If a Tree Falls in the Forest……

….and no one is around to hear Desperate Hubby scream as he sprints out of its path, can you still get an upgraded cabin from the rental agency?

The answer, my friends, is happily yes.

A Bucolic Beginning

Our short “Last Days of Summer” vacation started out benignly enough.  We loaded up the truck with fishing poles, swim suits, food provisions and band gear and made the hour-long drive to the nearby mountain hamlet of Crouch on a Thursday afternoon.  DH had been invited by a Boise band to fill-in for their guitar player during a Saturday afternoon gig, and we decided to take the opportunity for a family getaway before school started the following Monday.

In anticipation of days spent fishing for his beloved rainbow trout, Batman had spent hours with DH learning to tie fishing flies, a task he had taken to with aplomb.  The products of his labor were carefully packed into their own tackle box, and Batman checked and double-checked that they were loaded before our mid-afternoon departure.

Batman Ties

Pretty impressive for a five-year old, no?

Batman's Flies

A Storm Brews…..

We arrived at the little cabin we had rented around 5 p.m.  There was a mountain thunderstorm beginning, and Annabelle grew anxious and jumpy as she sat with her dad and brother on the back deck watching the tall lodge pole pines sway in the wind.  She came running in the house where I was unpacking our food in the tiny kitchen area after the first few raindrops fell.  She wailed that she was afraid there would be lightning, and WHAT IF ONE OF THOSE BIG TREES FELL OVER?!

I assured her that those trees had been there forever, and they were not going to fall during a storm as mild as the one starting outside.  At that precise moment the power went out.  And stayed out.  I wandered out back to see what DH thought.  I knew the kids were getting hungry, and we had planned to grill burgers on the little barbecue on the front deck that evening.  With no electricity and no lights, maybe it would be better to head into town to try to find a restaurant with a generator.

DH agreed, but just as we walked down the steps to get in the truck, he stopped and said “I’d better move this band gear back away from the porch in case it starts to rain harder.”  I shrugged and went ahead to the pickup with the kids.  We got in and buckled up.  I picked up my phone to see if we had cell service, and as I looked down I caught a blur out of the corner of my eye.  It as DH, and he was bolting across the front deck of the house, moving with a speed unprecedented since I had known him.

I was puzzled for a second or two, as I saw my husband of thirteen years fly off the end of the deck and stand next to a small shed on the far edge of the property.  My puzzlement didn’t last long though.  I heard a huge pop that sounded very similar to gunfire, then a cracking noise and a crash, all in very short sequence.  The kids screamed, and I turned my head to see one of the huge trees from the front yard laying directly behind the pickup truck where we sat strapped in for safety.  The tree had exploded into many smaller pieces, and the green branches quivered from the wind and their impact with the hard ground.

I jumped from the truck to find my beloved husband practically shaking with adrenaline and shock.  He kept saying “I was just standing there…….”

“How did you know to move?” I asked him.  He looked ashen.  “I don’t know….I just looked at the tree and thought if that thing fell right now I would be so dead.  Then I ran.”


I grabbed my camera and started to record the damage.


It was impressive from any angle.

He Was Right There!

Batman got out of the truck and carefully surveyed the area.  Annabelle, on the other hand, was completely hysterical, screaming and carrying on, refusing to leave the relative safety of the cab.

Pieces of Cabin

The inside of the little cabin showed the extent of the structural damage.  Though the porch beams mostly supported the tree, which had broken into thirds in the fall, the weight of the branches had punctured the roofline and gone through the ceiling in the front corner.  There was shattered glass everywhere from light fixtures that had fallen from the impact.

We knew we couldn’t stay at the cabin, so we raced around quickly trying to get everything reloaded before it got dark, or (our bigger fear) the front of the cabin collapsed under the weight of the tree.

Besides getting all of our gear rounded up, we had a maneuvering challenge.  The tree had narrowly missed our truck, and the huge broken trunk now lay behind us, blocking the driveway and our way back to the road.

How we gonna get out

We also had to avoid the electrical line that the tree had brought almost to the ground, but which still remained attached to the power pole and stretched to its limit.  Luckily the power was still out or we could have had an even bigger problem on our hands.

Power Line

Now Where?

We eventually got everything re-loaded to go.  DH drove forward and back, turning in a tight little radius that finally took us out through a narrow gap in the trees to the road, and headed into town.  As we wound our way through the drizzle toward the bottom of the hill we were completely astounded to come around a corner and find a young bull elk standing right in the middle of the road, his velvety horns shaking from side to side as he contemplated something unseen in the bushes.  He stood there for several seconds, then slowly walked away.  We were awed.

With no cell phone service available to contact the cabin management, we stopped at the clubhouse of the little golf course at the bottom of the hill.  DH tried to call the rental agents to no avail, so we wearily continued on to the town to try to find accommodations for our family.  Annabelle had calmed somewhat, but she still sobbed intermittently, and kept saying “We need to find a place that has NO TREES AROUND IT!”  That was a tall order in this mountainous little town.

We drove to the management company (closed); to the tiny Crouch hotel (sold out) and by the other cabin rental agency we knew in town.  All were deserted and dark.  The power was still out.

Annabelle lobbied hard to just go home.  She was strongly opposed by Batman, who was intent on fishing with the flies he had tied for just this occasion, and by DH, who was going to have to be in the little mountain town two days later for his gig anyway.   We finally drove to the nearby town of Garden Valley, and approached the one little hotel it had.

Found a Place

My overwrought daughter was thrilled by the notable absence of trees around the building.  Batman was hungry and really wanted to get out of the truck.  I went into the office and was greeted by the clerk/cleaning person who told me they had one room left.  It was a their “suite,” offering two bedrooms and an in-room kitchenette (perfect!) but with one caveat:  they too had no power.

I said no problem.  Because of the power outage, the hotel office had no ability to run credit cards.  Hmmm.  Lucky for me, I had enough cash in my wallet to cover the cost of one night. We were in!

By this point the power had been out for well over an hour.  We were all past our dinnertime and ready for eat.  We unloaded our gear and hauled it upstairs to our new accommodations, where to my surprise (I don’t know why I was surprised, exactly) and delight, I discovered the room was spacious and clean, with a well-equipped little kitchen area that would have served us well had there been electricity to run any of the appliances.

As we walked down to get the last of our bags from the car, we passed a couple of young construction-workerish men carrying plates of food toward a large barbecue grill on the spacious wrap-around porch.  The men were friendly and offered to share the grill with our hungry group. I brought up our burgers from the cooler (beef for three of us; “pig meat” for picky Batman) and DH cooked us dinner.

Cooking Some Dinner

We ate sitting on the porch, overlooking the scenic valley.  DH was still shaken by his close call, but he recovered enough to enjoy the evening.  The power never did come back on before bedtime, and we heard later that a tree had fallen (!!) across a power line way down along the highway we had driven in on, taking out power for a fifty-mile or so range for over four hours.  Batman and I went to bed early, snuggled in the double-bed in the extra room reading by the soft glow of our flashlight.

Paradise Awaits

The next morning we awoke to find the power back on.  A call from the cabin management agency sent us on our way to a replacement cabin.  We stopped for breakfast at the same clubhouse we had visited the previous evening and then headed back up the mountainside to our new accommodations.

It was nirvana.

Our replacement cabin was at least triple the size of the original.  It had beautifully furnished double decks completely surrounding the glassed front of the home, which looked out over the second hole of the golf course.  There were lounge chairs for reading and laying about, as well as multiple outdoor dining sets to choose from. Around the corner there was a covered porch with yet another dining area and a barbecue grill.

Our New View

Inside, there was a full basement complete with bar, large TV, bed and bath, fireplace and well-equipped game table.  The main floor was equally well-appointed, with another bed and bath, beautifully designed and fully equipped kitchen, boasting enough room, cooking appurtenances and dishes for a small army, completed by a lovely sitting area and another fireplace.  Upstairs there was a loft area with a bed and a fold-out futon along with another full bath.  We had hit the jackpot.

Batman and Annabelle were beside themselves.  Batman’s idea of true luxury is stairs, and to have a whole three days with double sets of stairs to climb set him into a frenzy of delight.  Annabelle immediately chose the futon-bed as her own, and dived into the accompanying armoire to outfit her choice with sheets, pillows and blankets.  She was so happy that she only asked a couple of questions about the tall trees surrounding the cabin, then apparently decided to leave well-enough alone and didn’t mention it again.

Once we were settled and unpacked, DH loaded the kids up for their long-awaited fishing trip and I settled myself into a lounge chair on the deck with a book. After a few minutes of reading I realized that I was really, really tired, so I headed inside, chose the main floor bedroom and crawled under the covers for a two-hour nap.  It was heavenly.

Batman’s Mussels

Not long after I woke up, the crew returned home from their fishing trip.  There were no fish, Batman explained sadly, not even a bite.  BUT, they did manage to catch a whole bunch of clams.  Clams?  From the river?  Interesting.

The said clams were happily delivered to the kitchen, with Batman demanding they be immediately prepared for his snack.  Desperate Hubby rinsed the (as it turned out) mussels in the sink and set them up to steam in a double-broiler.  Each mussel opened beautifully, and they looked just like the ones I can remember oft ordering in San Francisco’s famous North Beach area.

They Look Normal

Batman was so excited about his catch that he declined to even discuss sharing any of the delicacy.  He sat at the table in anticipation, took a mussel out of the shell and popped it into his mouth.

He's Not Scared

He started chewing.  And chewing.  “These are really good!”  he proffered.  And he kept chewing.  I asked Desperate Hubby if he had tasted the mussels himself before serving his five-year old son.  DH looked sort of offended.  “No, I don’t know what they are supposed to taste like anyway.”

Well, this just didn’t seem right.  Batman still chewed, but with considerably less enthusiasm than he had previously exhibited.  I took the fork from his un-protesting hand and grabbed one of the rubbery little mollusks from the bowl, popping it right into my mouth.

Then I gagged.

It was horrible.  I mean really, really, really, horrible.  I ran to the garbage can and spit the offending gristle out, grabbing a bottle of water as I did to rinse the taste of river water and what tasted like old socks out of my mouth.

Batman watched me carefully.  I knew that he could not be enjoying the piece of mussel he was still chewing any more than I had.  Annabelle sat with her fork poised, hoping for a taste of what surely must be a delicious snack, watching my reaction and then her brother’s.

Fresh Water Mussels

With obvious difficulty, Batman swallowed his bite.  He sat his fork down carefully.  Being the resolute boy he is, he was not willing to admit that his prized shellfish was not edible.

Instead he just said “I guess I’m not that hungry after all.  You can have the rest if you want them, mom.”

I removed the meat from the shells, and the kids threw it over the edge of the deck, hoping to attract a bear (their plan, not mine).  Batman carefully packed the empty shells in a Ziploc bag to bring home.  I wouldn’t let him leave them in the house, so he put them outside the back door on the stairs that led to the garage.  Thank god he forgot them when we left.

The rest of the day was spent swimming in the club pool.  I had forgotten to bring my swimsuit, so I was planning on sitting out the event from the comfort of a lounge chair with my book.  DH had planned to swim, but was almost immediately called away for  work conference call that forced him to drive up the mountainside in order to have reliable cell service.

The children were so disappointed that they had to swim alone I finally gave in and “rented” (for $1) a swimsuit from the pool attendant.  The rental suits were all jumbled in a big plastic tote (where they no doubt had been placed after being abandoned by their former owners in the locker room), and Annabelle carefully considered each one before settling on a matronly blue and white one-piece for me.

I will say this for the suit – it definitely offered full coverage.  I tugged it on, leaving my clothes folded on the bench in the empty locker area.  When I walked out to the pool Annabelle appraised me carefully, then said “MOM!  That suit looks really, really pretty on you!”  Gotta love kids.

Band, Bees and a New Batman Cape

Saturday’s activities centered around the band gig.  We got up and had breakfast and the kids and I drove Desperate Hubby to the event location; a large campground just outside the little town of Crouch.  DH had been asked to fill in for the guitar player of a band that played a very similar genre of music as his long-time group, but he had had to learn a daunting amount of new music in the preceding three weeks to prepare for the gig.  Though he has played music in a band for over twenty years and is an excellent musician, he had never played with a band outside of his original core group of buddies.

DH had approached preparation for the event with the dedication that he devotes to anything he is interested in.  I had seen the same level of commitment from him while studying for his private pilot’s license or watching golf training videos.  He was proud that he had learned almost forty new songs in the past weeks, but I could tell he was nervous about playing with new people.  The event turned out to be a motorcycle rally called the Mountain Rendezvous.  The participants were just starting to either arrive or emerge from their tents while the band set up at 11 a.m..  The kids thought the set-up was pretty boring, so we headed downtown to find some lunch.

After lunch we wandered to a little store across the street to try to find an ATM.  The store, called The Crouch Mercantile, had formerly been the town’s main grocery outlet.  When it relocated to a new building a block or so up the street the building had been converted to a venue for locals to sell their goods, and a few dozen stalls had been set up selling a wide variety of handmade or unique items.

By the time we left the store we had supported the local economy in a generous fashion.  I had found a (correctly sized, fairly stylish) swimsuit on sale for half-price, Annabelle had chosen for herself a couple of strings of beaded bells that were made to be woven into a horse’s mane, as well as a small jar of local huckleberry jam.

As for Batman……well, just look below.

Batman Martial Arts

Zach had gravitated to a small booth in the corner that sold handmade cape sets.  They had a variety available, including Superman, Wonder Woman (too small for me, sadly) and Disney Princess models, to name a few.  And of course, Batman.

Our shopping completed, we returned to the musical venue and got out of the truck, carrying our camp chairs along with us.  We sat the chairs up right in front of the band.  The small crowd that was there was congregated in front of the portable bar which was set up a dozen yards away or lingered in their own chairs in front of a wide variety of tents.  No sooner than we had unfolded our chairs and gotten comfortable than we were approached by the band’s roadie (?).  Actually I’m not sure who she was, but she wore a t-shirt with STAFF emblazoned across the back in large yellow letters.  She apologetically informed us that children were not supposed to be at the rally at all, but they would make a brief exception for the band members’ kids.  Could we, however, move over under the trees to a less visible position?

The kids and I picked up our chairs and obliged, moving to an area near a picnic table and some large bushy tree things.  No sooner had we re-opened our chairs and settled in than Batman started screaming bloody murder.  He had been stung by a bee.  Poor Batman is one of those kids who seems targeted by bees and wasps.  Fortunately, though he seems to be a victim on a regular basis, he suffers no ill-effects from the poison other than an occasional brief period of laryngitis from all the screaming.  Nonetheless, his loud inconsolable shrieks brought quite a bit of attention to our small entourage, as well as considerably dampening the enthusiasm of our little team.

We managed to stay and watched a set of music, noting proudly that DH was doing a remarkable job on his guitar leads as well as vocals.  He really did sound good.

And looked good.

DH Sings

It was hot though, the kids were getting tired, and I was getting weary of wielding the can of Deep Woods Off that Annabelle insisted I spray on her legs every thirty seconds or so as an imagined protection from the bees, so I loaded the kids up and we headed back to the cabin for a while.

When we picked Desperate Hubby up after his three-hour gig was over, he was more than ready to be done.  We drove back to the cabin and changed into our swim attire.  I put on my new suit though I really didn’t plan to get in the water, and down the hill to the pool we went.

It was a nice way to end the day.

Jumping in Pool

When the kids had jumped off the side of the pool approximately seventy-three times and retrieved a set of colored plastic rings from the bottom an equal number, we headed back to the cabin for a low-key dinner, cooking the last of our beef and pig burgers along with the corn on the cob and baked beans we had left in the pantry.  The next morning we got up and headed back down the hill toward home.

Despite its dramatic beginning our short trip had been perfect; restful and relaxing and providing true family quality time before we all embarked on a new school year.

I’ve decided that this trip is to be a family tradition that will stick around for years to come.

Maybe without the falling timber next time.

Categories: Life in the Country, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Anatomy of the Forced Family Vacation: McCall 2013

We got the notice early.  It was around February of this year that we were advised Desperate Hubby’s mom, Becki, was planning a family vacation.  Not just any family vacation either.

A family vacation starring The Entire Family.

In One Big Cabin.  All Together.  For Over A Week.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love my husband’s family.  I truly do.  But our experience together over the past thirteen and a half years has been in small, manageable bits.  We love to spend holidays with them when we can; DH’s mom is a wonderful cook and a gracious hostess, and his step-dad Elliott is one of the kindest, funniest and smartest men I’ve ever met.  I’ve always gotten along fine with his siblings, Shelley and her husband John, Mike, and on the not-oft occasions we get to see him, step-brother Scott.

