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Graduation

What a day.

Today I graduated from law school.

I have been thinking about this day literally for 4 years, and in the abstract for over 50.

Graduation for Concord Law School is held at Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. It’s always held on the Saturday following the administration of the California Bar Exam. See an earlier post about that experience.

Beginning with the Thursday night at the close of the test, my large and expanded family began arriving. First on the scene were my twin girls. Amy lives and works in Eugene, Oregon (this, this, and this), and Glenda lives and works in Las Vegas, Nevada (this, this, and this). I was so happy to see their beautiful smiling faces after the 3-day beatdown.

Feelin the love
Feelin the love

Friday morning was transition day, from the test site in Ontario, California, to the graduation site in Sherman Oaks, California, just outside LA. But first, a quick trip to the airport to get my Steen. Her name is Susan, and we’ve been friends for years. She is as sweet and lovely as I am loud and snarky. I think that’s how we work so well. We share a love of eating well, of reading, and of writing (here’s the link to her column in our local newspaper). She is also a fabulous professional photographer, and produced most of the grad pics here and on my Facebook page.

My beautiful friend Steen
My beautiful friend Steen

Steen brought along our friend Flat Emily. Emily and her 2 beautiful babies and ever-loving and patient hubby John live in Murfreesboro. Steen, Emily, and I make up the Ish sisters, which is part support-group, part wine-tasting, picnic-sharing, group-texting, mother-daughter-sister love fest that meets regularly to laugh and cry and share and partay. Emily and the fam cheered me on from Tennessee, and on her Flat Emily stick girlie!

Ish girls
Ish girls

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Flat Emily enjoying her salad!
Flat Emily enjoying her salad!

Friday night was the Grad Bash. Because my school is online, our students reside all over the world. The night prior to graduation, our Student Bar Association sponsors an evening at the pub for graduates and alumni. For some of us, it’s the first time we’ve met face to face! And an added bonus for us: a classmate of the girls’ from high school in Tennessee, Kim, who now lives in LA was able to meet up with us!

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Sweet Siegel girls!
Sweet Siegel girls!

And this is where Ben and Kirsten (this, this, and this) come in from Colorado!

Great big happy!
Great big happy!

Back to the hotel where the last of the Jordans arrived – Sam and Jess from Colorado (this, this, and this), and my law school bestie Rosine (this) and her wife Myra from Castro Valley!  We must have been partying pretty hard, because evidently we didn’t have time for pictures that night. The next morning brought champagne toasts at 8am and dressing for the ball!

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All my beautiful people!
All my beautiful people!

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This was without a doubt, one of the most spectacular days of my life. I am so grateful – to Concord for the opportunity to go to law school, to all my professors, to my friends and family for being so loving, and to my honey for being so patient and supportive. I am still so overcome with emotion from the day, I don’t know how long it will take me to process everything. During the weekend, I tried to open my senses and memorize everything – what I was seeing, and hearing, and tasting, and feeling. It’s my plan to take this memory out of storage over and over and relive every moment.

The day was everything I wanted it to be, and so much more. To have my tribe with me for this event, both in spirit and in person, after this long, arduous, gratifying, challenging journey was beyond anything I could have hoped for.

And not to forget my support back home:

Mom and Dad in Georgia
Mom and Dad in Georgia
Sassy Em!
Sassy Em in Tennessee!

Thanks for reading!

 

Family swag

I just got home from the most epic-wonderful, non-stop, loud, proud, can’t-get-enough graduation weekend!  Oldest son Ben graduated from the University of Colorado last weekend.  He may have been the last of the 4 to graduate, but he did it in fine style!

All of the kids have humored their parents and grandparents and have participated in the graduation ceremonies.  Since they all attended large universities, the graduations were similar – hundreds graduating, thousands attending, prestigious speakers, interminable list of names called, the pomp and circumstance of it all.  Ben’s main graduation ceremony was no different, but because he was in an honors program, we were treated to a few more festivities.

But first:  getting there.

