Lazy Chef Recipes: Guacamole


2 ripe avocados*

2 Roma tomatoes

1 small onion, peeled and quartered

1 small jalapeño, seeded and quartered**

Juice from half a lime***

1 garlic clove, peeled

1 tsp salt

  • Ripe avocados are soft. If the avocados at your grocery store are hard, you can ripen them at home by putting them in a paper bag on your kitchen counter for a day or two
  • I like mild guacamole, so I actually don’t add the jalapeño.
  • You can use 1-2 tablespoons of bottled lime juice instead of a fresh lime
  1. Put the ingredients into your food processor in this order: garlic, onion, jalapeño, tomato, salt, and lime juice. After adding each ingredient, pulse the food processor a few times.
  2. Cut the avocado: insert a knife into the skin near the top and draw a line down to the bottom and then up the other side. Be careful not to insert the knife too deeply or you’ll hit the pit in the middle.
  3. Now pull the avocado apart into two halves. Remove the pit with a spoon and throw it away.
  4. Using the spoon, scoop out the flesh of the avocado and add it to the food processor. Pulse the food processor a few times, until the guacamole is as smooth as you want it.

Servings: 1-12, depending on how much guacamole you eat at one time…

Overall Appropriateness for Lazy Chefs: Great! This recipe is super easy.


Adventure #13–My 40th Birthday, Part 3

Originally written 6/18/15.

All photos from Flickr used in accordance with this Creative Commons license:

The Rangers introduced themselves. Amy appeared to be the team lead, a wiry, strong-looking woman perhaps in her forties, with brown hair and a ready grin. Duane was the paramedic, a tall, muscular man in his thirties. His physique and bushy reddish beard reminded me of a movie lumberjack, but his laid-back, friendly demeanor was more like a surfer. Mary, an athletic woman in her twenties with long red hair in a braid, seemed to be the junior member of the team. She might have been a new ranger or a trainee, since the other two would occasionally give her instructions or explain what they were doing.

Duane examined Ray’s knee and took his vital signs while we explained what had happened. Amy listened, then went up onto the rock overlook to radio for a litter team and someone with crutches.


“On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain you can imagine, what kind of pain are you feeling right now?” Duane asked.

“When it first happened, it was about an eight,” Ray said, “but since I’ve been sitting here, it’s calmed down to like a five or six. It hurts most when I try to straighten it.”

“Can you put any weight on it?”

“Not my full weight, but a little. I can kind of hobble.”

Duane gave Ray some Tylenol to take the edge off the pain, and Amy came back from radioing the dispatcher. The three of them started talking about how to get Ray down the hill. It made me feel better that, even for these experts, the problem didn’t have an easy solution. They discussed the pros and cons of crutches, litters, and winches (!) with shrugs and shakes of the head.


“I don’t know if this helps,” Ray broke in hesitantly, “but I’m willing to try sliding down the hill on my butt, if you think that will work.”

The Rangers’ ears pricked up at this. “Do you think you could manage that?” Amy asked.

“Yeah, I think so. I could push myself along with my hands and my good leg.”

They discussed it. It seemed like the best solution all around, because it was relatively safe, didn’t require any special equipment, and was easy on the Rangers. This last point was the one that Ray kept emphasizing, saying that he didn’t want to be a burden to them.

“This way, we can go ahead and get moving toward the trailhead, instead of making you wait for the litter to get here,” he said. “We could at least meet it partway. I would hate for you to have to sit here for hours with me.”


“Don’t worry about us. We’re here for you, buddy,” said Amy. “But if you want to try sliding down the hill, let’s do it.”

Everybody seemed happier being active.

To my secret amusement, all three Rangers unstrapped crash helmets from their packs and put them on. It must have been required safety gear for a rescue, because the only even remotely dangerous part was the first hill, and that must have seemed like a cakewalk to the professionals. Better safe than sorry, I guess.

We didn’t have crash helmets, but Ray put on a knee brace that he had with him to help stabilize his knee (next time I think I’ll tell him to put that on BEFORE we start hiking). Amy also gave him a little rubber net studded with spikes to put on over the shoe of his good foot. She then unstrapped a rolled-up sleeping bag pad from her backpack.

Mary went down the incline to ask everybody at the bottom to please wait there for a while so that we didn’t end up with a traffic jam on the slope. Amy spread the pad out on the ground while Duane helped Ray sit down on it, and together they pushed, pulled, and dragged the pad down the hill.


It was like the slowest sledding ever. The snow was too soft for Ray to slide much, so although the pad helped, his arms and good leg were really doing most of the work. Duane waded through the snow on the downslope side of the trail, both helping to drag the pad and making sure that Ray stayed safely on the path; Amy walked along behind, straightening out the pad whenever it bunched up underneath.


I brought up the rear, carrying the backpack. This was a slightly harder job than it sounds like, since Ray had broken the shoulder strap when he’d fallen. Channeling my inner MacGyver, I’d had to jury rig a working strap using only the things in the pack: three bananas squashed in the fall, a bottle of water, a glucometer, a bottle of glucose tablets, several 100-calorie packs of nuts, a package of beef jerky, the car keys, and Ray’s runner number from the 5K obstacle course we’d done the weekend before, which still blessedly had a safety pin in it.


I wish I could say that I used the squashed bananas and the package of beef jerky to fix the strap (that would REALLY be like MacGyver), but mostly I used the safety pin.


I was also documenting the journey for posterity. I mean, if my birthday hike was ending with my husband having to get carried off the mountain by search and rescue, I might as well get photos, right?


I love that Amy is grabbing Ray’s hood here

After about ten minutes, we reached the bottom of the hill safely. Hooray! Ray stood up against the rocks to rest and let the patient hikers waiting at the bottom go by while he and the Rangers strategized the next leg of the trip.


The path at this point was snowpacked but mostly level, and there was the little stream to cross. Sliding on the sleeping bag pad was not going to work. Ray and Duane discussed it, and they decided that the easiest thing to do would be to have Ray try walking. Ray put one arm around Duane’s shoulders, with Duane’s arm around him for support, and Amy came along behind, holding Ray’s belt loops. (Ray said this was to slow him down, because he kept trying to go too fast. I thought it was to keep Ray’s pants from falling off).


It looks like Duane is teaching Ray to cha-cha

(And check out Amy holding Ray up by the belt loops!)

This method wasn’t fast, but it seemed to work fine.

We worked our way down the trail, Ray sliding on the hilly stretches and walking with Duane on the flat parts. Mary walked in front, keeping the path clear ahead of us, and every ten or fifteen minutes we’d stop for Ray to take a break. Amy and Duane kept asking if Ray was OK, worried that the hobbling might be making his knee feel worse, but the combination of Tylenol and activity actually seemed to be making him feel better. He’d been very upset when he’d first fallen, but now he was almost cheerful.

“You’re a rock star, Ray!” Amy said.

Duane agreed. “Easiest hike-out we’ve ever had. I can’t believe how well you’re doing for a guy with level five or six pain.”

“Better than just sitting there, waiting to be carried out,” said Ray.

I don’t know–it would have been fun to get pictures of Ray being toted down that hill on a litter.


“I love you, man!”

The rangers were amazing. Throughout the whole process, they were patient, calm, and very positive, encouraging Ray at every step. They were funny, too—while helping Ray slide down hills, Amy kept making jokes about how sledding wasn’t allowed on this trail.

“We just took the ‘no sledding’ signs down last week!” she said. “Don’t tell anybody we’re letting you do this!”


Once, while Ray was taking a breather, a family from India with two small children stopped nearby. The younger child, a girl, looked at Amy with wide eyes. I think it was the khaki uniform, complete with shiny badge and crash helmet, which caught her attention.

“Who are you?” she demanded.

“I’m a park ranger,” said Amy.

