Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Long Day on the Road (With Some Successes)

Today Anne Marie and I made a quick trip to Billings. I had a 9:40 a.m. appointment with my doctor, which meant we left home, in the dark, at 5:30. The trip went smoothly for us, though we did see one unfortunate fellow whose truck was smashed in the front end from hitting a deer, evidently just moments before we passed by. He was out of the truck, so there was no need for us to stop.

The sun came up. It would have been a perfectly beautiful Fall day, if it weren't for the smoke from the forest fires in the Big Horns. As we drove through the long stretches of Montana's wide-open spaces, we began to see beautiful displays of autumn foliage in the trees growing along river banks and in the deep draws that receive the benefit of runoff water. We couldn't stop on the  way to Billings, but made plans to try to get a few photos on the way home.
Trees along a river, as seen through a railroad bridge.

My doctor says I am a problem. My thyroid has been doing weird things for a long time. She had started me on synthroid a few weeks ago. It was not agreeing with me. So today she said to stop taking it, get a few more blood tests, and we'd see what it was doing.

Well, with that taken care of for the moment, we moved on to the fun part of the day. Ordinarily, I am a most reluctant shopper. I just missed the shopping gene. It is a chore for me, and I really hate trying on clothes. But I really needed some clothes. I'd done some looking in Rapid City, to no avail. I always have trouble, because I am not standard sized. I'm too tall for most regular women's sizes. I am too short for the specialty women's tall sizes. I used to make my own clothing, but I've reached a stage of life where I just don't feel like sewing.

Today Anne Marie took me to Dillard's in Billings. They had lots of clothes that fitted me! I found nice slacks that were perfect in fit and length. I found jackets that were the perfect sleeve and waist length. Likewise, blouses and tops that fit right. I put together several mix and match outfits, and left there poorer but thrilled! I even had fun shopping and trying on clothes because I was finally finding things I really liked (as opposed to just settling for) and that FIT!

On the way home we listened to a recorded book by a favorite author, and did take some Fall foliage photos. The light was not great for photography because of the smoke in the air and an overcast sky, but we got a few good ones.
Treetops peeking out of a draw between hills.
When I leaned out of the car window to photograph trees on a hilltop, I inadvertently took a picture of myself.
Fall foliage is fleeting, but gives a moment of glory.

The day started early, had a lot of road time, but some real rewards to it. And I enjoyed the day with my daughter. Thanks, Anne Marie!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sunday Morning Bible Study

I was quite nervous Sunday morning. It would be my first time teaching an adult class at the church we are now attending. I did not know if anyone would show up (this congregation had not had Sunday School for a year or two and people do get out of the habit of attending). I had only a slight acquaintance with people in this congregation. And I was using a group discussion format--what if no one would talk?

Anyone who has taught any kind of class knows that the worst thing, as a teacher, is to throw out a question to the class for discussion and no one speaks. It is like they all have turned to stone. The silence lengthens. Finally, as class leader, you have to put forth your own take on the question. You wonder if the class is shy, afraid of giving the "wrong" answer, or simply bored into stupors. And you get very tired of listening to your own voice, when you had hoped for class participation.

My fears were unjustified. A nice group showed up for class, a mixture of men and women. And they were great participators! I really enjoyed being back teaching (leading) a class, having an opportunity to start getting acquainted with people, and hearing some of their life experiences that applied to the subject at hand.

The pastor plans to take this class half the time, and I will have it the other half. Now I am looking forward to the mental/spiritual challenge and stimulation of being both a teacher and a class member on Sunday mornings.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Yellowstone Friday

Friday, August 10, 2012
We started our last day in the Park by visiting the magnificent Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. The river falls into a deep canyon. The yellow walls of the canyon gave the river, the canyon, and the park their names. By getting there fairly early in the morning, we beat the crowds. No matter how many times I have seen the falls, no matter how many photographs I have taken of it, I am still awed by it.

There is an osprey nest on a spire in the canyon. With zoom I got a good photo of the nest, but it seemed
to be empty. This year's young had apparently already fledged and flown.
Gwen and Megan hiked the very steep Red Rock trail down into the canyon.
Chad and Anne Marie watching the hikers return.

The Yellowstone River flowing through the canyon, between red and yellow canyon walls.
I limited my hiking to a walk on the pathway that bordered the canyon rim. I couldn't resist taking a lot of scenery photos. Any way I looked I saw something I wanted to keep in my memory.

For lunch we went to our favorite picnic grounds at the Nez Perce Crossing. It was there that we saw the eagle I put in a prior blog here.

Toward evening we stopped by Tower Falls. This was the first time we had seen
this falls. The other years we were in the Park road work had closed off the access.
Tower Falls is not as dramatic as the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, but
has a loveliness of its own.
There is a long stretch of this volcanic rock formation, which we saw on the drive to Mammoth.
It reminds me of the log walls of a giant fort.

