A Different Kind of Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s Day this year we decided to bypass the traditional candy, flowers, or dinner at a crowded restaurant. With a desire to enjoy the sunshine, avoid crowds, and spend some together time away from life distractions, we packed the camping gear, loaded up the car, and headed to our favorite place…

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I know, doesn’t sound very romantic, does it?  For some crazy reason (to some anyway) we love this place! Over the past 30 years we have been here about 25 times and each visit is unique as well as beautiful.  Maybe it is the serenity, the diversity, or  the peacefulness that calls to us but we are drawn back here year after year. Last spring we came in early March to experience the Super Bloom.

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2016

Once every decade or so, the desert comes alive with a magnificent show of flowers. The almost magical conditions of dormant flowers seeds, rain, and weather have to be just right for this phenomenon to occur.  It really was a sight to behold.

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2017

 We left home at 4:00 am and arrived before 9:00 am. The campground much busier than expected but we found a couple leaving so we were able to get a great campsite. We had packed light for our brief visit and set up was completed in no time.

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We now had a full day to soak up some much needed sun and enjoy the day.

After settling in and taking some time to appreciate the day before us, we decided to head over to the pool at Furnace Creek Ranch. There is a marvelous spring-fed swimming pool that maintains about a 80 degree temperature year round. For a mere $5.00 each we could use the pool and showers for an entire day. We had a lovely swim with snow capped mountains in the background. I actually forgot to take a picture but more information and pictures are found in the provided link.

A few hours later we headed back to the campsite for lunch and a brief nap.

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 We wanted to make the most of our short visit so soon pulled out our beloved Scrabble game for a few ‘friendly’ (but competitive) games.

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It was Valentine’s Day after all so we continued the celebration with some bubbly.

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We completed a lovely day with barbecued steak and baked potatoes, a campfire, and star gazing. The nighttime sky is unbelievable!

Before we knew it we were enjoying the sunrise from our tent…

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…and it was already time to pack up and head back. We might have stayed another day but we have two new kittens at home and were not yet comfortable leaving them for any length of time. I know our cat-sitter had things under control but you know how new parents are!

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After breakfast in the cafe, we decided to take the scenic drive out of the park and headed towards Badwater, at about 279 degrees below sea level. Furnace Creek is almost at sea level. You can see the snow capped Panamint Mountains in the distance.

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While I was snapping pictures of the salt flats at Badwater, Thommmee was snapping pictures of me!

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We lingered along the way…in no hurry to leave.

Jubilee Pass

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It is not often you see such green in the desert. We have had a great deal of rain this season with more expected. This is seriously helping our drought situation!

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For us, this was a perfect way to spend Valentine’s Day.

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Farewell to Summer

Our summer here is officially over.  Fall begins tomorrow. The high temperatures will linger into October but the nights will begin to cool. In November  we will experience our “fall” in Southern California.  From now until then we will have dry dusty days without rain, Santa Ana winds, and abundant sunshine. The palm trees will remain green, native plants will flourish, hillsides will continue to brown,  leaves will drop and blow in the wind, but a few splashes of fall colors maybe found.

Summer was wonderful.  Although we spent more time at home than usual, we enjoyed many opportunities to get outdoors and appreciate summer. Rather than bore you with details,  I decided to showcase a few highlights and allow the pictures to tell most of the story.

A visit to Berkeley and the University of California

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Exploring Berkeley and visiting with family.

Visiting a winery near Gilroy, California

Salinas, California-Home of John Steinbeck.

Beautiful Monterey Bay

Camping in Big Sur and exploring the California coastline.

Laughing in amazement at sun bathing sea lions.

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A Phoenix sunrise. One of two trips we made to Arizona.

Who knew Arizona could be so green?

We loved our visit to Oro Valley north of Tuscon, Arizona…

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…and even enjoyed the rain!

Our small garden yielded us tomatoes, onions, peppers, squash, and strawberries.

I worked on a few sewing and craft projects.

