiling.  There's a table and chairs, candles.  It rained yesterday and we all sat out there, rain drops dancing on the rooftop; we were cozy and dry in that sweet and embracing space, on that serene porch looking out over the bay.  More than once throughout the afternoon I hopped onto the swinging bed and lay back on soft piles of blue and pink pillows that you can stack up and fluff as you snuggle in and on the swinging bed, rocking and sleeping and reading.  There are these tiny little fairy lights, miniature blinking lights entwined on one of the chains that anchors the bed to the ceiling.  And as a gentle breeze blows, a huge set of metal chimes (identified as from the company, World Peace - One Backyard at a Time) which hangs out just beyond the porch's screened walls start clinging and ding-donging and binging away.  I feel transported to a Buddhist monastery somewhere in the clouds, as the birds chirp and sing their angelic little melodies.

I imagine swinging, sleeping, reading day after day down here in the South while the snow and ice do their thing in New England, bitter -17 degree cold which I will not miss.  I will miss family and friends.  I will miss my routine, my home, my life in Maine.  But I will not miss the cold.  To be honest, it's a bit of a civil war inside me being gone from family and home for the winter months but the side of me seeking warmer climes has won.

I wish my friends, the homeowners of this beautiful abode, health and good will on the islands where they will winter because we have been where they are going and it is beautiful and warm and salty with ocean air, living right on the beach.  We will take good care of your little canine love, Abby and thank you for allowing us to bring our crazy dog, Livy.

Cue Otis Redding....sitting on the dock of the bay lalalala.

Listen to this!  Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Joyful Softies

We spent about 4 hours last night making one-of-a-kind softies.  Cute, huh?  Each little creation tells something about it's maker....

Addy giving a little love to Ju's softie, Lady

Lady's backside

Lady getting stuffed

Maria's two-faced creation

Maria's little stuffie, side 1 (or 2?)

Addy's stuffie is nearly done

Guto's stuffie; first side

Brisla's pink and blue stuffie; one side happy and one side sad

This is the little stuffie who started it all

We all start somewhere.....

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Third Chapter, Year 1

So, you would think, "Hey, lucky you. You are retired!"  And, that is no doubt so true, absolutely and 100%.  I feel blessed.  I feel grateful.  I feel lucky.  My husband and I are healthy, happy and have enough money to actually stop full-time work in our early 60s.  But I have also experienced a few challenges coming to terms with no longer working full-time.  My good friend, a still hard-working, overworked school administrator, frequently tells me, half joking but sort of seriously, as she listens to my stream of consciousness, sometimes garbled ramblings as I figure this out, "Champagne problems."  And, I would agree with her, wholeheartedly.  I always reflect anew after sitting with her over giant lattes in a cute local cafe or after a long conversation on the phone, I reflect on how lucky I am to be where I am at (not that I didn't work hard to get here!) but nonetheless and to my genuine surprise,  it has been a complex transition.

I am currently re-reading a book that has provided some insight to me during these last 6 months entitled, The Third Chapter - Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot.  I would edit the title, by the way, Passion, Risk, and Adventure Until you Die; what do you stop living at 75?    Last winter as we wintered in Florida, our first retirement winter, I was off and on fairly convinced that I was losing my mind, or at the very least suffering from a brain tumor which caused massive headaches that encompassed my entire head and neck area and felt as though an odd head-shaped device had been custom-made and was randomly tightened throughout the day.  As my husband happily read volumes of books under the porch by the pool or played golf (we all enter retirement with different mindsets!), I spent 1/2 the time managing a mind-numbing headache and/or debating the value of life and thinking about, reading about, and ruminating on the mysteries of illness and death.  To be fair, during the previous Fall 3-month trip around the country, over 9,000 happy and wonderful miles trailing a 21 foot trailer and sharing a truck cab with my husband and yellow lab, I was way too busy navigating and gazing out the window to even think, I am not longer a full-time working person, now what?  Up and down, that's how I would describe my third chapter, first year after retirement.

