Wednesday, February 10, 2016

No Means NO!

AWL and I have been doing AWLs new years resolution (it is not my idea, I don't do resolutions, I do travel). We try to abide by all cliche's this time of year. Therefore we've been hitting the gym. I try to stick to the rock gym, where you aren't really exercising, you're having fun and climbing and goofing around. He prefers to go to what i like to call, the BORING gym. You know the one, dumb bells, weird torturous looking machines, oversize men with tiny little legs, and always ALWAYS that one guy who has this weird routine that no one has ever seen before, but looks remarkably like a circus routine rather than a lifting routine. I will admit, when I'm forced to go to the boring gym, this guy is my saving grace. I love watching him and trying to figure out what his life is like and what he is thinking about as we all openly stare at him.

Honestly, though, I am working more on the other cliche' resolution: Not eating like a southern born hippo who lives in a menagerie that serves fried everything. It's SO DIFFICULT! But I've been doing good. Eating salad, drinking lots of water, NOT drinking alcohol (Waaaaaaaaah)! The worst is not eating chocolate every second of the day. THE WORST!

Of course, then, in true February fashion, we decided to ditch the resolutions and instead of hitting the gym, we hit the Chinese buffet! Yippee skippy! I promised myself that NOT EVERYTHING would go out the window with this one. I had eaten my freaking salad at lunch and NOT eaten any chocolate. So, I went and tried to keep it pretty clean. I ate sushi and I had snap peas and shrimp (all smothered in the most delicious grease that can only be generated at a Chinese restaurant). Ok, I wasn't going to say it, but I also had some yummy potstickers and an egg roll. Fine it wasn't great, but it was the thought that counted. AND I DIDN'T EAT THE ICE CREAM. I wanted to, oh my God I wanted to. But I said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

This of course meant that AWL had to have ice cream right in front of my face. Two bowls. Right in grabbing distance. It was unfair, it was SO UNFAIR!!!!!

......But it also reminded me of this one time on our way to Yellowstone National Park when we were driving across the country. It was so beautiful. We were about to hit these mountain passes that just zigged and zagged endlessly upwards forever through the Rockies. Just amazing!

Before we did all that, we had to feed the beast that is AWL. He is constantly hungry, like the bears we so instinctively feared on our way through these western states. Pull off the side of the road, it's ICE CREAM TIME! We stopped at the last place before leaving town in Red Lodge, MT. Boxcar Cafe' is the cutest little train car right by the Rock Creek. We loved getting out of the car to stretch our legs and then sit by the Creek. It was a pretty serious creek too. It rushed and bubbled and bobbed. The best way to eat ice cream!

In any event, AWL always orders the same thing... everywhere we go. If we are ordering a salad, he always gets Russian dressing, even though he claims he doesn't really like it. If there is a baked potato on the menu, AWL is eating it, and if we're getting ice cream he's getting vanilla soft serve with "Jimmies" on it. These are what normal, unaffected people call sprinkles....

I get so excited when I see a yummy pretzel cone, so I got my standard mint chocolate chip on a pretzel cone and got started with it while AWL watched his soft serve get sprinkled with "Jimmies."

There are two types of persuasions at ice cream parlors: the roll and the sprinkle. Great ice cream places just dunk that cone in the sprinkles (allergies and all) and swirl the cone all around in it. It's the best. And then there are places like this one where they spoon the sprinkles and gently shake them over your ice cream, being ever so conscious of not mixing peoples delightful rainbows and ice cream. Needless to say, AWL was not satisfied with the sprinkle job, just not enough of those ever exciting "Jimmies."

To be honest, there's always something he would do to make an order better in his eyes. He's like Meg Ryan in that movie "When Harry Met Sally." He's totally the Sally:

So, of course when the girl, identified later by AWL as the "goth girl," handed him his treat he asked if he could have more Jimmies.

She looked at him, almost looking through him like he was a ghost or something, and firmly said "NO." So matter of fact, that the one or two "Jimmies" on AWLs ice cream started to drip off the cone unnoticed by him. He was so caught off guard by her response, he was speechless. And if you know anything about the man, the myth, the legend....AWL you would know the guy doesn't ever have a loss for words.

