Sunday, August 31, 2008

Saturday, August 30, 2008

We're in Yellowstone!

We're in West Yellowstone, Montana. Our 6-hour drive took us over 8 hours, with stops for gas, lunch and a one hour trip to Walmart in Missoula. I live in the Flathead Valley, in northwest Montana and when people say they're going to the big city, they mean Missoula. Rick & I were walking around the Walmart Supercenter grumbling at how cheap the prices were. We only have a regular Walmart in Kalispell and the prices are no way near to being as low as the Missoula store. I don't know why they hose people in small towns like that. I had bought a box of cereal the day before for $4 and found the same one there for $2. I guess we'll have to stop on our way home to do some grocery shopping.

West Yellowstone is a small tourist town on the outskirts of the park. We've been here before, but we have never seen it so busy. We're usually here early in the season or off season. It's peak season with Labor Day weekend and the place is packed. It's a great little town, full of restaurants, fly fishing shops, gift shops and such. We're staying in our RV and are just minutes away from the entrance of Yellowstone NP. Doing the breakfast thing now, but we'll be going into the park later this morning. I haven't taken many pictures yet, but should have more by tomorrow after we visit the park. I just want to say hi and hope everyone has a great holiday weekend!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yellowstone National Park

We're going to Yellowstone tomorrow and I hope we don't have to deal with moods like the one above. This is Nathan a few years back. He wasn't really being a brat. He just likes giving me a hard time when I take his picture. Neil was being more of a pain that day. I can't imagine why. Why don't kids like sitting still for an hour to see a geyser erupt? Doesn't Old Faithful know that if it doesn't go off in time, parents have to deal with the above scenario?

We don't usually travel on holidays, but have to now because of Rick's work schedule. Now we're stuck with the crowds, but that's okay. Yellowstone is huge and we know where to go to get away from the people. The good thing is that it's only a 6-hour drive from our house. It used to take us 3 days to get there when we lived in California. We're taking our trailer and staying just outside of the park at the Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park. It's really nice and in the town of West Yellowstone, MT. Just a block away is a place called the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. This is an awesome place to see grizzlies and wolves close up. The education center is fascinating and they give great presentations. When we were there last October, we went to a Birds of Prey talk. My little bird nerd, Nathan, knew all the answers to the questions. The lady pulled out a bird from a carrier and asked if anyone knew what it was. Nathan said, "That's a Western Screech Owl." She was surprised he knew it was a western one. I would have said, "An owl?"

I'm bringing a laptop and if I get any good pictures, I'll post them over the weekend. You never know what you'll find in Yellowstone. One year we watched a mother grizzly bear and two cubs chase down a herd of elk. The elk were on a little stretch of land between Yellowstone Lake and another small body of water. They had no where to go and it was amazing to watch the bear go after them. It's hard to imagine elk screaming, but they did. The sow took an elk down just out of sight from us over a hillside. It was so close that we could see the cubs lift their heads up and look around as they enjoyed their dinner. Another year we watched two sandhill cranes literally attack a young bull elk. The elk was trying to get to their chick and the two cranes weren't going to stand for it. It was wild. We've also seen bison crossing the road that were probably just minutes old. The mothers don't give them much time before they move on with the herd. Like I said, you never know what you'll see in Yellowstone. I will keep you posted!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Elvis is in the building!

I saw this picture in my files the other day. It's me when I was about 8 or 9 years old and obviously taken in the 1970s. It was inside a room at the International Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. Notice the pin I'm wearing. Yep, it's Elvis. My mom loves Elvis and she used to take me to Las Vegas to see his shows. I remember buying this outfit for an Elvis concert. I couldn't have been more decked out -- new dress, necklace, bracelet, ring, hair ribbon, button. I'm sure all the jewelry was a matching set because those were my favorite things to buy when we traveled to Vegas. I remember buying the stuffed kitty at the giftshop at the Hilton. Remember it clear as day, which is funny because I can't remember what I ate for lunch yesterday.

