Day 8, in Which I Walked through the Valley of Death

It is a hauntingly beautiful place.

Okay, so I didn’t actually walk. As has been the theme of this trip, I drove. And drove. And drove.

As I descended into Death Valley, I watched the temperature rise from 81 degrees to 98. And “descended” is putting it mildly, as I wound up 282 feet below sea level. (Later in the day, I’d be up at 8036 feet above sea level. My ears were not amused by all of these shenanigans.)

I had never been to Death Valley before. It is a hauntingly beautiful place, and you pretty much have it all to yourself. Because of that, you can’t shake the feeling that if your car breaks down, you’re most likely going to be dead. I was way beyond cell phone signal, out amongst the 20 Mule Team Borax mines.

The funny thing about highways in the desert, when the horizon seems to stretch on beyond the impossible, is that you can’t really tell if you’re on a hill unless you look in the rear view mirror. Its as if balance takes a little holiday, and then all of a sudden you’re above or below where you expect to be.

And the terrain in the valley changes rapidly. I never realized just how many types of mountains there could be. You’ll see a few varieties below. The only thing they all had in common was that they were freakin’ hot, and unexpected, and sun-blasted beautiful. Adding to the other-worldliness of the place, I listened to the podcast Welcome to Night Vale all day long.

I stopped at Stovepipe Wells, which is the closest thing to an oasis that one can find in this desolate place. I got an ice cream bar at the convenience store. I was also able to get a stamp for my National Parks Passport at the Death Valley National Park visitor center, so now I can die happy.

This was my first day in California on this trip. You can tell you’re out West when there are cattle guards on the exit ramps. And the further into California I went, the smokier it got. I should have been able to see the Sierras, but the smoke got so thick it was hard to believe there were even mountains. A cashier at the next place I stopped for gas said she hadn’t seen the sun in 3 months. I’d lose my mind.

At a certain point along in there (time seemed to get a bit mixed up), I also passed by Manzanar, the Japanese internment camp. It was all the more chilling for being totally unexpected. Through the smoke, I could only get a slight sense of how isolated, hot, miserable, and hopeless that place must have been. It made me sad and ashamed. Not all of our history is as glorious as many would have us believe.

Gas prices are obscene in California. Double anywhere else. And every place I went, whether it be a convenience store or a grocery store, the restrooms were entirely closed due to the pandemic. That’s a little extreme, if you ask me. People have to pee. I know I sure had to. I finally had to go off on a side street so I could do it on the side of the road. I was amused to discover that the place I picked was a dump station. But you do what you have to do.

I finally checked into Yosemite Gateway Motel, in Lee Vining, California. It was after dark and the place was, I’ll go ahead and say it, a dump. I found this to be really funny, because I had misunderstood. I thought I was staying at one of the national park lodges.

Instead, the entire motel was at an odd slant as if it were going to slide into the crevasse at any moment. The stairs, too, were slanted, and soft. The room had no clock, no microwave, no minifridge, and very sketchy internet. When I went to take a shower in the little corner stall, the shower head was facing the door, and when I turned on the water to warm it up before undressing, I was drenched in the face and torso with ice cold water. Cursing was involved.

Since I arrived so late, the only place open where I could get food was a diner called Nicely’s, across the street. It was not nice at all. Julienne carrots straight from the freezer. Three day old, store bought dinner rolls, and steak as tough as shoe leather. 

But hey, I was told I had a great view of Mono Lake. I’d have to wait until the next day to find out. The view disappears after dark.

But I had a warm and dry place to lay my head for the night, and I was excited, because tomorrow, I’d be seeing Yosemite for the very first time!

Enjoy my pictures from the day, below.

There are a lot more tales to tell about this trip, but I’ll try not to post them daily, so as not to put off those who aren’t interested in travel blogs. So brace yourself for a good month of every other day adventures! I’ll try to link them together, so that you can start at the beginning if you find yourself in the middle and want to read the whole saga. Here’s a link to the first post in the series. And here’s a link to the next day’s adventure!