He walked back to me, with his head slightly twisted in the expression a puppy has listening to a new high pitched noise and related the story to me. "She just said No. I didn't know what to say. She's like the Jimmie Nazi. I didn't know there was Jimmie shortage."

I couldn't help but laugh. "what did you do to her? Why would she say no?"

I wonder if it was such a deep sarcasm that it was like that puppy with his head tilted, too high of a pitch for us to hear. Who says no to "Jimmies?"

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Cool kids (part 2)

After being cooped up for hours the night before, we were eager to take in the sights at Mount Rushmore. You'd think we'd go right to see the main event, but as any rock climber worth his salt would do, we just HAD to check out the rock scene first! Promising ourselves we'd check out the bright lit up facade afterwards, we set out with mountain project lit up on our phones scouring the landscape for AWL's first lead climb. This was a horrible idea.

For the record, when you don't know the area and you don't navigate well and you aren't experienced at teaching someone how to climb in unknown locations, you should not take an AWL out into the wilderness. He is super excited and quite ignorant to the dangers, and you are quite informed about the dangers and unable to dissuade him. Thank God for bail carabiners! AWL chose a committing climb in unknown territory after he followed me around and pestered me about where we were and what climbs were around us while I tried to get my bearings using mountain project on my little iPhone with little reception. To say the least, I was not at my best tolerance for questions. I said, "fine, just pick a climb that you think looks good since you seem to know where all the climbs are here!"

He geared up and I talked him through how to stay safe and not push too hard if he feels he can't make it without being safe. We talked about what decking was and how you had to pay attention to how far you go without clipping in. So basically I scared the crap out of him. He climbed up to the first bolt, clipped got scared of the committing move above that and came down. I went up and clipped the second and third and then couldn't find the next bolt and bailed.

With our tails firmly between our legs we wandered away from the shiny bail carabiner mocking us from above and wandered around some more only to bump into the best people in the Dakotas! Pinky and Steve!  They had taken out a couple girls from church out for their first experiences climbing. Taylor was kicking butt and crushing her climbs and her fears which I totally love. They were gracious enough to show us their climbing guide and I took pictures of a ton of the pages so we could get our bearings. Luckily Pinky and Steve can smell a gumby a mile away and allowed us to join them for some top roping. AMAZING! On top of it all they were very generous with all of the pictures they took to help us commemorate our journey. Climbing here would have been a THOUSAND times more stressful if it hadn't been for our new buds!

After a hot and sweaty day of climbing we took a dip in the lake down the road, a beautiful way to "clean up" while on the road. We took a little maybe 20-25 foot jump off a cliff into absolute refreshment. If you know AWL at all, you'll know there is SO MUCH MORE to that story that I can cover today. And I will definitely tell you the story of that cliff jump, but for now we were desperately hungry and needed to high-tail it to town for grub before the light show at Mount Rushmore.

The area isn't exactly a riving metropolis of endless restaurants and swanky bars, but we did settle in on a place on the main strip that had a wild west theme and a porch outside with endless amounts of authentic looking barkeeps, excessively tall cowboys, wenches and flies. Our obvious first choice for fine dining. (actually that was sarcasm masked as truth that I just realized was actually truth) As soon as we settled in to our cozy chairs and pint glasses who do we see but our lovely shadows Carly and Daniel! They made it! Mount Rushmore! We chatted for a bit excited to see friendly faces and offered to let them have a seat with us which they politely declined wilst handing us their contact info should we ever happen on each other again. And just like a partly cloudy afternoon our shadows were there, and then gone again in the shadows (obviously seeking food!)

But you have no idea how exhilarating it is to be alone with each other on a continent for days, always the strangers, when you bump into someone you know! The simple pleasures never cease on a trip such as this!

And as AWL shake our heads at the chances that our rest stop buddies followed us to a whole new town two days later, someone comes behind us and says a hearty hello!