Elvis concerts were so amazing. I've been to lots of concerts since then, but none compare to the excitement of Elvis. I remember going into the showroom and watching my mom hand the maitre d' a hundred dollar bill. He took it and smiled and proceeded to walk us to our table. He sat us down front row center next to the stage. A hundred bucks went a long way in old Vegas. That was a wild concert. We were sitting with a large group of Japanese women and all they could do was giggle. At one point in the show, they pulled on my arms and tried to get me to get up on stage. I was shy as could be, so I fought them the whole time. Knowing what I know now, what a stupid thing to do. Elvis was awesome. Women would come up and ask for kisses and he always leaned over to give them. I saw more than once where he took enormous rings off his fingers and gave them to ladies in the crowd. What an amazing performer. His shows always started with the theme to "2001: A Space Odyssey" and ended with "I Can't Help Falling In Love", complete with the cape on his back. And yes, they always said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left the building" after every show. If they didn't say that and turn the lights back on, the crowd would continue to clap for encores and would never leave.

I believe Elvis stayed in the Hilton when he was performing. The top floor was restricted and I think that's where he stayed. You could take the elevator up and open the doors, but you couldn't get out. They had a guard at the door and it was blocked off with red velvet ropes. Right when the elevator doors opened, you saw a glass case with some sort of jeweled crown inside it. One of these days I'll have to research to find out what that was. We used to ride up to the top just to look when the doors opened, and then we'd ride back down. My mom was a nurse and worked crazy hours, so a lot of times we'd leave for Vegas in the evening and we'd drive all night. We'd get there in the morning, check into our hotel and sleep during the day. Then we'd go to the show at night. One time I found myself wandering around the hotel and I had no idea where I was. This was the one and only time I think I ever sleepwalked. I found myself outside and a helicopter landed on the lawn in front of me. Several people came out, including a man I am 100% positive was Elvis. I went back inside and realized I had no idea what room I was in. I had to ask at the front desk. To this day, no one ever believed I saw Elvis Presley get out of his helicopter, but I know it was him. Wonderful memories for me, that's for sure.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What's crocking?

Mention crock-pots to my friends and they'll probably think of me. I'm a crock-pot nut. If I can crock it, I can cook it. I've made just about everything in my crock-pot, from stews to lasagna to fruit cobblers to cake, even bread. If someone wants to get under my skin, all they have to say is their crock-pot is better than mine. Of course, it won't be true, but I'd still sulk for awhile. If I was only allowed to have one kitchen appliance, it would be my crock-pot. If I could take something while stranded on a deserted island, it would be my crock-pot and a very long extension cord.

There are many recipe books for crock-pots. Most are too complicated and use fancy ingredients you don't regularly have. That defeats the purpose of slow-cooking. Two of the best recipe books out there are 101 Things To Do With A Slow Cooker and 101 More Things To Do With A Slow Cooker by Stephanie Ashcraft and Janet Eyring. I recommend these books to everyone. The recipes are easy, fast and use ingredients you have in your cupboard. Not only that, but they always turn out perfect. I mean, how hard is it to toss some chicken into your cooker and pour some cream of chicken soup and salsa over it? It's even better when you use Trader Joe's habenero salsa. Shred up the chicken, add some Spanish rice and corn and wrap it up in a warm tortilla. With recipes that simple, anyone can be a great cook.