When we got to Mammoth Springs it started to rain. We dashed across the street to the cafe and had our suppers. We had hoped to see the elk come down, but they must have wanted to stay in the trees out of the rain! We gave up on the elk and headed back to our cabins in Canyon Village, ready for a night's rest before the long drive home on Saturday.

Another Wyoming Author

C.M. Wendelboe
When his Junior High class was asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, Curt Wendelboe's response was, "A writer." The rest of the class, he reports, were divided between "singer" and "actor." Then, a bit tongue in cheek, he says that one of that class is now serving a double life sentence in prison, where he has fulfilled his ambition--he has organized a prison choir!

Wendelboe, however, continued to write. He wrote while he served as a Marine in Viet Nam. He wrote while he served in law enforcement for 38 years. And in his retirement years, he has become the published author of a new book series, the Spirit Road Mysteries. As it says on his website:

C. M. Wendelboe entered the law enforcement profession when he was discharged from the Marines as the Vietnam war was winding down.

In the 1970s he worked in South Dakota towns bordering three Indian reservations. The initial one-third of his career included assisting federal and tribal law enforcement agencies embroiled in conflicts with American Indian Movement activists in other towns and on other reservations, including Pine Ridge.

He moved to Gillette, Wyoming, and found his niche, where he remained a sheriff's deputy for over twenty-five years. In addition, he was a longtime firearms instructor at the local college and within the community.
During his thirty-eight-year career in law enforcement he had served successful stints as police chief, policy adviser, and other supervisory roles for several agencies. Yet he always has felt most proud of "working the street." He was a patrol supervisor when he retired to pursue his true vocation as a fiction writer. (

My sister Grace and I attended a book-signing and talk by Mr. Wendelboe at our local library yesterday. I really enjoy meeting authors whose books I have appreciated. And within a few days time we got to attend two events for successful authors from our own area. What a treat!

I read and enjoyed Curt's first book, Death Along the Spirit Road, last year, so, when I saw his new book as a Mystery Guild selection, I promptly ordered it. I got it just a few days before the library event and took it with me to get it signed. I would recommend reading Spirit Road first, because there will always be character development that flows through a series.

During his talk, Curt told a funny story about one phase of his efforts to become a published writer. He tried writing Harlequin romances. He thought, "How hard could it be?" After all, these books have to be written to a strict formula. It was quite comical hearing what he did to try to get himself in the proper mood to write the romances. He finally came to the conclusion that this was no way for a grown man to spend his time!

I would recommend his books. And I love his life story. He always knew he was a writer, but he was a lot of other things on his way to being published by a major national publisher. He has the life experience to give authenticity to his mysteries. (He has even learned to speak Lakota!) Book three is written and in the publishing cycle for release next June, and he has plotted and is researching his fourth book in the series. I look forward to them.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Real Live Successful Writer

Last night my sister Grace and I went out again. This time we attended an event at the Public Library. It was a kickoff for a One Book Community Reading program (I may not have the title quite right, but that is the gist of it). The book chosen for this read it-pass it along-get together and discuss it event is The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson.

Craig Johnson lives on a ranch near Ucross, Wyoming. The nearest real town is Buffalo, Wyoming, which goes under the pseudonym of Durant in his books. Johnson writes mysteries that I'd have a hard time categorizing. They feature Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, the fictitious county based on Johnson County. The new A&E series Longmire is based upon his characters.

Craig Johnson is a very good writer, and he is just as good at entertaining an audience. He definitely has the gift of gab, a born storyteller. He read a portion of The Dark Horse, then answered questions from the overflow audience. No matter what the question was, whether it concerned the books or the TV show, he always had a good story to go with the answer.

I read The Dark Horse when it came out in 2009 (well, actually, I've read all his books, the free short stories he sends out to people on his email list at Christmas, and the e-book novella available from Amazon).  However, I have forgotten enough of the details that I am now reading it again. This time I'll slow down and savor a bit. The first time through a book I tend to gulp it down to get the story. So impatient! But a book I really like I will read and enjoy again.

It was a fun evening, and Grace and I finished it off by going out for dinner.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Cowboy Artist

Book Cover
When we were just children, my sister Grace and I were walking down a sidewalk and looked through the window of an artist's studio. The studio sat right next to the walk, with a large picture window. Inside, next to that big window, an artist had set up his easel. His back was mostly to the window, leaving his work in progress in clear view. This gave him both good light and good advertising.

My sister and I stopped and watched in awe. We had never seen an artist at work, bringing a landscape and animals into life. I was probably six or seven years old, Grace three years older than I. We were awestruck. In my memory, the painting was a prairie scene with pronghorn antelope. I thought it was wonderful, and was shocked when the artist suddenly took a rag and wiped one of the antelope off the canvas. To my juvenile eyes that antelope was perfect! What was he doing, ruining his picture! Of course, the artist went back to painting, and Grace and I went on our way.