Also joining us, I soon came to find out, was a friend from Arizona, a very nice man whom my in-laws call Duckett (his last name, actually) that had served in the military with father-in-law Elliott some many years ago.  Duckett had become acquainted with our branch of the family through my blog.  He is a wonderful painter and has honored our household with four original pieces of his work, including a stunning Batman picture that our family Batman just adores.  In fact, my Batman, entirely of his own accord calls Duckett “The Artist.”  We had never before met The Artist in person, and we were all looking forward to it.

The kids were over the moon about the impending vacation. Zachary spoke of it weekly, if not daily.  He referred to the planned family holiday as “Our Field Trip with Grandma Becki,” and he could not have been more excited about it.

DH and I were looking forward to it as well, with the normal amount of trepidation that one would expect from adults who would rather not share a hotel room with another person (we make an exception for each other), let alone spend several days In One House with people who, as sister Shelley described it, have not all been under one roof overnight together for over 35 years.

Hence Shelley’s name for the trip:  The Forced Family Vacation.

Forced Family Togetherness Looms Large……

The planned vacation landed at a good time for us.  Annabelle and I would be on a brief respite from horse shows, and after weeks of pretty much non-stop equine events I knew I’d be ready for a break.  DH’s office assistant was going on vacation the following week, so he would be covered at work while he was gone, giving him as much peace-of-mind as could be expected from someone leaving their small business for several days.

As the date of the vacation inched nearer, normal life events started to take their toll on the vacation roster.  Although the cabin was rented starting on a Friday, Annabelle had a horse show that Saturday, so we wouldn’t be free to drive up until Sunday.  Because of DH’s assistant’s vacation, we would have to return by Thursday at the latest because she was going to be gone from Friday on.

In keeping with his general policy of setting reasonable expectations, DH told his mom we’d promise to stay through Tuesday, maybe Wednesday at the latest.  Although the cabin was rented through the following Monday, sister Shelley’s family had to leave about same time as us for a prior engagement.  Brother Mike would stay as long as we did, but had to get home to his yard and dogs.  You get the picture.

The weekend we were slated to leave was hectic. Annabelle and I were up at five a.m. Saturday to travel to Ontario, Oregon for her Gem State Stock Horse show.  Fresh off the heels of four full days of horse showing in 100-plus degree temperatures the previous weekend, I was already exhausted.  Put on top of the general busyness of daily life, planning pet care, horse management and getting the family packed for our trip seemed like a Herculean task to me.  The one thing I knew I could not forget was my wine stash, packed after a rushed trip to Costco after the horse show.  Nothing eases the stress of forced cohabitation like a little tipple, I thought.

Day One:  We Start With a Really Long Three Hour Drive

We headed toward the mountains early-ish Sunday morning.  DH was somewhat ill-tempered from the get-go because it took me so long to get everyone packed up and ready to walk out the door.  We were meeting his brother Mike in Eagle to caravan up together, and the seemingly small task of coordinating meeting place and time put him in a tailspin.  I was snappish with the kids and had to force myself to speak pleasantly to my beloved husband by the time we finally left the house.  Or maybe I didn’t force myself.  I can’t remember.

As I had mentioned before, the kids were excited.  Batman is considerable less well-traveled than his sister, and kept up a constant drone of “When will we be there?  When will be there?  When will we be there?” for pretty much the entire drive.  My already precarious sense of humor was in mortal danger by the time we pulled into the McCall city limits and turned down the road toward our destination.

We pulled up to the cabin, which was in a newish, partially-developed subdivision and didn’t look as big as I had expected.  We unloaded the kids, who bounded happily up the pine-needle strewn front yard to the door.  DH and I trudged along behind, carrying a few bags and trying to instantly decompress after three hours of captivity in the truck with our five-year old chatterbox.

One of the first people I met once inside was, at long last, The Artist.  He was just as I’d expected, giving me a big hug and acting like we’d known each other for years.  We greeted all of the other characters as well, including sister-in-law Shelley’s kids; Lucas, a College of Idaho student, and Grayson, soon to be a junior in high school, an avid golfer and the recognized family clown.

The cabin was well laid-out for a big gathering.  There was a large family room open to a kitchen and dining area downstairs, along with a laundry room, powder room and the master suite occupied by in-laws Becki and Elliott and their tiny Bichon dog, Sugar.  The back porch was carved into the surrounding hillside, and featured a large fire-pit and barbecue, with several patio chairs scattered around for seating.

Upstairs there was a loft area overlooking the family room, then a hallway that led to another master suite (already claimed by sister-in-law Shelley and her hubby John – dammit) and smaller bedroom with a queen sized bed that The Artist was vacating on our behalf so that we would have our own space (thanks again Artist.  Really).  Past a hallway bath there was a large game/bunk room that featured a pool table, bar (not stocked – dammit), and a separate seating area with a big TV.

This looked like it might be OK after all.  I went about situating our goods in the bedroom, changing the sheets and re-making the bed with the plush down comforter and matching pillows (who said all I took away from my two summers in Jackson Hole being a maid during college was a fake ID that worked at the ‘Million Dollar Cowboy Bar’?).  When our things were settled in I walked downstairs to hear myself being paged…..DH had made me a Bloody Mary!  Now things were definitely looking up.

It wasn’t long before DH and the rest of the boys headed upstairs to get started on the first of many pool tournaments.  The Artist suggested that the kids and I accompany him on a walk around the neighborhood to pick some wildflowers for the dining room table.

Batman, Annabelle and I thought that sounded like a grand idea, so the four of us set out, The Artist packing a plastic bag to carry our finds.

McCall Flower Huntin

We found many lovely flowers, most of which The Artist clipped neatly with the scissors he had had the foresight to bring along……

McCall The Artist Cuts Flowers

and many of which Batman forcefully and inelegantly pulled out of the ground and stuffed in the bag, roots and all.


When we deemed that we had enough flowers for our arrangement, we headed back to the house under the hot afternoon sun, Batman carelessly swinging the bag along beside him almost as an afterthought.


That evening we had a delicious taco dinner prepared by Aunt Shelley and Grandma Becki.  After dinner was over, a few of us headed out to the back porch for what the children viewed as the most exciting culinary event of their lives:  S’mores preparation over the fire pit.

Of course, first we needed a fire.

Enter brother-in-law John (who might more aptly be named “The Firebug.”)  The Firebug is really just an overgrown kid, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, whose genius-level IQ is sometimes camouflaged by the highly entertaining stories he tells of the many ‘situations’ he has been in and out of over his years.

He also makes a mean fire.

MC John Firebug

Which greatly impressed my children.  And encouraged them to follow suit.  It wasn’t long before they were on a mission to find the biggest pieces of wood they could carry and drag them to, and place them in, the fire.

Batman in particular was very interested in succeeding at this endeavor.  He thought the fire was “so cool!”


The rest of us sat around, having an after-dinner glass of wine (oh wait, I guess that was just me) and observing the festivities.  Grandma Becki and Sugar expressed occasional concern over the breadth of the fire as well as the fire-making protocol.

McCall Fire Watch

The Firebug and Batman kept right at it though.  They loved that fire.

After the kids had eaten about a half-dozen s’mores and were completely covered in marshmallow and chocolate, I herded them upstairs to go to bed.

Since the game/bunk room was occupied by the bachelors, being Brothers Mike and Scott and Nephews Grayson and Lucas, Batman and Annabelle were slated to sleep on the floor of our room on piles of blankets that Grandma Becki had gleaned from all the closets throughout the house.

The kids were pretty tired, but Batman was so excited about his day he couldn’t stop talking.  “Mom, this is the best vacation ever!” he told me.  The next statement he made showed me the real value of contiguous time spent with family members too rarely seen.

“These people are sooooo nice, Mom!” my son said enthusiastically.  “How do we know them again?”  Ah, I cringed.  Bad mom, bad mom.  Obviously the occasional tidbit of time spent with DH’s family was not adequate.

Me: “Remember son, Shelley is your daddy’s sister?  She’s your aunt?”

Batman: “Oh that’s right.  I knew that.  She is really, really nice!  Now, how about that guy John?”

Me:  “That guy John is Aunt Shelley’s husband.  He’s your uncle.”

Batman:  “Oh, that’s right momma.  I am SO glad I got to spend time with him up here! He is so cool.”

Eventually I got the kids to calm down enough to consider drifting off.  Just before he fell asleep though, Batman had another piece of information.  “I am going to sleep so good here mom.  I LOVE this place.  I am gonna sleep like a rock in this bed!” (he meant floor, of course, but you get the drift)..

Day Two:  Bare Handed Fishing and Bear Watching

After a restful night’s sleep, the kids and I arose and slowly got around.  I got up and showered, dressed in comfy clothes and made the bed, carefully arranging the pillows on top just like it would have looked in a catalog picture.  After the wee ones got dressed I picked up the room and put all the clothes in the closet neatly.  I folded the puffy yellow blankets they had slept on and arranged them on the closet shelves where they would be easy to access that evening.

We all headed downstairs, where DH was already started on cooking a big family style breakfast of bacon, eggs and hash browns.  I do love a man not afraid to cook for his family.  All fourteen of them.


The group was all atwitter (and all agrumble) after the first night of full-house slumber.  Uncle Mike’s snoring is a thing of legend, which many of us knew personally after a few years of camping with him (let’s just say he always had plenty of open space around his tent, if you know what I mean).  Apparently the bunk bed room had been pretty much cleared out by the impressive crescendo of Mike’s snores.

As the previous evening had progressed, Scott vacated the room completely, getting up and moving  to the loft area, where he grabbed a nice soft chunk of floor to try to get some sleep.  Lucas and Grayson tossed and turned all night long, both of them saying in the end they basically got no sleep at all.  Mike even kept The Artist awake, his log-sawing echoing down the long hallway, through the loft and down to the couch where poor Duckett slept, after giving up his comfy room for our family (did I say thank you, Artist?)

After about an hour of discussion, it was determined that Aunt Shelley and The Firebug would move into the bunk bed room henceforth, giving Uncle Mike (The Snorer) his own room with a door to shut.  Being a practical (and somewhat opportunistic) person, I briefly floated the idea of having US move into the large second master, giving the kids more room to sleep without being stepped on and providing us with our own in-suite bathroom.  Uncle Mike could take our smaller room instead.

Grandma Becki summarily shut down my suggestion, saying (correctly) that it was just too much moving around.  I didn’t push the issue.

With a little time to kill before the mass exodus of male golfers left to catch an 11 a.m. tee time, DH and Scott, who also is a rock band musician, put on a little impromptu jam session in the family room.

MC Musicians

Half of menfolk were heading out on the golfing expedition, led by Cousin Grayson, who was certainly the most well-dressed golfer in the group.

Look how professional he looks!

McCall Pro Golfer

That left Uncle Mike, The Artist, Scott and Batman home to hold down the fort with us women.  At the very last second, though, just as the two golf-cars were loaded,  Batman couldn’t stand it and raced out the front door yelling “Stop, stop!”  DH was delighted that Batman had decided to join him, and they loaded up his little orange golf bag and went on their way.

Aunt Shelley and Scott headed out to do some hiking, so that left me, The Artist, Grandma Becki, Annabelle and Uncle Mike to amuse ourselves.

The Artist continued his quest of taking non-stop pictures of all of us, which earned him another nickname (sometimes you just can’t encompass a person with just one description), and that was “Picture Freddy.”  Picture Freddy was ever-present, and I am waiting for blackmail photos to arrive via cyber space at any time.

McCall Picture Freddy

Annabelle and Grandma Becki spent some time playing on Grandma Becki’s iPad, which Annabelle found just fascinating.  I don’t know if she showed Grandma Becki how to use ‘Dreamhorse’ or not, but I’m positive the thought occurred to her.

McCall iPad Fascination

After my first morning in the cool mountain air, when I realized that I had totally forgotten to bring a jacket of any kind, I was itching to go for a little shopping trip and find myself a sweatshirt.  Grandma Becki was game, so was Annabelle, and Uncle Mike agreed to tag along.  Picture Freddy said he’d rather stay home and take a nap.  Did I mention before that he gave up his comfy room for the couch so that our family would have a quiet place to sleep?  It bears mentioning again.  What a trooper.

The four shoppers loaded up into Grandma Becki’s car and headed into town, where we girls dragged poor Mike up and down the main street and in and out of every store that looked remotely interesting.  Part of Uncle Mike’s job in real life is to deliver Idaho-themed souvenirs to shops in the McCall area, so at least he did have some fun checking out the placement and sales of his wares in the shops.  After the purchase of several t-shirts and a sweatshirt, a sign for DH that said “Daddy Drinks Because You Cry,” and a little backpack carrying a bear that Annabelle picked out for Batman, we finished out the trip with a cup of ice cream and went on our way.

Not before, though, I saw a really cute sign in one shop that I wish now I had purchased.  I did take a picture of it though:

My Motto

We got home just shortly before the golfers, who reported much adventure on the course.  Batman apparently had done very well, though it was generally concluded that Grayson was by far the best golfer.

The main point of our trip for Batman was to go fishing. We had no sooner gotten settled back in the cabin than he demanded we go in search of the best angling location.  DH loaded me, Annabelle, Batman and Uncle Mike into the pickup, and we headed off to the North Shore of the lake to do some fishing.

The men seemed to know right where they were going, and after a few miles down a dusty forest trail we arrived at a State Park area, where we parked and headed down the longish-trail to the water.

The group looked so cute traipsing over the bridges toward the lake.

McCall Bridge to Beach

We found a sandy beach with one prime area open.  The men set up the fishing poles and the kids set about playing in the water.  Batman had worn his fishing vest, over which he strapped his brand new Bear Backpack.   He carried his “walking stick” which he had selected after much searching along the trail as we hiked in toward the lake.  It was really quite the outfit.

McCall Batman and his Bear

He is the cutest thing, I must say.

McCall Walking Stick

After a short while, the kids got tired of waiting for a fish to bite, and started clamoring to swim. The water in the beautiful mountain lake was quite cold, but they got used to that pretty quickly.

Batman took his walking stick out into the lake, to help him walk, I guess.  Beary the Bear held tightly to the little velcro backpack, hoping to avoid being submerged in the chilly water.

McCall Testing Water

At first the big boys just sat on the log and enjoyed watching the kids play in the water.

MC Brothers Two

But of course they couldn’t take it for long, and headed in themselves.  DH dived into the water and swam a few dozen yards from shore.  He stood up and shook himself like a dog, then suddenly went on point.

He saw something in the water!

It was a fish, and he proceeded to catch it.  With His Bare Hands!

McCall Daddy Caught a Fish

We were all completely amazed.  Especially, of course, Batman, who demanded to hold the fish and then examined it carefully.

McCall Awestruck by Fish

Daddy told Batman that the fish was not well (otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to grab it) and that he should put it back in the water right away.  Batman took him seriously.

He put the fish back in the water, but then caught it again and wasn’t satisfied until Daddy carried the fish far out into the lake and released it.

McCall Live Fishy Live

After the excitement of bare-handed fishing wore down, Batman needed something else to do. He was whiny because of the lack of bites on the poles, so I talked him into swapping his bear backpack for a life jacket (worn over the top of his fishing vest, just in case) and doing some more swimming.  That didn’t last terribly long, so I suggested that he build a sand castle.

He got right to work.

McCall Working at It

Just as he was really getting in his builder on, DH announced that it was time to go home.  After a full day of golf, swimming in an ice-cold lake, and irregular meals, Batman was already on the edge.  The information that we had to leave pushed him promptly over the cliff of unhappiness.

My happy little boy dissolved into tears, then wails.  He was beside himself.

McCall We Have to Leave

As a mom, you learn quickly that even though your kids are from exactly the same breeding, upbringing, and nurturing environments, they may respond totally differently to situations in life.  With Batman, anytime after about 4:00, especially if he is getting hungry, can quickly turn into a witching hour to beat all witching hours.  I thought quickly, and suggested this:  why don’t you fill your cups up with sand and water and bring them back to the cabin….then you can build a sand castle on the porch where EVERYONE can see it.

Batman thought a minute, he sniffed and wiped his tears with the back of his hand.  Then he smiled.

We loaded up the cups with a mixture of sand and water (proportions carefully overseen by the sand engineer) and headed back to the truck. Batman left the cups of heavy sand, the tackle and bait boxes and Beary in his backpack to be carried by me and his sister.

He did carry his new walking stick.