The other day my husband came home with a 15 pound bag of potatoes. It was $2 for the bag, so he couldn't pass it up. So what does he end up making? A huge bowl of macaroni salad. Doh! I am trying to decide to make Bacon-Potato Soup or Spicy Potato Soup in my crock-pot today. If I make the first one, I'll have to break open one of Rick's packages of bacon. Since it was his idea to buy all these potatoes, I guess he can sacrifice 6 slices of his precious bacon for the cause.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Nips the Squirrel

This is Nips. Sure, she's a rodent, but she's cute. My husband named her and from the picture above, I'm sure you can figure out why. Nips is a mama squirrel and she's a constant source of entertainment. My family thinks I've lost it with my squirrely friends, but they make me laugh. We had a black bear in our yard that completely destroyed one of my birdfeeders. That didn't stop Nips. Within minutes of the bear leaving, she was right back up there looking for leftovers. When I had to bring the feeders in because they kept getting destroyed by bears, Nips wasn't happy. She began doing body slams into my glass door. She would look in the window at me and screech. Have you ever been chewed out by a squirrel? It's not pretty.

I've always loved squirrels. They're fun to watch running up and down trees, across telephone wires and bouncing along the driveway. One of my favorite movies is Funny Farm where Chevy Chase moves from the city to become a novelist in the country. He gets so distracted by country life that his writing suffers. In the process, his wife writes a children's book about a squirrel named Andy and gets it published. I always thought they should have made a sequel. Another great Chevy Chase movie is Christmas Vacation where the squirrel is in the Christmas tree. Classic squirrel stuff there. I've heard that children's book editors don't want squirrel stories right now. I'm not sure why, but maybe after Funny Farm came out, they were bombarded with them. That didn't stop me from writing a story about squirrels. It's a photo-illustrated story with short rhymes. It makes my boys giggle every time I read it to them. Maybe someday book editors will be open to more squirrel stories. In the meantime, I'll have to be entertained by Nips and hope that her babies make an appearance soon.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I grew up in southern California in a small town called Ojai. You pronounce it "oh-hi" and it's nestled in a little valley just 15 minutes away from the Pacific Ocean. It's about an hour north of Los Angeles and 45 minutes south of Santa Barbara. Whenever I mention Ojai to people, they remember it as being the town where the "Bionic Woman" was filmed. Yes, that's Ojai's biggest claim to fame. It's a small town and very suburban.

I thought about Ojai yesterday. My husband and boys were playing on the beach of a beautiful lake and I was in the forest, picking huckleberries. There I was, sitting in the midst of a patch of huckleberry bushes. They were everywhere. I ran out of time before I ran out of berries. By the time I came out, my fingers were stained purple. If you've ever been to the northwestern US, you probably know what huckleberries are. Here in Montana they're huge, especially in the tourist industry. You can't go into any store without finding a display of huckleberry items. I was talking to an Australian once and she didn't know huckleberries were real. She thought it was just a name, such as Huckleberry Finn or Huckleberry Hound. They're real alright and they're absolutely delicious. There is a catch to huckleberries -- you won't find them in stores here. You can find them at roadside stands, but be prepared to pay a lot for a small amount. The only way to get huckleberries is to pick them by hand, as they can't be grown commerically. The other catch is that huckleberries are a favorite food of bears, so you have to stay on your guard. So there I sat, wearing just my bathing suit and water shoes, in the middle of a huckleberry patch. Not something I ever did in Ojai, that's for sure. And I tell you, the smell of the berries was pure heaven.

Check out the Huckleberry Patch for more about huckleberries. If you want to treat yourself or someone to something really special, order the huckleberry jam, taffy, fudge or coffee. No matter what you pick, it's all great. No wonder those bears love huckleberries so much!

Saturday, August 23, 2008


One of my favorite parts of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is when Lucy describes phobias to Charlie Brown. As a kid, I was amazed how a little girl knew so many big words, like pantophobia. There is a phobia for nearly everything and if you go to The Phobia List you'll probably find several you can relate to yourself. When I was little, I used to have a fear of being behind a cement mixer while riding in a car. I guess I thought it would dump cement and bury me alive. I remember telling my mom I was allergic to dump trucks -- silly.