Like this quirky little blog? Then you’ll love this book!

Finely (Finally) Finished Fun

It took a pandemic to get us off our behinds.

We had never liked the bedroom wallpaper, with its stripes and flowers, hearkening back to the 1950’s. But it had come with the house, and it didn’t seem like a high enough priority to bother with. Home ownership comes with a never-ending list of projects, and this particular one kept getting pushed back behind more pressing ones.

But then one day about a year ago, we couldn’t take it anymore, and peeled off a loose bit of wallpaper. It was our way of committing to this undertaking. Surely neither of us would be able to tolerate a wall with a ripped out spot for long.

Months passed.

Then, in August of 2019, we started removing the wallpaper in earnest. This is not a job for sissies. It takes a lot of effort to remove this sticky, clinging stuff from any surface, let alone a slightly bumpy one. We had to buy special equipment to score holes in it, and a special liquid to loosen the glue, and then we had to slough this muck off the walls. Yuck. I’ll never have wallpaper again, if it’s up to me.

Bedroom Wall 1

So anyway, then we had a blank, white wall, with areas that we patched quite expertly, if I do say so myself. But we didn’t want to stop there. We had plans for this wall. It was to be a unique work of art. No one else in the world would go to sleep or wake up to a wall such as this. It was time to get creative.

And yet we didn’t. Another 6 weeks passed. Then we finally got some orange paint, called “heirloom tomato”, and some white paint to mix in for variety, and we painted the sunset. I was so proud of that sunset, with its variations in color!

We stared at that sunset, hovering over a white lower wall, for another 6 weeks.

Then, in November, a very artistic friend of ours came along, and after we showed him a picture of what we planned to loosely base our mural on, he helped us out by penciling it in on the wall, and showing us how to tape off the various sections. He then demonstrated how to paint, using a variety of colors on a palette, and he painted the topmost row of mountains for us. (Thanks, Mike!)

That row of mountains, floating all alone, with the sunset above and the taped areas below, were what we went to bed to every night for another 5 months. I began to despair that we’d never get around to it once spring rolled around, because we like to get out and enjoy the sunshine and the wonderful weather.

It took a quarantine and its attendant suffocating boredom to get us off our behinds. My husband tackled the rows of mountains, and some of the photos below show the amazing detail in each one. I did the lake, with glittery turquoise paint which these photos don’t do justice. And I added more detail to the sky.

So there you have it. The project took about a year to complete, but we love how it turned out. And it really was fun, when we weren’t actively procrastinating. Now that it’s done, we can’t imagine how we lived without it for so long.

It took a pandemic, but we’re finished. Finally. Finely. Now we get to figure out what to do next.

Bedroom wall 6

Hey! Look what I wrote!

Mountainous Molehills

I have to admit that moles fascinate me.

It seems that the moment our backs are turned, our back yard becomes a beehive of activity. Especially after a heavy rain, we come outside to see molehills. A dozen or more. All over the place. I never had that problem in Florida. This is new to me.

Yes, I get it. Most people view moles as pests. They ruin the look of your pristine lawns. They cause tripping hazards. They kill plants. They can damage drainage systems. (But hey, you’ve got to admire their work ethic.)

As someone who used to own an ant farm, and begged my mother (unsuccessfully) to buy me sea monkeys, I have to admit that moles fascinate me. Did you know they have extra thumbs? How cool is that?

I’m a live and let live kind of person. I don’t see why moles have any less right to do their thing than I have to do mine. So I resist the urge to take advantage of one of the many eradication methods out there.

I like the idea that there is a whole civilization in my yard. Moles, crows, humans, bees, rabbits, beetles, dogs, stellar jays. Come join the party. The theme is diversity!

I have yet to see a molehill as it’s being made. I think it would be fascinating. And I think that moles are sort of cute in a creepy rodent way (although they’re actually not rodents. They’re insectivores.) I’ve rarely gotten glimpses of them. They keep themselves to themselves. We have that in common.