“You’re a Power Ranger?” the girl shouted in delight.

And Amy could have corrected her, but she didn’t. “That’s right! I’m the green Power Ranger.”

“Show me how you fight bad guys!” said the girl.

So Amy did some karate kicks and threw punches in the air, making sound effects with her mouth all the while. “Pow! Bam! Hee-YAAAA!”

It was awesome.

powerrangerPhoto credit: RyC,

Near the bottom of the trail, we finally ran into the ranger coming up to meet us with the crutches (Amy had radioed him to send the litter back but bring the crutches just in case). Ray experimented with the crutches, but in the end he decided to try the new ranger’s hiking poles instead, since they had little spikes at the bottom to grip the snow. Those worked so well that he mostly walked by himself, with Mary in front, Duane at his side, and the other three of us–Amy, the new ranger, and me–at the back.

The new ranger was wearing not only the regulation crash helmet but also Yaktrax, which are like shoe-sized versions of tire chains for semis. The other rangers gave him a lot of grief for wearing them (since I guess the amount of the snow on the trail was no big deal for them).

yaktraxPhoto credit: Peter Stevens,

“Hey, man, I thought it might get worse,” he said.

At this point, they sent me on ahead to get the car and drive it around to the near end of the parking lot so that Ray wouldn’t have to walk much farther. I skipped ahead gratefully. Not only did it feel good to be doing something useful, but the fancy outhouses were on my way to the car.


outhousePhoto credit: Michael Gil, “The Real Outhouse,”

Seriously, by then, I would have been fine with this toilet. I REALLY had to go.

I drove around to the pick-up area near the trailhead’s ranger station, where Amy was waiting. She helped bundle Ray gently into the car.

“Great job, Ray! Be sure to go to the doctor, you hear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ray said.

Amy, Duane, and Mary, if you’re reading this, words cannot express how grateful I am to you.

I drove away, glad that we were safely down off the mountain but knowing that our ordeal was only partly over. Ray managed to get in to see the doctor on Tuesday morning, and by Friday he’d had an MRI and gotten the news that his ACL was completely torn and his meniscus so badly damaged that it might not be salvageable. He had surgery on the following Wednesday, and right now, he’s asleep in a lawn chair in the bedroom, his elevated leg swaddled in layers of gauze, ACE bandage, compression support hose, and a knee brace so big and uncomfortable that Ray keeps muttering about the Marquis de Sade. Despite the fact that he still isn’t allowed to walk without crutches, he has to do physical therapy three times a day at home (“Three weeks ago, I wanted to deadlift 400 pounds, and now all I want to do is be able to straighten my #$%! leg!”). The doctor says he’ll be in the brace for six weeks and doing PT for at least six months.


It’s been a whole new adventure.

On that Sunday, however, the diagnosis and surgery still lay ahead of us. All we knew was that things didn’t look so good. We drove back through the Park towards the entrance, me thinking a whole jumbled-up load of thoughts that included worry for Ray, plans for the worst-case future, and sadness—selfish sadness—for my lost birthday.

“You know what I need?” Ray said, breaking into my thoughts.

“What?” I said. I probably snapped it. It had been an emotional morning.

He put a hand on my knee. When I glanced over at him, I saw that his face was full of love and gratitude.

“I need some pie,” he said.

So we stopped at the Estes Park Pie Shop and had that pie after all.

40pie2Photo credit: Sam Howzit,

For my 40th birthday, I got a hike, a surprise adventure, and a slice of cherry apple pie—and what more could a girl want, anyway?

Adventure #13–My 40th Birthday, Part 2

Originally written 6/16/15.

For part 1, click here:

All Pixabay photos used in accordance with this Creative Commons license:

All photos from Flickr used in accordance with this Creative Commons license:


The trail continued around the side of Nymph Lake, and we followed it as it ducked back among the trees. At this point, the path was level, and the snow had melted from the half of the path closest to the water. That meant that you had a choice: you could walk on top of the slippery packed snow, or you could slog along through the gooey brown mud created by the mixture of snowmelt and dirt path.

I don’t like getting muddy, so I chose the snow. Ray sort of alternated between mud and snow like a man trying to choose the lesser of two evils, only to find that they’re both equally horrible.

The path curved around the far side of the lake and then rose sharply. We climbed up the first incline, paused for a drink where the trail leveled off for a bit, and then splashed through a little stream that cut through the snowpack. Ahead of us, we could see that the trail turned to the left, but whatever lay beyond the bend was hidden by trees.

Well, what lay beyond the bend was the next incline (cue scary foreshadowing music!). This hill had several charming features:

  1. It was the steepest part of the trail so far.
  2. It was also the narrowest part of the trail, being only about two feet wide.
  3. To your left, as you climbed the hill, there was a drop-off. It wasn’t sheer, but if you slipped going up the trail it was going to be a long and painful time before you came to a stop.
  4. The trail was several feet deep in snow.
  5. To make matters worse, there were no trees on this hill, so the path was completely exposed to the sun. That might sound like a good thing (you know, the sun melts the snow so that it isn’t snowpacked anymore), but right then the melting process was at a dangerous stage: the snow was soft, unstable, and slippery.

It didn’t occur to me that going up this hill might be a bad idea. I viewed it more as a fun challenge. That probably doesn’t say good things about my sanity.

40snow2Photo credit: Ushi-Sama, “Snow Times Adventure,”

This is what the hill looked like to me.

Ray, however, thought that the hill was unsafe, and climbing it didn’t change his opinion. He decided on the way up to tell me, once we stopped, that we should turn around and go back. He sort of wished he’d told me that BEFORE we climbed the hill.


This is what the hill looked like to Ray.

Now, you’re probably imagining that one of us slipped and fell down the mountainside while hiking up this incline. But we didn’t. We both made it safely to the top, where the path leveled off again.

I was in front and made it to the top first, and I saw that there was a big rock outcropping off to the left with a gorgeous view of Nymph Lake a couple hundred feet below. I made a beeline for this rock, and I stood on top of it taking pictures while Ray finished toiling up the hill.

It was spectacular up there. The dark green oval of Nymph Lake, looking small and jewel-like, lay nestled among the pine trees, framed by the snow-capped gray peaks of the Rockies. Above me was a dramatic mix of blue sky and white clouds, with the sun shining warm on my face. For a moment, I was alone on the rock, and I breathed in a deep breath and felt incredibly happy.


The fateful view

But the trail was busy that day, and I wasn’t alone for long. Two young women joined me on the rock, talking as they looked out at the amazing view.

“And I was like, ‘It’s not OK to just cancel on me at the last minute.’”

“Oh my God! I know!”

I had a brief fantasy of being a Donald Trump-style millionaire so that I could buy my own mountain that I could have all to myself. One where I wouldn’t have to share my transcendent moments with other people.

Suddenly, my fantasy was interrupted by a loud noise behind me, like an enormous thud. One of the other women on the rock said, “Oh my God! Are you all right?”

I turned around. Ray was sprawled on his back on the rock, his arms and legs flung out and the backpack stuck awkwardly underneath him.

Later, he told me that he’d just taken a step onto the rock to join me. The rock was relatively flat compared to the slope we’d just hiked up, and nothing turned under him or slid or anything like that. But as he stepped he heard a pop, and then his knee gave out and he fell down.


This wasn’t completely out of the blue. Ray’s had some issues with his knee for the last five years or so, dating back to a martial arts class where one of the other students hit him full force in the knee and it swelled up like a balloon. The orthopedic specialist he saw at the time said that he’d probably partially torn the meniscus, and he went through some intense physical therapy for several months to see if they could strengthen it without having to do surgery. Things seemed to go well with the PT, so they thought that the meniscus was healing on its own, but every now and then he’d have trouble with the knee giving out during exercise.

