Christmas newsletter plans

Christmas gifts are almost always fun to pick out, wrap and give for me. I love it. The only time its even a little bit not fun is when I am trying to find something for that person that seemingly has everything. For me those people are my mom and step dad. I can, and do buy them random stuff that I think they might like but for the most part its really hard to find a good gift. This year I decided to do something way different. I’m putting together a Christmas newsletter as a gift to them (and to share with everyone else). I think more than anything this will be something they can enjoy without cluttering up their house with crap they don’t need. Who doesn’t love cute family pictures?? And cute family anecdotes? I feel like Clark Griswald.

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My idea is to include a map with all the places we’ve been as a group, my sister, step-sister, mother, step dad, brother and brothers wife, and Carl. I also want to include anecdotes from the year, updates on everyone, hopes for next year, quotes and verses that were significant to everyone,  and any significant moments. I plan to do this in Microsoft publisher because its the program we use for our church newsletter and I know how to manipulate it better than anything else. Plus I can use the ready made template of that newsletter for this one just add some holiday flair. I think I might try to divide it by season but that plan is very tentative. Either way I am pretty flipping excited about seeing how this goes (and pretty nervous about the amount of work involved to make it awesome) .

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To the West

It was my effort, in depicting the West, to depict it as it was. – Buffalo Bill

My last day in Montana was pretty special. I got up earlier than I had previously. They are an hour behind Central Standard time so 5am felt like 6am etc. I wanted to get some better pictures from an off the road viewing site I had found the day before. I never want to forget seeing the sun coming up in Montana. It was beautiful.

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The picture doesn’t express the breathtaking view very well but it will have to do.

There is something about that view that makes you feel like a pioneer, like the only person braving the wilderness, like an cowboy or an Indian will be riding over the hill at any moment. You can’t see a house, the fences look much as they did a hundred years ago, and there were no people to be found other than me. Even though I was stepping out of a brand new rental car on a paved road it felt like a moment out of time. We need places like this, at the base of the Beartooth Hwy, at the foot of the mountains to remind us that we are both significant and insignificant and that’s ok. We can make a difference in the lives of those around us but sometimes we get caught up in every little crisis. Its good to remember that those mountains and that sunrise were here before us and will be here long after us.

I didn’t manage to take a decent picture of myself this last day but I did take a neat artistic-y one with my glasses reflecting the mountains.

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It is actually one of my favorite pictures of myself. Definitely the best one I’ve ever taken.

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I do want to take a minute to say an ode to this little coffee shop called Honeys Cafe. It was hip and amazing and awesome. They had neat custom drinks with names like the Oregan Trail (white chocolate and blackberry with espresso) and all sorts of feminist literature and neat progressive and funny items. I came to Montana expecting all conservatives and while I saw a ton of Pro-life propaganda, Red Lodge at least, was full of neat people, both young and old who were clearly not stuck in the 1950s. I really cannot wait to take Faith and Carl back to Montana with me one day.

The call of the Trail

I could never resist the call of the trail.

-Buffalo Bill

Most of my time in Montana was spent in a little town called Red Lodge. When asked about how I ended up there, which I was asked a lot, I told the truth. I’ve traveled everywhere close to Florence. Every state within a few hours I’ve driven to and every state along the east coast below New York I’ve visited, most several times. I’ve never been west (with the exception of Colorado) but I’ve always wanted to go. Once I realized that the cheapest ticket was likely going to be to Montana and the cheapest activities were also there to I settled on flying into Billings. Once I had settled on Billings there really aren’t a lot of towns nearby, especially not ones close to the mountains and the Wyoming border. One thing it was hard to get used to was the lack of towns, and people…and the abundance of cattle and casinos. I drove the hour south to Wyoming and only saw two people until I got to Cody…and they were in a wagon. Literally.

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After my trip to Cody, and a nap, because the elevation is exhausting for someone who doesn’t live on a mountain regularly I got out of my hotel to spend a little more time exploring the city since I knew I had to leave Tuesday. I managed to eat dinner and try an ale at the Pub at the Pollard Hotel. The Pollard was another place that Buffalo Bill touched during his travels around the west.

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I actually almost stayed at the Pollard but the Comfort Inn was a little bit cheaper and breakfast was included. I am glad I stopped in though. It wasn’t as interesting as the Irma, and its clearly been heavily updated, but it was still neat. The nice thing about the off season is that I was one of the only people in there.