Besides, I feel sorry for them for having to share a name with an unsightly lump in one’s skin that many of us rush out to the dermatologist to have removed.

So breathe easy, little mole, as you burrow beneath my feet. I mean you no harm. In fact, I enjoy being part of the circle of life with you.


Cultivate an attitude of gratitude! Read my book!

Sometimes It’s the Big Things

Don’t ever take it for granted.

I arrived at work just as the sun was rising over the Cascade Mountains. That’s the beauty of my quirky work schedule at this time of year. And yet, I was so focused on my morning work routine that I almost overlooked the peach, yellow and gold that was the sky. It happens every day, right? And the mountains… they’ll always be there.

Stop. That’s what I had to tell myself. Look. Take it in. Don’t ever take it for granted. You are only accorded a finite number of sunrises. And while the mountains may always be there in your lifetime, you may not always be able to see them.

And so I sat down and allowed myself to breathe in the peach and breathe out the gold and appreciate how comforted I’ve always been by mountains. Their size and longevity always makes my worries and concerns seem so trivial by comparison.

May I never forget these things. May I always appreciate the gift that is my life.

May your sunrises be many and your worries be few, dear reader.

Sunrise over the Cascades, by Brad Greenlee

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book!

The Sonoran Desert: Here There Be Thorns

Ah, but it’s a dry heat.

I really must be in love, because on my fiancé’s behest, I was about to fly to Tucson, Arizona. In August. If I wanted to experience 100 degree temperatures, I’d have stayed in Florida. And yet, here I was, on a plane, heading into what felt like the world’s biggest pizza oven.

Ah, but it’s a dry heat. The better to desiccate you with, my dear. It felt as if the inside of my nose was going to crack open and crumble to dust.

And yet, upon arrival, a funny thing happened. I fell in love with the place’s unique beauty. I strongly suspect that Arizonans are treated to more thorns per capita than residents of any other state in the union. Saguaro cactus. Organ pipe cactus. Barrel cactus. It has more plant species than any other desert in the world. Cholla. Prickly Pear. Creosote bush. Bur sage. Palo verde. Mesquite. Ironwood. Acacia. I was enchanted.

And running around amongst that flora was an amazing amount of fauna. An astounding variety of lizards, too quick to be photographed. Turtles. Bats. Rabbits. Coyote. Gila monsters. Hummingbirds. Quail. Roadrunners. Snakes. And lest we forget, the troublesome Javelina.

It seems like life should be impossible in the blistering heat of this desert, and yet there it was, all around me. The terrain was amazing, too, with its mountains and plains and dry washes. And, being monsoon season, when it rained, my goodness, it rained, causing floods where one would think water had never been before. And then the temperature would drop 25 blessed, blessed degrees and the desert would bloom and be as lush as it could ever be.

Would I live in the Sonoran Desert? No. I’d miss moisture and grass and nothing scary to step on when barefoot.

Will I visit again? I hope so! There’s a certain poetry to the place. But I hope I won’t be back in August. Please, God, not in August.

Here are some pictures we took of this beautiful land.

I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that?

Scary Nature

Anyone who watches PBS even sporadically knows that the early Europeans who settled the Americas were downright terrified of the natural world. At first their settlements clung to shorelines and they kept the dense forests, full of unknown creatures and other, incomprehensible humans, to their backs, behind fortifications whenever possible. Swamps, deserts, and high mountain passes often signified death.

Even as late as the 1800s, a lot of the nature paintings leave you with a vague sense of foreboding. I used to be bemused by this. I thought it was quaint, and simply due to ignorance.

Ponce de Leon in Florida, by Thomas Moran, 1878. Cummer Museum of Art permanent collection.
Ponce de Leon in Florida, by Thomas Moran, 1878. Cummer Museum of Art permanent collection.

Two Hummingbirds with an Orchid, by Martin Johnson Heade, 1875.
Two Hummingbirds with an Orchid, by Martin Johnson Heade, 1875.