We just left the only people we "know" in the state of South Dakota" we collectively thought inside our locked gaze. Who could be saying hello to us? Who could we possibly know?!

We looked up to see some major leather clad biker couple staring back at us with smiling eyes. Neither AWL nor I recognized either of these very happy leathered up people at first, but then we looked up a little past the woman and really looked at the man, and there in the face we saw it. Steve! PINKY! You ride?!

And just like that we were at the cool kids table. It felt like everyone was just stopping by because we were in town. We had dinner with Pinky and Steve sharing drinks, and just because they thought they might pop into us they handed us a flash drive with all of our pictures saved on there. Could life be any better?!

We part ways and exchange hugs and information and all the positive vibes in the world. Up we go to see the lights go on at Mount Rushmore:

Amazing in itself as we settle in on the top viewing area. But more amazing still a young couple walks past us and sits almost next to us. Out of hundreds of people there that night, Don't Daniel and Carly shadow us into the last little bit of our trip in South Dakota! It's good to have friends in all kinds of places!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cool kids (part 1)

It's hard to tell the story of how after a month or two of dating AWL I decided it was completely normal to drag him (semi-willingly) across this great nation. It's particularly hard when you've been sitting behind your desk, or your students desks or in the front of a projector screen projecting images of mathematically clean and explainable numbers instead of experiencing the chaos of the real world. Its hard to remember the feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere with no plans.

Its even harder to explain how after experiencing the wow of a lake that felt like an ocean, but not quite a real ocean, there was a shadow hanging around us. More like two shadows. Its hard to explain how in the Middle of Nowhere, USA we felt like we were the most popular kids on the block. We knew everyone!

We left Chicago, IL with full tummies and our sights set on Mount Rushmore! That was the only thing on my check list to go see on this trip, and we were off to see it and anything in between we so desired! Yes! FREEDOM! And also we had to pee! And so our shadows emerged....and bumped into Leon at a truck stop bathroom. The cutest couple that side of the Mississippi!

A very tall very happy looking shadow named Daniel with his other wonderfully cheerful half, Carly then meandered around stretching their legs and as it happens so were we. Without knowing we'd see them again, we helped them collect some memories and snapped a picture of them in front of a welcome sign on their journey back to Colorado.

And just like that we were all gone again. On our separate playing the "throw the combos across the car" game and searching for the corn palace like any mature adult would do. Just before dark we stopped for dinner

 (where we found Big Jake's doppleganger!)

 and some Badlands. Man we need to get back there to get the full effect. The sun was just setting as we got there:

 The dark and lateness drew us quiet and then we approached the goal:

The approach:

And we made our camp at possibly our favorite campsite on the trip! If I could only wake up everyday in a place like this:

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Well didn't I get busy...

I love you blog. Don't listen to all those people. I meant to visit you and nurture you all through the summer. The thing about writing about wanderlust is that often your subject takes you away from your work. I have wandered. I have been happy doing so, and I have not touched a computer in quite a few months. You must have thought I disappeared, just as my mother so often thinks. I am here. I have gone out to Peru and I have gone back to Yosemite (3 summers and going!) and I have come back to work here in the city teaching the future of America (which my dad likes to remind me is a very scary thought. Psssshhhhh).

The saddest thing about this life is that time waits for no one. And time has slipped by me this year already. I have so many people to see and talk to and I am always running behind on those sorts of things. So, if like my blog, I have neglected you or we aren't speaking as often as we should. I'm sorry. I'm trying. And I'm still alive.

For those of you who think my head is in the clouds. It's not. As you can see from the picture it is ABOVE the clouds. (In Peru no less!) Hugs to all.

Friday, January 9, 2015

AWL left me for bears

Whelp: Found a post from November that I completely neglected to post:

As I sit on this Sunday afternoon in my jammies, I have to jump ahead in our grand adventures of the summer to recall the bears of the west. You see, AWL has left me for a week. He is on his own big man adventure. It's opening weekend for bear here in hokey ole PA. Leon has never killed a bear in his entire life, but he goes every year hoping to bag an adorably massive Baloo. I imagine him talking the poor thing to death with overly exaggerated stories about his life. Possibly having the bear choke on his own spit laughing at the now famous Fireworks story or the time we jumped off a small cliff and there was a weird anatomical phenomenon (all of which you shall hear in good time). Luring the poor animal in with his strange South African accent he acquired in Shillington, Pa. After all, East coast bears are nothing like west coast bears.