After a salmon and cream cheese pizza I finally got around to trying out one of the bagillion “casinos” advertised with every bar. Honestly I’ve never gambled, never even purchased a lottery ticket and I probably wont do it again but it was interesting to see it. Basically its the saddest arcade you’ve ever seen, just for adults. I played slots and poker, bet in $0.10 increments until my four dollars was gone, had the bartender buy me a drink and crossed that whole experience off my bucket list. It was weird and sad and not a way I’d like to spend time ever again, but it did make me laugh a little at the absurdity. There were only a few other people in there, one older woman who reminded me of my Nana, and a young man who was determined that tonight would be his lucky night (egged on by the pretty bartender of course).

For the love of adventure

Ever since I booked my flight to Montana (less than a month ago) I’ve been thinking about driving to Wyoming, specifically to Cody, Wyoming. This morning, after I wondered around a mountain I decided to just do it. After I changed shoes, grabbed a snack and picked up some extra batteries I was on the road again. The drive to Cody was amazing.

But the love of adventure was in my father’s blood.

– Buffalo Bill

Adventure may have been in Buffalo Bill’s family, but my father only traveled out of Corinth, MS a handful of times that I know of in his 50 years and two of those occasions was on my insistence. Cody, Wyoming is unlike any place I had ventured thus far. It was far more tourist friendly than Red Lodge or Billings and actually quite pretty. The mountains rise up from the historic down town in such a way that I actually parked the car and was out walking down the street, camera in hand before I really thought much about what I was doing. I walked a ways on foot just taking it in. It was truly something special.

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Cody is another of those towns with a historic downtown area. Buffalo Bill had a hotel there named after his daughter Irma which is where I had lunch after meandering around town for a few hours.

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I had a Buffalo burger, and it was pretty good. What was better was the authenticity of the place in general

On the Montana side there was snow

And on the Wyoming side it was mostly sand and dead bushes and cows. Very little snow to no snow.

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Cody, Wyoming was everything I could have wanted. It was beautiful. And weird. And funky.

There were some neat building decorations.

A ton of John Wayne stuff at this one store. I ended up picking up some gifts there for the family.

Whilst eating lunch I had to take some touristy pictures of the Irma.

The dining room

At the booth where I was seated

A moose

At the bar

In the hotel area

Finally me outside

I want to go back during the busier season. They have fake gun fights in the street and tours through Yellowstone. Much of the road into Yellowstone is closed right now. I’ll definitely be back.

Godless

I’ve enjoyed westerns for as long as I can remember. I grew up with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood and even the Shakiest Gun in the West (my brothers all time childhood favorite).

Probably why I love Wyoming/Montana

It took a bit longer than I originally intended but I managed to finish Godless this week and I can’t really say enough good things. Its definitely a modern western. I say this because it is beautiful, and smooth in the was most older westerns are not but that just adds to the overall affect.

Imagine a town without men, except for the rare sheriff or shop keeper. This is where Godless spends most of its time, in the man-less territory town of LaBelle. The story takes place in the New Mexico area. There are a few different things going on. One plot line is the drama unfolding between Roy Goode, an outlaw with a conscience and Frank Griffin, a tortured father figure with Mormon roots and a clear lack of ability to deal with rejection. Another part of the story is Alice, the twice widowed woman who has been rejected by LaBelle and continues to stubbornly hang on to her little plot of land and unique way of life. There are a ton of other interesting stories to be had in the town itself between all the ladies that reside there now.

I have no complaints about it but I must say that a lot of people seem to think there isn’t enough violence. That is rubbish. Firstly, why is violence a necessary plot mover in the minds of anyone? Secondly, there is a lot of implied violence/action it is just subtle which apparently baffles the mind of some people. I’ve also read where people thought it was slow to develop which I disagree with. There are simply more things going on than one confrontation with a bad guy. If you want a neat series to watch that wont take up too much time or you love a good western this is for you.