Since that time, whenever this bit of memory surfaces (and it was a powerful enough experience that it really planted itself in my mind), I've wondered who the artist was, where he was from, and what he was doing in our little town.

Now I know.

Last night Grace and I attended a presentation at the Rockpile Museum. Featured were paintings by cowboy artist Jake W. Benson. One of his granddaughters and one of his great-grandsons spoke about their search to learn about their artist ancestor. His granddaughter, Doris Mitchell, grew up in Minnesota, in a home that contained a number of her grandfather's paintings. She met her grandfather a few times, but knew very little about his life in Wyoming.

When she did finally visit Wyoming a few years ago, she started discovering paintings by J.W. Benson everywhere. He painted not only pictures to hang on a wall, but signs for businesses and ranches and murals in cafes, bars, and hotels. Some of these murals are still in place in businesses around northeastern Wyoming. Some have been lost to remodeling or destruction of the buildings. Everywhere Doris went she discovered people with stories about her grandfather or with pictures he had painted. Some pictures have survived only in photographs. As a great bonus, Doris also discovered cousins still living in this area where J.W. Benson grew up, lived, cowboyed, and painted. They had more paintings and stories about their relative.

And he did have studios in our town--and right where Grace and I remember seeing the artist at work!

 Postcard reproduction of Benson's painting titled "Captured."

Doris had inherited a box of postcards that her grandfather had printed as a way to earn money. These postcards, as black and white copies, show both known paintings and paintings whose locations have been lost. Since sitting in a box in a closet defeats the purpose of art, Doris had prepared packets of the postcards that were sold at the showing.

The search for information about her grandfather and his work, and her new association with the Rockpile Museum, led Doris to write a book about her grandfather, which includes photos of the paintings she has located. Since the book was printed she has learned where 19 more are. There may be hundreds more out there.  (Sales of her book profits are going to the local Historical Society.)

J.W. Benson was self-taught and his paintings are classified as primitives by some. Some (perhaps many) of his paintings show his strong sense of humor. His was not an easy life--he was put out to work and earn his own way by the age of ten. But he was driven to paint and eventually found a way to earn a living at it.

It was a very enjoyable evening at the museum--and now I know the rest of the story about the artist who transfixed me when I was a little girl.

[And my sister Grace grew up to become a very accomplished artist herself.]

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Yellowstone Thursday

Continuing on with our vacation in Yellowstone National Park, here are photos from Thursday, August 9. On that day the rest of our group went hiking above the Grand Prismatic Pool to Fairy Falls. This was more than I would have been able to handle, so I had a quiet day in the cabin, reading and working with the photos I had already taken. After the hikers returned and rested a bit, we had dinner and then went to the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River. Evening is a good time for this, as the crowd of other tourists has greatly diminished.

The Upper Falls doesn't have the dramatic height of the Lower Falls, but is an
awesome experience because the viewing platform is much closer to the river. At
this point the river is squeezed into a narrow passageway between cliffs and falls
down to the lower level with a great roar, the water whipped into foam. This view
is from directly above the point where the water falls over the cliff.
Up river from the falls, a section of old highway runs over a bridge. The bridge and
the road section are condemned for vehicle traffic, but make a lovely walk along the river.
On the way back to the cabin area, we saw this bull elk. I got a quick snap out the
window of the moving truck. His antlers are there, but partially hidden in the trees.
This photo falls in the category of memory picture--the distance was too great for my camera. This was a cow buffalo who was running away from two bulls. One bull was right on her heels, the other, a much larger, heavier bull, was determinedly following but far enough behind that he isn't even in this photo. She ran across the prairie, swam the river, clambered up the steep hill for a ways, then ran parallel to the river until she was out of our sight, her suitors still in pursuit. Maybe Anne Marie will post some of the photos Chad took with their big zoom lens.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Yellowstone Wednesday

I'm still working on my photo-journal from our Yellowstone vacation. I'm currently formatting and composing Friday's section, but here I am sharing photos from Wednesday, August 8.

Bison always have the right of way--and they don't hurry!

Amigo, our friend Gwen's chihuahua, went down the bank for a drink from the Yellowstone River. Climbing back up the bank was more of a challenge. Chad coaxed and encouraged him until he finally scrambled up.

Gwen and Megan took Samantha into a shallow part of the river to play. Sam wasn't too enthusiastic at first, but gained confidence with time.
When she came out of the river Sam first tried to shake off on various people, then began rubbing and rolling on the ground to dry off. Soon this blond retriever was two-toned--blond and black. Gwen gave her a good rubdown with an old towel before letting her back in the truck.