McCall Little Man Walkin

When we got back to the cabin Batman went inside only to quickly change into dry clothes.  Then he sprawled out on the front walk with his cups of sand and proceeded to build a sand masterpiece, using some locally acquired materials to augment the soggy soil.

McCall Sand Castle at Home

I went into the house and sliced up some hard salami and cheese and served it with some crackers to some of my cabin mates who were lounging around regaling us and each other with tales of their rock diving at the lake.  It was a peaceful scene.

McCall Cabin Lounging

Everybody was tired.

McCall and More Lounging

I looked around after a while and noticed that I didn’t see Batman anywhere.  I was pretty sure he had finished his construction project outside, but I took a look anyway.  Sure enough, no sight of him.

I asked the room in general……anyone seen Batman? Grandpa Elliott said he thought maybe Batman was out back with the Artist.

I peeked through the back blinds facing the porch.  What I saw made my grab my camera and hurry back through the house, out the front door and sneak quietly around to where I could get a shot of the goings on.

Batman and The Artist were having a chat.  It was just the two of them, and Batman was enthralled.

McCall The Artist and Batman

As I walked around the corner I could hear just snippets of the talk.  “Well how long did it take you to paint the cow picture?” my little son said.  The Artist answered that question (four or five days as best he could remember) and each ensuing one thoughtfully and thoroughly.  It was really something to see.  It would be hard to imagine more disparate conversation partners, but there was something about the quiet patience of our coffee-sipping Arizona friend that intrigued Batman.

Naturally, I ruined the whole thing.  About six minutes in Annabelle came hunting for me and barged out through the French doors onto the patio.  Then she sat for a while and chatted too.

McCall The Artist Holds Court

About that time Grandma Becki and Grandpa Elliott arrived at the house with pizza for everyone.  We were all hungry and wolfed down our dinner.  Then it was time for more s’mores.

A fire was started and the kids got busy stoking it with every stray branch they could find.  Batman and Annabelle had just demanded that I go inside to find “That Guy John” to come and make the fire bigger when we heard yelling.  Really loud yelling.

It was coming from inside the house.  It sounded almost like “There’s a bear!”

Right.  A bear.  Suuuuure.  Real funny guys.

The kids raced into the house and I followed at a more dignified pace, stopping along the way to grab my camera off the charger in the living room.  I followed a mass of hurrying people out onto the front, only to see A GIGANTIC FREAKING BEAR walking sedately across the road from our front yard toward the open space across the way.  He stopped once he was across the road to look back at us over his massive furry right shoulder, then slowly wandered away.

I was so surprised that I didn’t get my camera up until he was almost out of sight and there was no chance of a picture at all.  That was a bummer.

I am ever the adventurist, so I grabbed my five-year old son’s hand and trotted down the road to see if we could head the bear off and get a picture of him.  It didn’t occur to me until quite a bit later that that was a really stupid thing to do.

Nonetheless, we saw no further sign of the bear, greatly disappointing my son and all the rest of the people back in the cabin.

We finished up the evening around the fire once again.  Uncle Mike was recruited for fire duties, and though he did an adequate job in my estimation the children pronounced his efforts quite inferior to the masterpiece created by the Firebug.

Day Three: Slippery Rocks, Mosquitoes and Finally The Perfect Beach

Day Three started a little later than usual.  Fueled by excitement over the bear sighting and the sugar of approximately thirteen s’mores, Batman kept me awake most of the night with spontaneous crying jags until I finally gave up and got out of bed and lay down with him on the floor, snuggling him close until he dozed off.  As I tried to get comfortable enough to fall asleep myself I could hear a strange noise.  Was that……snoring?  I carefully extricated myself from my barely sleeping son and peeked out the bedroom door.

Sure enough.  Though he had gained prime real estate under the guise of soundproofing his slumber, Uncle Mike  was sleeping in his new room with the door wide open, and the sounds of his breathing echoed through the upstairs hallway.  I shook my head and folded myself back beside Batman, eventually falling back to sleep myself.

Morning was tough.  The kids and I were all still tired, but they had planned another fishing trip with Daddy and Uncle Mike and they were raring to go.  I got up and pulled on some shorts and a shirt, stuffed the kids’ blankets on the shelf in the closet without folding them and threw the covers back up on the bed, leaving the duvet folded at the bottom.  Everyone else was already downstairs drinking coffee and planning their day.

I trudged down the steps and, yawning, got a cup of coffee.  Sister-in-law Shelley was trying to get breakfast organized.  She proffered to DH the information that pancakes were a really easy thing to cook for a big group of people.  My beloved quipped back “Oh really Shell?  Well why don’t you just go in and whip about 60 of them out and show me!”

Of course, he did eventually cook up breakfast for everyone.

I had a secret plan in my mind: I’d stay at the cabin while the kids were fishing.  Maybe I’d take a nap; read my new book; go for a hike.  Desperate Hubby thought that was a great idea.  “I can handle them,” he said.  “Take some time to relax.”  The cabin would be mostly empty again, with the majority of the boys heading out for more cliff jumping at the lake.  It was so tempting.

The sweet voices of my little children, though, convinced me otherwise, begging me to go along on their fishing trip.  We all went upstairs to get dressed for the day.  Batman had packed his own backpack (camo, of course) with all the clothes he needed for the trip.  Desperate Hubby had worked with him on this process, and I had not thought to double-check their work.  When we got upstairs I rummaged around on the floor, kicking shoes, wet towels and pillows out of the way to find the backpack.  It was mostly empty.  “Zach, where are your other clothes?”  I asked.  “That’s all there is mom,” he answered.  I pulled out one of the single pair of clean underwear I saw and grabbed a pair of mostly dry shorts that I had draped over the foot of the bed the night before and tried to hand them to him.

He recoiled.  “No mom! I can’t wear those,” he said pushing the Spider Man underwear away.  “It is my last clean pair.  I don’t want to waste them!”

“That can’t be son,” I told him.  You had to have packed more than three pair of clean underwear.”  “Nope,” he told me. “I just packed three of everything because we were going to be here for three days.”


Note to self: Always double-check the children’s packing, especially if DH is the one doing the supervising.

Since Batman had changed clothes twice the day before he was completely out of clean shirts and shorts.  I solved the problem by convincing him to wear a swim suit (no underwear required) and sorted through the mess of sandy clothes on the floor, shaking and smoothing shorts and t-shirts and hanging them over the foot of the bed to be recycled for the next days.  Finally dressed and ready to go, we headed out the door, catching up with Mike as we went.

I took the opportunity to ask my brother-in-law why he felt compelled to sleep with the door to his room wide open, completely nullifying the whole attempt to contain his nighttime noise level.  He looked at me as though I were daft.  “I’m not gonna close the door at night when I’m sleeping in a strange bedroom!  What if there were some sort of emergency and I woke up and couldn’t figure out how to get out of the room!”  Ah. OK.

We headed off in the pickup, stopping by the local Paul’s market to get snacks and pick up some camp chairs to join the other dozen we owned at home and had forgotten to bring with us.  There was (to my estimation) and inordinate amount of time spent considering the color of the chairs, how many, what kind of snacks and whether we needed to get big or little bottles of water.  I was already tired and feeling a little crabby by the time we got back in the truck to head to the river.  I really wished I’d stayed home for a quiet day at the cabin.

We drove for quite a ways on a paved road, past a lake crowded with fallen trees all along the bank.  The kids were anxious to get to fishing, and kept asking when we would stop.  Pretty soon the road began to climb, and it was my least favorite type of drive.  A one and a half lane dusty washboard with sharp curves, a mountainside on one side and a steep fall down the other.  I was really not having fun now.  DH kept driving, getting increasingly grumpy and short with the children and their  “Are we there yet” refrain.

Finally we stopped at a nice little clearing and got out to prepare our gear.  Immediately it became clear that we were not alone.  No sooner than our bare skin was exposed to the air than it was literally covered with mosquitoes.  I grabbed the spray and sprayed me and the kids down liberally.  This slowed down the onslaught but didn’t totally stop it.

DH and Mike worked diligently on getting the tackle ready to go under the watchful eye of Batman.

Getting Tackle Ready

We slowly traversed the steep bank down to the river.  Notice how I sent Annabelle on ahead just in case there were any bears or anything.

Navigating the Hillside

Once we got to the water’s edge I could see that it was a fast-moving and very cold waterway we were on.  DH had it in his mind that the best place to set up the fishing poles was across the river.  The kids set one foot in the icy water, felt the slippery stones underneath and said “No way am I walking across that.”  I soundly agreed with them.

So DH had no choice but to ferry them, one by one, across the water.  I don’t know if it was any safer, but it did make good watching.  Batman went first.

Portage Batman

Then it was his sister’s turn.


Once the team members had assembled on the small sandy shore, DH set up fishing camp and we all settled in.

All Set Up

You may notice that I am absent from the fishing camp scene.  That is because for some reason Desperate Hubby would not carry me across the water, and I did not desire to try to traverse the stream in my flip-flops.

So I settled my (new Paul’s Market) chair at the edge of the river in the shallow water and started to read my book.  The mosquitoes didn’t seem quite as bad once I was set up, and I was just starting to get comfortable when I looked over to see fishing camp being disassembled.

“What’s going on?” I yelled once DH was back in earshot.  “No fish are biting but the mosquitoes are!”


The entire scene was reversed, with children being re-ferried to our original starting point and all us climbing back up the hill, swatting at mosquitoes all the way.

Back in the truck we went, with me grumbling about driving all the way up the mountain to become bait rather than to use bait and DH saying that it was just too warm for the fish to be biting.  Uncle Mike had a theory that made sense to me:  with so many mosquitoes available to eat, the fish didn’t need to bite at anything else.

We would down the mountainside again and took a different road that started back around the lake.  It was only a few minutes before we arrived at…….


The Perfect Beach

We came upon an expansive sandy beach, completely deserted, with parking right at the water’s edge.  The kids got out and just started running.

Annabelle had room to “ride her horse” for the first time since we arrived, and promptly started running up and down the bank whinnying and prancing as she went.

Horsey in the Surf

The fishing poles were assembled by DH and Uncle Mike under the critical eye of Batman.

It wasn’t long before the first (and only) fish of the day was on the line.

Batman Caught a Fishie

As if the beach couldn’t get any more perfect, we were soon joined by a few other people.  There was plenty of room to park and lots of beach area, so we didn’t mind that one bit.

In fact, Batman made a new friend.  It does appear that Batman is trying to drown his new friend, but (I believe that) he was just petting him as they swam along together.

MC Z's Buddy

The dog’s owners threw a ball out for the dog to catch over and over.  Batman accompanied his new friend each and every time.

MC Swimming with Buddy

The dog and his people didn’t stay too long, but Batman wasn’t very disappointed when they left.

He had a new game to play now.


MC Fetch Z Puppy

Batman tried to put the stick of wood in his mouth, but fortunately it didn’t fit, so he just carried it in the general proximity in a very good facsimile of a dog fetching in the lake.

MC Z Puppy Now

We had found the perfect beach at last.

Nice Sand

We wound down our beach day late in the afternoon.  DH, Uncle Mike and Cousin Grayson drove to town for steak and fixings.  When they got home DH grilled up perfect tri-tips with baked potatoes and blue cheese lettuce wedges.  The family was in awe.  I realized how spoiled I am because my wonderful husband cooks at home like that on a regular basis.

After we finished up the steak we headed outside for (surprise) more s’mores.

The kids sat out front on Bear Spotting Watch with Grandma Becki and Grandpa Elliott.  No bears were seen by dark, and the kids were exhausted, so we headed to bed early.

Day Four: Swimming, Sushi and (a Little Too Much) Saki

Without even really discussing it, we had decided to stay in McCall until the last possible minute before we absolutely had to head home.  We were having so much fun with the family that we didn’t want the trip to end.

We were losing a couple of our family members, however, on Wednesday.  The Firebug and Cousin Lucas had to head back to the valley for work, so cousin Grayson was at loose ends without anyone to go exploring or cliff jumping with.  We took advantage of his aimlessness to persuade him to accompany us to our new favorite beach.  The kids were beyond thrilled that he was coming with us.  They thought he was the coolest kid in the cabin.

As we loaded the pickup to head toward the lake, Grayson climbed in back and settled himself in the bed of the truck.

McCall Grayson in Back

Batman was horrified.  “MOM!!! That is not safe!” he expounded.  His sister took it a step further “Mom, I don’t think it is legal to ride in the back of a pickup.  If a policeman sees us daddy is going to jail.”  Being ever the peacemaker, DH pulled out his smart phone and checked it out.  There is no law in Idaho that forbids children from riding in the back of a pickup truck.

Oh, my home state makes me so proud sometimes.

So there he was.

Once we got closer to the lake, Grayson perched on the edge of the truck bed (which totally sent Batman over the edge) to scout for some photos of his own.


Once we arrived at our beach with all attendees unscathed, the kids  tumbled out and started to play.  Grayson dived right in the water and swam out a few dozen yards.  I believe that he was a little surprised at just how cold the water was.

McCall Cold Water

The cold water didn’t bother Batman.  He picked out a nice rock and resumed his game of fetch from the day before.

McCall And Again

He threw the rock out into the water over and over again, dunking under to pick it up each time.  It was pretty hilarious.

McCall Batman Plays Fetch

Then the kids started playing in the sand.

McCall And They Dig

Grayson and Batman dug and dug, Batman watching his older cousin with concentration and appreciation for his work.

That Grayson is a funny kid!

McCall Grayson Buried

Sandy much Grayson?

McCall and the Head Rinse

Everyone checked in on the fishing.

MC Hows the Fishin

Annabelle danced in the surf.

McCall Dancin in the Surf

Grayson played with Batman in the water.  Their hair is almost the same color no?

McCall Boys Play

Grayson amazed us with his sandy physique.

McCall Sandy Muscle Man

Although it was sunny, the day was really somewhat chilly with a pretty strong breeze.  The kids never complained about being cold at all.  (Yeah sure they didn’t).

MC Pretty Cold out Here

After awhile we were joined by Aunt Shelly and Scott.  Traveling along with them were Grandpa and Grandma and The Artist.

I believe this is my favorite picture of Picture Freddy.


There was lounging.


Aunt Shelley and Sugar soaked in the bright sunshine.


Everyone just enjoyed the beautiful day and lovely beach.


Aunt Shelly took a couple of photos of our family all together.  She said we might use it for a Christmas card.

Maybe if I’d had a shower first.


Before too long Grayson and Scott were itching to go a little further up the road for a last day of cliff diving.  The group piled into the cars and headed out, leaving just me, DH and Mike with the kids on our beach.

The kids were tired and ready to settle down a little bit.  They moved their chairs out into the shallow waves of the lake and trailed their toes in the water.


After a time we all headed back to the cabin.  DH and I snuck out and headed into town for a sushi date, leaving the kids in the capable hands of Grandma Becki.  DH plied me with saki, and we were in fine spirits (ha!) by the time we got back to the cabin.

The family was enjoying the last night of the family vacation.  Grandpa Elliott and Grayson played card games at the kitchen table, but I was too tipsy sleepy to really understand what they were doing.  So I went to bed.

Day Five:  A Sad Farewell to Our Family Vacation

We were up early on Thursday morning to pack up and head back down the mountain.  DH was anxious to get back to work so he’d have a little overlap time before his assistant left for vacation that afternoon.  I was rested and relaxed, and a tiny bit hung over too.

It was time to go home.

But not before The Artist surprised the kids with a special gift.


All week long our friend had been talking to the kids about saving money, and how if you save your money it will grow.  He and Grandma Becki had both given the kids an ample amount of change, which they had carefully placed in a baggie and packed with their most important stuff.

To finish out his lesson on saving, Duckett presented each child with a solid silver “dollar” which was actually worth much more than that.  They were completely impressed with this generous gift.

When we got in the truck to drive home, Batman said “Mom, I just really like The Artist.  He is such a nice guy.”


We had a wonderful time on our family vacation.  As we left, Grandma Becki was already talking to us about next year.  It will be hard to top the fun and family camaraderie we experienced this summer, but we are sure looking forward to trying.

Thanks to Grandma Becki and Grandpa Elliott for organizing and sponsoring such a nice family getaway.

This is how memories are made.

Categories: Cast of Characters, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Travel | Tags: , | 1 Comment

It’s a Big, Beautiful, Bountiful Life!

Whew!  The past few weeks have been a little crazy!

School Winds Down

The end-of-school year was busy, with activity after activity coming in a virtual whirlwind of motion.

Annabelle was in a talent show with her kindergarten class where she played the part of the farm dog.  I think she was a little warm under all that fur.