Chasing the dawn

“Women need real moments of solitude and self-reflection to balance out how much of ourselves we give away.” – Barbara De Angelis

Few things in life are quite so irritating as a toddler with a large vocabulary. The last thing any parent wants is for their two year to tell them he is just angry right now. Or that he is putting me in time out…Or any number of other perfectly fine phrases that are just expressions of his current feelings but that make me want to throw things…or laugh depending on the moment. This morning when I heard him demanding white milk of his dad it really seemed much funnier than when he does it to me. I am really grateful for that vocabulary though because I can send him off to Disney with his dad and know that when I talk to him he can actually tell me how he is and isn’t shy about doing it. He has told me all about the Tea Cup ride and Winnie the Pooh. As for my own little adventure, I’ve discovered that once you let batteries warm back up again you can get some charge off of them. I am about to head out into the great Montana dark and try a trail and some pictures of the dawn. One of my goals for this trip was to take some good pictures. I need to actually take one of myself today. Ha! This has been the longest period of time I’ve been away from Carl as of this morning. He took off with his dad at 3:00pm Friday and it is 7:00am Monday morning. I’m not going to do the math but I think it has been good for me, maybe for him as well. I want to see as much as I can on this trip but I’ve also been giving myself permission to do very little in between. Its been unspeakably nice to just be myself. Read if I feel like it, listen to my music, finish Longmire (finally), eat when I am ready and whatever I want. Drink if I want. These are things that we take for granted before kids but are never certain after them. If not one other good thing comes from this trip it will be that I remembered a little more about what I actually enjoy and what I want out of life. Most of what I want involves impetuous trips to places like this. I have a home now, a pretty good job that is fulfilling to me, a child that I couldn’t be prouder of and a reasonably good family. The only other thing I ask for is the world. And mom, if you are reading this, I also want a pony.

Travelling (wo)man

We have always been dreamers in Montana. – Brian Schweitzer

Red Lodge MOuntains

This Montana adventure is something else. I’ll probably always remember it as the weird quarter life crisis adventure I had a little bit late. I got up super duper early as per usual with a call from Carl who is having the time of his life at Disney world. On my way to pick up the car this morning I met a man who was in his 40s, divorced and new to Montana from Idaho of all places which he apparently hated. He talked about his video game playing and needing to get away from his ex wife while also telling me about the rimrocks in Billings. Then I wandered around Billings trying to get used to my rental car before I drove the hour south to Red Lodge. It was a pretty and quiet drive. I learned that the speed limit on a normal two lane in Montana is 70mph. This state is something else.

Road to Red Lodge

This picture may or may not have been captured while driving. Its hard to say 😉

Red Lodge is beautiful. It’s like a hippie, less tourist trap-ie Gatlinburg. It’s got coffee shops, casinos, bead shops, rock shops, and a really pretty downtown walking area. It’s also at the foothills of some amazing mountains. The Beartooth Highway is closed, but I drove as far as I could today. There were people everywhere getting Christmas trees and strapping them to the hoods of everything from compact cars to station wagons ala Christmas Vacation. There are also several trails I want to explore early in the morning. I think I’m going to do that and skip skiing. I just don’t think I have the balance or energy for all that.

Red Lodge Montana

I took this magazine worthy gem

Driving into the mountains today was like being hit with a familiar scent. It was comforting and beautiful and it made me happy. I felt the same elation in Alaska and Colorado over the years during my travels. I usually prefer the beach but I’ve missed the mountains.

After bee bopping around town today I discovered a Mexican restaurant themed after Humphrey Bogart called Bogart’s. It was really interesting. I mean Mexican would not have been what I would have paired with the hero of Casa Blanca but to each their own I guess. The food was pretty good and the coconut mango margarita was huge and delicious. I may have to get another one before I leave. This place is neat and I’m excited to explore more tomorrow.

On The Rimrocks

I’ve learned/remembered a few things about travelling solo.

1. It’s really quiet

2. People will talk to you instead of your toddler

3. There is always a mechanical error on the plane.

4. The most annoying people on planes are not the kids, but instead the woman in her 40s travelling alone and telling everyone who will listen intimate details of her whole life.

5. Travelling without a plan is weird

6. Travelling without a kid is so peaceful

7. Renting a car is an experience

This trip to Montana has been interesting so far. I came in late last night, took an overpriced cab to my hotel, was overjoyed to find a clean room despite the smell of pool chemicals that permeated the halls and basically passed out. Lack of sleep from 22 kids keeping me up Friday night finally catching up to me. I’ve explored a little around Billings, but I’m about to get on the road to Red Lodge. May the drive be pleasant and without incident.

Here is a sandwich in a can

Thanks to a little place called the Staggering Ox. This was the Club. They also had the Rabbit Habit (veggie), Yo Momma Osama (Greek) and The S.OB (Sandwich of Billings).

And those promised rimrocks

According to the guy who drove the shuttle this morning the rimrocks are natural. Basically Billings MT sits in bowl.