This bison bull was hanging out in the Sulfur Cauldron area. The bubbling mud volcanoes scent the air with the strong odor of sulfur and have created a large mineral deposit area. The bison may hang out here in summer to discourage insect pests; in the winter they like the warmth. This bull had been rolling in the minerals and was liberally dusted with white deposits.
This is the same bull a little later. He left the cauldron area when another bull began challenging and was meandering down the highway just the road width from the tourist viewing area. Sensible people backed off; foolish ones moved closer to take pictures. Fortunately, this big boy just ignored them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Reflecting the Character of Jesus

Next Sunday I will begin teaching an adult Sunday School class. I am scheduled to teach two Sundays per month, and the pastor will teach the other two (when there is a five-Sunday month we'll figure it out!). This congregation discontinued Sunday School over a year ago. I am so pleased that the new pastor sees the importance of Bible studies for every age, and is working on building things up again.

The over-all theme for this quarter for all ages is "Character." For the adult class the base Scripture is Galatians 5:22, 23:
     But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Each lesson takes one "fruit" and uses a Scripture portion that illustrates that quality through an event, a person, or a teaching.

In beginning my preparation for the first lesson, a visual came to me of a group of people holding mirrors. Each mirror is tilted in such a way that it picks up a reflection from another mirror. The first mirror is turned toward Jesus. Therefore, back and forth, from mirror to mirror, the reflection of Jesus moves through the group.

To me, this is what our lives become--as we absorb these character qualities, we are reflecting Jesus to others.

Nothing is less lovely than a person who claims to be a follower of Christ but lives in an attitude of criticism, hatred, self-importance,self-righteousness, and anger. We will never draw others to Jesus if we treat them with an attitude of scorn.

So, this week I am thinking about Love. How do I reflect that quality to others?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why Did I. . . ?

Sometimes I wonder why I titled this Blog as I did. It makes me feel like I ought to thinking great thoughts all the time. Which, of course, I am. Like, NOT!

Thinking, when you think about it, is a very strange thing. I think. There is always some sort of conversation going on within your head. Sometimes more than one at a time. There are fragments of thought, just a passing note of something seen, heard, felt, or remembered. Other times there are long meditations. At the same time, no matter what thinking is going on, our brains are processing messages from all our senses--what we are seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, or tasting. Our brains are super multi-taskers. I have driven home from work many a time (when I was in the workforce) lost in thought, arriving home with no conscious recollection of the journey. My brain took care of getting me safely there, but did not bother to record the process, letting me concentrate on whatever was occupying my thoughts.

So, while I have certainly been thinking for the past few days, I did not think of anything I felt worthy of blogging about. Or maybe I was just lazy. Chances are I was mostly engrossed in a book. I know, that is a familiar story with me.
My Kindles

Before we left for our vacation, to ensure that I would always have something to read in the evenings or if I took a rest day in the cabin, I visited the Kindle free book list. I downloaded quite a number of these free reads. Of course, Amazon does not offer free books just out of kindness. Oh, no. These free books are often a trap for readers like me. They are there to acquaint customers with authors they haven't tried before, and most of the books are the first book of a series.

Well, their plan works! When I find a book that I enjoy, that is well written, and that has characters I like and want to know more about, I'm hooked. I want to find out what happens next! What happens next is, of course, that I buy more books. Fortunately, many of the series that are introduced as free books are also among the more inexpensive. I also find that many of the free books are not ones whose authors I want to follow.

Over the weekend I started reading one of the free books that I had downloaded before vacation. I liked it. I wanted to know what happened next. Result--I read four novels and two short stories (all that are currently available) in the series. While some of the values held by the characters in the books were not my values, I cared about these people. I like it when an author creates a world and people that seem real, that I can sympathize and empathize with; that I feel like I know and I want them to have good outcomes in their lives. Without these feelings, reading would not be half as much fun!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Eyes Have It

Yesterday my daughter and I made a quick trip to Rapid City. I had my semi-annual appointment at the Eye Institute, and Anne Marie is my faithful chauffeur. I also have her come with me to the inner sanctums to be another pair of ears (and brains) when I see the doctor. I've learned that even when I'm sure I'm absorbing everything the doctor says, after I'm home I realize that the stress of the moment has erased some things from my mind. It is good to have someone else hearing it all. Between the two of us we'll remember everything important!

I have several strikes against my vision. I have been very nearsighted since childhood. About twelve years ago I developed myopic macular degeneration. Then, although the pressure in my eyes has always tested in the normal range, for me that was still too high and I developed glaucoma. And to top it off, I have cataracts developing!

But, amazingly, I still can see fairly well with glasses--well enough that the State of Wyoming just issued me a new driver's license. Anne Marie still prefers that I let her drive me places, and that's fine with me.

The report I got yesterday was very good. The major problems for my vision cannot be fixed, so preventing further deterioration is the goal. The condition of my eyes has not changed.

And for me that is great news.