During the talent show I joined some parents in selling concessions to the lines of people waiting to get into the gym (that sounds like an exaggeration, but it is not).  We were thrilled to be able to raise enough money to take all the kindergartners to the zoo for a field trip.

About half of the children in her class had never been to the zoo before, and though she had visited many times Annabelle was just as excited as they were to see all of the animals.


After touring the zoo for a couple of hours we had lunch in the park, then headed across the grass to the Discovery Center for some time spent in the interactive exhibits.


I chaperoned the field trip (along with several other parents) and I can tell you with certainty that I was more tired at the end of that day than at any other day in recent memory.  Or any memory, period.

Keeping track of 60 excited six-year olds is not for the faint of heart.   Does the term “herding cats” sound familiar?

We also had end-of-the-year projects to finish up at home.


And Batman contributed a little something with his artwork created from gleaning leftover materials from Annabelle’s assignment and combining them with his new neon green birthday duct tape.


Continuing Education Outside of the Classroom

Batman completed his six weeks of soccer training with fun and games in the park next to our house.


Those soccer drills were thirsty work.


A couple of weeks after soccer ended, Desperate Hubby and Batman started a weekly pilgrimage to the golf course for a series of youth lessons.  Batman took to golf like a duck to, well, you know, water.

Though he started a couple of weeks later than the rest of the kids and was the youngest in his class, on the last day Batman won the “Longest Drive” contest and got some golf balls, a Gatorade and a free mini-round of golf complete with cart as a reward.

I think he’s hooked!


Annabelle and I also embarked on an additional course of education that had nothing to do with kindergarten.  We each participated in cow horse clinics with the goal of helping us improve our skills in advance of the busy 2013 show season.

Annabelle’s clinic was in April up at the picturesque 3K Ranch in Star, Idaho.

Youth Clinic 081

There were about fifteen participants between the ages of six and sixteen or so, and my little girl reveled in the novelty of being to ride with so many other kids.

Waiting for the Cow

She made several new friends and got to know some of them a little better over lunch.

YC Lunch

The other highlight of the day was getting to work a real live cow.  Grumpy was pretty excited about that too.

Hang on cowgirl!

YC Cow 4

My clinic was in mid-May, and we traveled to sunny Glenns Ferry, Idaho to the beautiful Why Worry Ranch (I love the name almost as much as the ranch.  Thanks Annie and Nate) for a two-day riding extravaganza.

Technically, I was the only one in our family allowed to ride at the clinic because it was for adults only.  This picture was taken in the first five minutes of the clinic, when I thought I was actually going to get to ride my horse the whole time.

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It probably comes as no surprise, however, that somehow Annabelle spent almost as much time on my mount as I did.


She made some new friends there, too.


The clinic was educational and fun, and I felt prepared to take on the cow horse world.  Of course that all changed at my next horse show, but more on that later.

A Trio of Graduations

As the school year wound down, we commenced (sorry) an action-packed graduation season.

We kicked it off with Batman’s Pre-School graduation, planned and executed impeccably as usual by Miss Torrie of Little Learners Preschool.

Of course before he could graduate my baby had to have his official pre-graduation little-boy haircut.


As he reminded me though, he is not a baby anymore.  My little man looked so grown up!


After the ceremony we had a delicious and oh-so-cute cake to share with the other parents in celebration.

004 (2)

The amazing Miss Torrie made an individualized hard-cover photo book for each child commemorating his or her time at Little Learners. Since Batman has attended her wonderful program for almost three years there were lots of fun memories in that beautiful book. Thank you Miss Torrie! You are amazing.

Older sister Sami was next, graduating from Meridian’s Centennial High school with a 4.5 grade point average.  I still remember the first day I met Sami as a fiery four-year old who immediately took charge of every horse on the property.  She has channeled her drive and energy flawlessly since then to achieve many successes at such a young age.

Sami jetted off pretty much immediately after her ceremony to spend a month traveling in Europe with her mom, aunties and sissies.  When she gets back she’ll follow in her older twin-sisters’ footsteps and move into the honors dorm at BSU for her first year of college.

I am so proud of the sweet, beautiful and accomplished young women they have all become.


Lastly, we celebrated Annabelle’s graduation from kindergarten.  She had a wonderful experience during her first year of formal education, and we are so happy that Batman was selected in the lottery to attend the same school next year.


We brought flowers for each of the kindergarten teachers and their helpers, and Annabelle had so much fun delivering them along with the individual cards she had painstakingly hand-written thanking them for a wonderful year.


The choice of celebration after kindergarten graduation was a nice big serving of ice cream at the local Dairy Queen.  What a happy afternoon!


And we Rode

Of course in the midst of all this spring madness Annabelle and I increased our riding regimen and kicked off the local show year with a few early shows.  Annabelle had fun at the first Gem State Stock Horse show of the season, practically glowing with pride and pinkness.  I went to the Gem State show too, to practice my cutting skills in a real show setting.  Let’s just say practice (needing more) was the operative word of the day.


We took our horses to the Snake River Reining Alliance show at Lucky Run Arena in Kuna too.

Annabelle spent quite a bit of time getting ready for this show.  She cleaned all her tack to her own exacting specifications.


And Grumpy was clipped, bathed and brushed to within an inch of his life.  This is what his pre-show ensemble looks like.


At this show Grumpy was even pinker than usual.


The old man was pretty good for Annabelle, but he did test her skills by refusing to cooperate in the middle of the arena and backing up several steps before starting his maneuvers.  The duo was first out in their class, and though they got through the pattern in the end, the judge had to mark them a zero, or no score, for Grumpy’s naughtiness.  It was the first time that Annabelle had actually been disqualified in the show pen and she was very mad at Grumpy.  I told her to keep a smile on her face……that would be far from the last time she got a zero in the show pen and probably even in life.

All was forgiven when, at the end of her class, she realized that each of the half-dozen kids in her division had bobbled their pattern in one way or another and EVERYONE had gotten a zero.  She didn’t lose, she told me.  She tied.

My horse was very good at the reining show and I was feeling confident going into my next competitive event, the first Idaho Reined Cow Horse Association derby of the year, held at the Idaho Center.  My day there started out there swimmingly, with a score of 72 in the reined work.  I was so happy with my mare, but tried not to be overconfident.  There were still two events to go.

Sure enough, I once again had big trouble in the herd work.  My horse wanted to be good, but I had trouble keeping my eye on the cow, and ultimately ended up losing one of the silly bovines I was trying to work.  I was disappointed and mad at myself; my confidence seriously shaken after two successive bad outings in the cutting pen.

The last event of the day, boxing an individual cow, went a little better, and when it was all said and done I ended up third for the day.  One of the people who came out ahead of me was my good friend Shane on her super-cute black mare Julianne. I didn’t mind so much losing to her, but I still wasn’t very happy with my performance.

I felt a little like Annabelle at her last show though, when I found out that even in third place I got a check that repaid about half of my entry fees. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all!


The next day after my rough derby outing, Annabelle was showing in the AQHA reining, also at the Idaho Center.  We got there early and she got all warmed up.  Grumpy was a ball of fire that morning, and Annabelle was having a hard time keeping him under control even in the warm-up pen.  The old war-horse was a bundle of nerves and bad attitude when Annabelle walked him into the show pen, and once again he started backing up before she could even get him to the center to start her pattern.  She kept after him though, through a difficult ride that I think many adults would have given up on.  The smile never left her face even as she kicked and kicked and struggled to get through the maneuvers.  I was so proud of her when she walked out of that arena after practically dragging her horse through the pattern.  Even with her second ‘zero’ score in two shows, she still had a grin for everyone she saw.

I was even prouder of my little girl, though, when she said she wanted to enter the second youth class that day and go out and school Grumpy.  After her initial dismay in getting her first disqualification, I didn’t know if she would grasp the significance of going into the show arena for the sole purpose of making her horse better for the next show and likely creating a definite “no-score”” situation.

Never underestimate a kid.

Annabelle went into that arena riding with her pink braided roping reins held in two hands, which even at six years of age she was well aware was an automatic disqualification for both the type of equipment used and the way she was holding it under AQHA rules.  She chose the reins because they were the easiest to hold on to and she could pull harder with them than she could her leather romel.  She kicked and pulled that Grumpy old horse around with determination and poise and achieved much better ride than the previous one had been.  She was positively beaming when she left the arena and I felt tears of pride for her.

It’s easy to be a good sport and have fun when you are doing well.  I have been reminded from close personal experience at the last two shows that it isn’t as easy when the day doesn’t go as planned.  I find it truly awesome that my six-year-old has grasped the important lesson that I have repeated over and over to her:  it is nice to win, but it is more important to go out and do your best and have fun while you do it.

Annabelle broke her no-score streak this morning at the second Gem State Stock Horse Association show in Ontario, Oregon.  She had a very pretty go and executed her pattern almost perfectly.  I was so proud of her, and she was thrilled that she got a score – a 69!

I couldn’t have been happier for her.

Fun at Home

When we haven’t been going to graduations or horse shows, or preparing to go to horse shows, or golfing, or (in Desperate Hubby’s case) flying airplanes, we have had a chance to relax a little and have some fun at home.

We’ve been working on everything from training the kittens to lead (by the way, cats don’t lead very well),


to a little early spring swimming (shortly after this photo was taken Winston jumped in the pool and filled it with mud).


We got Batman out on a rare trail ride to stretch Reno’s legs.  He wasn’t all that happy about it part of the time (Zach or Reno).


We played with the guinea pigs, whose owner’s are coming home in August.  Annabelle is getting all her “skinny pig” time in now, since she knows with the acquisition of kittens Blackie and Pumpkin we won’t be getting any new house-animals any time soon.



We have also been enjoying the warm spring weather and preparing for our next adventures.


Batman and DH enjoyed a nice golf game this morning, and they are making plans for Batman’s first flying expedition in the Cessna 172 tomorrow morning.  They also have in the works a goal of doing some float-tube fishing in the near future, and toward that end Batman was fitted with waders and DH’s old (really, really old) float tube this afternoon.

As for me and Annabelle, we are feverishly finishing our packing for our 4:00am departure tomorrow for Paso Robles, California, where I am determined to exorcise the herd work demons that have been taunting me for the last couple of horse shows.  If nothing else, we will have a lovely time in the sun with friends, and Annabelle will get to see the ocean, likely for the first time in her life that she will actually remember it.

I hope you all are having a nice start to summer too.

Categories: Horse Adventures, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Viva Las Vegas!

I have not written a blog in over a month.  I feel bad about that; not that people are missing out by not getting regular information about the nuances of my life, but because it is a symptom of a more pervasive and over-riding neglect of other areas of my life.

You see, I have been very pre-occupied with an ambitious goal since the first of the year.  I readily admit that many areas of my life have lost focus and attention while I prepared.

Let me explain. And I warn you now, this isn’t a short story.

I have previously blogged about my cute little red mare, Freckles, who we bought as a someday-for-Annabelle horse last fall.  I wrote about my first attempts to get her shown last October at the Idaho Reined Cow Horse Derby at the Idaho Center, and about how much I realized I missed showing after I returned to the pen following a nearly eight-year hiatus.  I wrote about how getting that mare added something back into my life that I hadn’t realized was gone, and how much more fulfilled I was every day I got to ride her.


In addition to all that writing about my horse, I had done plenty of talking.  I told everyone who would listen about my plans to enter the National Reined Cow Horse Association Stallion Stakes, one of the organization’s Premier Events, which was to be held in the South Point Hotel and Equestrian Center in Las Vegas this year.

Although I talked about this show for the past months, I wasn’t really sure if I would be able to enter it.  As a Premier show, the entry fee is steep; the show takes place over several days, and the schedule for my class stretched over three days of individual events necessitating nearly a week of travel no matter how well I planned it.  The competition would likely be more accomplished and certainly more current in their show experience than I.

It was kind of a crazy idea.

But, like a lot of crazy ideas, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I had heard of how wonderful the South Point facility was.  I had heard tales of valets who come with carts to unload your tack and accessories from your horse trailer and move it with your hay to the stalls for you.  How the entire equestrian area, from the stalls to the multiple arenas, is climate-controlled and kept at a constant temperature of 70 degrees.  Best of all, the stalls and show arenas are all within the hotel and casino – all of the equine facilities are housed underneath the building.  You can leave your hotel room, hop on the elevator and go feed your horse in your slippers.  If you don’t feel like leaving the room, you can watch the competition on closed-circuit television while lying in your hotel bed. To top it off the hotel has a world-class spa.

It sounded like heaven.


In January I made the first move toward my goal when I asked my longtime friend and former trainer, Jake Telford, if I could move my horse to his training facility, which is just a few miles from our home.  Freckles was receiving excellent care and reined work training at the barn where she lived in Kuna, but I found it difficult to get out and ride her very often because of the nearly two-hour round trip commute.  Moreover, and even more importantly, if I wanted to enter a reined cow horse event I needed to practice on cattle.  A lot.

Jake graciously agreed to board my mare and give me lessons to help me prepare for the show.  As an NRCHA Million Dollar Rider and the highest money-earning rider in the National Reined Cow Horse Association for the past three years, I couldn’t have asked for a better person to mentor me as I prepared to officially re-enter competition.

It took a few weeks for me to get it together, but in mid-February I moved Freckles over and started our training.


The first day I arrived at Telford Training I very nearly turned around and left.  I got Freckles out of the trailer and saddled her, and took her into the indoor arena where Jake and his help were working cattle.  There were several people loping horses around, including Annabelle, who I had brought over to ride Grumpy, and Jake’s two young daughters on their horses.  A few two-year old colts were tied to the outside of the arena, and as they played and pawed the tarps covering the arena panels crackled and billowed.

Freckles was a little fresh, to say the least, and nearly jumped out from under me a couple of times.  She was clearly very interested in the sounds of the cattle coming from the other half of the arena where Jake was working his horses.  I was thinking to myself “It is definitely going to take several days of riding around here for me to get Freckles acclimated and settled down before I will be comfortable enough to ask Jake for a lesson.”

No sooner than that thought crossed my mind then Jake yelled across the arena “Come on in Paula, and work a cow!”

I felt faint.

I had stopped showing eight years ago after a bad fall while working a cow on this very property, and the last time I had worked in October I very nearly came off during the boxing portion of my derby work.  And when I say I very nearly came off,  I mean I VERY NEARLY CAME OFF.  I realized the kindness of our new little mare that day, when I was hanging off of her left side by her mane and she stopped long enough for me to regain my seat before she addressed the cow again.

I rode into the cutting pen with quivering hands and tears in my eyes.  I hadn’t realized until that moment just how much fear I had left over from my previous experiences.  We cut a cow off from the herd, and Freckles engaged it with energetic enthusiasm.  She ran across the pen, the cow stopped and Freckles wheeled and bolted after it.  If I hadn’t been holding onto the saddle horn I would have come off.

The rest of the lesson was pretty much more of the same.  Jake told me that we really needed to work on my mare’s stops; she was extremely hard to ride because she wasn’t engaging her hindquarters on those turns.  Once we got her schooled up to property turn over her hocks she would be much easier to sit as she worked.

I don’t think Jake realized it that day, but I was intimidated and very disappointed.  When I got home I told Desperate Hubby that I had probably made a big mistake.  I told him that every time I ran across that pen all I could think about was falling off.

DH knows me pretty well.  He knows Jake pretty well.  He told me that I should admit to my friend just how frightened I was and see if he could help me.  “No,” I told him miserably.  “Jake doesn’t have time to help me at all, really, and he sure doesn’t have time to counsel me.”

I would just persevere.

So persevere I did. I rode at the barn every weekday, working a cow more days than not. For nearly two weeks I had nightmares about falling off.  I would lie awake in bed every single night and visualize a correct and safe cow work before I went to sleep.  At first it didn’t help at all, but increasingly my visualization was successful.  Some nights I would sleep all night without one bad dream waking me in a cold sweat.

One morning I woke up and realized that I was fixed.  For whatever reason, I wasn’t scared anymore.  It was literally an epiphany!  When I rode into the barn that morning I told Jake the good news.  He smiled politely and said “Good, get over here and work a cow.”    He didn’t seem all that impressed by my announcement.  But I rode a lot better that day.

I don’t know if my trainer ever knew just how scared I was to dive into the cow work when I first started back riding with him.  Whether he did or not, his approach to getting me back into the hang of it was perfect.  He started slowly, getting a little progress each day and never letting me quit unless it was on a good note.  Each day he built on what I had achieved the days before until I had the confidence to really enjoy the sport that I had once loved so much.