Ben and his SO Kirsten live in Loveland, CO.  They have a darling little house with a garden and a guest room and 2 precious dogs.  She drives north to Fort Collins where she works as an architect, and he drives south to Boulder for school.

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River and Susie
River and Susie

Our family lives…everywhere.  Graduation was to begin on Thursday.  Travel started on Sunday.

SUNDAY:

My parents headed out in their SUV from Peachtree City, Georgia

MONDAY:

I left my sweetheart in Austin, Texas to travel to Eugene, Oregon, where #4 has been.

TUESDAY:

#2 and his SO left Salida, Colorado heading for Loveland.  Amy and I made it from Eugene to Salt Lake City.  Parents made it to Loveland.

WEDNESDAY:

Jesse, Anna Leigh, and Aden left Murfreesboro to fly to Denver to rent a car to drive to Loveland.  Amy and I made it to Loveland.  #3 and her SO left Las Vegas at 5am, right after she got off work at the casino, flew through Salt Lake City to Denver to Loveland.

We have a couple of folks yet to arrive, but off we go to dinner.

Grandma Glenda, me, Amy, Little Glenda
Grandma Glenda, me, Amy, Little Glenda
The man of the moment and his very loving, very patient, very supportive girlfriend
The man of the moment and his very loving, very patient, very supportive girlfriend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam and Little Jess
Sam and Little Jess
Grandma and Grandpa
Grandma and Grandpa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday morning brought the first of the official ceremonies:

 

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Ben’s Honors Thesis was entitled:  A Dangerous Conflation of Ideologies: The Nexus of Christianity and Neoliberalism.  I know, everyone’s dying to read it, but he wants to get it peer-reviewed and published, so he’s not quite making it public yet.  You can trust his mother – it’s brilliant.  His plan is to go to law school (University of Washington?) after a year off for LSAT study and travel.

Then the obligatory cheese and fruit reception

 

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Thursday night was our cooking extravaganza, and I don’t have many pictures of that because I was…cooking.  What a feast we had!  Everyone pitched in – all of us in the kitchen at once, cooking, mixing drinks, dancing, and I know it will surprise everyone, but we are a little loud when we are all together, so I remember a lot of shouting.

Late Thursday night brought in Amy’s squeeze, Alex, from Eugene, Oregon, after a little tense pass travel experience going through Salt Lake City.  Then Friday was the big show!

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And then there he was!
And then there he was!

Next was a reception for his department, with a quick stop in the bookstore on the way

Aden and Ralphie
Aden and Ralphie

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We grabbed this moment for the group shot:

 

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This one I call My Honeys with Their Honeys
This one I call My Honeys with Their Honeys

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And whattyaknow, we have time for a quick drink before the final event of the day!

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Then, the last event – his graduation with his Political Science Department

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BBQ and friends, my honey got in late, food and drink for everyone (and a little storytelling…), and then back together again for breakfast before everyone had to hit the road for that traveling in reverse.

Breakfast bunch
Breakfast bunch

Ben, we are profoundly proud of you.  Not only did you get it done, you got it done magnificently!

Thanks for reading!

 

Vaughn and Lucy

I loved Edwin Kagin.

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Edwin died on March 27.  I loved him.  I loved his big, fat, beautiful, juicy brain, I loved his irreverent, dry, southern sense of humor, and I loved his unrelenting compassion, desire for justice, and concern for children.

Edwin was the legal director for American Atheists from 2006 until his death.  He and his wife Helen were the originators of Camp Quest, a secular summer camp for children.  It had grown from a brilliant idea in 1996, to overnight and week-long camps located in many states, and UK and Switzerland.  Camp Quest offers children the summer camp experience including educational activities that promote critical thinking, ethics, scientific inquiry, and philosophy.   Edwin was the brilliant legal mind behind many civil rights and religious freedom lawsuits over the years, but I believe it was Camp Quest of which he was most proud.

