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Although I’ve had nearly two days to recuperate and gather my wits after three days on the road, I’m still not feeling particularly coherent. Moreover, I’m not feeling at all motivated to be coherent, so I’m just going to bullet-point a few random thoughts and observations about our adventures thus far:

  • T. Boone Pickens–or someone similarly inclined–has covered a large portion of central Texas with wind turbines. For miles, you see them perched on the mesas and lined up across the cotton fields. Hundreds of them in every direction. Almost makes you feel like aliens have invaded. Eerie, but very ecologically minded. Brownie points–I mean, Greenie Points–for Texas.

Texas going green

En masse, the turbines look like an army of giant aliens

  • Anyone who bemoans the desolation of western Kansas and eastern Colorado has never driven across the west half of Texas. Seriously. Nothing…nothing…and more nothing…sprinkled with an occasional oil refinery. Personally, I’d rather see the nothing.

The nothingness of western Texas

  • Right smack dab in the middle of all the nothing (translation: Midland, Texas) are three of the nicest people I’ve ever met. On Wednesday afternoon, Teddy and I pit-stopped at the Texas Visitors’ Center there, desperately in need of a wee. The Visitors’ Center was the only place we could find that had anything approximating a grassy patch for Teddy’s…uh hum…convenience. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a grassy patch of any kind–either green or brown–anywhere south and west of Gainesville, Texas?) Anyway, after Teddy had taken care of business, I decided to loop his leash around the base of a tree so he could sit outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine–as opposed to sitting in the car–while I went inside for my own pit stop. He wasn’t having it. Barked like a maniac, so I took him up to the patio in front of the building and tried looping the leash around a park bench set in concrete by the front door. Again, Mr. Separation Anxiety wasn’t going for it, so I poked my head in the door and asked if pets were allowed in the Center. A very sweet-looking lady looked up and shook her head slowly, but when she saw the desperation in my face and the Tedster sitting out on the sidewalk, she jumped up from the desk, saying, “If you have an dog out there, I’ll be happy to watch him for you,” followed by, “He doesn’t bite, does he?” as she headed for the door. She was outside introducing herself to Teddy before I could even answer. By the time I got back outside less than five minutes later, all three employees (the only three people within 50 miles of the Center) were out on the patio, fussing over His Royal Fuzz-Buttness–one of them snapping pictures of Teddy like he was a visiting dignitary. Of course, in Teddy’s world, he is. What a ham! He has yet to meet a stranger. I wish I’d gotten a picture of those lovely people. You need to stop in and meet them.

"Hey! Don't you walk away from me. Do you hear me?"

  • In a related observation, I can’t prove this, but I’m convinced that Teddy makes an extra effort to turn on the charm around pretty girls. I caught him making bigger and sadder than normal I-sure-could-use-an-ear-scratchin’ eyes on two different occasions when cute girls were nearby. Both efforts resulted in said ear-scratching, clucking, and cooing. He’s absolutely shameless. I’m betting Teddy wishes I’d gotten pictures of them.
  • We were only on the road for a few hours before Teddy figured out we were going to be in the car for a while and he quieted, but it took him a day and a half to finally find the optimal position for nap-taking. Once he figured it out, he napped with gusto.

"Close, but nope."

"Dang, this isn't it either."

"Ahhhh, there we go."

  • Teddy is also confused. All the landscaping in Dad’s condo complex is a variation on the same theme: rocks. Big rocks, little rocks, black rocks, red rocks, medium rocks. In a word, rocks. Worse, none of the trees or bushes in and amongst the rocks are even slightly familiar. Some are even prickly. More than once, Teddy has looked up at me as if to say, “What the hell?” Certainly an adventure for a little guy with Midwestern sensibilities who is used to having an acre of thick grass on which to poo and wee. He is, however, thoroughly enjoying the sunshine. Yesterday, we sat out on the front stoop for nearly an hour just watching the world go by and soaking up the warmth, thankful to be out of the weather mess back home. To those of you in the Midwest, I’ll do my best to bring some sunshine home with me.
  • If you survive the tedium of nothing and get far enough west in Texas, you’re treated to some really lovely mountains.