You see, here on the East coast, we have civilized our bears. (Actually, I believe the West coast mentality is making its way back. Be careful especially on the Appalachian Trail. There have been relatively recent bear related deaths on there. While I joke about it, Black Bears are predators just like grizzlies!)

We take for granted just putting up a tent and camping out. Our wilderness is basically an extended version of our backyard here in Pennsylvania. Once we left the Midwest, the idea of bears in cute Disney movies like the Jungle Book faded into a frightening slasher movie. In fact, all of the cute cuddly mammals of the wilderness started to morph into our minds as dark creatures with glowing red and green eyes in the massive darkness.

Our plan was to camp out as much as possible in order to reduce costs during our trip. And anyway, what is better than being out in the great wide open of the Rocky mountains?!

Our naive little east coast minds began to question that freedom first on a short walk to see if that gritty white patch really was snow....we got out of the car and AWL and I trotted a few hundred yards out into a meadow and proceeded to stomp on snow to make sure it was real. (all the way UP the Rocky mountain pass one imagines mystical driving tunes and endless giggling and awe as we careen through a car commercial for an SUV to the top elevation of almost 12,000 feet. However, our imaginings would be absolutely incorrect. We did careen, though, which means I was white knuckling the "Oh Crap!" handle as I stared wide-eyed down into the abyss that the sheer cliff allowed me to see. All of this, while constantly arguing with AWL that YES I'M SURE! IT'S SNOW! I KNOW IT'S SUMMER...IT'S SNOW!)

We finally reached a spot where we could pull over that included things like dirt instead of just plain old thin air. It was good to stretch our legs after all....and pry my fingers off of the handles in the car.

Frolicking....I'm pretty sure that's what you call it:


LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS....OH MY! (Actually we decided it's a wolf print.)

I didn't get video of either one of us high tailing it back to the car in a rushed..."be cool be cool" Shuffling walk while sweeping the surroundings for ominous silhouettes, then power walking as the idea of being hunted pushed us into an all out sprint to the car, yanking on the handles and slamming the doors while we simultaneously slammed ourselves in the seats. The idea of the wild shifted as we caught our breath.

We were not reassured as we continued our drive and spotted several of the prey animals startling close to the roads looking as wide eyed as we had just been. We were one of them not a few minutes ago. The wild is wilder the "wester" we go!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Where in the US?!

So, we're driving...and driving...AND DRIVING. We alternate between being silent and talking...then sleeping while someone is talking AT YOU. Or being silent while someone wakes up and critiques your driving (my least favorite one). So anyway, there's a lot of driving involved in the across the country thing.

We left Chicago and drove until we were tired. We made it passed the Mississippi (I still have to say the letters when I type it) River. It was dark. I was disappointed, but not for myself. I just felt like AWL should have seen this thing. It was huge! (and at this point we've been talking to only each other for soooo many hours he's in my head saying "Thank you!") I mean I've seen the Mississippi (had to say the letters again) before and I know the scope. There are so many parts of this trip that I wish AWL had seen that were completely blanketed in darkness. But, in all honesty, I was too psyched to get to the Rockies to put too too much thought into the disappointment.

The other problem with being on your own time, is you take it for granted if you're not careful. I mean, we're desperately trying to pack the United States of America into three weeks. But the great ole USofA has so many tiny little intriguing things you want to pull over and see too! We're aiming for South Dakota and Mount Rushmore. We weighed and weighed and discussed and weighed and argued a little bit about the options and interest in stopping at the corn palace in bumble bee tuna nowhere. We wondered if it was made of corn (that'd be cool) or had corn IN IT. Do they sell it? How many different kinds of corn are there? Did you know that corn has been domesticated for so long it's near impossible to find it in the wild?