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We spent a great deal of time with family, friends, and just hanging out.

(and of course eating and shopping!)

So while we say farewell to the Summer of 2016…

I am looking forward to what comes next!

How was your summer?

(or winter-depending on where you live)

Death Valley-Super Bloom

A special treat is happening in the Death Valley……spring flowers! With only an average annual rainfall of 2 inches a year, this season, the park got  3 inches of rain so far! Three rare storms in the first two weeks of October was enough to cause millions of dormant wildflower seeds to spring forth.

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Our yearly camping trip to Death Valley Nation Park is at Thanksgiving so the chance to visit this past weekend during the super bloom was a special treat. The roads, campgrounds, hotels, and just about everywhere we went was full of enthralled spectators. Never before had we experienced such unique splendor. Death Valley, despite its name, is such a beautiful place anytime of the year. Although barren of many plants, trees, and shrubs, the diversity and beauty of the park is not to be missed. It is this diversity that makes this park so incredibly appealing-from the salt flats to the sand dunes, the mountain tops  to the badlands, and the sunrises to the sunsets. It is a land of extremes.

We were going to see Death Valley in the spring and during the extraordinary blooming of spring flowers!  Out the door at 3:30AM we arrived full of anticipation and excited to explore. We spent two days driving around the park with many stops along the way.

This is some of the highlights of our trip.

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Desert Gold

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Deep Purple Phacelia

(If touched can cause a rash)

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More than 20 species of wildflower bloom in the park at various elevations.

We saw these at a higher elevation but I don’t know their name.

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The Desert Five-Spot

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The Gravel Ghost

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(see how seems to float from the very interesting leaves hugging the ground?)

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The Charcoal Kilns. No flowers but a group of young people making a video!

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Badwater Basin. 282 feet below sea level. That is not snow in the background…

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…it is a salt flat.

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This was a shrub growing among the Desert Gold flowers.

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On a normal trip the landscape would look more like this…

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…instead of this!

 Our second night  we were sent packing with 45-60 mph winds… which collapsed our tent….so…we slept in the car! Not the best way to end our trip but worth every minute to have been able to enjoy such a rare sight.

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A day earlier than planned we soon found our way home. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it though!

Boys and Girls

Isn’t it interesting how families seem to have more boys than girls, more daughters than sons, or more guys than gals? In our blended family we have 4 girls and 2 boys, 4 grandsons and 7 granddaughters, 1 great granddaughter and 2 more on the way (due in April and May). Thommmee is 1 of  5 brothers and 2 sisters, I am 1 of 4 sisters and 2 brothers.

In our more local/ immediate family we seem be surrounded by girls. As a result, I spend time with the girls in efforts of cooking, sewing, shopping, etc. We all spend time together camping, vacationing, playing games, barbequing,  beach trips, and a multitude of birthday parties. When it comes to doing ‘guy’ things, however, I have often felt that I fell short. I recently decided to make more of an effort to participate in some of the things that they enjoy. Surprisingly (or not) we actually ended up having a really good time.

A few weekends ago my 16 year old grandson and I made plans to attend an outdoors/sportsman event near me.  We were both really excited to spend this time together but honestly I was a bit apprehensive that I would disappoint him or he would be bored hanging out with grandma. Although we are very close and enjoy a very special bond, we are usually a part of a group since he has become a teenager. He lives about 30 miles away and this would also be his first trip managing the congested Southern California freeways by himself. On a Friday afternoon he headed my way as soon as he got out of school and arrived at my house about 3:30. I had decided to just go with whatever I would normally do so we quickly got busy making strawberry jam. Now, I realize this might not be a 16 year old boy’s idea of fun but I figured it was still hanging out with grandma so…. It was fun and he learned a thing or two about making jam.  Since it was Valentine’s Day weekend, we took a jar of fresh jam and decorated it for him to give to his girlfriend ( along with his other special mementos).