The Guadalupe Mountains in far west Texas

The Guadalupe Mountains basking in the sun

  • Travelers’ Advisory: Even if you’re bone-tired and don’t think you can drive another mile; even if the caffeine you’re mainlining is no longer working and you’re in peril of driving off the road if you don’t stop immediately, do not stay at the Guesthouse Suites in El Paso. Keep driving. That’s all I’m saying. I’ll let their little “welcome” sign in the bathroom say the rest–except to add their towels and pillows were total crap. And the room wasn’t all that clean. But that’s all I’m saying.

Dear Guesthouse Suites El Paso Management, I must both compliment your unfaltering ineptness while checking me in and thank you for the lovely welcome sign in the bathroom. I was charmed.

  • For the first time in all the years I’ve been coming out to Arizona, I finally got to see snow in the mountains. How ironic. I drive 1,500 miles to get away from the snow and the cold and then nearly drive off the interstate trying to take a picture of the snow. Brilliant.

Yes, VIrginia, that's snow in southern Arizona

  • I recommend driving into Arizona on I-10 West. You go through Texas Canyon, one of the prettiest places in the state. A place where it looks like the desert gods have been playing with Silly Sand on either side of the highway. You remember Silly Sand, don’t you? You know, the stuff we used to play with back in the 60s? As an aside, you can still buy this vintage toy…if you have a mere $200. For those of you too young to remember Silly Sand…my sympathies. Playing with Silly Sand was a blast. A messy blast that typically pissed off the parents, but a blast!

Some of the formations in Texas Canyon

Hundreds of teetery rock formations seemily rise up out of nothing

More soon…

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Maybe it’s my hormones. Maybe it’s these goofy braces that cause me to make highly embarrassing, cow-stuck-in-the-mud sucking noises unwittingly in public. (Ever had a toot or a belch sneak out on you? Yeah, it’s like that.) Maybe it’s the fact that we’ve had less than a total of six hours of sunshine here in Kansas City since Christmas Eve. Maybe it’s because I’ve given up sweets and haven’t had a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup since December 21. (Yes, it’s pathetic. I actually remember the exact day–and time–I ate my last one. Consider yourself warned.) Maybe it’s cabin fever. Maybe. Or maybe I just have a pissy attitude.

In any case, it’s time to stop wallowing in the funk and get over it.

To that end, I’m going to start by focusing on the good stuff and share it with you here. Reinforce the high points, so to speak.

Let’s start with the snow…or lack thereof. With the exception of some humongous piles still heaped in the parking lots around town, the snow that started falling Christmas Eve has finally melted.

The biggest upside to the snow melting is I can drive my car again. That’s a good thing. I’m not very good behind the wheel of the pickup, my backup vehicle. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful to have a backup vehicle, but the darn thing is just too big. Way too big. Stupid, damn curbs.

Plus, it’s wonderful to be able to see the deck and the backyard again.

We thought it would never melt!

Just in case you’ve forgotten, the pile in the picture above was easily two and a half feet tall at its zenith.

It was unbelievable!

But…before the snow melted, Teddy gave us a valentine in the snow, albeit a few weeks early. Still, what a sweetie! I love Teddy.

Teddy loves me!

Just ignore the poo piles.

Bless his heart, Teddy was a real trooper in the snow. We worried about his ability to navigate through the deep drifts with only three wheels, but with one exception–when he got high-centered on the drift just off the patio–he managed quite well.

Three-wheeling through the snow

Of course, all that three-wheeling required extra naps to recuperate. And snacks. Don’t forget the snacks.

Who turned off the sunshine?

I also got to babysit my grand-dog, Otis, a couple of days last week. He’s always good for a laugh or two.

Otis, a.k.a. Mr. Cool

I love Otis.

Then there’s the kids. They never fail to amuse me…or baffle me. Either way, they’re a diversion. How could I not love them?

I have no idea what this is all about

Oh, and Tom bought me a kick-ass Le Creuset casserole dish. Spicy red. One day I mention how nice it would be to have one; three days later, the UPS guy is bringing it to my door. It’s fabulous! It’s definitely making the other casserole dishes around here feel like wimps. Tom’s a good egg. I love him, too! Even when he doesn’t buy me fancy, French ceramic cookware.

Nice? Oui?

So, see. I’ve had lots of reasons to smile in the last few weeks. There’s no excuse for my foul mood. Still it’s undeniable. I’m currently the poster child of pissy attitudes. Time for drastic measures. Time for a…

ROAD TRIP!

Since I can now get my car out on the road again, I’m going to pack my bags, throw Teddy in the passenger seat, and head for the sunshine and warmer weather in Arizona before the snow comes back. Get the heck outta Dodge while the gettin’s good. So for the next few weeks, feel free to travel with us. We can’t promise to cure your winter blues, but we might be able to divert your attention from the lousy winter weather for a bit. That is unless you live where the weather is already and/or always nice, in which case, you have no earthly idea what I’m talking about and you get no sympathy from me. Still, join Teddy and me. We’d love the company.

I’ve sat down to blog several times since confessing my little episode on the treadmill last week, but I couldn’t think of anything to write about that didn’t sound like whining. For crying out loud, I’d already come clean about nearly sanding the bottoms of my feet off after walking barefoot on the treadmill for an hour. Surely I could come up with something to share with you to prove I have at least half a brain in my head. But no, it wasn’t that kind of week, so here goes…

With more than a foot of snow still on the ground, we got hit with another snowstorm on Wednesday. Accounts differ on the amount because the wind was blowing so dang hard the snow never really piled up in a fashion suitable for getting a fixed measurement. In one spot, you might find only a few inches whereas three feet to the left you could easily find…well, three feet. Thursday morning, Tom woke up to find a huge drift blocking all three garage doors, so, for what seems like the hundredth time this winter, out came the snow blower. After clearing the driveway all the way out to the street, Tom took off for work in the truck, preferring its higher clearance and weight (700 lbs of sand in the bed) to his car. Brian got up an hour later and, without incident, backed out of the driveway and headed to work in his four-wheel drive Subaru, both exacting a promise from me that I was canceling my appointments for the day and wasn’t going to need either vehicle.

Here I should probably explain that I drive a car that has to be parked when it rains. It’s a fabulous little car–I love, love, love my little car–but the low-profile performance tires that make it so much fun to drive on a sunny, warm spring afternoon are completely useless when the pavement is even thinking about getting wet. Forget ice and snow. So when the weather gets crappy, I typically drive the truck. As I’ve said, since I insisted I wasn’t going anywhere, Tom took the truck, leaving me the option of driving his car if I changed my mind. At 7 a.m. I had no intention of changing my mind. By 11 a.m, I wasn’t so sure.

You see, Thursday I was scheduled to get my braces. Not that I was excited about getting my braces, mind you. At one point, I’d actually told my dentist, who also happens to be my brother-in-law (thank god), that I was as excited about getting my braces as I was about getting my colonoscopy last summer. In my defense, it was his fault for asking, but, needless to say, I hurt his feelings. Truth be told, I’ve been balking at getting braces and being a real pain in the butt about the whole thing for more than 10 years already, so I hated to make another stink by asking his nurse to reschedule me and prolong the whole ordeal for us all, especially when other people were out braving the elements. First mistake.

Second mistake: I opened the garage door behind Tom’s car and checked to be sure the wind hadn’t created another drift in front of the door since he had cleared the one earlier that morning. Nope. No drift. I got in the car and backed out…right into a big-ass drift at the end of the driveway. Buried the car up to the axle. Stuck halfway out into the street. Hell’s bells.

So, with no one else in sight to push or offer any other advise, I began rocking the car back and forth with the transmission. Drive…vroooom…spin. Reverse…vroom…spin. Shit. Drive…vroooom…spin. Reverse…vroom…spin. Crap. Drive…vroooom…spin. Reverse…vroom…spin. Sigh. Not an inch. Periodically, I’d glance up and down the street to be sure I wasn’t going to hit anyone else who’d been dumb enough to get out and drive around in the mess. Fortunately–or maybe unfortunately in this situation–our street is really quiet, so it was a pretty safe bet that no one had been up or down the street in some time. For sure, the snowplow hadn’t been. Imagine my shock when–after just having thrown the car in reverse and gunning it–I looked up to see the neighbor kid behind the car pushing with all his might. I never saw him until it could have been too late. I nearly threw up. I think he felt much the same when he realized those were my backup lights shining, not my brake lights. Poor kid. Covered with the snow thrown from my frantically spinning tires and with the wind chill well below zero, he was shaking for more than one reason.

I implored him to save himself (he’s a nice kid–and was very kind to offer his help–but he’s not big enough, even on his best day, to push a fully loaded grocery cart much less my car) and went back to rocking the car while he stood shaking behind the mailbox in bemused silence, watching my efforts. I’m pretty sure he was rolling his eyes, but I tried not to think about that.

Finally, after much rocking (the car), cursing (me), and eye-rolling (the neighbor kid), the car was free and sitting in the middle of the street with me aboard, contemplating my next move. Third mistake. Euphoric from conquering the snow drift, I decided to go ahead and go to the dentist.

Getting braces sucks. I have a new-found respect for those–including my own two kids–who wear or have worn braces, especially the kind with brackets and wires. I’m wearing Invisalign braces that are, for all practical purposes, invisible and that require little more than some tooth-colored wart-like attachments to a few teeth, so I shouldn’t complain. Still, it sucks. I have jaw issues, so holding my mouth wide open for long periods of time is really uncomfortable. Plus, according to my brother-in-law, my mouth is really small. I have trouble believing that–as will those of you who know me–but I can confirm that every instrument they pull out to use on me comes out of a package labeled SMALL. I know. I know. The irony is almost too much to bare. Anyway, the process of putting the little wart-like attachments on my teeth required that the teeth stay really dry, so the hygienist had this contraption they were going to put in my mouth to hold my lips back. It looked like a diaphram with the back punched out. You’ve seem a big-mouth bass, haven’t you? That’s what I would have looked like if they’d ever managed to get it in. My poor brother-in-law fumbled around with the goofy gizmo for several minutes, trying desperately to get it squeezed small enough to put in my mouth. To my tremendous relief and the hygienist horror, the thing snapped. While she ran off in a dither to find another, my brother-in-law chuckled, crammed my mouth full of cotton, and got on with things.

A little more than an hour later, I was back in my car, braces in place, drooling out of the corners of my mouth, on my way home. Now, considering what I went through getting out of my driveway, it’s reasonable to assume that I would take a different tack getting back in. Nope. I wish. But nope. As I neared the house, I noted that the drift across the driveway was much deeper on one side than the other, so I aimed for the other and gunned it. Made it halfway in.

I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say freeing the car the second time around was a bit more involved. I finally freed it on my own–with the help of a shovel, lots of snow-melt pellets, and a sailor’s dose of blue language–but not before making a desperate call to Tom and lisping and slobbering into the phone, “Pwease, come home and hewp me!”

The following day, Tom, Brian, and I repeated the whole what-car-will-you-need-today conversation. After assuring both of them repeatedly that I intended to cancel my piano lesson and stay home–and confident I wasn’t stupid enough to repeat the previous day’s antics–they left in the truck and Subaru respectively.

They don’t know me very well, do they?