Things got a lot more fun after that.

I rode every single week day for the next week.  Freckles got better and better at working a cow; and I got more confident with every passing day and successful work.  With the entry date approaching for the Stakes, I asked Desperate Hubby what he thought.  The show was over Annabelle’s spring break.  Should I just go for it and take her with me?  Or maybe just go watch and get the lay of the land?

Part of me wanted to take a “real” vacation, maybe stop by the Grand Canyon on the way to down to the show, then really take it easy once I got there…..sleep in, go the spa and share the sites of Vegas with Annabelle.  Although horse shows are fun, a show of this caliber would be demanding.  I had visions of middle-of-the-night schooling sessions followed by early morning warm-ups and waiting around for my class until mid-day, then cleaning stalls and preparing my horse for the event the next day before falling into bed exhausted early every evening.  Would I enjoy that as much as just going to watch?

I knew DH thought I should enter, but I was reticent.  What if I wasn’t ready?  What if I had a relapse and fell off in the middle of the cow work?  In the end, though, I did enter.  I firmly believe that what you think about (and talk about) happens, and all I had thought about for months was going to this show.

So go we did.


We rode with our friend Kris, the same generous soul who had loaned Annabelle her horse Chic to use all last year in her horse shows.  Kris would also be showing a mare in my same class, and she looked pretty happy as we left.  I don’t think she realized at that point that I would be content to sit over in the passenger seat for the entire trip there eating chips and drinking diet coke while she drove.

Happy Driver

Annabelle was very excited to get on the road, and immediately set about watching a movie on the DVD player that Aunt Susie had loaned us for the trip.  She interrupted her movies every ten minutes or so to inquire about the continued longevity of the trip.

I can hear!

We had persuaded our friend (and Batman’s girlfriend) Kristi, to come along with us and have a vacation herself, as well as keeping Annabelle entertained when I was busy riding.

She was a little camera shy at first.

No Photos Now

We made it to Vegas in fair time, stopping along the way at several points for fuel and potty stops.  As it turned out, we traveled in a sort of unofficial caravan, as we ran into Jake and his family and helpers at nearly every stop as well as pacing along with some friends from Washington who were also headed to the Stakes.  It was a nice drive.

Our arrival at the hotel was met with a short line of trailers in front of us waiting to be unloaded.  We bemoaned our timing at being behind Jake, who with two trailers and sixteen or so horses would be awhile unloading.  True to the lore, though, the hotel had several staff members who were bustling about with trolleys and carts, and between Jake and his family and helpers they were unloaded in less than an hour.  We were working on unloading at the same time, and with the help of a couple of the porters our hay, tack, and tack room supplies were all quickly transported to our stalls

We were able to check into our hotel rooms right at the stall office, and a bellman driving a big gator-type four-wheeler loaded up our copious bags and delivered them to our rooms.

Kris had everything we needed for a nice tack room setup, including a refrigerator, tables and chairs, saddle racks and enough hooks to hang all of our stuff plus more.  She also brought along a nice selection of quality wine.  I realized at once how lucky we were to share her stuff (and her generosity).

Our tack room was sort of a combination tack room/lounge/wine bar.  It suited me perfectly!

Our Tack Room


I woke up early on Monday morning, anxious to get downstairs and ride Freckles.  Jake was down there riding already, and he gave me tips and schooled me a bit in the busy arena to help me get ready for the next day.  When I finished the girls took Freckles over for a nice long bath.

The Whole Team

I’m not really sure who was wetter at the end of the bath, but Freckles was certainly clean and shiny!

Veg Washing Team

Annabelle pulled the step up to her in the stall and went to work combing out her mane.

Brush that Mane

I was delighted to hear from Aaron, Freckles’ former owner and the person responsible for putting such a great training foundation on her.  He and his wife Rebecca were there in Vegas, and they wanted to come and see Freckles.  We met them and they walked to the stall with us.  It was immediately evident that Freckles remembered her former owner.  She put her head on him and snuggled up.

He seemed pretty happy to see her too, and I even convinced him to ride her a little that afternoon.

He got on and walked her slowly around the pen.  Then he started bending her this way and that, and backed her up a long ways.  Although he didn’t even have spurs on, he softened Freckles up considerably and she was noticeably more responsive with just a short thirty minute ride.  It was impressive.

The girls and I spent some time cleaning up our tack and finalizing choices of shirts and saddle pads for the next day.  That night we had an early dinner at the Italian place in our hotel, and got to bed so we could wake up for the next day.


Tuesday would mark my first day of competition.  I got up and headed down to the stalls early to get saddled and get into the cattle practice pen for my priority warm-up.  At these major shows they bring in extra cattle to practice on, and each contestant in the herd work (also known as cutting) is allowed a slot to practice working cows before their competition.  Your practice slot is generally two sets of herd work before you go, so that made my work sometime in the 8:00 hour.

Jake was down at the pens to help me, and he told me to go get checked in for my priority work.  A contestant is not required to use their time slot, and if you don’t check in for your proper set you may lose your chance to another person who is showing later and who checks in early.  I checked in only to find that my practice was going to be quite a bit earlier than I had planned.  I hurriedly loped around for fifteen minutes before it was my turn, which was when Jake gave me some valuable advice that, while logical, had never been intuitive to me:

When you only have half as much time to warm up; you need to lope twice as fast.” 

It worked.  I got Freckles warmed up and we had a very successful practice session.  I felt confident and ready to go when I met my team by the in-gate to head into my first competition.  Annabelle got busy doing a final tail brushing under Kristi’s watchful eye.

Final Prep

When I was all ready to go we posed for a picture.  Note the large sign over my shoulder.  I didn’t notice that sign once while I was there, though I rode through that same alley multiple times to practice and to show.  It wasn’t until I was editing pictures for this blog that I read it.  Dang.  Could have used that advice last week!

Ready for the Herd

The herd work event is when you enter the arena where a herd of cattle is held in place by four helpers who are there to help you get your horse shown to the best advantage.  Your task is to cut one cow at a time out of the herd, and show your horse’s ability to manage that cow and keep it from rejoining its friends who are behind you.

I am pretty inexperienced at herd work, and though it looks deceptively easy it can be a challenge to make sure your horse is always in the right place at the right time and that you manage your time effectively in order to get two or preferably three cattle out of the herd to work during your allotted two-and-a-half minutes.

Freckles was very good entering the herd, and stayed quiet and engaged.   we managed to get three cattle cut and worked before the buzzer went off to signify the end of our session.  As I rode out of the arena one of my herd helpers, Ted Robinson,  a legend in the reined cow horse industry and long-time acquaintance, said “Good job Paula.  You’ll be the new leader!”  That made me smile.

Unfortunately Ted wasn’t the judge.

But still, as my class ended I was in the middle of the pack, seven points down from the leading score.  I was thrilled.  Although I had made some big mistakes in my cattle management, I had not “lost” any cows and my horse had performed very well.

I was joined after I rode by Aaron, Freckle’s former owner, who was also very happy with her performance.  He stood and watched the rest of the herd with me until my class was over.

Aaron and Freckles

Annabelle climbed on Freckles and cooled her out.  She was just dying to ride, and completely un-intimidated by the professional riders buzzing around the warm-up arena beside her.  It was pretty cute.

Cooling the Mare

After she was finished cooling out Freckles, my girl got busy cleaning up our stall alley, sweeping up shavings and hay so we had a neat entry to our space.  She is good help when she wants to be.

Cleaning up the Aisle

Watching my herd work video later was a great training opportunity to actually see what it was Jake kept talking to me about with regard to position, position, position (or in my case out-of-position, out-of-position, out-of-position, and WATCH the COW!!)  I learned a lot that I hope will help me in my future showing endeavors.


That afternoon the girls and I headed out to our first “Vacation” endeavor – a visit to the Mirage Hotel and Casino for a look at the famous white tigers.  We bought tickets to the “Secret Garden” at the Mirage, and spent a couple of hours looking around at all the animals.  The facility is beautiful, and the animal displays were fascinating for both of my young traveling companions (and me too).

These white lions greeted us as we entered the display.  They were sound asleep, but woke up long enough to give us a once-over before dozing off again.

Now Hes Awake

There was a cheetah display, with a few of the sleek felines moseying around the exhibit.


Next came the dolphins.  There were a couple of big pools connected by a waterway, and we were able to catch two “Training Sessions” where the dolphins were put through their paces by the trainers to the awe and joy of the crowd.

Dolphin Trainer

You could get right up beside the pool where the dolphins could see you, and they were surprisingly social creatures, appearing over and over again to rise out of the water and “smile” at the guests in their house.

Dolphin Smile

And they did some jumping tricks too, which were cool.

Dolphin Dive

After we left the Mirage we headed back to the hotel, where we joined up with the group for an early dinner at the Asian restaurant.  I had sushi (supposed to be good luck before a horse show, I’ve heard) and then we were to bed early again to get ready for the next event.


The next event I would compete in was the reining, or “dry work” as it is called in the reined cow horse vernacular.   This is where you enter the arena and perform a series of prescribed maneuvers – circling, sliding to a stop, spinning, all in a specific pattern.   I don’t know why it is called the dry work….maybe because some cow horse people think it’s boring?  Because there is no cow poop?  I’m not sure, but I was excited to get out there and give it a go.

I was up at 3:30am to get in the practice arena to school Freckles and then get her fed.  I ran into Jake just as he was finished riding his own dozen or so horses, and he insisted on coming to help me school before he headed up to his own room to get some sleep.  He really is a great guy.

I practiced for an hour and a half or so, then headed back up to the room to get ready to show.  I dressed in my official sparkly “reiner” shirt and hoped it would give me luck.

Ready to Rein

Jake helped me to warm up again and gave me a few tips on preparing my horse right before I went into the arena.  Aaron also joined me and gave me moral support before I headed in to show.

Freckles was a gem in the reined work.  I rode a little slower than I should have, and might have scored higher if I’d been more aggressive, but in the end I had the second highest reined work score (by half a point) and moved up to second place in the cumulative standings.  I don’t know if it was me or Aaron who was happier with Freckles that afternoon.  I gave her a big pile of hay and some extra shavings before we headed off to our next vacation adventure.


That afternoon we cleaned up and headed over to the Venetian, my favorite place to stay in Las Vegas, to take part in a tourist activity I had never before indulged in during all my trips to Vegas:  A Gondola Ride.

We wandered around the beautiful shopping area that is decorated like the streets of Venice, stopping to pick up a couple of cones of chocolate-covered strawberries.


Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Our gondola ride was very fun, and I kept teasing Kristi about being on a date with the gondolier.  He thought that was pretty funny too.

Once he found out she was of-age, that is.

Kristis Date

Annabelle and I snuggled on the other side of the bench, as she asked a million questions about how deep the water was, what would happen if we fell in, could she swim in it…… that sort of thing.

Annie and Mom Gondola

We enjoyed ourselves so much that we actually purchased the official picture of all of us in the gondola with Kristi’s date.

Venetian Gondola

After the gondola ride we went to Postrio, which used to be one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco, and had some delicious Italian food.  I had a sushi-like Ahi tower (couldn’t hurt, right?) and the girls had pizza and macaroni and cheese. Kristi taught Annabelle to play tic-tac-toe, and they played happily together until my darling six-year-old figured out how to cheat.

Vegas 167

Then it was home and in bed again, not as early as the previous nights, but there was only one event to go.


The last event of the three-pronged competition was the Cow Work.  In this event you enter the arena and a single cow is turned in with you.  For my class, you are required to approach that cow and work it back and forth on the fence at the short end of the arena.  Your horse should work as independently as possible, and once again position and execution are very important in the scoring of the run.

There is a saying in the reined cow horse world that “It all comes down to the cow.”  The cow work is always the last event you complete that contributes to your cumulative score, and the stories are legion of competitors going into the cow work with a seemingly unbeatable lead, only to draw a cow that does not allow them to score even the minimal number of points they need in order to secure their win.

You want to draw a cow that is active and wild enough for your horse to show their skills, while being just manageable enough that you don’t lose him or get beat by his speed.

Freckles worked amazingly well that morning in our cow work preferred warm-up.  She was quick, light in the face and I had no doubt we were ready for our competition.  I was only three points behind the leader after making up the points in the reined work, so I was prepared to do my best.  It was anyone’s game.

I trotted into the arena, nodding my head at the gate-man at the far end where our cow would be released.  The gate opened and Freckles gave a little jump and twist of her head in excitement.

A small black steer trotted out.  He looked pretty good!

I rode up and engaged him, but I couldn’t seem to get him moving.  I could hear Jake yelling at me to get up there and move him, and though I did the best I could at the time, we came out of the cow work with a far lower score than I had hoped for.  Still, I was happy with my horse.  As I watched the video later, I could see that there was  more I could have done to get that cow moving, and I also had a pretty big “miss” when I looked away from the cow for just a second and he beat me and Freckles in a turn.  Once again I learned a ton from watching that video and I am excited to apply it at my next show.

Overall, I was very happy with our performance.  We ended up third in our class, and got Freckle’s first official earnings:  $870!!  It was a thrill!


The best part of my day  was not over yet.  As soon as I was finished showing, we met up with my friends Sandy and Tony who were coming to Vegas to celebrate their anniversary and attend a friend’s 50th anniversary celebration.  We’d last seen my friends this past summer when they came to Idaho and rafted and rodeoed with us in August.

We had lunch with them and it was great to catch up.  A little later we met them in the lounge to watch some horse show action and have a few drinks.

They looked awesome!

A Visit with Friends

We got to spend the afternoon with Tony and Sandy, then had dinner with them and the rest of the group.  It was so fun to see them, and I wish I’d had more free time to spend visiting with them.


We got up Friday morning with several things on our mind.  Kristi had some shopping she wanted to do.  We needed to fuel up the truck to leave early the next morning; and I had a plan to go to the spa.  I had heard tales of the wonderful spa at the South Point, and after my busy week I needed a massage.  The girls wanted to try out the salon pedicure (a first for both of them), and to top it all off we had tickets that evening for the Tournament of Kings show at the Excalibur.

The day seemed like a whirlwind, but we got it all done.  The spa was fantastic, the girls loved their Pedi’s, and we got everything done just in time to get dressed for our evening entertainment:  the famous jousting exhibition at the Knights of the Roundtable arena.

I took this (not very good) photo before I saw the “Absolutely No Photography or Video” sign……honest.

It was really cool.

Tournament of Kings

We had a great time at the show.  It was very theatrical, and involved lots of half-naked men and fireworks.  Really, I’m not making that up.

Oh, and there were cool horses too.

We got back to our rooms exhausted, to pack and get to bed before our 6:30am meeting time to load up the trailer and hit the road.

Despite all the fun we had had that week, we were ready to head home.  The non-stop go-go-go schedule hit us all hard. Kristi had a terrible headache and sinus pain.  The air at the South Point is notorious for being highly allergenic, and we all suffered from it.  Our friend took a big dose of Nyquil and was out.

I was trying to watch the bridle horse competition on TV while I packed, and my little angel Annabelle had a complete and total meltdown.  “Turn the TV off!!” she wailed, “turn it OFF!!!”  I tried to calm her down, but her wails just got louder.

I turned the TV off, as well as the light beside the bed, and she started up again.  “Turn it back ON Mama!!”  This continued for half an hour or so, before she drifted into a fitful sleep.  My dreams of meeting Sandy and Tony for a farewell cocktail faded into the twilight.  I finished packing and headed to bed myself.


I was up at 4:30am for a final round of packing, and we had our bags picked up and were down at the stalls to load the trailer at 6:30.  The load-out went quickly, despite the lack of porters at that early hour, and we were on the road by 7:30.  We made good time going home, and once again Kris was nice enough to drive the whole way while I sat in the passenger seat and ate candy.  She is a gem.

We made it home in good time, and I managed to get the kids into bed at an early enough hour that the Easter Bunny still had a chance to arrive.  Easter morning started with my six year old traveler bursting into our room at 7:30, crying because the Easter Bunny had brought her brother a larger basket than he had brought to her.

Ah, it was good to be home.

By the way, if you are still awake and curious to see the video of my three runs, you can watch them here:

2013 NRCHA Stallion Stakes: Dox Smart

I would be remiss if I didn’t extend a big thanks to everyone who helped me in my quest to go to literally “get back on the horse”.  Although my accomplishment is minute in the big scheme of the horse show world, to me it is literally life-changing to be able to once again embrace and truly enjoy something that I love to do so much.

I have to start with Desperate Hubby, who supported me wholeheartedly in my goal and took on numerous extra household and child management activities during my preparation for and execution of “The Road to the Stakes.”