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I met Edwin in Des Moines at the American Atheist convention and was captivated by his charm.  He was lovely and encouraging to me as a first-year law student.   Edwin could be funny and serious and blasphemous, all in one sentence.  He was the quintessential cantankerous and curmudgeonly crank whose eyes twinkled behind his glasses under the brim of his leather hat.

Edwin was also an author and bloggerHere is a post he wrote about the death of his lovely wife Helen.  Not long after I met Edwin, he sent me a copy of his book Baubles of Blasphemy.  I rationed the readings of his writings because they usually had a profound effect on me as a new freethinker just coming out of the daze of religion, and I needed the extra moments to digest the profundity.  We corresponded through email and even in this cold, impersonal digital format, his warm, witty personality peeked through.

Edwin and I saw one another at various freethinkers conventions, and always stole a moment or two to catch up.  He never failed to ask me about law school and how I was doing and what my plans were.  I saw him last in Austin, Texas, and was looking forward to seeing him again in Salt Lake City in April.  Edwin died on March 27.

But my sweet Edwin left behind not only a legacy of epic proportions in the way of Camp Quest, but also his two canine loves, Vaughn and Lucy.  Edwin’s family put out the word that these two honeys needed a home, and they needed to stay together, if possible.  It took me about 10 seconds of reflection before I knew I wanted to provide a home for these babies.

So I introduce to you:  Vaughn and Lucy.

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Big Vaughn
Meeting Elvis the steer
Meeting Elvis the steer
Hot mess of Freethought canines
Hot mess of Freethought canines
The sweetness that is Lucy.
The sweetness that is Lucy.
Precious Vaughn
Precious Vaughn

We’re getting to know one another.  When they learn to trust me, I plan to solicit any legal genius that Edwin shared with them, but I can be patient.  Right now we’re working on positioning in my office while I’m studying, and smelling everything that can be smelled on a farm.

What a delight these two furries are.

And what a joy and an honor and a privilege to have known this man.

Thanks for reading.

edwin-of-the-andes

Before you return to wherever you were before you were born, it might be a good idea to so live that people remember you fondly. This is not a dress rehearsal. Life ends / Tao flows.
Don’t take life too seriously; you won’t get out of it alive anyway.

Edwin Kagin

 

 

Days # I-have-no-idea

I’m going to try to sort this out.  I swear I blogged the day before yesterday, but so much happens, I’m not completely sure.

When we last left our lovely posse, we had arrived in Salida and reunioned with our boys.  On day 2 in Salida, we started with, what else:  breakfast, including copious amounts of coffee and talk.

This is River's Edge, our breakfast place all 3 mornings.  We sat on this big comfy, sunny couch and talked politics, adventure, money, love, family, and kayaking.
This is River’s Edge, our breakfast place all 3 mornings. We sat on this big comfy, sunny couch and talked politics, adventure, money, love, family, and kayaking.

This day included time on the river with River:

River on the Arkansas
River on the Arkansas

a picnic in the park

Ark river in the background
Ark river in the background

watching the boys in the playhole (gotta love that river rat term)

 

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Ben
Ben
Also Ben
Also Ben
Sam
Sam
Also Sam
Also Sam

and viewing from the Boathouse.

Ben's beautiful girlfriend Kirsten and beautiful sister Amy
 Kirsten and Amy

Tuesday morning brought sad goodbyes as we all headed off in different directions:

No words.
No words.

Ben and Kirsten headed back with their canines to Loveland for school and work.  El and Glenda headed to Denver to go back to Murfreesboro and Knoxville.  Sam went back to work as an Arkansas River Ranger.  Amy and I headed west and north to get Amy ultimately to Orcas Island off the coast of Washington State.

So we now pick up mine and Amy’s adventure through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Best-kept secret in the world of National Parks.
Best-kept secret in the world of National Parks.
Gorgeous.
Gorgeous.
Panorama setting on my iPhone
Panorama setting on my iPhone
One of these cliffs is over 2200 feet high (taller than the Empire State Building).
One of these cliffs is over 2200 feet high (taller than the Empire State Building).
Did I mention this park is off the beaten path?
Did I mention this park is off the beaten path?
As in any canyon, the ubiquitous Balancing Rock.
As in any canyon, the ubiquitous Balancing Rock.