But then I went to Yellowstone National Park and I quickly gained some perspective. This was the kind of nature those settlers encountered. Not the highly sanitized, easily accessible, and thoroughly understood nature that most of us come across, where all the animals do what you expect them to do (which is run away when you say shoo), and if you twist your ankle help will soon be on the way.

No. Yellowstone is hours away from any significant civilization, and indeed is itself hours across by car. I can’t even imagine what it would be like on foot. That kind of immensity and isolation is not something most Americans ever face. There’s no real way to explain it to those who haven’t. It can be daunting.

And there are bears that maul and wolves that run in packs and bison that will gore you and moose that can easily kick your a** if they’re in the mood. Step off the designated path and you can fall through the earth’s thin crust and have the skin boiled off your bones before you can say, “Westward, ho.” You can also freeze to death, drown, fall off cliffs, and be struck by lightning.

Mother Nature may be at her most beautiful in Yellowstone, but she’s also in a foul mood much of the time. It’s always a good idea to peek out the window before stepping out of your Winnebago, because you never know what will be waiting for you on the other side of the door. This is probably why 98 percent of tourists only view Yellowstone from the safety of their car.

Ah, but what a shame that is. Because Yellowstone is nature in its purest, most raw form. You will never experience anything like it. Venturing into it will make you understand exactly why settlers were so afraid of the natural world, but it will also make you realize why, in spite of that, and maybe even because of that, they pressed forward.

Ah, Yellowstone. [Image credit:]
Ah, Yellowstone.
[Image credit:]

Topographical Introversion

I’m about as introverted as a person can be without curling into a little ball and crawling back inside my mother’s womb. I love to read. Most of the time I’m quite content to be by myself. And while I long for two or three friends in this new city of mine, if I had much more than that I’d probably feel stress.

I’ve also always been drawn to mountains. I feel a great deal of comfort when in a mountainous area. I think it’s because there are lots of nooks and crannies, coves and hollows, valleys and bends. Nature’s womb. It’s as if I’m being embraced by the land. You never hear things on the prairie being described as “cozy”. I love cozy. I feel somehow safer in the mountains. Mountains are the topographical version of introversion.

That makes me wonder if extreme extroverts prefer wide open spaces. But in a way that would be counterintuitive, because those places are typically lonely and isolated. Maybe they’d favor a big city that’s surrounded by wide open spaces. Dallas. Yeah. That might work.

Hey, it’s a theory.


[Image credit:]

My Jacksonville to Seattle Odyssey—Part 2

It was really hard saying goodbye to my sister this morning. I don’t know why. It’s not like we’ll lose touch. But it was kind of comforting, knowing she only lived 4 hours away. And I probably won’t see her for a year and a half. So it was hard. Still, off I went, just me and the dogs, who got right down to the business of sleeping.

We officially traded cars, and now I’m driving a 2000 Dodge Caravan with a whole host of quirks. The windshield wipers forget to work sometimes, and have to be reminded. When you hit a bump in the road, the radio turns to CD mode, which means the music stops. And the CD player doesn’t work. The air conditioner doesn’t really work in stop and go traffic. All of these are things I can live with and be rather grateful for, because without this quirky car, I’d be in deep trouble. And as I drove along I thought that if I were on one of those dating websites, I’d come off as the human equivalent to this vehicle. Quirky, but I can make it from point A to point B, and in the end, that’s all that matters, right?

So I headed up into the Appalachian Mountains, where my soul has always resided. It felt strange knowing that I’d be driving right on through them, because usually when I head this direction it’s to stay a while. If I could live anywhere in the country, it would be here. (With the exception of Butts County, Georgia. Sorry, but there are limits.) Maybe some day.

But I did have the distinct pleasure of stopping for lunch in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You can’t be in Tennessee and not sample the bar-b-cue, so I went to Sugar’s Ribs. My friend Carole joined me. What a blessing this blog is. If it weren’t for this, I’d have never met her. And yet here we were, having lunch. And she drove an hour and a half to do so. We got along like a house afire, but I knew we would.