But, as winter sets in in New England, with a supposed cyclone bomb (ridiculous) forecasted for yesterday, with high winds and snow (big deal, it snowed, we dug out and let's move on) I am once again faced with what to do?  The house is organized better than ever, bills are all up-to-date and filed in the right folders, I have my times for working out and seeing friends/family but there is a lot to the day beyond that.  We do have a lot of work to do on the house, re-finish the floors, get the downstairs studio set up so I can actually do my art down there, paint the upstairs room so I want to write in there and do my morning yoga.  Again, I hear, "Champagne problems."  But it has been a time for me to really look at what I want to do and I now see, although I never would have imagined, why some people take a part-time job.  Ms. Lightfoot would encourage me in these endeavors and even calms my nerves as I waffle, feeling not a little bi-polar swinging between elation at being retired and a bit in a panic over what's next.  I am comforted in what she writes, that during the 3rd act of life, we reconsider our origins, sometimes healing ourselves as we review and even reimagine the entirety of our life reflecting on oh so long ago and then moving forward with that.

The joy, absolutely, of retirement for me is that I no longer feel compelled to listen to anybody I don't want to.  Nor in retirement do I have to do very many things I completely disagree with.   I no longer feel a need to keep anybody happy (well, this is more or less true).  My life and time is pretty much up to me.  And that is amazing and so wonderful, freeing and exhilarating (on the days when I don't have a headache - well hasn't happened since Florida!).  Fortunately my husband and I get along well even joined-at-the-hip as we pretty much are these days.  I let him believe he's the boss and he does the same for me.

So today as I stood in the kitchen and really thought about what I wanted to do with my time,  my time I so value and have gratitude for now and going forward, I remembered again what I have always known.  I love creating art, jewelry, rugs, clothing, painting furniture and floors and walls crazy colors and writing about my life and my thoughts about what I see, know and experience to be true.  I enjoy travel, meeting new people, seeing new ways of being.  I love health and fitness, yoga and weight lifting among my new favorites.  Strong and flexible, not what you imagine in older age and yet that is one of my goals.

And as I considered my interest in writing, in particular, on this chilly afternoon (predicted high of 5 and low of -7 tomorrow) I recalled and then reviewed a couple of blogs I have created and posted in throughout the years, this one,  Joyful Artist and Tilly's Joyful Travels.  And with that, I was inspired to fiddle around with my Christmas present, a really fine digital camera (thank you dear husband) figuring out how to take shots (which aperture, what exposure, which button!) and then upload them to my computer (via cable, wifi, card file) so that I could "insert" them into the blog.  Notice the fuzzy shot of the book up above?  I have a ways to go.  All good thinking things, however, to ward off Alzheimer's, right?

We leave in about 3 weeks, headed south.   My camera and blog are coming along.

Third Chapter, Year Two, let's see what she brings.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Carrots, broccoli, summer squash, mushrooms ready for stir fry
Onions, garlic and spinach also stir fried
 Energized with all the time I have to be creative and healthy now that my husband and I are retired, I tried this last night!

What exactly is bibimbap?  Let us turn to the "wisdom" of the wikipedia for info on this pricey Korean dish I love to eat at our local Street Restaurant and made last night for a really delicious vegetarian and paleo meal:

Cauliflower "rice" in cast iron pan with olive oil, sesame oil, hot sauce
 "The word literally means "mixed rice". Bibimbap is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables) and gochujang (chili pepper paste), soy sauce, or doenjang (a fermented soybean paste). A raw or fried egg and sliced meat (usually beef) are common additions."

Stir fired veggies spooned onto "rice"

Interestingly, listening to an audio dictionary, the word is pronounced as tho the "i" is a long "e" sound...and the "bap" sounds more like "bop."   So, when you order this dish, you order, "beebeebop" or something like that 😁

Fried eggs (looking a little funky...not enough fat in pan when frying!) placed on top
 Whatever the pronunciation and definition, and without gochuijang or doejang, this dish last night was really amazingly delicious made with cauliflower "rice" I found at Trader Joe's.  

I wonder what is going on with my brother when he tells me he is a vegan and yet, philosophically I'd love to be a vegetarian.  However, there is just a not-so-little little problem in that my body seems to like meat.  Anyway, check this out.....takes a little time to make (chop, chop, fry, fry) but really, really delicious and super healthy!  And I could easily add meat!