Rolled into Grand Junction, Colorado, to a charming little hotel and Italian restaurant.  I will go as far as Salt Lake City with Amy tomorrow (via Dinosaur National Monument), and send her off the rest of the way on her own.

Hooooooge shoutout to my house and dogsitters Katie and Elliot.  And cow/donkey/chicken sitters.  You two rock!

One more day of adventure, then back to Employment Discrimination and Legal Research.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de Boro!

What a beautiful day for a bike ride!

Today was the Tour de Boro (although honestly it was more of a Tour de Christiana), a leisurely spring ride through the rolling hills of Rutherford County, benefitting the organization Special Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides therapeutic rehabilitation and professional nursing services to children with special needs.  It’s also a great way to kick off the spring riding season!

Because of a weather front that moved in last night, it was a bit dodgy getting up at 6:00 to 39 degrees.  But get up I did, and off to Barfield Park I went, bike on rack, coffee in hand, ready to get my ride on.

Within minutes of arriving and checking in, I heard my name called, and looked around and saw my friend Allison.

Alison has been a friend and a client for 5 or 6 years.  We chatted a minute and decided to ride together, as it seemed like we would ride at about the same pace.  We had the most delightful time riding and talking.  I’d like to share a bit of what she shared with me.

Alison and me
Alison and me

Alison is a veteran and has recently become involved with Ride2Recovery, an organization established to help injured veterans overcome obstacles they face, through the sport of cycling.  Alison has done a ride to NYC, the California coast, and the Gulf coast.  She shared some stories about some of the folks she has ridden with.  R2R provides and modifies bicycles for any manner of disability, and through donations and outside funding, there is no cost to the veteran.  Non-veterans are invited and encouraged to attend the structured rides offered around the country throughout the year, although there’s a fee associated with that.

She said the exertion, the camaraderie, the accomplishment are all helping her to process her overseas active duty experiences.  Specifically she said it helped her see that all of us, with our strengths and weaknesses, are all beautifully imperfect, and that each person’s life is of their own making.  My friend Alison has since spent a month or so in New Zealand, taking in the sights of that spectacular country.  It’s also led her to sell her home and work toward accomplishing a personal dream of owning her business.

I hope you’ll visit the website and consider whether this fits into your charitable giving.  We don’t always get to see how our contributions work, but today, for a few lovely spring hours, I got to see just that.

My friend Alison
My friend Alison

Thanks for reading!

Sometimes you just get lucky

I’m at the American Atheists convention and I have a blog queue that is about to bubble over.  There have been great speakers, big laughs, a costume party, old friends, and I have every intention of posting about all those things.

However, something happened last night that bumped all that down the list.  I met Earl Smith.

This American Atheist convention is the 50th anniversary of its founding, and it’s being held in Austin, Texas, where Madalyn Murray O’Hare began the organization in 1963, after the landmark ruling of removing prayer in public schools.  It’s 4 days of activism, socializing, speakers – all the usual that go along with conventions.  We’re meeting and staying at the Hyatt in Austin, which is one of the subjects I want to post on.  I have been astounded at the job they have done in accommodating us is so far beyond what is usually expected.  I have tried to express my gratitude to the waiters, check-in staff, and security as the opportunity presents.

Earl Smith is the director of security at the Hyatt hotel in Austin, Texas.  He’s a tall, snowy-haired, good-natured African American, and we (Eliott and I) warmed to him immediately.  Last night, he shared the following story with us.

Earl was drafted in 1966, and served with the 173rd Airborne brigade.  That unit sustained losses of over 10,000 American lives, and Earl returned home weary and lost at 22 years old.  He struggled to find his way, and was sent to prison a year later for a 5-year sentence for robbery.  He was given clemency in 1977, and when he was released, he set about rebuilding his life at age 25, with a war, a prison term, a broken marriage, and the racism of the south in his past.