"Jax, GOOGLE it. Ask that SIRI thing."

Turns out this thing is a random building that showcases bands and entertainment. The judges are still out on whether or not corn is involved. We were baffled by the website on my tiny smart phone. I think the excitement of actually figuring out what on Earth this thing was and the questions that ensued took all of the excitement out of it. We finally decided to pass on the corn palace...but isn't Sioux Falls kind of a cool place?! Can't we stop there too! Truly, it only makes it worse that I have a smart phone. I can search and search so many "101 things to see in the US before you die" blogs and books and articles and apps. It is mind boggling.

But I mean, we have to stop to stretch our legs eventually...aren't you hungry? Why stop at a rest stop when we could GO somewhere!?



Honestly, right off the road, not far from the town, this gorgeous river gurgles, rushes, bubbles, churns, and crashes in a wide and multilayered curtained oasis. I wonder how people initially felt traversing across our great nation and coming upon this. It must have seemed a glory to them, as it was a wonderful reprieve even to us. Us in a car, out traveling for one day, in the air conditioning. A wagon? A horse? PAHAHAHAHAHA. Crazy.

 Of course AWL and I can hardly go places without trying to climb something. Thus we are off to get a CLOSER look. We're always trying to get CLOSER looks. These are the types of personality traits that absolutely make my mother cringe. It's all about the perspective. It always has to be a different one from normal and if it isn't normal it is NOT okay with Momma (I think she's starting to come around though...). So we climb down into the nooks and crannies of the falls, trying to manage the perhaps slightly slick rock just this side of a little whirlpool of questionably yellowish water.

OH MY GOD....It's like 100 billion degrees outside. We're still too close to the East coast. HUMIDITY STOP IT! BACK TO THE AIR CONDITIONING!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


We arrived at the ungodliest hour ever with the effects of bottles of wine having worn off and sleepy eyes setting in. I drove and I was ready to not be driving for the night. But the thing is, when you arrive at a national or state park, you're still not there. You have to find where they hide the campsites. And at Indiana Dunes State Park, they hid them, and they hid them well for 2-3am. But the ease of use made it all worth it. Checking in was as good as using a vending machine. swipe your card, pick a spot, print out your parking pass, BEDTIME! YAY!

Except, AWL and I have yet to pitch a tent together. It turns out when I'm tired I'm not ready for a BAZILLION questions. I'm what one might call....cranky (the PG version). This boy is like a three year old playing the "why?" game. He's akin to the biggest fan of 21 questions in the universe. I found out on this trip that this is what is commonly known as talking to yourself to someone else. Not all the questions were meant for me to answer, but HOW DO I KNOW THAT?!


And then, I have to give it to him, I looked at him with steam emerging from my ears and laser beam eyes directed at his skull and fire breath at the ready. But even through my arsenal, I could tell he was surprised by my responses and he was handling it SO MUCH BETTER. I mean, now, super far away from the situation, I'm so happy he handled me with such patience because God knows, I don't have any for him. But at the time that part of my brain melted and I couldn't figure out thoughts, words, sentences, concepts, life. He is the better man when it comes to frustration. Which is good, because he knows all the buttons to get me to go from cool as a cucumber to fire breathing dragon. AND HE LIKES TO DO IT. I know he does....I KNOW IT.

Good news: The tent went up. We left the rain cover off and fell asleep to the stars twinkling through the tree branches.

And after a wonderful sleep snuggling up to my honey under the stars we woke up to the most beautiful day. THE MOST BEAUTIFUL DAY!

And the thing about Indiana Dunes State Park is that it a buttes Lake Michigan.

As you can tell by our long sleeved shirts (actually they were both AWLs and I STOLE IT!) It was breezy and slightly chilly. But honeybadger don't care. I really REALLY REALLY ALWAYS want to touch the water. It could be January in the middle of a blizzard and I will walk right down to water body of water it is and I WILL TOUCH IT! And it's a good thing I did because it was bath water. It was the most glorious strange and confusing experience in water I have ever had.