Nathan Kent with Nathan Kent Performance Horses out of Lucky Run Arena in Kuna was instrumental in getting my horse solid enough in the reining that I could get her shown despite my nerves and horse-show rustiness. He spent a lot of time showing me how to capitalize on what he had taught Freckles, and though I obviously didn’t absorb everything he showed me, I appreciate every minute.

I am grateful to all of my friends, both horse and non-horse people, who encouraged me to get back into the sport I love so much.  Whether you loaned me tack, took care of my kids or were there with a sympathetic ear, it all helped me get through the process.  To Super-Nanny Kristi…..I can’t say enough.

Last but not least, I want to thank Jake and Jessie Telford of Telford Training.  Without the support and guidance from Jake I would have never even considered trying to ride a cow horse again.  Your generosity of time and allowing me to share your beautiful facility, cattle, talent and experience means the world to me.

Veg We are Reining



Categories: Horse Adventures, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bon Voyage to the Fiechters!

I first met my friend Christine a little over a year ago.  As I started to write this story I had to go back and check my horse paperwork for the exact date, because it seems that I have known her for much longer than that.

Christine was referred to me by our mutual friend and veterinarian, Billy Maupin.  She had a pony that her sons had almost outgrown and she was thinking about selling him.  I had mentioned at the veterinarian office that I was looking for a horse or pony for Annabelle.  Billy put two and two together, and Christine gave me a call.

I almost didn’t go to look at the pony because he was more money than I wanted to pay, but out of respect for Billy I made what I thought was a courtesy call to check him out.  I liked Christine as soon as I met her, and I thought Reno was the cutest little black pony I had ever dreamed of (literally, but that’s a story for another time).  To my happy surprise, Christine offered to lower Reno’s price to my exact maximum budget (without me even asking) and a deal was made.

Reno and Annabelle hit it off immediately, and it was hard to tell who was happier, my little blond girl or her fuzzy black new best friend.

Annie Rides Reno

I sent Christine a few follow-up photos so she could see how well Annabelle and Reno were getting along, and a couple of months later we arranged  to go ride together in the Boise foothills.

That ride was the beginning of a great friendship.  We rode together many times over the course of the next year.  As Annabelle says “Mom, we wouldn’t know ANYWHERE to go if it wasn’t for Christine.”

We went for long rides together at Avimor.

Christine and Annabelle Dog I did a couple of rides with Christine and her friend Valerie too.

Avimore 2

Christine is one of the those people who can best be described as, well, competent.  I know the word competent doesn’t sound very glamorous, but it should.  Annabelle soon refused to go with me to any new place to ride without Christine, because Christine always carries a gun and she never, ever gets lost.

She is also quick to take charge of any situation, and to help as needed to get things ironed out.  Like adjusting Annabelle’s saddle before descending down a steep trail, for example.

Christine Fixing Reno

After we had ridden together a few times, Christine invited me to join her Ladies’ Marksmanship Group, a small group of women who meet monthly to practice shooting handguns at a local range.

Although I hadn’t shot for years, I felt comfortable going with Christine. She helped me load my gun, set up the target, and reminded me of the proper grip and sighting sequence to be able to hit what I was aiming at. Sometimes.

Just look at her. You can tell she knows what she’s doing!

Christine Shoots

It wasn’t long after I met Christine that she mentioned in conversation she and her husband Mark and their two boys, Logan and Cole, were avid sailors.  She told me that she and Mark planned to spend their retirement on a sailboat, sailing in the Bahamas.

A few months after that, Christine casually mentioned that they were thinking of moving their sailing adventure up in time.  From that conversation forward, it seemed that every time we spoke the sailing date was scheduled to arrive sooner and sooner.

I knew that this whole plan was real when Christine put her lovely horse Loretta up for sale, and sold both the mare and her horse trailer early this spring.

Christine really loved this horse, so when she let Loretta go I was sure there was no turning back.

Christine Loretta

The planning process for taking on an adventure the size of the Fiechter’s is mind-boggling.  Christine methodically began the process of making lists and spreadsheets; selling excess belongings and learning the basics of home- (or boat-) schooling for Logan and Cole. Her husband Mark began the arduous and time-consuming task of traveling to Florida to check out boats for sale, while still continuing to work at his long-time engineering job at Micron Technologies.

Through it all, Christine made time to keep riding with me and Annabelle.  Once she sold Loretta, she began riding my mare Spice, and we continued to go to our old haunts together, with Annabelle on Reno and me nudging along old Grumpy.

Rocky Canyon Christine

On each ride we would get the update on progress toward the trip.  My respect for Christine grew and grew as I slowly began to understand the complexity of the undertaking this  family was preparing for.

I have never known anyone who completely turned their life upside down to follow a dream.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I do know people who did that, several of them, but not people like the Fiechters.

The Fiechters are some of the most conservative, responsible and pragmatic people I have ever met.  The fact that they are willing to disrupt their structured, predictable, and carefully planned life for this adventure speaks volumes about their dedication to following their long-time aspiration.

That dedication is something that I find awe-inspiring. I am thrilled to even know people who are just so freaking cool, and even more thrilled to call them friends.

The other thing I find extraordinary about this plan is how much it involves the whole family. The Fiechter’s two boys, Logan and Cole, are wholeheartedly on board (couldn’t resist, sorry) and are so very excited about experiencing the world as few people ever get a chance to do.

Besides their home, school and friends, two things the boys have to leave behind are their beloved guinea pigs, Snowy and Zoe.  Christine emailed me a month or so ago and said that they needed a temporary home for the girls.  After a quick consultation with DH I said yes.  I held off on telling Annabelle and Zach for a while, since I knew they would bug me non-stop, and sure enough, once I sprung the good news they pretty much nagged me ten times a day about when their new house-guests would be arriving.

Zach calls our house-guests “Skinny Pigs,” and has done so since he first heard their names. Annabelle tried and tried to get him to say the name ‘Guinea Pigs’ correctly, but she finally gave up on trying to correct his grammar and  has taken to calling them Skinny Pigs as well.  Just like me.

This last Sunday the Fiechter’s came over to deliver the girlies.  My kids had decided to get rid of Zach’s bed (italics intended) so the guinea pigs could sleep in the same room with them.  If you have read my blog much before, you already know that Zach has refused to sleep in his own bed for several months anyway, and instead sleeps on the end of his sister’s queen bed.  Like a dog.  So getting rid of his bed was not as big of a deal as one might expect.

Here is a picture of the cage sitting where my little boy’s bed formerly resided.


And here is a picture of the kids holding the pigs.  They are the first thing the kids play with every morning and the last thing they say goodnight to before bed.

Kids and Piggies

If you have never been around Skinny Pigs before you are missing out.  They are the funniest little pets I’ve ever seen. They are totally tuned in to their humans, and figure out right away who does what.  When I walk down the hall, Snowy stands up on the bars of her cage and squeals at me.  It sounds kind of like a cross between a ground squirrel and a mouse, and occurs in rapid succession until I stop in and say hi.  Or better yet, deliver a couple of carrots or grapes for a snack.

We are thrilled to have the pigs for the time their real humans are traveling.  Being the planner she is, Annabelle has already procured a verbal contract with me to purchase her and her brother their own Skinny Pigs when Snowy and Zoe return home.  I am sure, since she is now in kindergarten, that a written contract will be required once she learns how to write all the words.

I stole the Skinny Pigs real owners’ pictures off of their blogs.  They really are super cute kids.  And extremely smart.

Here is Logan.


And his brother Cole.


Our Marksmanship Group held a little goodbye party for the Fiechters last week at our friend Katie’s house.  Seeing the genuine respect and support that was exuded for this wonderful family by each and every person there made it obvious that I am not alone in my strong admiration of my friends.

There were not one but two cakes.

Party Cakes

Thoughtful gifts.

Mark and Christine Gift

And much camaraderie shared.

Christine and Mark and the boys set off today for their grand adventure.  Their house is packed and will soon be rented out.  Almost all of their belongings are in a storage unit awaiting their return.

My friends will slowly make their way to Florida, where their 37” Hunter Sailboat, Truansea, awaits them.  Isn’t that an awesome name, Truansea?  Sometime in late fall the family will set sail for the Bahamas.  For at least the next year they plan to live aboard the boat and experience a side of life rarely seen by us mere mortals.

I am so jealous.

But I am also happy that they are planning on documenting their travels in a blog. It is already up and running, at  I encourage you to follow their adventures too. I think we can all learn something from people with the courage to so passionately pursue a dream.

Mark and I share a favorite quote, which he has on his blog page and I will steal and put here.  I think it best sums up the spirit of the days ahead of them.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

Fair winds, my friends.  We will surely miss you.

Categories: Horse Adventures, Travel | 3 Comments

California Comes to Idaho

A couple of weeks ago our family was thrilled by a visit from some old friends of mine from “back in-the-day”.  I have known Tony and Sandy for something well over fifteen years.  I don’t like to think about exactly how long because it makes me feel old, but it’s been a long time.  I met Tony first, when I went to work at a company in Alameda, California called Ascend Communications.  Sandy came along a couple of years later, and she fit right in with our eclectic group of friends.  So well, in fact, that she and Tony were married a short time later.

Ascend was a small start-up company when I began, with only about fifteen employees.  As was the case with most of the Silicon Valley start-ups, we were a close-knit group, bonding over “Friday Feast” (a big company-sponsored drunk-fest held every Friday afternoon in the company break room) and lunches out at the excellent Thai or Sushi restaurants the small town of Alameda offered.  With the mega-hours we spent at work, you would think that the employees would avoid each other in their rare off-hours, but that wasn’t the case.  Our group spent lots of time together outside the office too, mountain biking and hiking in the summer and skiing or taking a trip to Mexico together in the winter.

We all worked during a spectacular time in the Silicon Valley.  Our company went public on a Friday the 13th, 1994 at $13 a share (and I still think 13 is a really lucky number).  Shortly after our IPO we all enjoyed the meteoric rise of our stock, and the commensurate disposable income afforded both to us individually and as company employees.  The days of first class airline travel, five-star hotels and competitions over who could order the most expensive port and cigars were legend, and they will surely never be repeated in most of our lives.  It was definitely an over-the-top time.

I left Ascend in 1997, and Sandy and Tony retired within a year or two after that.  Our company had grown to a world-wide company with thousands of employees, and it was no longer the familiar and cohesive place to work it once had been.  I moved to Idaho, where I met Desperate Hubby and got married for the first time at age 36.  Sandy and Tony built their dream house in Pismo Beach on California’s central coast, and started splitting their time between there, a mountain cabin, and their home in Mexico.

We hadn’t seen each other in all these years, so I was wildly excited when I got a message via Facebook that they were planning a tour of the Northwest and wanted to stop by for a visit.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I also had a few trepidations about my friends’ stay.  Since I moved back to Idaho my life has changed dramatically, in all ways for the better, but I was a long way from the lithe blonde driving down Interstate 80 blasting country music in my Porsche Cabriolet that my friends had known.  I am truly happier than I have ever been, but my current life offers few of the trappings that I felt were important way-back-when.

Would they find me frumpy, I wondered?  Boring?

I set about planning a schedule of activities for my friends’ visit that would introduce them to some of the wonderful things that our great state has to offer, and give them a taste of the ridiculously awesome life that I am fortunate to enjoy.

Annabelle and I were flying home from Seattle the same evening Sandy and Tony arrived,  and we would start the trip off with picking them up for a whitewater rafting trip at 7:30 the next morning.

As soon as I pulled into the hotel roundabout and saw my old friends sitting on the bench outside the door all of my nervousness flew right out the window.

Just take a look at them!  You can see how down-to-earth and wonderful they are with only a glance.

CA Tony and Sandy (2)

When they climbed into the truck it was as if I had seen them just yesterday. Sandy sat in the backseat between Batman and Annabelle, and they were jabbering away a mile a minute before we even hit the highway. Tony and I started getting caught up with all the events in each other’s lives as though it had been days instead of years.

The drive to Cascade Raft Company flew by as we all talked a mile a minute in the car.  We got checked in and loaded up in the  rafting bus for the short drive to our launch site.  After being fitted with our life jackets, aboard the raft we climbed.

I admit I was a little nervous about the rafting trip.  I had had a (literal) near-death experience while rafting some years ago in California, and I hadn’t been on a boat much since.  Our guide was Jeremy, who is co-incidentally the son of one of the local well-known equine veterinarians who had helped me with my horses tremendously over the years.  Jeremy was personable and competent, and that helped us all relax and have a good time.

And have a good time we did!

The kid started off in the back of the raft, sitting on the middle supports.  They thought that was pretty swell.


Then Jeremy convinced them to move up front where they could get more action from the waves.  They both gamely climbed up and really enjoyed the next couple of rapids.


Until this happened.  Yep, they’re there.  Up in front.  Completely submerged in whitewater.


I think the look on Batman’s face afterwards pretty much says it all.  The kids politely asked to return to the back of the boat, where they rode out the rest of the trip in a little more controlled fashion.


We counted our rafting experience a big success, and after a hearty lunch in Eagle, we headed back to Caldwell to get ready for our next event.  The Caldwell Night Rodeo.

The evening activity was Desperate Hubby’s first chance to meet Tony, and they hit it off immediately.

CA Tony and Greg

The kids took the opportunity to work on our dentist’s retirement fund with a little cotton candy.  Batman looks a little sugar-crazed, no?

CA Kids Rodeo

We all had a great time at the rodeo, and then returned to our house for a few more stories and cocktails.  I’m not sure exactly what time my friends headed back to the hotel, but suffice to say that we celebrated their arrival with great zeal.

The next morning arrived earlier than any of us were really ready for.  Tony was scheduled for a flying lesson with Greg’s instructor, Darren, and I had to rouse Desperate Hubby out of bed shortly before eight o-clock to go and introduce the two.

Desperate Hubby had work to do, so Batman hung out with him while Sandy, Annabelle and I went to Eagle Island State Park for a nice horseback ride.

I’ve always known Sandy’s email name to be Samantha Cowgirl, and she lived up to it that day.  Despite not riding a horse for the past twenty-something years, she climbed up on Grumpy like a pro and we set off. She looked like some sort of cowgirl movie star up on old Grump.   She even had the hat!

CA Saddled Up

We had a beautiful ride along the trail, over bridges and through a variety of summer foliage.

CA Crossing Bridge

Grumpy tested out Sandy’s skills by stopping to eat and refusing to budge a couple of times, but she lined him right out and they got along great for the rest of the trip.

CA Sandy Rides

When we finished riding, some shopping was in order.  After a quick stop by Costco we were set for a big barbecue dinner.

With a special guest.  It was our adored neighbor Grandpa Vernon’s birthday, and somehow we had convinced him and Kay to share the evening with us.  He even made us a fantastic peach pie.

And a small banana cream one for Annabelle.

She is so spoiled.

Sorry about the picture Vernon.  I didn’t get one with your eyes open.  I know you hate having your picture in the blog anyway, and I’m sure this doesn’t help!  You’re still handsome, though.

CA Grandpa Vernon

Our dinner was filled with lively conversation, great food provided by Desperate Hubby and Grandpa Vernon, and grand stories about Tony’s first time piloting a small aircraft.

Sandy and Tony and I had the chance to get all caught up on everybody from our past life, and I was so happy to hear how all of my old friends were doing.  It had been easy to imagine that everyone’s lives had stayed exactly the same once I left the great state of California, and it was great to hear that everyone (well, most everyone, with a couple of notable exceptions) had grown up and settled down to one degree or another.

After another late night, we were all tired the next day.  Tony and Sandy took the opportunity to do some laundry, take a nap and get ready for the next stage of their travels, and we reconvened for an early dinner at Smokey Mountain Pizza.

I’m not entirely sure what Tony is talking about in this picture.  Let’s just say it is a fishing story.

CA Tony Fish Story

When we got back to our house we had to pose for a few more photos.  Annabelle didn’t want to be in the picture with our family.  She wanted to be in the picture with Aunt Sandy and Uncle Tony.

I am sure she would have left with them if they had let her.


But at least Batman stood with me and Desperate Hubby. Kind of like a partial family photo.

CAOur family

Later that evening we sadly bid our friends farewell.  They were scheduled for an early morning departure (which ended up being delayed by an optic-emergency, incidentally) and they wanted to get to bed early.

It was so gratifying to see my old buddies again.  They fit right in here in Idaho, and I think that a little Chateau in Caldwell would be an awesome fourth home for them.

What do you think, guys?