Earl started with the Marriott in Chicago, and began working his way through the hospitality industry, finally taking the job as the head of hotel security at the Hyatt hotel in Austin in 1998.  In 2008, as you may remember, the final debate of the Democratic primary was held at UT Austin.  In a stroke of logistic hilarity, or maybe staff ineptitude, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and their respective debate teams stayed at the Hyatt in Austin.  When Earl was telling this story, he couldn’t stop chuckling relating the efforts the hotel staff went through to keep distance and peace between the groups in the hotel.

Earl found himself on an elevator with then-senator Obama.  In Earl’s pocket was his military patch from the 173rd Airborne, which he had carried in that pocket for 40 years.  Earl asked Mr. Obama if he could give him something, and of course Mr. Obama said he could.  Earl handed him the worn, frayed patch, and told him that he wanted to offer it to him on behalf of the American people.  When Earl told me this part of the story, using hand gestures that spoke even more than his words, he said, “I just felt so relieved to give it to him”.

The story now has to take a leap through time, to January of 2013.  One morning, when Earl arrived at his office, his staff was all atwitter about a phone call he had received – from the White House!  President Obama’s assistant chatted with Earl on the phone and via email over the next few days and arranged for him to come to Washington DC for the inauguration.  Earl was delighted, and set about arranging his budget and time schedule in order to go.  Earl’s employer, surprise surprise!, arranged for him to have a room in the packed and expensive Hyatt Hotel within walking distance of the Washington Mall.  When his tickets to the inauguration were delivered to his room, they came with a little more news:  President Obama wanted Earl to visit him at the White House the following day.  The question was also asked:  What else did Earl want to do while he was in our nation’s capitol?

Here was Earl’s list:  he wanted to go to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, and the brand new Dr. King Memorial.   On a cold January day, Earl Smith attended the second inauguration of the first black president.  He said he loved every freezing minute of it.  Then the former Army private visited the memorials.  In telling this story full of emotional highs, at this point Earl became emotional, describing the feeling he experienced walking that sloping sidewalk, along that cold, reflecting granite, far too full of names.  40 years vanished, he said, and those names and faces came right back to him, reminding him of where he had come from, why he was where he was, who he had lost.  When Earl then visited the Dr. King memorial, he said moments from the past – JFK’s assassination, the war, the civil rights struggle – all came to him as he stood there, taking in the monument.  But there was still one more highlight.

It was time to go the White House.  Earl found himself sitting in a chair in a hallway, not really sure what was in store for him.  He said after he returned from a nervous trip to the bathroom, his escort was nowhere to be seen, so he just took a seat in the chair, and just then, walking down the hall, was a tall, thin, African American man extending his hand saying, “I’m so glad to see you again, Earl.”  Then, at the end of that hall, Earl walked in to the Oval Office, that iconic rug on the floor, the desk, all of it.  Earl and his President chatted for a bit, 20 minutes in fact, and Earl repeated to him the purpose of the patch; that he wanted the president to have it on behalf of the American people.

Please take the time to visit the link and watch the video.  What an honor and privilege it was to have met Earl and hear his story.  He’s a lovely, kind, gentle man, and if you are ever in Austin, go out of your way, even if you don’t stay here, to visit the Hyatt and ask to meet Earl.

I'm so proud of this picture!
My friend, Earl Smith

Thanks for reading!

Edit 4.1.13

Awesome level:  Maximum
Awesome level: Maximum

Where have you been?

Where have you been?!  I’ve been waiting and waiting!

From the The-best-defense-is-a-good-offense files…

When I logged in to write today’s post, I was astounded to see I haven’t posted since November!  Where did the time go?  Maybe the kids coming for Thanksgiving or my best girl and her wife visiting for a few days or taking my finals for the end of my second year of law school or going to Amy’s graduation or moving her to a new apartment or Glenda coming home for the semester break or my parents coming for Christmas or going to Las Vegas for my studybuddy’s 40th birthday or driving nonstop with Son2 from Colorado to Tennessee to reposition a vehicle or starting my third year of law school?  Still no excuse, I know.