40karatePhoto credit: Mikhail Esteves, “Karate Kids,”

You see, doctor, I was in the middle of a martial arts demonstration when this guy drove over my legs on a motorcycle…

Now it seems likely (say the doctors) that the hit actually tore Ray’s ACL as well as damaging the meniscus, but Ray’s leg muscles were keeping the knee stable enough that they couldn’t tell. Apparently, this isn’t as bizarre as it sounds; three of Ray’s friends have also torn their ACLs but not found out about it until much later. Over time, Ray’s meniscus started buckling, and every time his knee gave out it got a little worse.

That day in the Park, the weakened meniscus tore again. The doctor said that the meniscus was so damaged by then that it could have torn anytime; it was just a fluke—and our bad luck—that it happened when it did.

Of course, we didn’t find out the specifics until several days later. Right then, all Ray knew was that his knee had given out, and he was in a lot—A LOT—of pain.

The other women and I stood looking down at Ray where he lay sprawled on the rock.

40sprawlPhoto credit: Quinn Dombrowski, “Meanwhile, on the couch…”,

Like this, only not as furry and cute.

“Are you all right?” one of the women asked.

“No,” he said.

“Do you want us to help you up?”

“No,” he said again. “I think I’m going to sit here for a few minutes and then I’ll see if I can stand.”

The woman looked doubtful. “We could help you back down the trail.”

He shook his head. “Thanks, but I’ll be OK.”

“All right,” she said, still doubtfully, and the two women continued on the path.

I squatted down next to him. “What happened?”

“My knee gave out.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I’m going to lie here for a while until the pain gets a little better, and then I’ll stand up.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“You might as well finish your hike. I’m done for the day, obviously, but since I have to sit here for a few minutes anyway, you should go on. When I feel better I’ll start back for the car on my own.”

It felt wrong to just leave him like that. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” he said, brusquely. “I really want to be alone right now.”

So I went. He had food, water, and his cell phone in the backpack, so he wasn’t helpless, and it was clear that he wanted to suffer in solitude for a while without me hovering. But it still felt wrong.

I went another ten minutes or so up the trail, but all the fun had gone out of the day for me. I was miserably worried about Ray, guilty for leaving him, and concerned, in a more practical way, about splitting up our little group, since he not only had all our food but also the keys to the car.

When I reached a pretty little waterfall at a bend in the path, I took a picture automatically, but my heart wasn’t in it. I turned around and went back.


I found Ray sitting on a rock about fifteen feet from where he’d fallen. He had decided, as soon as I’d left, to go ahead and hike back to the car, but, in the twenty minutes I’d been gone, he’d only made it as far as the rock.

“It’s bad,” he said, when I asked how his knee felt. He didn’t just mean the pain, which he told me was excruciating (and, being a tough guy, if was admitting to hurting at all it must really be bad). He meant that he knew the injury was serious.

We were in trouble. Ray is not a small man: 5’10” and 250 pounds. I’m 5’3” and 115 pounds and, while I’m at least averagely strong, there was no way I could carry or support a person twice my size—even on a smooth, level trail.

Spc. Leah R. Burton Capt. Charles Moore, commander, Company C, 202nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, performs the fireman's carry of a "casualty" during the nuclear, biological and chemical portion of the Expert Field Medical Badge training and testing here Sept. 14.
Spc. Leah R. Burton
Capt. Charles Moore, commander, Company C, 202nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, performs the fireman’s carry of a “casualty” during the nuclear, biological and chemical portion of the Expert Field Medical Badge training and testing here Sept. 14.

Photo credit: Army Medicine,

If only!

And the trail we were faced with was anything but level. The snow-covered hill below us was as steep as a slide and about the same width, with a serious drop-off on the right. Added to that was the fact that a steady stream of people was climbing up the hill, clogging up the already narrow passage.

Both of us are good problem solvers, but it was hard to imagine how anyone was going to get Ray down from here.

However, we couldn’t just sit there and do nothing. “I’m going to go get the rangers,” I said.

Taking some food from the backpack for sustenance, I hiked down the incline. In the half hour since we’d first come up the hill, the snow had gotten softer and softer, and now the surface of the path was pitted with craters like the moon. Great. I navigated the slope safely enough, but it was one more challenge for anyone trying to move Ray.

I reached the bottom of the hill and splashed through the stream that cut through the snowbank there. It was then that my worry-clouded brain finally cleared a little. I realized belatedly that this wasn’t a novel from the 1800’s, where the concerned but stalwart heroine would have to hike all the way back down to civilization to summon the cavalry.

40heroinePhoto credit: Davidd, “Dad-Blamed Flappin’ Varmints,”

Although, if I got to ride a horse and be chased by pterodactyls…

This was 2015, and I had a cell phone. Duh.

I sat down on a handy rock and pulled out my phone. There was a signal. Thank God! I looked up the Rocky Mountain National Park website, found a contact phone number, and called it. A friendly operator listened to my story and forwarded me on to the emergency dispatcher, who took my name and phone number and the details, such as they were, about my location.

“Will your husband need to be carried out on a litter?” the dispatcher asked. “Or do you think he can make it out with a pair of crutches?”

I was visited with a sudden image of Ray—or anyone, honestly—trying to go down that slope on a pair of crutches. Then I imagined two people trying to carry Ray on a stretcher down the slope. I might have laughed hysterically. I can’t really remember.

40stretcherPhoto credit: Dan Zen, “Will the Happy Stretcher Bearers Save the Queasy Darth Vader!?”,

“The trail is snowpacked and very narrow,” I said. “I really don’t know how they’re going to get my husband out.”

“I have to tell the rangers what equipment to bring with them,” the dispatcher said, somewhat stiffly.

I think I might have offended her. I hastily explained that I wasn’t trying to be unhelpful; I just didn’t know what was going to work given the conditions. I thanked her very much for all her help, and she said in a friendlier voice that the search and rescue team would be heading up to us, and she would give them my phone number so they could call me if they needed to.

While I was on the phone, a largish group of teenagers came by and stopped on the rocks where I was sitting. They started chasing each other and screaming. “Josh! Tell Charlie to stop poking me!” “I just stepped in the stream and got water all inside my boot!”

I had to stuff a finger in my ear so that I could hear the dispatcher on the other end. It was a reminder to me that the rest of the world doesn’t stop for my personal emergencies.

40murderPhoto credit: Joseph Vasquez, “No Escape,”

It also might possibly have led to some homicidal fantasies…

When the dispatcher hung up, I headed back up the hill, wishing that I’d remembered about my cell phone before I’d come down the dang thing. We couldn’t afford to have anything to happen to me. But I reached the top just fine and told Ray that search and rescue was on its way.

And then we waited.

I hadn’t ever really thought of the logistics of search and rescue in a national park before. It had taken Ray and me about half an hour to hike from the trailhead to the top of the hill. Even if the rangers were at the Bear Creek station near the parking lot, it was going to take them half an hour to reach us. If they were somewhere else in the Park, they’d have to reach the trailhead and then hike in. There weren’t any shortcuts. They couldn’t drive up to us. I didn’t even think, if Ray had been more seriously injured, that a helicopter could have made it up to where we were. There just wasn’t anyplace to land. So rescue was going to be a slow process.

That gave us lots of time for contemplation.

For a while, I sat on the rock overlooking Nymph Lake, trying not to cry. A chipmunk, used to handouts from tourists charmed by its cuteness, came over to see if I would give it some of my almonds. I didn’t, but I took some pictures. A girl from the loud group of teenagers (now at the top of the slope) tried to catch the chipmunk so she could pick it up and pet it, probably not realizing that chipmunks can be carriers of both rabies and bubonic plague.


“Katie, what are you doing? You’re going to bump into that woman and knock her off the rock!”

“Sshh! You’re scaring off the chipmunk!”

I hoped that the chipmunk would bite Katie’s finger and give her plague, but no such luck. It ran off into the bushes and Katie never caught up to it.

plaguePhoto credit: Tim Evanson,

Aww! This model of the bubonic plague bacterium is so cute!

After a bit, I went and sat with Ray on a rock overlooking the slope. The pain in his knee, though still bad, was more manageable now that he’d been sitting still, and we talked about what we were going to do once the rangers got there. Both of us realized the difficulties involved in getting Ray down the hill. We also both realized that the injury was probably serious, and there might very well be surgery in Ray’s future.

“I’m worried that the rangers will force me to go to the emergency room in Estes Park today,” Ray said. “I really don’t want to do that. There’s not much they can do tonight if it’s an ACL tear, and then we’d have to pay for an ambulance ride and an ER visit. What I’d rather do is see if my own doctor can get me in tomorrow.”

I said that we could talk it over with the rangers once they got there. I also preferred having Ray see his own doctor in Denver, but it would depend on what the search and rescue team’s guidelines were.

“Once we get back to the car,” Ray went on, “all I want to do is go straight home.”

“Yeah,” I said, thinking sadly of my birthday pie. It didn’t sound like we were going to be stopping for lunch after all.

nopiePhoto credit: Roger Ahlbrand,

Someone from the search and rescue office called me once while we were waiting, just to make sure Ray was still OK. He asked if I was OK, too, which almost made me start crying again. He reassured me that the rangers were on their way; they’d had to drive to the trailhead, but they were on the trail now and heading up to us. I was extremely grateful to him, and said so.

I also got a couple texts from friends, wishing me a happy birthday. I wanted to write back, but my phone’s battery had been acting up (Ray had actually given me a new one that morning), and I didn’t want to waste it, just in case. And also, it felt a little surreal to be reading “Hope you have a great day!” texts while sitting on a mountain waiting for search and rescue.

So we sat there, watching people struggling up the slope. Some people fell. Some people stepped in unstable soft spots and sank up to their knees in snow. Ray said that he thought the rangers should close the trail. I thought privately that if people wanted to hike in these conditions, why not? We hadn’t seen anyone get hurt. Even Ray (in the crowning irony of the morning) had made it to the top of the hill, only to have his knee give out on a flat rock.

Some of the hikers coming up the slope now had the strangest backpacks I’d ever seen. They were hooked over their shoulders with straps like a regular backpack, but the back part was like a giant crash pad folded in half. The pad stuck out over the hikers’ heads, looking extremely awkward.

We overheard one of these hikers telling someone else that they were, in fact, giant crash pads, called bouldering pads. Rock climbers put them at the bottom of rock faces as a safety precaution in case they fall. I personally thought that the safety provided was probably mostly psychological, since I didn’t think a pad that you could carry on your back was going to keep you from breaking something if you fell onto it from three stories up. Besides, it was only maybe five feet across. How could you be sure you were going to land right in those five feet?

boulderpadPhoto credit: Clay Junell, “Fancy Foot Work!”,

Yeah, that just doesn’t look very helpful to me.

It’s funny, the things you think when you’re in the middle of an emergency. Two young men passed us, talking to each other in German, and when they were gone, Ray turned to me and said, “I wonder what wooing sounds like in German?”

On my side, I spent a lot of time thinking about how much better the situation would have been if I’d been the one to get hurt, since Ray could have carried me down the hillside if he’d had to.

40carry2Photo credit:

Like this!

I also realized, a few minutes into our vigil, that I really, really needed to pee. Oh, well.

After about an hour, we saw three people round the corner at the bottom of the slope: two women in khaki uniforms that reminded me of Boy Scouts, and a man in a bright yellow jacket. These had to be the Rangers, I thought. Who else would be up here in uniform?

All three wore sunglasses, stout hiking boots, and enormous backpacks with various bits of gear hanging off them. They were obviously prepared for whatever might happen, even on an easy, well-traveled trail. Climbing up the snow-covered incline didn’t seem to faze them. They’d probably been through much worse.

“Hello!” the lead woman said as she reached the top of the hill. “Did you call for the Rangers?”

I had to restrain myself from flinging my arms around her neck and weeping with relief. The cavalry had arrived.

40cavalryPhoto credit: The U.S. Army,

To be continued…

Adventure #13–My 40th Birthday, Part 1

Originally written 6/15/15

All photos from Flickr used in accordance with the Creative Commons license:

13Photo credit: Ryan Vaarsi, “Lucky 13, Los Feliz,”

Rocky Mountain National Park–

To celebrate my 40th birthday, I’ve done a bunch of fun things with my friends and family over the last couple weeks, some of which I’ll be writing about as adventures. Also, some people gave me adventures as birthday presents, which I am really excited about—it’s like two presents in one, since anything that gives me an excuse to blog is a gift in itself.


For the actual day of my birthday, however, I decided to go hiking in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park with just my husband. I’ve been going hiking in RMNP since I could walk, so, while I was greatly looking forward to the trip (I don’t get up there nearly as much as I’d like to), I wasn’t going to be able to use it as an adventure for my blog. Instead, I was planning on writing a kind of reflective, introspective post about turning forty, finding my first gray hairs, trying to ignore the wrinkles, etc.

Fate had other ideas.

I got my first hint that Fate was planning a blogworthy day for me on our way up to the Park. We were driving on Interstate 36 south of Boulder, where they’re doing some construction to install express lanes. It was Sunday, so there wasn’t any construction actually going on, and it looked like the project was very close to being completed. Almost no orange cones or lanes blocked off or anything like that. There were signs saying that it was a construction zone, but that was really it.


The outside of my birthday card from my husband. I love pickles.

My husband moved into the left lane and sped up to pass some slower vehicles, and just at that moment, a police car that neither of us had noticed turned on its lights and pulled in front of us from the shoulder. Uh-oh. It moved around behind us and motioned us to stop.

“Good morning,” the officer said, when he had gotten out of his car and come over to talk to us through the window. “Do you know how fast you were going?”

Ray, who has the greatest respect for law-enforcement officers and wanted to go to the police academy at one point in his life, didn’t fib or try to make excuses. “When I looked down, it said seventy-five, sir.”

“That’s right. And do you know what the speed limit is through here?”

“Sixty-five, sir.”

“No. It’s fifty-five.”

The officer paused to let that knowledge sink in, and my heart sank with it. We’d been going twenty miles per hour over the limit in a construction zone. This ticket was really going to hurt.


The inside of the card! Hee hee!

Ray gave the officer his license, registration, and proof of insurance, and the officer took it with him back to his car.

“I’m sorry I just ruined your birthday,” Ray said unhappily.

Neither of us knew it right then, but that was not going to be the last time Ray said that particular sentence that day.

The officer came back a few minutes later and returned Ray’s license. “Raymond, do you know what the fine is for going twenty miles an hour over the limit? $300 and 6 points off your license. In a construction zone, all fines are doubled. That’s $600 and 12 points.”

Oh, no. I knew (because Ray had been something of a speed demon back when we first started dating) that in Colorado, if you accumulate 12 points in violations in 12 months, you can lose your license. That was even worse than the $600, which was bad enough. What were we going to do if Ray couldn’t drive?


Sorry about the reflection from my flash in the middle of this picture. I’m definitely no Ansel Adams.

“But I see that you haven’t had a ticket since 2008,” the officer went on, “so I am going to cut you a break this one time and let you off with a warning.”

I hadn’t realized that I’d stopped breathing until I suddenly started again. He was letting us off with a warning? It was like a ray of sunshine breaking through some very, very dark clouds.

“Don’t speed through here again, all right?” the officer said, and handed Ray a business card with his name and address on it. Ray handed it to me along with his registration and proof of insurance. I put the paperwork back in the glove box and the officer’s card reverently in my purse. That man was getting a thank-you note!

It’s always interesting to me to see the different ways people react after a stressful situation is over. For the next twenty minutes, Ray kept saying things like, “I wasn’t the only one speeding,” and, “There isn’t even any construction going on!”

I, on the other hand, was so happy that I could have sung and turned cartwheels.


This is the adorable gift bag that Ray gave me my presents in after breakfast on my birthday. It looks like a muppet. Best gift bag ever!

We reached Rocky Mountain National Park about 9:30 a.m., early enough to have beaten most of the summer crowds. The trail we had decided to hike, the Emerald Lake Trail, was at the south end of the main road that led from the Fall River Entrance where we’d come in, so we spent about twenty minutes driving through the Park on the way to our destination.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the weather was warm, and all the trees and grass were vibrantly green after a very wet spring. We saw a heard of elk in a meadow, and one or two deer picking their way through the trees by the side of the road. At one point, traffic in front of us came to a complete stop, and we leaned out the windows to see a wild tom turkey, his tail fanned out like a brown peacock, herding a group of hens across the road.

That was worth the trip to me, right there.


Sadly, I didn’t get a good picture of the turkey with his tail fanned out, but here is a different wild turkey (also cool).

At the end of the lovely drive, we found that we had timed our trip perfectly, and there was still plenty of parking at the busy and popular Bear Lake Trailhead. We parked, loaded our backpack with food and water, and made a pit stop at the glorified outhouses near the ranger station. Then we were off toward Emerald Lake, on a 3-mile-round-trip hike that was labeled “Easy” on the Park’s website.


Right away, we hit a snag. The trail might be easy in mid-July, but at the end of a wet May, it was still mostly hidden by snow. Patches of the paved trail stuck out from underneath the thick, dirty white blanket (melting spring snow is not pretty), only to disappear again where the trees shaded the track from the sun.


I wasn’t too worried. When I was in college, I used to go hiking in the backwoods of rural Tennessee pretty much every weekend, and while I’d never hiked in snow there, I’d hiked in just about every other condition. Walking on top of packed snow didn’t seem too bad. Besides, plenty of other people were on the trail, including kids in crocs and grandparents in shorts, so how hard could it be?

It didn’t occur to me that Ray, not as fond of hiking as I am, might not be excited about trekking across the snow. He wasn’t, as a matter of fact, but since it was my birthday (and we’d driven two hours to get there), he just hitched the backpack a little higher on his shoulder and didn’t say anything.

Almost immediately, the trail began to climb up a hill, winding through rocks and evergreen trees. I was so enchanted by the scenery—the little running streams by the side of the path; the small, dark gray squirrels peering at us from the branches; the spicy scent of the pines—that I hardly noticed how steep the ascent was.


If you look carefully, you can see a squirrel in the middle of this picture

Ray, on the other hand, was painfully aware of the climb, and every ten minutes or so he would step to the side of the path for a quick water break. It was just as well that he did, because otherwise I probably would have forgotten to drink myself. Getting dehydrated when you’re at 8000 feet above sea level is a really bad idea.

Every time we stopped, we talked about this and that, including our plans for the rest of the day. There’s a little café called the Estes Park Pie Shop where we always eat after hiking; we started going there a year or two ago after seeing a truck parked outside their shop that said YOU NEED PIE! in giant red letters across the side. Since the pie (and the rest of their food) turned out to be as good as their advertising, we go back whenever we’re in the area.


I don’t eat pie (or any other kind of dessert) very often anymore, but this was a very special occasion. So, as soon as we were done hiking, we planned on driving back into Estes Park to have lunch, followed by pie, before heading home so I could take a nap (also very important). As far as I was concerned, it was the perfect birthday plan.

Whenever we paused for a drink, this one particular family would pass us. There were six of them: a mom, an older couple who I guessed were her parents, a toddler, and two red-headed older kids who might have been eleven or twelve. The first four of them were going pretty slowly, just like we were; neither the toddler nor the older couple moved very fast. The older kids, however, seemed athletic and adventurous, and they hiked much faster. We only caught up with them when they stopped to climb a rock or wade in a stream.

They got so far ahead of the rest of the family that I actually wasn’t sure at first that they were part of the same group. There wasn’t much that I was sure about with them. I think they were twins (they were the same height and build and had very similar faces), but I never was certain whether they were both boys, both girls, or one of each. Their red hair was cut in matching mops like Raggedy Ann and Andy, and both of them had long, skinny bodies dressed in t-shirts and jeans.

raggedyannPhoto credit: Joe Haupt,

In case you’re too young to know who Raggedy Ann and Andy are…

After watching them clamber up on some rocks and stand looking down at the forest below them, I decided that they were kids after my own heart. When I was little (like four or five), my parents used to put a whistle around my neck when we went hiking because I enjoyed running ahead and exploring so much. The deal was that I could explore, but I had to stay on the trail, and I had to blow my whistle every few minutes so that my parents knew where I was.

During the first part of my birthday hike with Ray, we played a kind of leapfrog with the adults in this other family: they would pass us when we stopped for a drink, and we would pass them when the grandparents stopped to adjust their hiking poles, or when the mom stopped to put the toddler in a baby carrier (which was basically a special backpack. The mom then did the same hike we were doing with a 25-pound 2-year-old on her back—she must have been in incredible shape).


Every time we leapfrogged, we would smile and say hello to each other. There’s a camaraderie in the Park that I love, a sense that you’re sharing this beautiful experience with everyone else on the trail. We said hello to all the people who passed us going the other way, and they all smiled and said hello back. That just doesn’t happen when you’re out walking down the street in Denver. You’re much more likely to drop your eyes and pretend you don’t notice the person you’re passing—you know, in case they’re a pervert or a psycho. But out on the trail, everyone is friendly. It’s part of the magic of the Park.

A little less than a mile from the trailhead, the path flattened out, and all of a sudden we found ourselves on the shore of a lake. We thought at first it was Emerald Lake (it certainly was a gorgeous, deep green color, the water reflecting all the trees on the hillside to our left), but we realized that we hadn’t gone far enough for it to be Emerald. Later, we found out that it was called Nymph Lake, and it was the first of a series of lakes on the trail.


Nymph Lake

Standing on the shore, it felt like we were watching some kind of seasonal changing of the guard. The water was completely clear of ice, and ducks were floating on the surface, but most of the shoreline was still several feet deep in snow. The mountains had apparently not gotten the message that it was supposed to be summer.

After we’d stood looking at the lake for a while, Ray asked if I wanted to keep going or if I wanted to turn around and go back. I said that I wanted to keep going. We’d only been hiking for about twenty minutes at that point, and I wasn’t ready to go home. Besides, we hadn’t reached Emerald Lake yet.

This (unbeknownst to us) was one of those decision-making crossroads that you look back on later with regret. But, of course, you never know at the time what you’re in for, which is probably a good thing.

Dramatic music should be playing here! To be continued…. Continue reading Adventure #13–My 40th Birthday, Part 1

Adventure #12–Archery

Originally written 6/1/15.

All photos from Flickr used in accordance with the Creative Commons license:

12Photo credit: Markus Grossalber, “12 O’Clock,”

Full Rut Archery–

Broadhead Cafe–

For her birthday, my sister decided that she’d like to try an archery class. She invited me along, and of course I said yes, since I’d never shot a bow and arrow before.

She found a place online that offered a special birthday package: an hour of range use, equipment rental, and a dedicated instructor for $12 per person. Such a deal! Even better, the range had a café inside that served exotic meats like kangaroo and frog’s legs (as well as more mundane things like burgers), and we could preorder our meals and have them ready for us when we got there.

That sounded perfect. My sister got together a small party of friends and signed us up for a Sunday at 12:30.

On that Sunday, my sister and I decided to carpool to the archery range, which was (according to Google) about half an hour away, on the plains to the east of the Denver Metro area. Armed with the GPS on her phone, we set out from the eastern suburbs and were soon in rolling grasslands. The houses got farther apart, and many were surrounded by big, white-fenced acres of horse pasture. It had been an unusually wet and rainy May in Denver, but the sun was mostly out that day in a dramatic sky of gray and white clouds. A good day for an adventure.

 COplains1Photo credit: Ken Lund,

As we drove, we talked about various things, and I looked at the GPS from time to time to give my sister directions. We went from a big, two-lanes-each-way, 45 mph Denver street to a one-lane-each way paved county road, to a smaller side county road where houses were few and far between, to a dirt road with no street signs.

It was here, in the middle of nowhere, that the GPS finally told us we had arrived.

We pulled over in a cloud of dust and looked around. There was nothing as far as the eye could see but grass, the occasional house surrounded by pasture, and a wide variety of rusty vehicle carcasses. The address we were looking for didn’t seem to exist.

 rustyPhoto credit:

My sister looked at the nearest house, which had a pickup truck hitched to a horse trailer sitting in its driveway. “Do you think that could be it?” she asked doubtfully.

“No,” I said, imagining going up to this person’s house and asking if they were an archery range. An introvert’s nightmare. “Let’s check the website.”

Luckily, the cell phone signal was low but present, so we looked up the address on the archery range’s website. Hmm. The address listed on their home page was certainly the one we had entered in the GPS, and here we were. Only, no archery range.

 COplains2Photo credit: Ken Lund,

I scrolled a little farther down. At the bottom of the home page, the address was posted again—except, while the street number was the same, the road listed was completely different.

I gave my sister the bad news. She took the phone from me and entered the new address, and we were off, following the GPS back down the dirt road to a different dirt road. While she drove, I texted her friends to let them know that we were going to be late, and I hoped that this wasn’t going to ruin my sister’s birthday party.

 COplains3Photo credit: Derek Key,

A few minutes later, I suddenly got a bad feeling. I’d like to say that I had a premonition, but really I think it was paranoia after getting lost the first time. I looked more closely at the GPS, and I saw that it had somehow changed the address my sister had entered into a totally different address.


I tried correcting the address, but the GPS seemed possessed. Every time I re-entered the correct address, it would change it again. The new address, the one it REALLY wanted us to go to, had absolutely zero resemblance to the one I kept trying to enter.

 devilPhoto credit: Eduardo Gavina, “Demon in the Sky (Vicente)”,

This is what I imagine the GPS-possessing demon looking like

In the end, I went to Google, entered the name of the archery range, and clicked on the map. THAT finally gave us the correct destination, which was good. Unfortunately, it also let us know that it was going to be another 20 minutes before we got there, because of course the possessed GPS had been leading us in exactly the wrong direction.

Well, nothing we could do about it now. We followed the new directions back onto a paved road we had been on half an hour before, and I texted everybody that we were going to be really late. That was OK, it turned out, because one of the others had gotten lost as well, and one had gotten stuck downtown in traffic after running the Colfax Half Marathon and wasn’t going to make it at all.

Eventually, after a series of paved county roads, we ended up on a different dirt road in a different middle of nowhere, and this turned out to be the right place. Hooray! There were signs pointing to the range as we got close, and eventually we saw a twenty-foot-tall model of a giant arrow planted in the middle of a field.


This had to be the place.

The range was inside of a big, newish-looking building like a barn surrounded by a gravel parking lot. Across the parking lot was an outdoor archery area in a field, with a woman in shorts and a t-shirt shooting at paper targets on chunky stands.


Inside, there were several different areas: the café off to the left, the front desk off to the right, and a store straight ahead, with the main part of the range beyond it. The walls were covered with wood paneling, with big log beams here and there, and the décor was largely made up of the mounted heads of various animals, like deer, elk, and boar. The carpet on the floor was camouflage. I wondered where you get camo carpet, and how much of a demand there is for it.


I had been worried that we weren’t going to be able to shoot after all, since we were half an hour late, but the two employees at the front desk didn’t seem concerned about it. In fact, they didn’t even mention that we were late. One of the employees, a girl in her late teens or early twenties, led us off to the right, past the check-in desk, to an area she called “the Lone Range.” Ha ha ha! The name made me very happy, but the girl didn’t laugh at all when she said it. Maybe she was over the joke.

The Lone Range was a long, skinny room that was separated from the main part of the range by a wooden wall with plexiglass windows in it, possibly to prevent the amateurs from accidentally shooting the professionals next door. The room looked kind of like a bowling alley, with a wooden floor divided into lanes by stripes of different-colored wood. At the far end, against the back wall of the building, were four tall, square blocks of a material like super-dense Styrofoam, covered in white tarps and sporting little blue paper targets on them.


At the near end of the room was a rack that looked something like the parallel bars in men’s gymnastics, only it was covered in camouflage carpeting. Half a dozen bows rested on the rack, strings up, looking exactly like the bows in Robin Hood movies. Yay! I couldn’t wait to try them out.


“Go ahead and pick out your bow,” said the girl, gesturing unexcitedly toward the rack.

“What’s the difference between them?” I asked.

She looked at me. “Some of them are longer and some of them are shorter.”

Oh. Silly question.

“Which one should I use?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Whichever one you want.”

Gee, thanks.

My sister’s two friends were already picking out their bows, so I went ahead and grabbed one at random, feeling like there was probably a more scientific way of doing this. Oh, well.


The girl then led us down the range until we were maybe fifteen feet away from the targets. There was a line there on the floor across the lanes, with a stand filled with arrows sitting on the line for each of us. The arrows, I was interested to see, had metal tips almost like bullets on the front ends, rather than the stereotypical arrowheads you think of from movies. At the back, where movie arrows have feathers, they had plastic instead (I found out later that the feathers or plastic pieces on the back are called fletching or vanes). One of the vanes on every arrow was a different color than the other two.


“Here’s what you do,” the girl said, taking my bow and one of my arrows and demonstrating. “See this at the back of the arrow? That’s called the nock.”

The nock was a small plastic piece that was forked so that you could stick it on the bowstring to help hold the arrow in place.

“Put the nock right above this bead in the middle of the string. The odd-colored vane should be toward you—that’s how you know that the nock is turned right. Rest the shaft of the arrow on this guide here on the hand grip. Now pull back the string with your first three fingers. Some people like to put their index finger above the arrow and the other two below, but I like to put all three below. It helps keep the arrow from shaking and getting off the target.”

She showed us how she liked to place her fingers.

 archeryhandsPhoto credit: Valerie Everett,

No, not like this.

“Then pull the string back. Don’t be scared to pull it way back—your hand should touch your jaw.” She demonstrated. “Then let go.”

The arrow whizzed through the air and hit the target with a satisfying “thwack” sound.

“And that’s all there is to it,” she said, handing my bow back to me. “It’s easy. Give it a try.”

The four of us, feeling a little self-conscious, tried it out. I took an arrow out of the stand, put the forked nock above the little gold bead on the string, rested the front of the arrow on the black plastic guide near the place where my hand went, and pulled back the string. When I let go of the string, the arrow thumped into the foam block with the same satisfying “thwack” sound, although I was nowhere close to the blue paper target.

Hey! I’d shot my first arrow!

archeryarrowIt was a little intimidating that my arrow said “Devil’s Wrath” on it, though.

All of us had five arrows, and we shot them one at a time while the girl watched us silently from a safe distance behind the line. She didn’t say anything, even when I completely missed the giant foam block and sent my arrow into the back wall. Oops.

When we’d all shot our arrows, she told us to go get them out of the foam to shoot again. “Have fun,” she said. “I’ll be at the front desk if you need anything.”