I’m still on the look out for that cowboy ladies. Apparently I need to find two for the various ladies in my life. May there be more adventures to come.

“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” — Henry David Thoreau

I’ve had some ups and downs this month in preparation for this trip but it is almost here. My solo sojourn to Montana is upon me. I’ve packed my bags, checked the flight regulations, mentally prepared for a full body scan, perhaps even a cavity search because I’m sure a solo trip to Montana is going to inspire someone to think I’m up to nefarious deeds. I’ve borrowed a neat camera, a nice jacket and acquired some waterproof snow boots. Even in the dead of winter there seems to be a lot to do in Billings, MT and the surrounding area. I’ve rented a car which is the first time I’ve ever done that in my adult life all by myself. Hotel rooms have been taken care of. I’m prepared for baggage fees. I’ve printed itineraries. For a last minute adventure I feel as prepared as I possibly can be.

What will I see there? Probably buffalo and mountains. I’m pretty excited about both of those actually. I’m even excited about being in an airport again after a 5 year hiatus from flying. Carl is preparing for his own journey to Disney World with his dad. It makes me anxious and I worry about how he will fly, but I have prepared him as best I can and really he is like me, a little adventurer at heart. I’ve gotten to share almost all his firsts with him in his young life so I can’t really begrudge his dad this experience. I hope they have a great trip. I know I will. No matter what the weather is like, no matter how cold I can feel that this is going to be a great adventure.

Parenting and stuff

As much as I have done a ton of research and had a lot of hands on experience with children the various parenting styles had actually escaped me. There are a lot of different strategies and ideas out there. There is permissive parenting, authoritative parenting, the cry it out method of sleep training, breast is best, fed is best, alive at the end of the day is best (which is really where I fall), something about only letting kids sleep on their backs (mine almost never did).  The idea behind letting your child guide you seems ok I guess. Why not cater to the whims of your newly earthside baby? I think we all do at least for a few months. And maybe in a few months I will look back at my reasoning now, the choices I’ve made, the things I’ve decided are important and laugh about how silly I was or how it was so much harder than I thought or how what I wanted to do was just not possible. I doubt it, but I am going to go ahead and acknowledge up front that it is possible. And if, in a few months, I feel that way I will be sure to write about it so that you out there can see I acknowledged the error of my ways. I’ve also been introduced to things like “attachment parenting” which always puts me in mind of a kangaroo. Everyon e sort of parents in a hybrid of a bunch of methods depending on the situation, or at least that has been my experience.

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I have a two and a half year old now and I feel like I can firmly say that the things that have actually made a difference upon him now were things I started really early. When he was six weeks old I put him in his own bed. Now I didn’t make him stay there all night but that is where he started out after bedtime stories and a bath. At around 8pm I rocked him to sleep and put him in his own bed. I’ve dedicated literally days worth of hours of my life to establishing a bedtime routine and at about 6 months he slept through the night in his crib. He had back and forth moments where he didn’t want to sleep in his crib. He cried. I cried. We all cried some nights but almost every night I put him in his crib. He went through spells of waking up around 2am which usually lasted a couple of weeks but eventually with persistence he slept through the night again. Each time we have moved was a new challenge and some times it felt like we started all over again. Since we bought our house in May after some initial adjustment it has been the most amazing period of sleeping he has ever had. He goes to bed after stories and a bath usually with a pout, sometimes with smile but once he is there he wants me to kiss him and hug him then he rolls over and goes to sleep. He sleeps from 8pm to 5:30 or sometimes even 7am.

I’m not bragging. My kid can be as crazy as the next one. One church member called him a devil child after an episode one Sunday evening. What I am saying is that we are the most in control of our children and their schedules, habits, manners, etc at two or three or four years old that we will ever be. If you want a child to go to bed at a certain time you have to be the one to implement it. Kids aren’t going to give themselves a bedtime. If you want your child to say “please” and “thank you” and “your welcome” then you have to remind them after every applicable interaction. If you want your child to not scream indoors you have to be the one that reminds them about inside voices every time that there is an million decibel incident. Beyond that it is ok for children, even 1 and 2 year old children to know there are consequences for actions. In fact it might be the best way for you to introduce them to the real world of which they are soon to be a part. If time out is your thing do that, if removing them from a situation is your thing then do that. There are a million ways to enforce a consequence without yelling empty threats at a child. If you say you are going to do something then you had better be willing to follow through.

This parenting rant brought to you by my intense frustration with mom groups.

Cheers!