I do love being stimulated, but this has been a little over the top, even for me.

Starting with kid news:

#1 had better grades than me after fall semester, and I had good grades.  That was tough to take, but I’m so proud of him.  Ben is a political science major at CU Boulder, home of Ralphie the Buffalo (extra credit if you know the history of the mascot at this school).  Kirsten finished her master’s in architecture this year, and they’re trying to get used to NOT living in a resort town.

Ben and Aden
Ben and Aden

#2 is in his winter semester as the asst director of the outdoor program at Virginia Commonwealth U.  His group of students went on a ski trip to Breckenridge, which is why he ended up there with his Airstream B Van needing to bring it back east.  I volunteered, so 24 hours later, we arrived home, where Sam slept, then drove the rest of the way alone, visiting his sisters along the way.

Sam and the James River in Richmond
Sam and the James River in Richmond

#3 is in what may be her final semester at UT.   In a painful twist of irony, she’s having to defend a French class she took IN FRANCE in order to get credit to graduate.  The less said about that the better.

Glenda and darling Caroline
Glenda and darling Caroline

#4 graduated from East Tennessee State University in December.  She’s applied for a job with the parks department of Johnson City and is eagerly awaiting an answer.  She has a kickass plan B, so I’ll wait for that post until she hears the result of her interview.

Amy and darling Curtis
Amy and darling Curtis

As for me, I’m now past the halfway point in law school, the bar exam notwithstanding.  That’s an entity unto itself.  I have 23 more tuition payments, 23 more months of school.  If you’re keeping track, this year’s subjects are:  Evidence, Corporations and Business Organizations, Professional Responsibility, Legal Analysis and Writing, Legal Research, Employment Discrimination, and Cross Profession Ethics.  It is as much work as it appears to be.  Do not think, as I did, that law school is top-loaded.  I love the topics; the challenge is cramming the daily 12 hours of study into 4 or 6 hours.

In training news, son Sam has decided he wants us to do a triathlon together before one of us gets too old.  And of course by triathlon, I mean the big bad one.  We’ve decided on the window of Mar-Sept 2014, so we’re looking at races all over the world to find an iron distance we want to do.  That gives us the maximum time to train, and before I start my big push studying for the Bar.  Stay tuned for details.

I’d like to say here that I’ll do a better job of blogging more regularly, but we all know I’m kidding myself.  It’s not that I don’t have a lot to write about, but you already know that.  However, it is a nice refuge from the intensity of my academics, so here’s my empty promise to try to do better.

And, for no good reason, here’s a face:

How could you not love this face?
How could you not love this face?
We can destroy a hot dozen
We can destroy a hot dozen

 

Thanks for reading!

Albuquerque, Part 2

Well, that took longer than I thought!

To continue, I’ve been in New Mexico with mom and dad for a few days.  They are motorhome caravanners, Airstream to be specific, and have been on a southwest caravan for a couple of months.  They began in Moab, Utah (after having done the Lewis and Clark caravan the 2 months before that) and are concluding on Sunday.  I flew to Albuquerque last Saturday to join them for a few days.

In part I I told about the Balloon Festival, which continued to be spectacular.  The motorhome was parked in a lot facing the lift0ff field, and every morning at sunrise there were hundreds of hot air balloons in various stages of ascension.  Breathtaking in scope and vision.  Truly.  And because of the nature of the event, one is free to walk among the aircraft, chatting with the pilots and chase crew as they filled and heated the balloons.

It’s the Hendrick’s Gin Balloon!

When I last blogged, we were on our way to the Pueblo Indian Culture Center, where we spent most of the morning learning about the 19 tribes.  It’s a beautiful center with a courtyard for showcasing the native dances, and both an ancient and contemporary museum of history.