Later that morning when I called my new piano teacher, whom I’m never met face-to-face, and told her I thought I’d better cancel my lesson because of road conditions, she offered me an alternate time for a lesson early this week. Before hanging up, however, she informed me that her other students were making it to her house and into her driveway without problems and encouraged me to give it a try. Not wanting to look like a total wimp, I got in the car and drove over there.

I’m happy to report, I got out of my driveway and into hers without incident. It was the lesson that posed the challenge. Not playing the pieces I’d prepared so much as playing them without drooling on myself or all over the poor woman’s piano. A few bars into the first piece, I realized that it was going to be nearly impossible to think about what I was doing while at the same time concentrating on sucking in the spit that threatened to roll down my chin. At the end of the first piece, I turned toward her, head lowered, and mumbled, “Sowwy,” as I wiped the corners of my mouth and tried not to spit on her. She was very kind and…to my total amazement…smiling. Since most of her students are kids, I’m guessing she’s seen it all before.

It’s nearly a week later, and I’m still slobbering and lisping. Worse, my teeth are loose, so eating has become more of a chore than a pleasure. The one upside is I’m having one hell of a good time playing the piano. You’ll just have to ignore the dish towel I have tied around my neck. Oh, and the spit. I apologize up front for the spit.

I’ll admit that I’m quick to point out the missteps of others, including those of family and friends, so in the interest of fairness, I must reveal I’ve recently been victimized by my own lack of judgment. More specifically, the soles of my feet have been victimized…or brutalized. I share this with you as a warning.

Sunday’s paper contained an article about the growing number of runners who have discovered the joys–and benefits–of running barefoot. Although I typically don’t take the time to read articles about any form of strenuous exercise in which I have no intention of ever participating, I read this one just to satisfy myself that the folks involved were, in fact, the nut jobs I imagined them to be. To my shock, they weren’t. They were runners of all shapes, sizes, ages, and experience levels–not just 83-year-old ultra-marathoners who ingest nothing but vegetable smoothies and vitamins every day–so I pointed the article out to Tom, a runner, and asked what he thought. He didn’t have much to say, but instead tossed his January issue of Runner’s World my direction with the comment that it also had an article about running barefoot. I didn’t read the Runner’s World article because…well, because I was already way over my quota of exercise articles for the month. Instead, I made the assumption that RW was also promoting barefoot running and went on reading the rest of the Sunday paper.

Which brings me to yesterday. I’ve been wearing the same ol’ pair of nappy walking shoes for my daily walks on the treadmill now for more than two years. Weeeell, truthfully, I suppose it’s a bald-faced lie to call them “daily” walks, but still I have been walking on a fairly regular basis for about an hour most days of the week. If I’m lucky, I get on the treadmill when the Barefoot Contessa’s show starts at 4 p.m. on the Food Network and walk right through Jeopardy at 4:30. I’m so absorbed in what I’m watching, I’m done before I know it. Encumbered with insipid facts, inspired to cook something yummy for dinner, and feeling pretty cocky for having exercised at all.

Right after Christmas, Tom and I went shopping to find replacements for my beat-up old walking shoes. I couldn’t find any I liked, so yesterday as I got ready to walk…you see where this is going, don’t you…I decided to do my walk barefoot, figuring walking barefoot couldn’t be any worse that walking in those broken-down shoes. Besides, I figured if “research” has shown running barefoot is “safe,” barefoot walking should be too, especially indoors where there aren’t any rocks, glass, or well-hidden tree roots. (Gives you butt squench just to think about it, doesn’t it?) Anyway, I figured wrong. It probably didn’t help that I managed to get on the treadmill in time to catch the Contessa’s opening spiel and walked right through final Jeopardy. By the way, how could anyone not know F.Scott Fitzgerald had flappers in his novels? But I digress.

Just to clarify, my knees, ankles, legs, and hips all felt fine after my hour-long barefoot walk. They still feel fine today. The parts of my body screaming in agony are the soles of my feet. I might as well have walked on a belt sander for an hour. What a dumbass. Seriously. Consider yourself warned.