A strange thing happened when we left the restaurant, though. I had parked the van on a dark shady side street with the windows open. It was 75 degrees out and overcast. And my car was now flanked by two Chattanooga Police cruisers. Uh…

The officer said he thought the car had been abandoned with the dogs inside. We had been gone for 20 minutes. The car is in excellent condition, full of my possessions, and the dogs had water and food and the windows were open in full shade. They were fine. He said he assumed someone had walked off into the woods and shot himself. (Seriously? Isn’t that a bit of a leap?) But he was nice enough. He said if I hadn’t come right then, he’d have confiscated the dogs, though. That would have ruined the trip, to say the least. Believe me, I’d never leave my dogs in a hot car, and I’m tempted to kill any human who does.

After that, I headed North again, through the comforting, cozy mountains with their solid, reassuring rock outcroppings, and mildly disturbing fireworks emporiums, but somehow my GPS led me briefly back into Georgia, which had me worried for a second there. I’ll have to look at a map and work out how that happened, but before I knew it, I was back in Tennessee and then on into the rolling green hills and grasslands of Kentucky. I got this huge surge of pure joy when I crossed into this state, because it’s the first part of my journey that is parts unknown for me. I have officially crossed out of charted territory. If my travel experiences were an old map, this part would say, “Here there be dragons.” How exciting!

I passed several signs of fascinating places that I would have loved to have checked out, but traveling with dogs limits one. And of course time and money play a factor, too. Instead I’ve opted to hibernate in a hotel in Paducah, Kentucky.

A note about Paducah: It has always sounded to me like a small boy’s slang for defecation. A friend says it sounds to him like a teenage boy’s slang for his naughty bits. Either way, it makes it awfully hard to take this town seriously. But if it weren’t for the dogs, I’d be out exploring it right now. It’s got a waterfront art district, an historic district, and a National Quilting Museum! How can I resist? Alas…I’m off to bed.

Next stop, my niece’s house in St. Joseph, Missouri!

Check out part 3 here!

PisforPaducah! cover

My Dream House

As I look at one scummy rental house after another in my effort to relocate, I long to be a homeowner again. I don’t need much. Square footage is not a big issue for me. Perhaps due to my Danish roots, I’m much more into warm and cozy. I want the kind of house you like to wake up in on Christmas morning. Lots of wood throughout. Warm colors. A fireplace. A nice view of the mountains. A patio. A little yard for the dogs to pay in. My big splurge would be a luxury bathroom with a Jacuzzi, shower, two sinks, enough room for a love seat, and a bidet next to the toilet to confuse visitors. And for once in my life I’d like a kitchen with a dishwasher. And I know this is silly, but I won’t feel completely like an adult until I have a two story structure. I like to be up high. I can see this place in my mind. I’ve always seen it.

I know that by international standards I live quite well, but I still have dreams. Meanwhile I’m wading through mildew covered lime green plush carpeting circa 1969 and making sure I have cell phone service in the house before committing to a lease. Sigh.

home sweet home

Two Short Steps Away from my Life’s Dream

Wow! The other day I wrote a blog entry asking for a reader from Greenland, as that was one country I had yet to hear from. And within 14 hours, I got one! That left me marveling at the power of the internet and this blog. I mean, that country doesn’t even have a total population of 60,000, and English isn’t their first or even their second language, but there you have it. I got a reader. Yay Greenland!

When I was bragging about that to a dear friend, she said, “Ask and ye shall receive.” And that got me thinking. For many years I have been working and studying and struggling and striving to achieve my life’s dream, and there seem to be only two small hurdles that remain in my way. So why not ask? Maybe you can help change my life for the better. Come on, now, wouldn’t that make you smile?

Now, I know you’re busy, believe me, so I’ll break this down into bite sized pieces. You can determine what you want to read based on the headings.

What I Need:

1)      A full time job in Panama City, Florida.

2)      Affordable rental housing in Panama City, Florida.

More details about these things below.