Categories: Random Musings, Travel | 5 Comments

Mother-Daughter Trip to Seattle

Our family has been on a whirlwind pace the past couple of weeks. No sooner had we returned from our  camping trip to Bull Trout than Annabelle and I turned around and headed to the great state of Washington for my friend Melissa’s wedding.

Melissa and I have been friends for many years.  We met through little brother Rob when he and I lived in California and Melissa was living in Seattle.  Rob and Melissa’s then-boyfriend were buddies from working together in Alaska (are you following so far?) and Melissa and said-ex came down to California to watch the Rose Bowl. Rob had told Melissa that she and I HAD to meet me because we were exactly alike.  Sure enough, we hit it off immediately, and have been friends ever since.

Melissa and I made a few trips to Mexico and traveled  all around the state of California together (well, OK, mostly we went to the wine country a bunch of times and spent a month in Palm Springs once at a horse show).  When I moved back to Idaho I convinced Melissa to move here too.  She was with me when I met Desperate Hubby for the first time, and was the only person to know that we were eloping when we flew to Las Vegas six months later.  We’ve laughed and cried, gossiped and counseled, and shared many a bottle of Veuve Clicquot over the years.

Through it all she has been one of those friends who is always there, and whether I see her every day or once a year our friendship never changes.  Though she has been back in Seattle for a few years now, she is never far from my thoughts, and no one could have been happier for her when she met the love of her life, Kelly Martin, and planned her dream wedding.

Wild horses couldn’t keep me away from the big event, so Annabelle and I boarded a plane really, really early in the morning to head to Seattle.

Really, really, really early.

Speaking of really, I’m sure I don’t really look this old.  It was probably the dry cabin air.  And the three hours of sleep.

Seattle Plane Over

Our flight got us to Seattle just after 7:00 a.m. so we had the whole day to explore before we were due at the rehearsal dinner that evening.  Our friend Kris (owner of Chic-The-Wonder-Horse that Annabelle shows) was kind enough to volunteer her Seattle-ite brother Mark for a day of sightseeing.  Mark was kind enough to accept the challenge, so we drove our rental car straight to his house from the airport.

We were greeted by Mark, his lovely wife Jennifer, and their beautiful daughter Sylvie in their charming home just a few miles from downtown Seattle.  Mark made us breakfast and we sat and chatted in their perfectly manicured back yard for a couple of hours, during which time Annabelle played gleefully with their cat Buddy and somehow scored a bunch of cool dress-up clothes, several stuffed animals and a nice plastic dinosaur she picked out for Batman.  Which necessitated buying another bag for the trip home, incidentally.  But that’s another story.

Eventually we loaded up in the rental car and headed downtown.  It was a picture-perfect summer day in Seattle.  Warm and sunny and just right for a nice walk-about.  First stop was a splendid little wine store, which didn’t interest Annabelle much. But I liked it. Then we got on the train and headed on to Pike Place Market.

That was much more entertaining.

Especially when viewed from atop Mark’s shoulders.  Did I mention what a nice guy he is?

Seattle Fish Market

We did all the touristy things…….

Seattle Pig

bubble gum alley…….

Seattle Bubble Gum Alley

which was cool until Annabelle tried to eat a loose piece of gum.  Gross.

Then we visited the trained parrot.  I forget his name, Booker maybe?  But he did all manner of tricks and  was pretty neat.  Annabelle even got to hold him.

When he was playing “Dead Bird.”

Seattle Parrot

We made our way down to the waterfront, and Annabelle was extremely disappointed at how long the line was for the giant Ferris wheel.  She was appeased by a ride on this gorgeous vintage carousel though.

Seattle Carousel

We were all getting pretty hungry so Mark took us down the street to the iconic Ivar’s Acres of Clams.  Mark was a veritable fount of knowledge about all things Seattle, and Ivar’s was no exception.  Seems Ivar was quite a character in local history. Among other crazy things, he advocated feeding the seagulls.  And his restaurant still allows it today.

Mark showed Annabelle how it was done.

Seattle Mark Feeds

And then she was unstoppable.

Seattle Feeding Gulls

She fed them……

Seattle Gull

and fed them.

Seattle FF Gulls

It was getting later in the afternoon, and Annabelle and I needed to start the drive up north to Everett to get ready for the rehearsal dinner.  Mark walked us back to our car and then boarded the train for home.  He had been a fantastic travel guide, patient and very knowledgeable.  Thanks again Mark.  You are a gem!

We headed to our hotel, the Holiday Inn in Everett.  Although we arrived only about a half-hour before official check-in time our room was not yet ready.  My little girl was fading after her 4:30 a.m. wake up call, so I did the only thing I could think of to keep her going.

Fed her sugar.

Seattle Sundae

After all the unique activities of the day, it was the hot fudge sundae at the sad little Everett Denny’s that prompted my daughter to say “This is the best mother-daughter-day ever!”  Kids.

When we finally got checked in to our hotel and changed into clean clothes we headed over to the rehearsal dinner in the charming nearby town of Snohomish.  The dinner included out-of-town guests as well as the wedding party, so it was quite a crowd in the little restaurant.  The food was delicious though, and I met some wonderful people.  My new friend Elaine changed my life by telling me how to access the Navigator application on my smart phone.

Really, I mean it.  She literally changed my life.  Plus she was super-cool.  As was her handsome hubby Rick.

There was a sort-of-strange balloon-animal guy there making various creations for the guests.  He made this lovely wedding hat for Melissa, but she accidentally left it in the ladies’ room almost immediately after he presented it to her.

Lucky for Melissa, Annabelle had to go potty right after that, and I found the hat and returned it to her.

Seattle Rehearsal Dinner

You’re welcome, buddy!

It was heart-warming to see my beautiful friend so happy.  I loved her groom-to-be, Kelly, just as much as when I had met him the first time a couple of years ago, and it was just awesome to see Melissa’s family and friends again.

After the dinner, we headed back to the hotel for a much-needed rest.  Annabelle was such a big girl she insisted on sleeping in her own bed.

Seattle Own Bed

The wedding was the next afternoon, so we spent the day just mostly relaxing and swimming in the hotel pool.

Annabelle loved that pool.

Seatle After Swimming

In mid-afternoon we got all spiffed up and set out for the drive to Melissa and Kelly’s home in Snohomish for the ceremony.  Thanks to the Navigation feature on my Android, the drive was a piece of cake.  You really did change my life, Elaine.

We arrived at a property so beautiful it almost made me cry.  The whole thing was absolutely gorgeous.  Truly.

Guests approached under the beautifully draped driveway entrance and walked up a tree-lined drive to the huge yard where the ceremony was to be held.

Seattle Entrance

The setting was picture-perfect.

Seattle Beautiful Setting

And the ceremony was so perfectly-Melissa that I almost cried again.  The couple had written their own vows, and they were just what I would have expected.

I just have to say it again. Perfect.

Seattle Vows

I was again overwhelmed with happiness for my dear friend.  She deserves a wonderful life, and I know she will have one with her soul-mate Kelly, living in the beautiful green oasis that is their home.

After the ceremony there was a wonderful reception.  With dancing.

Seattle A and M

And cupcakes.

Seattle Yummy Cupcake

And a wonderful dinner.  It was the best wedding ever.


Congratulations and much love Melissa and Kelly.  I wish you a lifetime of happiness!

The next day I dragged Annabelle around a bit for some more sight-seeing.  She did not want to make the drive into Seattle, so we poked around Everett a bit.

She was very intrigued by all the sailboats docked in the marina.

Seattle Sailboats

We had a wonderful brunch and then headed on over to the Boeing factory, which was right nearby.  Annabelle was too short for the actual tour, but we had fun looking at all the exhibits.

Seattle A Big Engine

Annabelle looked so tiny next to the big airplane parts.

Seattle Plane

And we got to practice flying a 727 too.

Seattle cockpit

We didn’t even know until after we got home that Melissa actually works at the Boeing factory!  Duh.

We spent the last couple of hours of the day swimming in the hotel pool, then Annabelle got to experience her first taste (literally) of room service.

Oh yeah, Holiday Inn?  Sorry about the spaghetti on the towel.  At least I covered up the duvet……

Seattle Room Service

The next morning we slept in and then headed to the airport for our early afternoon flight.  Annabelle was proud to pull her own new rolling-duffle with all her loot from Mark and Jennifer’s, as well as a few other knickknacks picked up along the way.

Seattle Own Bag

We had a wonderful mother-daughter weekend.

Even if Annabelle’s favorite parts were the Everett Denny’s and the Holiday Inn pool.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Travel | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Camping at Bull Trout Lake, 2012

My family and I have just returned from our 2nd Annual Camping Extravaganza at Bull Trout Lake near Stanley, Idaho.  This year we camped for five days.


It takes a lot of stuff for a big family to camp for five days.  It was piled outside.

Piles of Stuff Outside

It was piled inside.

Piles of Stuff Inside

My brother-in-law Mike was joining us in our camping adventure for the first time, and he came over to meet us and caravan for the two and a half hour drive.  He was a little taken aback by the sheer quantity of stuff I had assembled for our trip.


He said something like “I thought we were just going for a few days.  No one told me that you were MOVING there!”  What a smarty-pants.

So I got back at him.  I made him load all the stuff.

Mike Loading

We had rented a travel trailer for our trip this year, so once we got that and the pickup loaded to the gills we were ready to head out.

Travel Trailer

Of course, we took all three horses.

Horse Trailer

We made it to Stanley in good time and got the horses settled in first thing.

Horse Settled In

Batman immediately started whining that he wanted to watch movies.  Our travel trailer was equipped with a small television, and he demanded in increasing volume that I put a movie on for him.  He said he was soooooooo booooooorred!

Instead I set up the badminton net and gave him a racket.  He started hitting the birdie back and forth across the net all by himself.

He never mentioned the TV again.

Batman Plays Badminton

Annabelle pursued her own interests too, putting a halter on Grumpy and climbing on him bareback.

Annabelle rides Grump

We sat about preparing camp.  It took no time at all to get everything set up.


Uncle Mike put up his tent and sat outside in peace and quiet for a moment.

Mike Tajmahal

In a couple of hours Brother Rob and Mel arrived with Benson and Emma.  They had so much stuff stacked on the top of their car they called themselves the Clampets.

Rob hummed the “Beverly Hillbillies” theme song while everyone helped unload.  Well, just for a minute, anyway.

Unloading Rob

Rob carefully raked the ground where he had decided to set up the tent.

Rob Rakes

And a group effort eventually got everything set up perfectly……

Robs Tent Takes Shape

right on top of a giant pile of biting ants.  We talked about moving the tent, but finally decided to just take action.

Mel sprayed and sprayed the fly spray we had brought for the horses.  I guess it worked, because they never complained about the ants.

Ant Problem


About the time we all got settled in we saw a huge beautiful motor home towing a Jeep pull in to the campsite right across the trail.  It was truly a sight to see.

Piper's House

I thought for just a moment that our friends the Points were surprising us and arriving with her mom and dad in their travel ensemble.  But then I noticed the Texas plates.  Nope, these were strangers.

But not for long.

In just a few minutes a beautiful little girl came skipping over looking for kids to play with.  Three year old Piper was absolutely adorable.

Piper Looks

The kids took to her right away, especially Annabelle.  She introduced her to all the horses and her toys.  Piper seemed interested in the horses, but she was clearly a little scared of them.

We were ready to head down to the lake to let the kids swim, so we invited our new friends to go with us.  We were even going to let them ride in the Redneck Limo, but for some reason they decided to drive their own car.

There's the Limo

When we got to the lake we found a nice little spot near the beach to park, and the kids piled out.  Uncle Mike immediately started earning his keep, coaxing the kids into the cold mountain water like the Pied Piper.

Mike Pied Piper

Speaking of Piper, she did try the water, but as I mentioned, it was really, really cold.  She curled up on her Mama Donna’s lap instead.

Piper and Donna

After the kids were suitably frozen we all headed back to camp for some dinner.  Piper and her Papa, John joined us for a while longer.  We had learned that our new friends were traveling the country full-time in their luxury coach.  John is an attorney who specializes in securities work for independent filmmakers, and a sought-after speaker who travels all around the US to address groups and help them with their legal and financial needs.

John and Donna have full custody of Piper, who is Donna’s granddaughter.  It was obvious that the couple doted on the little girl, and I was impressed by how well-adapted they all seemed to life on the road.  Of course, Piper is always on the lookout for friends to play with.

And she sure found them here.  She was at our camp first thing in the morning, ready to play.  She joined right in with the big girls in hauling water for the horses.

Piper Carries Water

She even helped the kids gather firewood.

Piper Flying Pig

I told John that I was going to saddle Reno, and asked if Piper would like to ride.  “I don’t think so.” he said.  “She has never been near a horse before and I don’t think you will get her on him.”

We worked up to it slowly.

Piper Helps Groom

It took a little coaxing but eventually we got it done.  How cute is this?

Piper Smiles on Reno

Once we got her on, we couldn’t get her off.

Piper and John Reno

And her adventurous spirit even rubbed off on her Mama and Papa.

John looked perfectly at ease on Grumpy.  Well, except for the barrel racing saddle and short stirrups.

John Rides

Donna had done quite a bit of riding in her younger years and she hopped right up like she had been on a horse yesterday.

Donna Rides Grumpy

We walked around the campground loop and talked.  Donna and I discovered that we had a very similar background. She had been working at Apple Computer during the same time frame as I had been at Ascend, and we shared stories of the highs and lows of the Silicon Valley hay-days.

Piper and Benson trailed along behind, holding hands.  They were adorable.

Benson Piper Walk Back

We had so much fun visiting with our new friends, but they had to leave for a lecture in Boise so we bid them farewell.  We hope to see them again someday on their travels through.


We quickly settled into a routine of sorts around camp.  Like home routines, the camp days were delineated by mealtime and planned daily activities.

The early morning campfire was always a welcome sight when I emerged from the trailer.

Morning Campfire

The kids drank hot cocoa and the adults coffee.  Winston ran around trying to eat off of everyone’s plates.

Speaking of eating, Desperate Hubby was the primary food preparation guru.  His assistant Mike helped too.

Nice Bacon Cookie!

Breakfasts were bacon or sausage, with huge helpings of hash browns and eggs cooked to order.

Dinners weren’t too shabby either.  It makes me hungry just looking at it.

Dinner is Served

A couple of nights Aunt Mel took charge of dinner.  Her spaghetti was just delicious.

Mel with Spaghetti

Uncle Mike’s table runner provided a touch of class to our little camp kitchen.

Pretty Table

Which apparently Uncle Rob thought we needed, since he didn’t even trust us not the eat the bait.

Worm Cooler

The kids had several camp chores that they carried out with remarkable enthusiasm.

They were in charge of hauling water for the horses three times a day.

Carrying Water Back

And gathering firewood.

A Whole Tree Boys

By any method necessary.

Bring some Firewood

One day they found this giant stump and worked for what seemed like an hour to get it back to camp.  It was really, really heavy.

Flying Pig

When they finally got it back to camp and sat it down Batman made an observation.  “It looks like a Flying Pig, mom!”

And the Flying Pig it was.

Triumphant Pig

I thought it was so cute that I demanded the Pig be spared from the fire, and Pyromaniac Brother Rob reluctantly agreed.

The Pig served a very useful purpose as the Camp Drying Rack for the duration of our stay.

Flying Pig Rack

And then I made Desperate Hubby save room for him in the back of the truck.  The Flying Pig now lives in the gravel bed in front of our house.

Really.  Come on by and you can see him.

Flying Pig Loaded

At night all the kids settled down in our trailer with us.  After the first night they were so tired that they actually went to sleep peacefully with no fighting.  It was heavenly.

The boys shared a bunk.

Boys Sleep

As did Emma and Annabelle.

Girls Sleep

Desperate Hubby got his own bunk because it was too small for us to share.  I slept in the teeny tiny bunk above his.  I didn’t mind.

Daddy Sleeps


I have to take a second here to tell a funny story about my little boy.  We really tried to be good about putting bug spray and sunscreen on all of the kids during our trip.  But we obviously missed Batman’s face on the first evening, and he got two very symmetrical mosquito bites on each side of his little forehead.

Zach Grows Horns

By the second night Batman sported two large bumps on each side of his skull.  He pointed out the bumps to me and I exclaimed “WOW!  You must be growing horns!”

No more thrilling words has my little boy ever heard.

He snorted and tossed his head.  He proudly told the other kids about his sprouting horns.  Benson was so alarmed that he said he did not want to sleep with his cousin.  Not if he was going to grow horns, that is.

Poor Benson didn’t calm down until Mel took him aside and told him it was just a joke.