Serve in individual servings with pea shoots and bean sprouts (delicious fresh crunch!)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Boise of Treasure Valley

I am sitting in Mini with Ms. Olivia on the Sacramento River's edge at a little campground/marina in West Sacramento, California where it hasn't rained in months.  The rain is pelting our little RV thanks to "remants" of Typhoon Songda.    Great time to stay indoors and do some writing because we are off and running tomorrow to Yosemite as the weather clears!  I will try to capture the charm of Boise in this blog.   It is a GREAT town full of art, outdoor activities, culture, friendly people and just a wonderful, uplifting overall vibe.  And we had a wonderful family visit. 

Marina and RV park (not a parking lot!) on the Sacramento River

We recently stopped over in Boise to visit family (my older sister and her kids and their kids) for a week and pick up our Sondors electric bikes (pictures below), regroup and make a plan/review our itinerary/check weather as we head out towards the west coast.  Most people know that Boise has been rated as one of the best retirement cities (Forbes) and although I never understood it before (hot in the desert summer heat and cold in the winter), I get it now.  Here's some of the things we enjoyed while in Boise of Treasure Valley.
Maiden rides on the new e-bikes!  Thanks so much to my nephew and great nephew for ALL the help!
Bikes on the new bike rack and road-ready
62-year old biker chick :P  And, as always, "safety first" helmet on my biker head! 
After settling in with family and parking Mini in the RV parking lot (conveniently located with respect to all city activities - right between Idaho State Highway 51 and Boise Airport...not so much of an ommmm here but definitely close to the city and family!)  I took a yoga class at a great yoga/health center in Boise (check it out at Yoga Tree Boise).  When you think yoga you don't naturally think Boise and yet Forbes listed Boise in their top 10 cities because of it's  lively yoga community.  And although, the gentle yoga class I took with my older sister was not the best yoga I have ever taken it suited me on that day because my ribs were still on the mend and I think it was the perfect yoga class for my sister who has fibromyalgia (hoping it inspired her to carry on in my absence!).  Yoga in Boise....who knew?

Then I took not one but two classes with Kay Seurat,  a local jewelry artist who has such an artsy house that it spooked my sister (check her out here  When we drove up to her house/studio, not far from the airport and next to the train tracks (so, very near our noisy RV parking lot), I was intrigued with her metal work outside the house.  She used metal ironing boards, attached to the roof to give a "sculpting" edge to the front of her house where you would normally find the gutters and a red car hood installed as a "porch" cover as well as old license plates to frame her entry (unfortunately, I can't find those pictures as I fumble around with my camera and iCloud via iPhone on my iMac right now).....But, in any event, her home is one-of-a-kind unique!  She remarked when I asked about the license plates framing her front door, "The license plates I got at the DMV.  People think you are supposed to bring your old ones in but that's not true so the DMV takes them and sets them aside.  Don't you think it's weird that I had to pay 50 cents each for them when the DMV got them for free?"  Yes, I do! 

With Kay, on that fist visit, I made a pair of blue and lime green enameled earrings.  I have enameled and cut metal with a saw before but it's never been my favorite activity so this was good practice and easy for Kay; she could work away while I spent an hour and a half sawing!  For me sawing is kind of like knitting.  It's like a projective test where your behavior reflects your mood, think of those ambiguous ink blots that psychologists use to see into your mind based on the image you see......oh that's a bat, no a sumo wrestler.  I this case, if I was tense while knitting  (without even noticing it) I would notice when I looked back at my handywork that I had made itty bitty stitches so that the "material" I had made was as strong as steel and yet when I was relaxed I stitched big loosey goosey stitches so open you could stick your finger through and between the stitches with ease.  With sawing, it's the same kind of thing.  You have to hold the saw gently and just let your wrist do the sawing in an easy up and down fashion and let it all happen with ease vs. clutching the saw white-knuckled like it weights 50 pounds and is on the verge of dropping to the ground.  And,  so to compensate you use your entire right arm to saw.  Using your whole tense arm is not only tiring, but completely effective in cutting through metal (and your saw breaks a lot).  And, so it was great practice to saw a pair of lime green and blue enamel colored copper earrings that required lots of turns!

I have a lime green pair of earrings.
I have a lime green and blue pair of earrings!

I have a pair of blue earrings!
I also signed up for a glass blowing class at Boise Art Glass.  I have only watched glass blowing at the the Toledo Art Museum (where we bought the fabulous orange vase that the glass blower made as a demonstration), and once in Quechee, Vermont at Simon Pierce Mill Glassblowing where we walked scaffolds and looked down on a huge space full of furnaces and glass blowers.  I have art friends who blow glass beads and have always been intrigued.

Austin was our instructor for 1/2 hour.  My sister readily came to this activity and we made round globes; 2 in about 25 minutes.  At $13 each this was a bargain and part of the Boise Open Studios weekend that we were lucky to be around for.  The space was HOT and dangerous which is what I loved about it.  It's what I love about metals can easily get hurt (acid, saws, fire) ....danger and art.  What could be better?  We assisted Austin by holding the metal rod while the molten glass was in the furnace...I was surprised to learn the glass would only droop, but never drop off the metal rod.  You turn it so it evenly warms while in the fire.  Then we helped while we dropped this clear glass and very hot glob into colored glass pieces (rolling it around to cover fully) then returned it to the furnace and repeated this process one more time.  Then there was some rolling on metal and dropping the glass glob into a mold to shape it and then finally setting it into in silica type material bin where Austin snipped it off the hot rod.   He then took a small blob of clear molten glass and dropped it into the little hole created by snipping it off the rod...forming that colorless glob into the hanger.  It was a marvelous experience! 

With a glob of clear very hot glass on a hot rod, you roll it in colored glass
After adding 2 layers of colored glass, you literally blow into a tube to expand the glass...awesome!
My glass globe, cooling in some metal (forgot what he said this was) before annealing in a kiln for 12 hours
I think Austin is hiding from these inquisitive little women!
But, I was quite in awe (being a nature girl at heart, I think...I remember years ago when my husband took me up to Rangeley, Maine where he was doing a soils test and we stayed at this cabin on a lake in the middle of nowhere and I was at home washing the dishes in the lake and using the outhouse that had a water view and he said, "Who knew you were such a nature girl?"...raised in the woods I think I always have been).  Anyway, as my husband and I took our our new electric bikes on our maiden voyage - I was unsure how these would work but my husband was convinced we needed these on this trip (and he was right!) and put great effort into getting them road-ready - he had "The Greenbelt" in mind for this first trip out.  This is an extraordinary area in Boise, bordering the Boise River on both sides full of activities (fishing, surfing, whitewater rafting practice, paddle boarding, running, weight lifting outdoors) with restaurants and miles of running/walking/biking lanes.  We both jumped on our bikes and he was so grateful they were electric (he later told me) because he didn't have to pedal (his ankle with several bone spurs only bends with great pain and his knee is difficult to bend making peddling kind of challenging to say the least).  But I did pedal and at the same time tried to focus on staying on the bike, how to work the electronics (push a button and 3 lights greet you as and you hear the motor move you along like in a regular vs. standard shifting needed!).  I was also trying to make sure the brakes worked as I watched the people walking and running and bike riding around me (and that crazy kid riding his bike while texting!) and as we rode along the next thing we knew we were on this marvelous, I mean completely beautiful nature path right that runs right along the Boise river, under the main roads and made for bikes and pedestrians! 
Cool bike path right under the main roads of Boise!
Boiseans surfing!  The day before they were practicing whitewater rafting :)
So, Boise, I get why you are rated highly as a wonderful city -  indeed it is a treasure of the valley. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

3750 Miles

Mile 3,750!
Here's a selfie I snapped of Olivia and I  (this is Olivia's MO most of the trip...asleep on her pillow in the back seat next to the cooler) when Ken announced we had traveled a total of 3,750 miles so far! We have been completely across the United States and are now in Sacramento waiting out a storm so we can continue our travels.  It is literally the quiet before the storm so I have a little time to catch up on posting  (I now know I should have taken that course on travel blogging!).  It's been tricky keeping up with posting, writing, and managing pictures online with all our dry camping (where you have no water but we have a tank full, and no power but we have a generator and TWO batteries, and no sewer but we have a holding tank).  I love dry camping because of where you can go (and this place is not an RV parking lot where you can reach out and touch your trailer neighbor), although frequently we have neither phone nor internet connection so managing pictures and writing and posting is just not possible...which is probably why I love it! 