A Description of my Dream:

For the past 30 years I’ve been trying to relocate to the Appalachian Mountains. Unfortunately work up there is very scarce, so I decided to go back to school and study something that would allow me to create my own work. So recently, after selling my house and moving 3 ½ hours south where I knew absolutely no one in order to go to school, I graduated with honors with a degree in Dental Laboratory Technology and Management. I fell in love with working with my hands, creating retainers and other dental devices. For me, this would be a job that wouldn’t feel like work. I’d love every minute of it. Eventually I want to buy a house in the mountains and set up a dental lab in my garage.

But first I need some hands on experience. I applied to 198 orthodontic labs all over the United States and Canada and had no luck finding a job. Either they weren’t hiring or they could sense I would eventually move on. That’s when the power of the internet intervened once again. I met an angel named Vicky. She runs her own orthodontic laboratory in Panama City, and she’s willing to mentor me. She seems to think that with some hands on experience, I should be able to start my own business in about a year and a half or so. The fact that she’s willing to take the time to share her expertise with me is amazing. It’s a rare thing in this world to come across someone who is willing, even eager, to improve your life.

Unfortunately, I’ll still have bills to pay. So if I can only get a job, any job, in Panama City and find a place I can afford to rent, I can spend time in Vicky’s lab during my off hours, and my dream could come true. It’s so close, so freakin’ close, but I have to get there first.

My Housing Needs:

I have two little dogs, so I need a free standing place with a fenced yard for them to play in. They’re older, non-destructive dogs, and as a matter of fact I’m also older and non-destructive. I don’t throw wild parties. I don’t smoke or do drugs. All I want is a tiny little roof over my head with a washer dryer hook up. Unfortunately the most I could pay in rent is 600 dollars a month. I’ve seen lots of tiny little houses in the Cove and St. Andrews neighborhoods of Panama City. Those would be ideal locations.

My Work Needs:

I need a full time job that pays at least 10 dollars an hour. Basically any office job, security work or customer service work would do quite nicely.

I am dependable, intelligent, competent, I take my work seriously. I don’t have children or destructive habits. I learn quickly. I’m fluent in Spanish and I have an unarmed security guard license. I’m creative, innovative and analytical, and I possess excellent writing and communication skills. I’m known for completing tasks in a timely manner and within budget. I’m very well organized and I require little supervision. I’m skilled in a wide range of areas including editing, interviewing, event planning, customer service, training, field work, public speaking and record keeping. I type 60 wpm. My computer skills include Quickbooks, Microsoft Word & Word Perfect, Access & Dbase, Excel & Lotus 123, Outlook Express, Memory Stick Voice Editor, and PowerPoint.

I’ve been a bridgetender for 12 years, so I’m an expert at writing reports, communicating, ensuring the safety of vessels, vehicles and pedestrians, problem solving, and time management.

I’ve also been a freelance editor, transcriber, and writer for many years. I definitely know how to multitask.

Before that I worked as a Maintenance Management Systems Engineer for the State of Florida Department of Transportation, where I analyzed and managed data regarding production, personnel, equipment and materials, performed crew studies and conducted production meetings to enhance the efficiency of employees responsible for safely maintaining highways for the traveling public, evaluated and adjusted a 40 column, 104 row spreadsheet to ensure that the maintenance yard operated within budget, and remained within limits of contracts, equipment, and labor. I inventoried all features of the state roads in two counties by way of field work and database maintenance and supervised an Engineering Technician III and a Word Processing Systems Operator.

In a Nutshell:

Have you ever had a dream that is so close you could practically taste it? That’s where I am right now. If you’re in Panama City, or know anyone who is, please send them a link to this blog entry. Post it on your Facebook page or theirs. Publish it in Reddit. Spread the word any way you can! If you hire me or rent to me, you won’t regret it.

If you can help me, simply put your contact information in the comment section below. I promise it will be there for less than half a day, then I’ll delete it and contact you.

Thanks for listening. I’m hoping the power of the internet will smile upon me one more time. My fingers are crossed!

fingers crossed

(Photo Credit: