Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sierra Madre and Snowy Range aspens

It is a good aspen year. I only see them on drives in the fall, but people who live in the mountains say the show is best when orange hues come out--and this year, they did.

The first photo was taken in the Medicine Bow National Forest, near Centennial, Wyoming. (In case you're wondering, that is not the Centennial that James Michner wrote a book about. His Centennial was about Colorado, and he devoted 928 pages to it.)

But many of the photos in this post were taken mighty close to the Colorado border.

The aspens above were in the Sierra Madre mountains, on what Centennial residents called "the other side." Medicine Bow National Forest includes the Snowy Range to the east, near Centennial, and the Sierra Madres to the west, near Encampment. (There are several Sierra Madre mountain ranges, but the ones we visited were in southern Wyoming. I don't know how they got such a southwestern-sounding name.)  A drive over highway 70 revealed some stunning fall color, which I have not reproduced as well as I'd hoped.

Aspens, I am discovering, can be hard to capture. I've edited the heck out of these photos, not to make them look better than the actual scene but to attempt reproducing them as they really were. My sister Ilene gave me some hints, and I'll keep working at it.

The trees were like an enormously-scaled, fussy flower garden, planted with yellows and oranges against deep greens for the best effect. And they went on and on and on. It was fun to see them with a fellow photographer, who stopped the car and jumped out with a camera as often as I wanted to.

It was also a splendid day during peak color. We enjoyed remarkable luck, as we had scheduled the trip a month or two ago with no idea how the conditions would be. Against that lovely backdrop we celebrated our sisterhood and remembered Valerie, another sister who left us too soon. I think she would have liked to be remembered that way.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Truth is Relative blog tour starts today, plus pictures from the region.

Update: Truth is Relative is available for 99 cents for a limited time, and it's on a virtual tour.

Today's blog tour details:

Cabin Goddess cooks up a recipe inspired by both my book and my list of comfort foods. I don't know how she did it, but it's a fun read!

Jess Resides Here gives out my advice to aspiring authors.

And Laura's Online Interests offers an excerpt.

I now return to my regularly scheduled programming.

So... it was an unusual weekend. I started it by getting lost on some back roads and finished with bringing home a cough and fever. But below are some scenes from in between--and it was so worth it!

I went on a trip with my sister Ilene, who shares my passion for photography only she's better at it. We went to the Wyoming/Colorado border, the setting for my book. We grew up in the region, too, but I didn't appreciate it at the time (like so many other childhood things).

For example, I had no idea that this scene was two hours from my hometown:

Lake Marie mirrors Sugar Loaf Mountain in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

Instead I grew up thinking that Cheyenne was flat, windy and prone to hailstorms. (It is.) I thought Interstate 80 was one long ribbon of semi truck traffic through sagebrush. (It is.) I didn't know that despite these things, Southeastern Wyoming has a lot to offer. When the family I grew up in went camping, it was to points much farther distant. It was about time to explore closer to our old home.

Same mountain, different lake, different angle. This was taken at Mirror Lake.

I realized before I wrote my book that there were mountains in the region, but I didn't see much of them until this back-to-our-roots trip with my sister.

From this viewing turret we were able to gaze out on many mountains I had never visited before last weekend. It had a top-of-the-world feel to it--I believed I could see the curve of the Earth from there.

Sugarloaf and Medicine Bow peaks, viewed from higher up.
Some people we grew up with didn't believe us when we said we'd be exploring pretty places in Southeastern Wyoming. It tempted me to name this post "NEENER-NEENER-NEENER." 

Stay tuned, because I'm not done with the region yet.

Friday, September 26, 2014

My secret journal of Wyoming backroads

Before I begin my story, I want y'all to know I've succeeded in the daylight.

I've navigated the area between Kemmerer and Lander with nothing but a paper map. But that happened in full sun, and it was still hard.

This time the sun was setting as I drove away from a little Sinclair station outside Kemmerer, where I bought beef jerky. I drove past the Opal turnoff, checked the map and still missed the road to Fontenelle. None of the roads were very clearly marked. I wasn't in tourist country. Fontenelle wasn't even on my paper map, and I couldn't blame the mapmakers. The last time I drove past Fontenelle it was nothing but a gas station, so worn-down that my only clue it was even open was the lit-up beer sign in the window. But when it's the only navigation point between Kemmerer and Farson (which is the next navigation point on the way to Lander), it's kind of important to know where it is.

Maybe I should have mapped the route out on my iPhone, but I didn't trust it. The last GPS I took on those roads--in the days before my iPhone--was clueless. Siri might have done better, but she was the voice of a hipster device. She could help me find shopping areas in Boston, but I doubted she knew anything about Fontenelle. Now it was too late to ask her. I had no cell service.

When I reached LaBarge I knew I've gone too far. I did have a slight cell signal, though, so I asked Siri how to get to Farson.

"I'm very sorry about this," she said, "but I can't take requests right now."

I looked up my position on the phone's map. It revealed that I was on a road that led to LaBarge, but I couldn't find any road numbers.

I studied the paper map and decided my mistake was that I'd been looking for a sign pointing to a numbered highway. I should have followed the Fontenelle Dam road--it was pretty much the only one going the correct direction. So I put the phone back into airplane mode to save the battery, turned around, followed the dam turnoff and actually saw a sign that mentioned Farson. But somehow I missed the turn that would take me there--I'd swear it was not marked. When I reached the junction with I-80 I knew I was way off, so I turned around and backtracked.

When I saw the Oci turnoff, I didn't have much hope that it would take me to Farson. I just hoped I'd get my bearings there. Any place lit up that much must have had a convenience store, or at least a cell tower or two. On the way to that blazing mecca of light in the sagebrush, I almost killed two jackrabbits (not on purpose, but they tend to run in the path of the headlights). I'm pretty sure an owl strafed the car.

The approach to OCI was full of strange, slower-than-natural speed limits, bends in the road and signs that warned I would die if I tried to cross the tracks when a train was using them. Other signs begged me to think of my family and stay safe. As I got closer I gave up hope that I'd find a convenience store, but a car or two drove past so I kept going, hoping somebody could give me directions. I passed a sign that read, "Visitors must stop at the reception center." I doubted it was open after 10, so I pointed my car for the brightest lights in hopes of finding people amongst the parked cars. I pulled into a lot just as a car was going through an always-on car wash of sorts. The driver waved as he went by. And a sign tacked onto a building read, "Are you prepared for the hazards you are going to meet?"

I didn't get out of the car. Instead I pulled out of that parking lot, found a more open parking area farther away, and called Husband while I still had cell service. "I need a navigator," I said.

"You sure do," he replied from our comfortable home, rich with wifi and its own micro cell site. "You were in LaBarge awhile ago. That was way off. And right now you're almost in Green River, and that's also way off. You missed Farson."

That Find My iPhone feature is a mixed blessing.

We agreed I should give up on back roads, join up with I-80 and take the Farson turnoff at Rock Springs. But when I was in Rock Springs Husband called. "I think you should hole up there," he said. "If you don't you'll be driving for two and a half hours on back roads again, after midnight." He was kind and left off the part about how my brain was obviously mush.

I got directions from the very sweet night clerk at the Loaf N Jug off I-80 and checked into a hotel. The desk clerk seemed almost desperate to find me some kind of discount. Let me take this opportunity to say there's a lot more to Rock Springs than windblown dust. Its night clerks are absolute gems.

In my room (it had wifi!), my caffeined-up brain couldn't shut down. OCI-Wyoming is a chemical company, I discovered via Google. I turned off the light but didn't sleep, so I began writing blog posts in my head.

Here I am at 12:35, awondering if I'm really going to post this. It's a good story, but it makes me look like a doofus.

I guess that's never stopped me before.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Missing the good old blogging days

This is pretty much what I used to do--shoot
whatever caught my attention during the
week, then post it with a running commentary
on the photography. I guess I still do that a lot.
So I should add that I heavily edited this shot,
taken near Beaver Creek in Logan Canyon.
 I was trying to make the photo match the memory,

and it's still not there.
The photo journey is definitely ongoing.
I miss the old days of say, 2010. Bloggers posted and readers commented right on the blog. Sometimes they talked to each other. It was almost always civil--here, at least.

It was easy to believe we were building a community.

The bust probably began long before some high profile blogs shut down their comment sections in the last year. Everybody and their dog was blogging, readership was fragmented, and even faithful readers were less willing to spend time on junky content. It just wasn't sustainable. I was as guilty as anybody--a lot of what I posted was a half-step up from crap. But we sure talked about it.

Interestingly, my readership statistics are stronger now than they were in 2010, or I should say, my posts are fewer but they get more hits. The comment section is a lot quieter, though.

I was curious why, so I revisited my blog list, which is about 150 long. Of those, 69 posted in the last month, and the number that posted in the last week was much lower than that.

Some of the inactive bloggers dropped out quietly, others revealed a traumatic life event or said they didn't have time to blog anymore before they said goodbye. A few, I'm happy to say, just got too famous and busy. Of those who remained, many were much less active than they were a few years ago. I understand. Life happens, and I think we all want to do higher quality work.