Anyway, as we await the remnants of Typhoon Songda to descend tomorrow and Sunday, here are some skyscapes I have been taking on this trip.  I am in awe of the vastness and ever-changing sky and have been snapping away throughout the trip as I sit in the passenger seat while my wonderful husband does all the work driving, keeping us on course and safe!

Somewhere, USA! 
Spectacularly Blue, Crater Lake and Wispy Magical Clouds!
Approaching Bend, Oregon

On the Way to Bend, Oregon
Clouds Floating Along, Missouri River
Always a Cloud Over the Grand Tetons
Coming Into Boise, Idaho

Again, Boise, Idaho

Coming from Grants Pass, Oregon into Sacramento, California

Foreboding Skies Over Olive Trees in California, North of Sacramento

Thursday, October 6, 2016

New Stuff Brings New Issues

Ririe Reservoir, Idaho at sunset....right about the time the coyotes started to howl!
So, I have learned some fabulous life lessons on this big adventure across the U.S.  First, new things bring new issues.  Let's take the fact that my closet and most of our storage is in the back of a Titan truck.  To gain access to those things (clothes, electric blanket, toilet paper) requires that Ms. Flexible Yoga Joy climbs onto the hitch, up over the tailgate and the table (that rests up against the tailgate), and then pushes around and pulls on boxes and bins until I find the correct box or bin to then prop open so I can dig out that warm wool sweater or get some more dog food or grab a clean pair of socks for my husband.  Laying full body,  so all of my a little over 100 pounds on my right side, directly on my ribs to get the camper stove (I told myself when I heard that strange sound as I lay in this awkward position, "That's going to hurt.") led to nearly 4 weeks of pain.  Pain that made me wince when I took a breath, laughed, coughed, slept on the wrong side.  Ribs are on the mend but new things bring new issues.  Having a closet in a truck is a new thing and so I need to move in a different way with thoughtfulness.  Got it.   Yes, it's a bit of a mess back there...with ice makers and laundry soap propped up against lawn chairs!  Organizing and living small...that's a whole other post! 

Our on-the-road "closet and storage"
I love taking photos and am a very visual person.  With my iPhone full to capacity with photos/videos (and my struggle to save them somewhere, iCloud? DropBox?), and on recommendation from a friend/photographer I bought a really cool wifi capable camera, ELPH 190 IS (odd name but GREAT camera).  I love the quality of pictures and video but all of that beauty sits quietly on my new blue camera.  With a new camera comes a whole new download of drivers, manuals and complications to get the fancy wifi working (tricky when you are dry camping in a National forest overlooking a dam and your only wifi is a Verizon hotspot on your husband's iPhone).  This new toy, of course with it's own specific set of issues, and requires some focused time and energy so I can pull off photos to share and enjoy.  I have a giant memory card so for now will continue to click away!

My beautiful new camera!  Thanks for the recommendation, Larry.
So, I have come to expect anything new (which is nearly daily on this trip) will have it's challenge and I no longer just think, "Yeah, yippee, something new!"  I think, "OK, I am excited but what will go wrong or what will we need to adjust/fix/replace?"  Case in point, we finally got our new Sondors e-bikes (check this out for more info yesterday (so fun...fat tire and very yellow!).  My handy and bright great nephew helped assemble the first one with my McGyver-like husband.  "Hop on and give it a spin!" they happily directed me after it was all assembled.  As I took off on a maiden voyage (what fun!) round the cul-du-sac all I could hear was a scraping each time I peddled...brakes not fully adjusted and that will require a Thursday trip to the bike shop.  And, bike #2 is still boxed up.  And, then the question becomes, so how do we get the bikes to the RV park where we are staying  (next to the freeway with trucks downshifting and cars zooming by and under the airport flight path where we hear helicopters and jets day and night while the train rattles the trailer...whole different story!) I digress, anyway, the trailer park is some 10 minutes away and how do we transport the bikes when we are once again on the road?   They most certainly aren't going to fit in that very full truck cab :P  New things bring new issues.  Husband is on it with research into bike racks, locks, covers. 

Sondors e-bikes we are so excited for!  