Some phobias are silly, but others are real. Most know what claustrophobia is, and for those who have it, being in confined places can be terrifying. I have scoleciphobia, which is the fear of worms. Yes, it's a silly phobia and it's not a big deal. I know I won't die if I'm around worms. I simply don't like them -- not even a tiny bit. Taking the picture above was hard for me. My husband was working on a fountain in our yard and came across some worms. As much as I hated to do it, I needed a picture for a book I was writing about animals, so I took the picture. I decided to confront my fear even more by writing a story about worms. It's a silly story that rhymes, about a little worm who is always mad and wants some peace and quiet. While researching for my story, I discovered that a single acre of property can have nearly 1 million earthworms in it. Yes, one million. That's a lot of creepy, wiggly things. It makes me think twice when I'm laying on my lawn. I love birds and enjoy photographing them. Watching American robins pull worms from the ground nearly makes me faint. Better in their bellies than anywhere near me, I guess.

Things could always be worse. I could have peladophobia, a fear of bald people, or genuphobia, a fear of knees. I guess being scared of silly worms isn't so bad. So, how about you -- what are you afraid of?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mountain Goats

Most everyone who knows me, knows I love mountain goats. Next to big cats and bears, mountain goats are my favorite animals. They're unique because they're only found in certain parts of North America. They have beautiful white coats with striking black features and are very social. Nannies and kids can be in herds as large as 50 or more. They can be seen on cliffs, from the road, walking on the road, strolling along trails and boardwalks and at natural salt licks. Hikers sometimes have mountain goats coming up to lick the sweat from their arms and legs. Many people don't know mountain goats aren't true goats. They belong to the antelope family.

Mountain goats were the reason I started writing stories for children. After a camping trip to Glacier NP a few years back, I had an idea to write a story about a little mountain goat named Manny. He lived on the cliffs and saw the campers below. The story is about him wanting to be part of the fun and his adventures down the mountain. To date, I have a fiction version of Manny's story as well as a nonfiction version with photos. I hope to have them published someday so children from other places can enjoy these animals as much as I do. Because of this story, whenever my kids see a mountain goat, it's automatically named Manny. The picture above is Manny's mother. She came over a hillside and I got this picture right before her kid appeared with her. It's one of my favorite pictures.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Childhood Playgrounds

When I was little, my house was on the outskirts of town. There was a small creek that ran behind us where I spent most of my time playing. The creek was usually dry, except in winter when we got rain. There were many nights we stood outside watching the water rise hoping it wouldn't flood the house. Not many kids lived near me and most of my playtime was spent alone in this creek -- making boats, watching them float down the water, catching frogs and tadpoles, making my Barbies high dive from the rocks. I loved it and thought it was the greatest place to play and grow up.

Two years ago we moved from southern California to northwestern Montana. The picture above was taken in Glacier National Park. It used to take us 3-4 days to get here for vacation. Now it takes us less than an hour to get to the park. This is the type of playground my children have now. We go to Glacier often to camp, hike, fish, swim, kayak or look for wildlife, which can include mountain goats, eagles and bears. The term a day in the park has a whole new meaning to us. Sometimes people see pictures I've taken and say they didn't think places like this still exist. I consider myself fortunate to live in such a beautiful place where my children can grow up with memories like the one in this picture. It sure beats my little creek in the east end of town.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My First Blog Ever!

Well, here I am. I brought my cat with me. Hopefully, she knows how to blog because I have no clue what I'm doing. We just had 5 straight days in the high 90s here in northwestern Montana. Today the guys are here installing the air conditioner and it's raining -- typical.
I hope to share some of my photographs on this blog as well as keep everyone updated on my writing. My first children's book, A New Job for Dilly is set for publication by 4RV Publishing LLC in the winter of 2009. I am currently working on two follow-up stories with Dilly, but only time will tell if they materialize into anything.
To date, I have written over 22 picture books, four I have photo-illustrated myself, one early reader and one middle grade novel. I've been busy. My next project is getting ready for our 11th year of homeschooling.