Oh. I was kind of disappointed in our “range instructor,” since I’d been envisioning something more like the range instructor I had when I went to the firing range in Phoenix (, where he was at my side the entire time, both teaching and encouraging me. But, as my husband pointed out later, the shooting range had been pretty expensive. What did I want for $12?

The girl did come back a few minutes later, bringing with her a pile of arm guards and finger guards, since she’d forgotten to give us those when we checked in. The arm guards were padded cloth patches that attached to your forearm with straps so that the pad was on the inside of your arm from your wrist to your elbow. They helped to protect your arm from the string, because if you held your left arm too straight, the string snapped against it every time you shot. As a matter of fact, by the time the girl remembered and brought us the guards, my sister’s two friends already had some lovely welts. I somehow escaped snapping myself with the string, probably because I kept holding my left elbow out to the side at a super awkward angle, like I was trying to perform ballet while shooting my bow.


I wasn’t really sure how I felt about my arm being labeled “Full Rut.” Hey, what are you trying to say?

The finger guards were hard leather sheaths that went over the right index, middle, and ring fingers to protect them from getting cut by the string. It was a good idea, but the guards she brought us were sort of one-size-fits-all, and I have tiny hands (they’re so small that the jeweler who made my wedding ring gave me a discount because he’d used so much less gold than he usually did). The sheaths were like humongous leather sausages on my little fingers. After sending three arrows careening out of control all over the range because I couldn’t make my right hand work properly, I took the finger guards off.

Even without the finger guards, I was definitely no Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games. About half my arrows managed to hit the blue paper target, but none of them were even close to the white bullseye, and the other half ended up all over the foam block. Twice, I missed the foam block completely and had my arrows bounce off the back wall and come flying back to me, like some kind of arrow-boomerang crossover. Luckily for my self-esteem, those two both happened in the first ten minutes, and I got better—but still.


Yeah, these animals would have been totally safe from me. I think the boar might actually be laughing at my archery skills.

My sister, on the other hand, was channeling her inner Merida from Brave, even though she hadn’t ever shot a bow either. About 90% of her arrows hit the blue target even at the beginning, and she was hitting the white bullseye regularly while the other three of us were still trying to hit the paper at all. I was in awe.


Here is my sister being awesome.

One thing I hadn’t been prepared for was how physical archery was. Even standing so close to the target and shooting what I suspected was a kid-strength bow, I could really feel the muscles in my arms, shoulders, and back. Between rounds, I would stretch and massage my muscles, taking pictures to give me an excuse for dawdling on my way back to the line. I’m an Irish dancer—upper body strength is NOT my forte.

While I rested my aching arms, I looked through the plexiglass windows at the people shooting next door on the main range. Most of the lanes were in use, and there was an interesting mix of adults and kids, and of men and women. It was different than the shooting range in Phoenix, which had been more than three-quarters male and 100% adult. Here, families were enjoying a Sunday together, with parents teaching kids how to shoot and both boys and girls getting practice in with their bows.


And, as with rifle shooting, they even had products marketed to girls–pink, of course

A few people were using the same kind of plain bows we were using (recurve bows, they’re called), but others were using the kind of bows that Olympic archers use. Those are recurve bows, too, but they have fancy sights on them (like sniper rifles), as well as a thing like a cane sticking out of the front called a stabilizer.

 archerystabilizerPhoto credit: Andy Rogers,

A bunch of people were using compound bows, which I’d heard about but never seen. Compound bows have pulleys (called cams) at the top and bottom that make it easier to pull the string back, allowing the archer to use a stronger bow than they otherwise could. Multiple cables run between the pulleys, almost parallel to the bowstring, making it look like the bow has three or four different strings. The front of the bow, instead of curving outward, curves inward. All these features make the compound bow look like something from a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie.


Seriously, can’t you see Mad Max using something like this?

For safety, everyone on the main range was standing on the same line, about forty feet away from the targets on the back wall. However, some people were shooting at targets on wheels that they had placed much closer to the line—in fact, one or two were shooting at a target only five feet away. I wondered if that was practice for something specific, like hunting (more on that later).

Gradually, I got better at aiming and firing my bow. I stopped hitting the wall instead of the foam blocks, and usually four out of my five arrows would hit the target. My confidence improved, and I could watch as my arrow left the string and flew toward the block. It was interesting to see that arrows don’t really fly straight; they kind of wobble in the air like a fish tail swimming back and forth.

By the end, I even got a few arrows in the white inner ring. It was a lot of fun.


Woo-hoo! I hit the bullseye!

After an hour, I had a round where two of my arrows hit the inner ring and the other three all hit the blue. That seemed like a sign to stop while I was ahead. My shoulders were protesting and my guard-less fingers felt a little raw. Besides, weren’t we supposed to stop after an hour? I looked around, but the girl didn’t appear to tell us our time was up or anything.

Suddenly, I was starving. Archery is hard work!


We put our bows back on the rack and went out to the front desk. The girl asked if we’d had a good time, and were we sure we didn’t want to keep going? No one seemed too concerned about what time it was or how long we’d been there.

And that wasn’t just at the front desk, either. When we’d finished paying for our range time, we walked over to the café, where a serious-looking woman in her forties or fifties was doing something behind a counter. My sister introduced herself and said that she’d emailed in our food order.


It was quite an order, too. As I mentioned earlier, the café offered several different exotic meats on their online menu, and my sister and I were excited about trying meats that we’d never had before. The café had a sampler platter where you could get fries plus three kinds of meat, but we figured out that it was actually less expensive for us just to order the five meats we were interested in as individual dinners and split them between us (I have no idea why the sampler platter was so much more expensive than the individual dinners). That was going to be way more food than the two of us could eat—especially since each dinner came with two sides—but we decided that we would just box up the extras and eat leftovers for lunch the rest of the week.

Well, it turned out that the online menu was out of date (which I guess shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering that even the address on the website was wrong). Some of the items we had ordered were no longer available, and the cook hadn’t known what we wanted to do about that. So she just hadn’t made anything.


This, I don’t mind confessing, was quite a blow to me. It was after 2:00 p.m. by then, and an hour of driving in the wilderness followed by an hour of archery had left me so hungry that I would have been happy to eat whatever they had ready, no questions asked (Hippo? Sure!). But there didn’t seem to be anything to do except to place our order again and wait to eat until it was ready.

Luckily, we hadn’t looked around the store part of the business yet, so while we waited for our food we walked around and glanced at all the things they had for sale.


This is special feed that you sprinkle in an area where you’re going to be hunting. The deer eat it, and the minerals help them grow bigger antlers–so that you look cooler when you kill the deer the later. I had trouble wrapping my head around this.

It was eye-opening. The store was definitely geared toward bowhunters rather than tournament archers, and they weren’t shy about the fact that hunting involves killing.


Turkey Nightmare!

Many product names and logos directly alluded to death, either humorously or with a kind of machismo, and overall there was a sense that hunting was not only a natural thing for humans to do, but a way of proving (and celebrating) your virility.


OK–can you explain to me why the GraveDigger Broadhead Chisel Tip arrowheads need a picture of a sexy, mysterious woman with huge cleavage on them?

And not just manly virility, either! A bulletin board near the front door was covered with pictures of members hunting, including about a dozen of a 105-pound woman (who, they said, only drew a 44-pound bow, which I guess is not very powerful) posing with a bunch of different animals she had killed. These ranged from local fauna like deer and antelope to African animals that she must have hunted on some kind of special safari: a wildebeest, for example, and a musk ox. A sign above her collection of pictures mentioned her weight and her draw weight and said, “Think you can’t put an arrow through an animal? Think again!”


Bone Collector!