While I cleaned up, he went outside with Poppa (Thommmee) to barbeque some steaks and veggies. I made potatoes and garlic bread.  After dinner we settled down to play some board games and cards. We baked brownies. We talked. We laughed.  Eventually Poppa was ready for bed but we sat up and talked well past my  bedtime. We really shared with each other and I will treasure that evening forever.

Early the next morning the three of us were up laughing and talking over pancakes and bacon (which is enough to make anyone happy-right?) We didn’t invite Poppa or anyone else to go along on this trip so the two of us headed off to the event. Now, I don’t know what I expected, maybe a bunch of dudes in overalls chewing tobacco or some other foolish notions of what hunters, gun carrying survivalists might look like (sorry if I offended anyone here-I am somewhat a sheltered urban raised girl ). Anyway, it was mostly men (hey ladies, the ultimate place to meet a guy maybe?), normal looking people, a few women, and even a few families. Nonetheless, I am fairly certain I was the only proud grandma accompanied by her handsome 16 year old grandson. We had a great time but for me this was a one time event (just the show not the grandson).

Encouraged by this adventure, the following weekend I offered to take Thommmee to the Gold and Treasure show at the Fairplex (formally know as the LA Fairgrounds). He loves to watch all of those treasure hunting, prospecting, gold digging type shows so he was all in! (maybe this is where I got that stereo-type idea of the outdoorsmen?) They were selling all types of  machines, gizmos,  and every sort of prospecting gear you could imagine. They even sold dirt and a dirt of the month club membership so you could pan for gold in the privacy of your own home…really? Again, mostly men but more women and families at this event…..normal people! I think get these ideas from the shows Thommmee watches. They must pick extremes types to keep the shows interesting.

OK. I tried. I love the outdoors. If you read my blog you know I love to camp, I sleep in a tent and cook outdoors. These two weekends were a bit of a stretch for me but these men  appreciated my willingness to try something new and I got to spend time with these great guys.  I am not complaining at all. Next weekend our church is having a ladies afternoon tea which I will be attending. Not sure this is a fit for me either. I like my jeans, sneakers and bracelets. Perhaps I am someplace in between but I would like to keep an open mind.

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A work in progress…

I have officially reached the age to receive Medicare. When I was younger it seemed a place so far away that surely if I ever reached this ancient age I would be used up and simply plant myself in a comfy chair to wait out my remaining years.

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Guess what?

I don’t feel that way at all. In fact, I have now reached a crossroads where I need to decide…

What do I want to do with the rest of my life?

If a normal reasonably healthy woman in the US has a life expectancy of 89 years old, I may have another 20+ or so years left. I realize that death came come “like a thief in the night, we know not when” as it states in the Bible, but just for argument sake, let me assume I will hang in another 20 years with at least moderately decent good health and a few good brain cells working.

So now what?

If you have read my blog you know I have a fabulous husband, many grandchildren, great kids, friends, am active in my church, and between all of that I am pretty busy with events, camping, birthday parties, vacations, and various outings. I also like to sew, get some reasonable pleasure from cooking, some gardening, and have recently started reading again (after a long dry spell).

Where do I go from here?

The first year of retirement  life seemed so clear. I had a purpose-I was now free of a daily required schedule and had the gift of life that retirement allowed. I jumped out of bed every morning relishing in the newness of not having to go to work every day. I was free to pursue the joys of life within my moderate budget. I don’t jump up quite so quickly these days. I joyfully  embraced the time I now had to spend time with those I loved and cared about. That has not changed at all. I was dedicated to getting to the gym regularly. Not so much any more (to be honest less and less). I sewed almost daily. Not now unless I have a specific project. I explored  and planned new adventures, combed blogs and the internet for ideas, and created new creations in the kitchen. Now-well, we have to eat so I have to cook. I blogged regularly. You can see that is not happening these days. I am lucky if I post twice a month. I was energetic and enthusiastic about almost everything. Now, yawn, is it naptime yet?

What happened?