I am commenting on other blogs less myself, too, because... life. And that next novel.

I can think of at least one blog that looks as active as ever, but it's the exception, not the rule.

Some of the professional bloggers I follow claim the art form is dead as a marketing tool, though it might still have some use for customer service types. Other voices--my favorite bloggers even before the bust came along--say there will always be a place for good writing.

I'm still here, and I'll stay around. I like having a place where I can do whatever the heck I want. Meanwhile, the field is less crowded. The renaissance may come, but the comment section may never recover.

And that's okay. I guess.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pizza Night photo album

I've posted so many pizza photos, I figured they'd just be fluff at this point. But when I got them out of the camera, I couldn't resist.

We all love pizza night, but nobody throws themselves into it more than Chickadee the Cat. She pesters the guests, tries to steal leftovers, and once brought a mouse for Husband to cook. (He didn't, but it sure was fresh!)

I never get tired of photographing flame. My little Nikon took this. It exceeded my expectations.

Rosemary and shoulder bacon on red.

Ricotta and shoulder bacon on pesto.

Wishing you all a happy harvest!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Frost loss: Herbal pizzas of early fall

The basil took it on the chin this week, but some of the lower leaves survived.
Sage and rosemary are more frost tolerant.

You have to hate that first frost. Even when the weatherman warned you, there's still hope he's wrong. Maybe that cold air won't drop down from Wyoming. Maybe a warm pocket will hover over the garden.

Or not.

Earlier this week, husband covered some plants while I made dinner. The ones he covered survived, at least partly. The exposed tomatoes are history, though, and even the basil that was covered got partly taken down. It's too bad, because this is prime pizza season. Fresh tomatoes, fresh herbs, custom sausage... Well, enough survived that we'll have one more go tonight.

Here are some herbs and how I like to use them on a wood-fired pizza.


This is the base ingredient for pesto, and we're rich enough with it, I've been using it for pizza sauce (minus the parmesan cheese). Basil on its own is crucial for a margarita pizza. I also like fresh basil with a smattering of gorgonzola, teaspoon-sized dollops of cream cheese, and mozzarella (fresh, if you care to spring for it) over red sauce.


I like sage best on white sauce, paired with onions and sausage. I've also tried it on our version of focaccia, and it's not half bad.


This is a favorite on our "focaccia" (or Lyon bread, or whatever). I also like it with chicken and both red or white sauce. My favorite use is on white sauce with scallions, fresh tomatoes and parmesan.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Week of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is like coming out of a dark place. But it's work.
An online friend of mine invited me to a Week of Forgiveness, and I took her up on it. It officially started Sunday, and it has brought my own thoughts to the surface.

I have felt the lightness, the life-transforming beauty of forgiving and being forgiven. I’m surprised I don’t do it more often, because I don’t think there’s a better feeling out there.

But forgiveness is a constant battle. My experience is nothing like that tidy ending act in an opera, when two people embrace in a moment of sublime understanding—and then one of them dies.

Real life is a lot messier. My decision to forgive must often be made over and over again, as more mistakes are made or my tendency to hold a grudge reasserts itself. Sometimes I get tired, fighting my own nature like that.

But this week has reminded me how rewarding it is. I remember the sweetness, the amazing clarity that comes with throwing off a burden of anger and hatred.

It’s an exercise of faith as much as an effort of will.  And I’m officially back in the fight.

Emails from home

Most of our email is pretty mundane. Once in a while, though, the immediate flavor of country life sings amid the shopping lists and communications to the office. Here are some stored on our home computer, written by people in our house and edited for privacy.

Some of the terms are softened for a family audience, but not by much.

Your evil kitty just woke up your son by urping up a mouse on his lion blankie.

You know you live in a small town when…

...Fifty-year old people born and raised in town are ‘new comers’.

...You are more afraid of locking yourself out of your house than of being robbed.

...The library has a different schedule on every day of the week.

...You are darn proud that your town has a library. Incidentally, your library account is handled not by a card but by a number that the librarian types into her computer. You have trouble remembering it, but the librarian can always tell you what it is.

...You can honestly say, "The Mayor is in front of the house fixing his manure spreader."

Good news: We caught another mouse.

Bad news: We have at least one more.

Good news: He must be hungry and he thinks of traps as a food source, since he robbed the bait of an un-sprung trap, finished the bait of the sprung one, and ate an eye from his dead brother.

Hope you're done with breakfast.