SUIT UP! Let's go swimming!
(AWLs favorite colors are KAWASAKI green and black in case you didn't notice)

(This is the only picture I was told I had to take so he could send it to his BFF, everything else was ninja camera skills)

Is it the ocean?

There are waves....
Nope, it's not salty.

But you can only see water as far across as you can squint!
Wait Wait...just to the left of us...if you SUPER squint there's Chicago

But there are riptide warnings....
Uhhhhhh what riptide? Are these kids serious?

Uhhhhhh, I guess there are, here comes the park ranger...

Well, as AWLs niece likes to retell over and over and OVER. We got in a little bit of trouble. We received several phone calls inquiring why we were yelled at after a certain postcard made it's way to a little girl's hand mentioning a CERTAIN park ranger.

He was actually a really cool guy. We asked him lots of questions and he answered all of them. BUT FIRST he frantically waved us in (I didn't even notice because we were trying to do cartwheels into the waves and I was in the middle of half drowning). And told us the rule was you couldn't go past your waist in this lake because of the statistics of drownings.

We went on our way and sunned ourselves on shore, both wondering how the heck that many people die in the most amazing lake ever. I don't know if these midwestern people are unaware of how to swim, but they've clearly never been to the Jersey shore...or any east coast shore for that matter. I imagine all of Indiana's population getting swept out to sea just by putting their toes in the water.

So we relaxed into the realization that we were REALLY on vacation...ON OUR OWN!  No family outings or politeness. Just us. Just the sun and the fake waves splashing the shore. It was less of a shock for me. I mean, I'd actually been on summer vacation for a month, but AWL hasn't taken more than an extended weekend in five years. I can NOT EVEN IMAGINE! That sounds like slavery to me. His one goal? By the end of the vacation he wanted to be able to say the phrase he hates hearing from me on a regular basis..."Wait...what day is it again?"

 And then we got hungry...because between the two of us, there is no cure for our constant pangs of hunger. Leftover combos it is. But we weren't the only ones that were hungry!


AWL vs. the....LAKE....GULL?  We laid there for a good half hour saying the phrase Lake Gull alternatively super fast lakeGULL and super slow. Because this is what happens when you have no particular plans and a combos creeper eyeing up your munchies. We ended up giggling way too out of control for such a stupid (can we call it...) conversation. That little punk bird ended up being called Lego the Laygle. That's how we roll. He deserved every little bit of ridicule and heckling and threats of physical violence. You should have seen the anger in his little bird eyeballs. HA!

And very VERY slowly the combos wore off and the hunger came back as the laziness ebbed just enough for us to decide to venture off for more food.  If it hadn't been for that we may have spent our entire vacation just laying there. But eventually we meandered back to the car and decided to hook around the lake to Chicago. We hear they have amazing pizza here. Might as well check it out:

In a matter of a half an hour, or 45 minutes we relatively instantly made our way into Illinois to beautiful Chicago. The shore line wrapped around the lake and beautiful sailboats and gardens started to replace the dunes and I felt as though I was going to Annapolis. Back to my high school days of tea on the docks at Hard Bean Cafe'.

And then we made it to the Navy Pier and Annapolis shrunk to a distant memory as Chicago made room in my memories.

I really REALLY wanted to go on the Ferris Wheel because I was never on one before, but I was told by my fearless leader that this one wasn't a good one. That we'd go on some other cooler one sometime. :-( Apparently the cool ones are all open air with no walls. But THIS one had a huge super cool lake right next to it, and we were starting our vacation, and I mean...the line wasn't THAT long, BUT I WANT AN OOOMPA LOOMPA NOW DADDY!

No and beer...FOCUS:

We did only choose a place at the pier that was probably generic and not an authentic place to get Chicago pizza. It probably really is our fault. But honestly, it was just FAIR. The beer selection was good though. It turns out a few other times west of Chicago (some places WAY more west than others) we tried "Chicago style" pizza and it was WAY better than pizza from Chicago. Go figure.

Chicago we loved you. I loved that you could drink outside with the non-ocean zephyrs swirling around us. It was a good day. But alas, we must go like cowboys to our next rodeo.