But it wasn’t a joke to Batman.  He carefully felt his horns every few minutes to see if they were growing.  He made me lift him so he could look in the tiny mirror in the trailer. He was positively ecstatic about the horns.  He told tales of how large the horns would grow, and refused to wear a hat because the horns might poke through.

After a day or two he became concerned that perhaps the horns weren’t growing after all.  He was disappointed about that.  It wasn’t until we got home and he looked in the bathroom mirror that he sadly said “Mom, I don’t think they are horns after all.  They are just bug bites.”

When his dad got home from work that evening he said “Dad, I am not growing horns after all.”  Desperate Hubby feigned surprise.  “Really buddy.  No horns huh?”    Batman said no.  In fact, he said “Dad, even if I asked Santa Claus for horns I don’t think I would get them.  I am not meant to have horns.”

It was a somber evening for Batman.  But he’s recovered.


The kids and men spent a great deal of time lakeside.  Bull Trout Lake itself was freezing cold, so they searched around until they found a nice little lake down the road that was much warmer but without the moss and icky stuff that resides in a lot of warm lakes.

It was beautiful there, too.


Our Swim Master, Uncle Mike, wasted no time getting the kids in the water.


And Winston.

Winston Swimming Lessons

After Uncle Mike hauled Winston out in the deep water where he couldn’t touch he let the poor traumatized dog swim back.  Amazingly enough, Winston was still willing to go in the water after a stick.

Over and over and over again.

Fetch Winston

The fetching looked like so much fun to the kids that they got their own sticks.


And thus was born an amazing and fun new camping game.

Kids That Fetch

Zach Swims

We threw the sticks out for them over and over, further and further.  Safely ensconced in the comfort of their life vests they fetched again and again and again.  It was a wonderful way to wear them out.


Every kid fetched.

Annabelle Swims

And Benson even took the game up a notch by walking on all fours for a remarkably extended period of time.


With all this time at the lake there was a little actual fishing that went on.

Batman Fishes

And a couple of fish were caught.  Batman loves to hold a nice slimy fish.

batman loves fish

Actually, this is might be the same fish.  Maybe they only caught one.

Rob with Fish

Anyway, the lake provided hours of entertainment.


They included, as previously mentioned, several Badminton tournaments.

Batminton Tourney

A little Horseshoe action.


Intellectual stimulation was provided by the occasional game of Checkers.

Everyone Checkers

And hours (it seemed like) of BB Gun Range Practice, supervised by Uncle Rob.  He is a police officer, you know.

Batman Shoots

The kids hardly ever beat him.

BB Guns

Annabelle loved to shoot Emma’s pink BB rifle.  She was pretty good, too.  No empty can was safe around our campsite.

Annie Oakley

And we can’t forget Uncle Rob’s famous rock juggling.

Rob Juggles Rocks

And of course I would be remiss to leave out our nightly campfire entertainment, provided by Desperate Hubby after he finished his cooking and cleanup chores.

Campfire Entertainment

Even with all this campsite fun, we did have time for a few major excursions away from our campsite.


I was itching to get out on the trail, so on our first full day we saddled up the horses and headed out to the Kirkham Trail Head.  We had three horses and four riders, so Mel and I took turns riding Spice and walking.  I really needed the exercise, so I wanted to walk most of the way.  So did Mel, but she was a good sport about it.

First Day Ride

The ride started out well enough.  The beginning was mostly flat ground which wound through the marshy area near the creek.  Spice wasn’t crazy about the little wooden bridges that crossed the marshy areas.  They weren’t more than two feet wide, and had no rails.

Scary Bridge

We had to cross two of these bridges to get to the high country.  We got Spice across the first one but I could tell she was pretty nervous. When I led her across the second one she panicked and slipped off the edge, pushing me partly into the murky mud below.  It was icky.

One Muddy Shoe

We soldiered on, with me trying not to think too much about the return trip and crossing the bridges again.

The trail was breathtaking once we started to climb.    We went through acres of burned down trees whose skeletons stood like sentinels guarding the new baby trees growing up.  It was a little eerie.


Up on top we could see forever.  If we would have kept going on that same trail we would have made it all the way to Lowman.

Hillside Trio

We had been riding for a couple of hours already, though, so we turned around and headed back.

Toward the bridges.

I was leading Spice as we got to the first bridge and she made it across OK, but she was considerably agitated by the unknown elements lurking just under her feet as she clonked across the wood.

As we started to cross the second bridge disaster struck.  Spice walked carefully, but stepped just off the bridge with one hind leg.  That leg immediately sank in the deep mud.  The mare panicked and floundered, pulling the reins out of my hands and falling off the bridge with all four legs, bolting away from the bridge through the muck.

I caught her and held on to her beside the bridge.  I told Mel to go on across with Grumpy and Emma.  Then disaster struck again.  Grumpy, who had made every prior crossing with the aplomb he has shown as a superstar trail horse, started over the bridge.  Emma was scared, and I am not sure exactly what happened, but Grumpy fell off the bridge too.  He floundered trying to get to his feet in the deep mud.  Emma fell off.  Right under his feet.

I am usually very well composed under adverse circumstances, but in this case I lost it.  I started screaming, watching my 10-year-old niece on the ground next to the shod scrambling hooves of a 1,000 pound horse.  Grumpy is smart, though, and careful. Somehow he managed to miss stepping on Emma.

We all re-grouped.  I decided that there would be no more bridge crossings that day.  I took Spice and walked up and down to find a place to cross the creek. Once I found it, it took me about twenty minutes to convince Spice to cross.  She was trembling all over with fear from the bridge, but she is a veteran water crosser.  Once I got her in the creek she stopped for a nice drink.

Spice Finally Crosses

Then it was Grumpy’s turn.


It took quite a bit of coaxing but I finally got him across too.  He jumped the whole thing in one big leap.

Then it was time for Reno.  I walked back over the bridge to him.  I attached the long lead rope I had been using to lead the others across the creek to his bridle. As I started to lead him toward the creek he took off, marching across the bridge all by himself, with me following him.

He is such a cool little horse.

This is how it's done

We made it back to camp safely, exhausted from our ordeals but still grateful for the beauty we had seen that day.

So we decided to do it all over again.


This time we couldn’t talk Emma into going along.  I can’t say that I really blame her.

It was just us three girls that headed out.  And Winston.  At least nobody had to walk this time.  Except Winston.

Second Ride Posse

This time we headed in the opposite direction, to the Bench Creek Trail.  Another rider we had encountered the day before talked of the beautiful views from the top of the trail.  He told us there were no bridges to cross this time.

He was right on both counts.

The trail started out flat, then wound high up on the ridge of a mountain.

2nd Ride Trail

The terrain was so steep that the trail was a zig-zag, going from one switch-back to another up the side of the mountain.


Once we got to the top though, the views were nothing less than spectacular.

But a little smoky.

Up High Smokey

Of course we had to pose.

Top O Mountain A and M

All of us.

Top o Mountain A and P

Our ride home was without incident.  It was one of the most beautiful trails I think I’d ever seen.

Until the next day, that is.  When we embarked on


The horses were tired a little sore from their strenuous climbs the previous two days, and even Winston wasn’t interested in doing another ride by day three. With all the hiking and swimming he had done he was Dog Tired.  Har har.

Tired Winston

I had one more trail in mind though, and despite going for a five-mile run after our trail ride the previous day, Mel was more than happy to humor me by agreeing to go for a hike.  My experience the other day trekking along with the horses made me remember how much I like to go for nice relaxing hike, so I was thrilled to head out.

Heading Out Hiking

When we set out on a moderate climb up the side of a mountain, we had no idea of the wonder we would soon experience.

Hiking the Trail

We’d hiked about an hour or so when we saw a few butterflies. A few turned into many.  Many turned into hundreds of thousands.  They covered acres of meadows on the side of the mountain  It was breathtaking.


They ranged in color from a bright orange to a more mild version of that same color.  Every one was beautiful.

Mel Butterfly

We stared and stared at them.  I had seen the migration of the Monarch Butterflies in California before, and this was a similar phenomenon.  Although these butterflies were the same color, they were much smaller than a Monarch and they were spotted rather than striped.  Whatever they were, they were simply beyond words.

Closeup Butterfly

Beautiful.  Just beautiful.

Butterfly Closeup

After we played with the butterflies for a while, we continued our hike.  We came upon a huge tree that appeared to have been felled by lightning.  The base of the tree was so big we could actually sit inside it.

Lightning Tree

Se we did.  The bright orange vibrancy of the wood was truly a work of art.

Mel Lightning Tree

We hiked further.  Past bushes with a mysterious red fuzz growing on them.

Red velvet vines

More fallen trees.

Mel Fallen Tree

And lots of beautiful flowers.

Pretty Pink Flowers

We crossed a couple of streams.  One small, one bigger.

About to Cross

We hiked into a high mountain swamp to examine hundreds of lily pads floating serenely in a pond surrounded by tall, tall trees.


We finally walked back to the campsite in the heat of the afternoon.  Mel’s GPS watch showed we had hiked just about 6.5 extremely steep miles.  I was sweaty and tired.  My breath came in heaves and I felt like my legs might collapse at any minute.  Mel trotted along the trail as if we were just starting out.  She is a goer, that girl.

We walked into the camp to see the unexpected sight of the children giving poor beleaguered Winston a bubble bath. That’ll teach him to wimp out on a hike!


Rob and Mel headed out that evening for home.  We woke up early the next morning to a light drizzling rain.

The kids sat under the camper awning playing with their pet worms.

Final Morning

We loaded up the camper and the horses and headed home.  The smoke that had been a beautiful plume in the previous four days now pervaded the valley.

Smoke Plume

We made it past the fire controls near Banks and home in good time.  The kids were tired and ready to be back.

But Batman said what we all were thinking.

“I can’t wait to go camping again, mom!”

Categories: Horse Adventures, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Travel, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

New Zealand Part III: Dead Bird Station

Our layover days in the little red ranch house were filled with relaxation, mundane chores, and glimmers of excitement.  In my last travel post I told of my invigorating ride on Matia, the young gelding who we saddled and rode for the first time during our rest days at the cabin.

That was my closest brush with death on our trip so far, and it was about time that Brother Rob got his glimpse of mortality.

As I mentioned, this ranch was our layover station.  We were going to have a chance to relax for a couple of days and since there was water available we would have the chance to do some laundry. 

We all looked forward to having clean clothes, though the way we achieved that was, um, somewhat rustic.

Here Diane works on getting her spare riding jeans clean.

Diane Laundry 2

I scrubbed everything I had with a bar of Ivory soap.  I’m not entirely sure I got them any cleaner, but it felt good to make the effort.  I did mention I didn’t have room for makeup, right?

Paula Laundry

When our laundry was all finished, we laid it out across a fence to dry.

Jenny Doing Laundry

The drama of this event began about halfway through the first full day in camp.  Jenny, our camp cook and hostess, said after breakfast that she felt there was a strange taste and smell to the water inside the house.  The water, by the way, that she had been using to cook with and wash our dishes.  I could not really discern anything unusual, but then again I had never been to that house before. 

I had just been happy to be able to wash my face and brush my teeth with water from a tap for a change.

Lawrie climbed up on top of a very rickety old ladder and lifted the top off of the cistern, which collected rain water and supplied the house taps. 

Lawrie Roof

When he lifted off the lid, he made this pronouncement.  The cistern must be cleaned.

I had the feeling that this was not a brand new discovery.  Having my strapping and willing brother Rob at his disposal probably just enabled Lawrie to do something he had needed to do for awhile. 

I sat back with a cup of coffee and my camera to watch the proceedings.

Lawrie procured the old ranch tractor, which took some time to get started and did not look all that trustworthy to my uneducated eye.

After some maneuvering he got the tractor situated so that the bucket reached the top of the stand that the cistern rested on.  My beloved baby brother was in the bucket.

Then Lawrie scrambled up the ladder and joined him.

Crazy Bucket Loading

The tipped and shifted the heavy box to try to empty it enough to slide it onto the tractor.

Getting it on the Bucket

Their situations were precarious at best, downright crazy at worst.

Bucket Loading

Finally they managed to get the corner of the cistern wedged into the bucket and Rob balanced like a monkey on the bucket arms, holding the cistern steady as Lawrie began to lower him to the ground.

Rob Bucket 2

The hydraulics on the tractor weren’t what they probably once were, and the bucket bounced and jostled as it slowly moved toward the ground.  I had this awful vision of my little brother falling to the grass and being squashed like a bug beneath the metal cistern. 

Rob Bucket Three 

He didn’t though.  Fall, I mean.


When they finally got the cistern back on the ground they tipped it over and out poured a bunch of slimy brown stuff.

And a dead black bird.

Rinsing out the Bin

I didn’t take a picture of the bird because I was too busy scrubbing out my mouth with the piece of Ivory soap that I had left over from my laundry.  I was disgusted and horrified, and I could suddenly imagine a foul dead-bird taste in my mouth.  I’m sure it was my imagination. 

Or not.

When the cistern was all scrubbed out with water supplied from the outside pump for the livestock, they repeated the whole process to put it back on the stand again.  Just backwards.

Although they assured me that the water in the house was now clean and truly potable after filling the cistern back up from the livestock pump, I brushed my teeth with the hose outside for the rest of the stay.

And that is how I named the ranch Dead Bird Station.

Categories: Travel | 4 Comments

The Real Man From Snowy River

We finished up our Tasmanian adventure in good spirits, rested and ready for our next trip, an eleven day pack trip through the mountainous region of New Zealand’s South Island.

Rob had regained much of his good humor from the rest and recreation in Tasmania.  Look at him here trying to contain his glee.

Happy Rob

We traveled from Tasmania to the beautiful city of Christchurch and checked into the lovely Millennium Hotel, where we spent a couple of days getting our laundry done and watching stupid movies on Pay Per View (I noted “Michelle and Romey’s High School Reunion” in particular, in my journal). It has to be a pretty bad movie if you take up valuable journal space remembering the name.

Our trip was based out of a picturesque ranch called Waitohi Downs, which is a mountainous 2,300 acre spread.  It is home to 50 horses, 3,000 sheep, 150 beef cattle and 450 red deer.  The red deer are raised for their antlers, which are shipped to Japan where the velvet is a high-priced Japanese aphrodisiac. Huh. I guess whatever floats your boat.

Anyway, our hosts on the trip were Jenny and Lawrie O’Carroll.  They were a fortyish couple, no kids, and they ran the 1-day to 11-day trips based out of their simple yet comfortable ranch headquarters.

This is Jenny.  She was our camp cook, and exhibited unflappable calmness and good humor through all the challenges of the trip. She made a mean dessert too.


Jenny’s husband is Lawrie.  He is The Real Man From Snowy River.


I thought he looked kind of like a tall, masculine Richard Gere.  Lawrie and I hit it off right away (no, not in the “deer horn” sort of way) and he spend most of the trip trying to persuade me to abandon my life in the U.S. for a year and work for he and Jenny guiding pack trips.  I still can’t believe I didn’t do it.


Rob made a new friend while we were at the ranch.

Rob and Pig

Unlike Australia, where our gear was carried from place to place by automobile, here all of our stuff was loaded on packhorses.  Our first night there we were taught to pack our swag, which was a combination of bedroll and duffel bag, and carried all of our personal belongings for the trip.  We were allowed three changes of clothing, a towel, some extra shoes for camp, and our cameras and journal writing materials. 

There was no room in the swags for a blow dryer or makeup.  You will no doubt notice that in some of the pictures later.

The swags were loaded on the sides of packhorses for the trip.

Which brings me to the horses.  They were giant Thoroughbred/Clydesdale  crosses.  Here is Rob with one of the packhorses.  They truly were huge.

Rob and Pack Horse

At just over 16 hands high, my mare, Fern, was the smallest horse in our string. Did I mention there was no room for makeup?

Me and Fern

Here is a picture of Rob with his horse.  Or is it the horse and then Rob.  I can’t tell.

Rob and Horse

We had a fellow rider who was a very nice woman from Colorado named Diane.  Here we are, all loaded up and ready to head out.

Group Photo

And going down the trail. Isn’t it beautiful?

Heading Out

As the most experienced guest on the trip, I was often assigned the ask of leading Matia, a high-spirited and somewhat wild three year old gelding who had never been ridden and was on his first trip with the string.  Daily, he stretched my arms, jerked my neck, and once almost pulled me off crossing a nasty raging river.

I nicknamed the colt “Junior,” and next week I’ll tell you about how Lawrie actually made me ride him. 

Leading Matia

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