I know, I need to eat better and exercise more.   I tried a crash exercise plan to get back into a groove with little success. Confession time-I have been slacking. I  know I thrive better on a routine so I have been attempting to tighten the reins on my daily activities-but remain somewhat flexible for unexpected opportunities.  (Isn’t it 5:00 somewhere?)

What now?

I crave to find a passion. Should I seek a new passion or revive an old one? Or a combination of both? Should I embrace a cause, volunteer,  get out more, or focus on the projects here at home? Is it all in my head or is it this aching body that seems to have slowed me down? Or is it all connected? Am I just finding a reasonable stride or am I really considering turning into that couch potato I was so worried about becoming? My kids laugh that I am so busy they can hardly keep up with my schedule. Am I being too hard on myself?

????

Life is a journey to be continued…

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Not just another road trip!

Whew! We just returned from a whirlwind 9 day road trip. Our goals were to visit a cousin in Northern Idaho and to see Yellowstone National Park. We kept our plans somewhat flexible and managed to see at least parts of California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada with over 2,000 miles driven. It was a marvelous trip but I am exhausted.  I have decided to share just a few highlights of our trip and allow the pictures to do most of the talking.

Mono Lake, California

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You can see the effects of the drought clearly here.

A night in Boise, Idaho at an adorable guest house

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A 2 night visit with family in Sand Point, Idaho.

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Lake Pend ‘Oreille

The cousins lovely home on 28 acres

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We really appreciated their hospitality.

Next stop…

Yellowstone National Park

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Geysers and Paint Pots dot many parts of the park.

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WOW!

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Buffalo sighting!

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I didn’t know about this gem.

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A view of the valley taken from the canyon edge.

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Impossible to express the vastness, diversity, and beauty of this place with just a few pictures.

Our Kamper Cabin located at Flagg Ranch was just outside the park. A new take on camping but very convenient. Just the basics.

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Possibly my favorite of all was The Tetons

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View of The Tetons from Lake Jenny

We came across this quaint chapel in the middle of Wyoming

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Looks more like an old ranch.

Of course I could go on and on but I will spare you. I know we all have busy lives, blogs to write and blogs to read. I do appreciate you taking a moment to stop by for a snapshot of our trip.

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Until next time…

Camping-Silverwood Lake

We finally decided to take out new tent out for a trial run.  Since we had not been out for a while our tent had languished in its original box for about 5 months. In our area it is very difficult to find an open camping spot without advance planning so we chose a mid-week trip to a nearby lake. You should understand, lakes in this part of California are few and far between, so they are usually full of boaters and crowds.  Mid week and before the kids were  out of school we had no problem getting in and very few neighbors. Even the park ranger looked  surprised when we arrived, no reservation, and asked to camp for one night!

We chose Silverwood Lake in the almost high desert located in the San Bernardino National Forest.

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This would not be a place I would venture to mid summer as temps can hit the 100’s quite often. I am also afraid of rattlesnakes (well to be honest, any snakes) which are quite common in the desert heat.  The other draw for this spot is the less than one hour drive to get there.

When you think of desert camping you don’t often think of trees…

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…which they had plenty of…

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…or water…

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…or beaches.

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They had plenty of that too.

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We had a lovely campsite, plenty of room for multiple tents.

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(Site 41)

It was a little breezy and mildly warm temperatures.

A homing pigeon stopped by for a rest on his way to wherever.

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Thommmee was so excited when he saw an eagle scoop up a small squirrel in its talons and fly off. Of course we didn’t have time to get a picture of nature in action.

The desert has a variety of beautiful and unique flowers.

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We didn’t get many pictures because I actually turned my phone off for 24 hours!  Yes, it was hard but it was also very relaxing. No internet, no connecting with anyone else or thinking about anything else except enjoying God’s beauty and spending time with Thommmee.  I had time to be alone and reflect.  We took a few little hikes to appreciate the exquisite diversity of the desert scenery. Although it was only one night, there was something about the quiet time that replenished me.

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It was just what I needed.