So, I have learned one important principal in life on the adventure (actually I have learned many...future posts!); new things bring new issues and it's not "if" something will happen but "what" will happen or maybe "when."  Got it and won't forget it and, am happy to write, I now embrace it!  Good life lesson! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

So Far, My Heart Belongs to South Dakota!

Scenery form Iron Mountain Road in Custer State Park at dusk....spectacular!

I think South Dakota is my new favorite state.  I had no expectations for what we would see and of course, that’s always when I am the most surprised and, in this case, completely awed, by what we found.  In fact at one point we were watching a Kevin Costner movie about Custer State Park (in IMAX at the visitor’s center)
The spires of the Black Hills...awesome
in which he narrated about all the amazing features of the park including the annual buffalo roundup which occurs the last week of September, and you could see the buffalo, hear the stampeding herd (great sound system) as it make it’s way across the plains and I not only got shivers, but felt like I could cry.  And that was just a movie. 

This scenery is otherwordly
Seeing herds of buffalo right outside your car window (check out my brief video of the Buffalos in Custer State Park with our dog panting in the background! ), stopping by the side of the road on a misty morning to look up into the hill, again, right by the car and see a majestic elk buck with huge black horns and other elk just carrying on minding their business is just so awesome.   We saw flocks of turkeys eating seeds and whatever insects they find on the grassy fields, as we drove through the park.  The prairie dogs and the vast areas they mine for their homes are just hard to imagine until you see it in person and then watching them stand on alert and chirp away at anything that startles them (and it is not humans in the park!).  

Giant brown and white buck with a few others as we left park
 I feel like I could do a commercial for the Black Hills.  Not only is the wildlife spectacular to watch but the rock formations on Iron Mountain Road with the granite tunnels are not to be believed until you are there.  We had gone from Mount Rushmore (and what a wow that is!) on the drive back through Custer State Park and who knew what amazing sights we would see there.  Driving on the narrow roads and one-lane tunnels, I felt like we were on a different planet.  What a great scene for a scifi movie I thought as we rounded each hair-pin turn and drove through hollowed-out rocks to unexpected and wide open, beautiful scenery that I had never even imagined before.  I just wondered what forces of nature carved out those rocks, round and tall often with little rocks teetering up top, looking as if the slightest breath of wind would make it tumble off it’s giant spire and hurl down towards the ground and us.  How different those magnificent rock formations were from the BadLands and the tortured look of those rocks all spikey and pointy.  It’s just so hard to even understand all of this if you don’t see it yourself. 

Here's a little video (sorry you have to turn your head!) that's exactly what it's like Going Through the Needle Tunnel!

We have learned that we need more time in each park.  So, going forward (after our  Harvest Host Raspberry DeLight Farm stopover tonight) when we arrive at a new park we will set up camp and then go to the visitor’s center to determine what we want to see, how long we want to stay (so we aren’t putting in 10-hour sightseeing days; we ARE retired, after all) and if we want to stay in one or more campgrounds in the same park for the duration of our visit.  Learning how to go more with what is presented to us vs. moving like we are still working with limited time when we worked and took vacations, is a whole new adventure, in and of itself.  

We no like this part of Wyoming so much...coal trains
So, I love South Dakota, right now I am typing as we drive along Wyoming 405 and it’s kind of…….boring.  Oddly, it seemed like the moment we crossed the border from South Dakota to Wyoming the topography changed from colorful (green, yellow, orange) rolling hills covered here and there with proud Ponderosa pine to scrub brush and barren hills.  I am sure there is more to Wyoming (that is where the Tetons are!) but for now it’s not so scenic. 

Not much to see in Wyoming before the Tetons
Although we just passed a ginormous coal mining set-up with 150-car coal trains rolling along the tracks and huge mines (on Wyoming 405).  Turns out Wyoming is the biggest U.S. coal miner.  I stand corrected, this part of  Wyoming is kind of interesting.   And, I remind myself that just 6 months back at this time of the day I’d be quickly stuffing down my lunch while prepping for the next challenging student would come visit me and not always happily and my husband would be preparing documents for submittal of a project.  No complaints at all...and really, nothing is boring!   

We are very excited for the Tetons and whatever else we decide to do on this trip to the parks of the West. 

Again at breakfast this morning I asked my husband, “So where do you think we will go after the Tetons?’  He shrugged and smiled, “Who knows?”