From there we tried to find not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 different restaurants for lunch.  We ended up at El Pinto’s restaurant, allegedly a favorite Bushie hangout (I managed to dodge the Republican vibe if that’s true) for their spectacular and spectacularly huge dishes.  We opted for enchiladas, quesadillas, and of course sopapillas with honey.

Then it was time for the caravan to move on, so off to Santa Fe we went.  Dinner the first night was at the Buffalo Thunder casino, along with a $10 credit, after the buffet, mom and dad hit the penny slots!  Wooohooo!!

Gambling away my inheritance, 1¢ at a time.

The next day took us to downtown Santa Fe, where we saw old churches, shops, restaurants, and street vendors.  Then, in a dash, all the way up to Taos, where we went to the Taos Pueblo (no photography) and then to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

Then, to cap off a long day, before dinner we scouted out the Kit Carson Memorial Park where we found the grave we were looking for.  That may not sound like everyone’s idea of fun, but when you travel with dad, it’s mandatory.  It’s an historian thing.

Exciting, huh?

It was a quick 5 days, now it’s off to Anaheim with daughter Amy for another adventure.  She and squeeze Curtis are attending the National Recreation and Park Association Conference.  Ames graduates in December with an Outdoor Recreation degree from ETSU, and she’s hoping to make a few job contacts…next post will find me in daughterbliss!

Big shoutout to Glendy for dogsitting while I’m gone:

My human girl is not impressed with my canine girl.

Thanks for reading!

We the People

 

Moonlight Ride around Cade’s Cove

And following on the heels of the Warrior Dash…crazy, moonlight bicycle ride in Smoky Mountain National Park.

When Sam began college at UT in the fall of 2006, he began work at the UT Outdoor Program (UTOP).  I believe that it was through this group that I first heard about this ride.

Cade’s Cove is a beautiful plateau in the Smoky Mountains, protected on all sides by mountains, and according to the site, is one of the most visited place in the National Park.  On a pretty fall weekend, the loop is almost entirely filled with cars, creeping along looking at the flora and fauna.   Like most state parks, the road closes at dusk, and that’s when it gets interesting.  On a full moon, if you’re on a bicycle, you can see well enough to navigate, even without blinkies, on the 11-mile loop.  What.  A.  Rush.

Saturday night’s full moon was occasionally partially occluded by clouds, and sometimes diffused by a heavy fog that gave everything a kind of scary, surreal feeling.  There are old buildings along the road, and we stopped to see one of the old churches. It was here that we discovered Eliott’s flat tire.  While Amy and I were working to patch it, Eliott scared the poop out of Casey by tossing stones into the woods while Casey tried to figure out what it was.  We also got several packs of coyotes to answer back to our howls – pretty scary in the dark and moonlight.

The black bear sighting was the highlight.  We try not to use headlamps or white blinkies because you can see more if you let your eyes adjust and dilate to the moonlight, but after watching the large dark figure walk toward us across a field, we finally shown a light, and there he was.  We left in haste, with Casey beside me saying he didn’t have to outrun the bear, but just be able to outrun me.

We stopped at the working mill, and the other pioneer structure, seeing bats, and deer, hearing the coyotes, and straining for every bit of road definition out of the shadows of the moon.  We stopped at the part of the valley where you can hear an echo bounce back and forth across the ridge, and clapped and whistled and hooted until we needed to get back on the bikes and finish the loop.  We didn’t start riding until midnight, and between the flat tire and sightseeing, it was 3am when we got back.

I love this ride.  Going without a night’s sleep is a small price to pay for the memory of the experience.  It’s become one of my mental happy places to wander to when I need a refuge from stress and life drama.  The whisper of my tires on the road, the cool air on my face, the muted outlines of the fields and mountains, all come together to create a unique, unforgettable carpe nocturne event.  If you see me post that I’m making the trip again, ask to come along.

Oh, and my daughters and I are apparently 9 years old.

Everybody smile!
Stop clowning around, this one’s for real!
Seriously, y’all, I want a good picture of us!
…..and Eliott photobombs the last try…

Thanks for reading!

 

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