The pictures made me feel a little sick. I don’t think I’m going to be adding hunting to my list of adventures. Fishing was hard enough for my soft-hearted self (

My favorite part of the store was at the back, near the restrooms. Actually, I liked the restrooms, too. They had cute signs on the door:


They had funny toilet seat covers:


And they were all prepared with reading material next to the toilet, just in case you were going to be in there a long time:


But the restrooms weren’t my favorite part. My favorite thing was a display of pink camouflage pajamas, with a sign on top that said “Find Out What Happens When You Get Your Girl Some Camo,” next to a picture of a smiling woman in camo lingerie (wink wink, nudge nudge).


That tickled me by itself, but the back of the display was even better: a selection of padded camo bras and thong underwear, all emblazoned with the range’s logo in pink lettering.


Now I know what my husband can get me for my birthday….


Having “Full Rut” printed on your undies is, um, awkward.

After about forty-five minutes, our lunch was finally ready (although it was rapidly becoming dinner instead). Half the table was covered with the dishes that my sister and I had ordered: frog’s legs, rabbit, alligator, and kangaroo. It looked like we were feeding a party of eight.

Figuring that the breaded and deep-fried frog’s legs wouldn’t taste so good reheated the next day, we ate those first. I’d never had frog’s legs before, so I was interested to find out what they tasted like. I was so hungry, however, that I wolfed down the first two without really tasting them at all.


After that, I was able to slow down a little and notice what I was eating. The frog’s legs had a similar texture to hot wings, but the flavor was much more like whitefish or tilapia. Like hot wings, I liked them best after I’d dipped them in ranch dressing.

When we’d finished the frog’s legs, we divided up the other meat and had a little sample of each, boxing up the rest to take home later.

Rabbit, which is a white meat, has the same kind of texture as chicken but a lighter flavor. It was good. I had my leftovers the next day with some Indian saag.


The alligator ribs were very dry, with not much flavor beyond that of the heavy citrus glaze they’d basted on. I’d had alligator before, but then it was small chunks breaded and deep fried like popcorn shrimp. That had tasted amazing, but pretty much everything tastes good breaded, deep fried, and dunked in sauce.


Kangaroo, interestingly, is red meat, and the serving we had was very much like a steak. The piece we had was medium rare, and the middle part (where it was rarest) was the tastiest. It was delicious. The edges, where it was more well done, were a little tough. Apparently, kangaroo doesn’t have a lot of fat on it, which always means you have to be very careful not to overcook it or it will dry out. Just a little tip in case you ever need to cook a kangaroo.


When lunch was over, we gathered up our takeout boxes and drove home, making it back without incident now that we knew where the place was. It was fun pretending to be Hawkeye from the Avengers for an afternoon, and I enjoyed trying the exotic meats (even though I think I’ll give frog’s legs and alligator ribs a pass next time). My sister really enjoyed it, and she’s thinking of trying it again soon.

If you live in Denver and are thinking about doing something really different for a party, give Full Rut a try. The price is very reasonable, the archery is fun, and the food is good. Just make sure to double check the address before you go.

Adventure #11–International Grocery Stores

Originally written on 3/3/15.

All photos from Flickr used in accordance with the Creative Commons license:

Photo credit: Maret Hosemann,


Three of the international groceries I visited:


My friend Abbey is a world traveler. Once or twice a year, she goes on an international trip with her mom or a friend to someplace like India, Portugal, or Austria. While she’s there, she takes a ton of photos (because she’s an excellent photographer, too), and then when she gets back she throws a party where she shows everybody her photos. I always love seeing the photos, because I am not likely ever to get to India, Portugal, or Austria, and this way I can live vicariously through her adventures.

At the parties, Abbey serves food from whatever country she visited, because she is also a wonderful cook (in fact, pretty much the only thing she doesn’t do is blog about her trips, not because she can’t write—she can do that, too—but because she doesn’t have the compulsion to write that I do. Down the road when we both retire, I’m thinking of proposing a second career where we do a travel blog together: she can do the photos and I can write the blog).

Over Christmas, Abbey and her mom visited a friend in Vienna. When she got back, she needed to start preparing to cook for her party, and that meant she needed to visit some international grocery stores. She invited me along.


I had never been to an international grocery store, so of course I said yes. My parents had always shopped at the grocery store on the Air Force Base (my dad being in the Air Force), and as an adult I’ve shopped at the big chain grocery stores like King Soopers and Safeway.

International grocery stores are very different from the big chain stores. We visited five all together: a European market, three Middle Eastern markets, and one Asian market. The Asian market was huge (more on that later), but the other four were very small, more the size of a phone store or an ice cream shop than a Safeway. The aisles were short and cramped, the fixtures more functional than attractive, the signs mostly hand-written.

045And you can get canned sprats!

On the shelves were canned and packaged goods that you couldn’t easily get at King Soopers, specialty items imported from Eastern Europe or the Middle East.

085Honey with crushing nuts!

Some of the items seemed odd to an American used to shopping at a big corporate grocery store, and whenever I came across an item like that I took a picture.

047The squid on this package of dried calamari strips is so adorable! Its tentacles are coming out of its nose. I’m pretty sure that’s not scientifically accurate.

Abbey was very patient with this and did not pretend she didn’t know me. She probably wanted to.

049Yogurt soda!

All the markets had surprisingly lush produce sections (I had to stop myself from buying more produce than I could easily eat in a week), but the big highlights of the markets were the meat counters, where you could get ingredients you needed for your traditional cooking: whole fish, halal meats (meats prepared in accordance with Islamic guidelines), and even sheep tongue. I was going to take a picture of the packages of sheep tongue, but the woman at the counter was standing there looking at me, and I decided it would be rude.

046But I did get a picture of the fish counter at a different store.

You could get deli-style ingredients too, where the clerk scooped items out of a jar or dish for you: olives, dried fruit, feta cheese. Sometimes the items weren’t labeled, or were only labeled in Russian or Arabic, so I was glad that Abbey knew what they were. And there was wonderful bread, some in packages from specialty bakeries, and some made in-house and sold hot from the oven.

042Or, if you prefer drinking your grains, here is a drink made of rye bread.

The most interesting thing to me about the small markets was that none of the packaged products I looked at—bread, vegetables, meats, spices—had any artificial additives. Over the last few years, I’ve become increasingly careful about what I eat, and I try to avoid artificial ingredients like hydrogenated oil and high-fructose corn syrup. I did not find a single item in any of the four small markets that had any of those ingredients. Pickles, for instance.

084Like mango pickles! Almost bought those, actually.

I usually have to buy pickles at Whole Foods or Sprouts because pickles from regular grocery stores have high-fructose corn syrup in them (which doesn’t make any sense to me). There was a bewildering array of pickles vegetables at the international markets (pickled mushrooms, pickled cauliflower, pickled eggs), and not a single variety I looked at had any artificial additives.

083Nope! No artificial ingredients in the pickled okra.

American companies would have you believe that preservatives and additives are necessary, but apparently international companies know better.

044I totally bought this mushroom-shaped jar of pickled mushrooms from Poland.

Another interesting fact: the prices at the markets were very reasonable. Abbey told me that she shops there instead of Whole Foods for specialty ingredients when she can because the prices are so much lower.

041Also, where else can you get vodka chocolates?

All the markets had a dedicated bagger at each check-out lane. At one of the markets, the bagger was wearing a suit and tie.

051I did not take a picture of the bagger in the suit and tie, but at the same market I took a picture of these Christmas chocolates. It was January, and plus we were in a Middle Eastern halal market, and it made me smile.

The Asian market was an entirely different kind of place.


For one thing, it was enormous, twice the size of the King Soopers I usually shop at.


There was a separate little bakery and pastry shop near the entrance, where we bought a bean curd doughnut to eat later.

052They also gave out these awesome little baskets on wheels. My King Soopers needs to have these.

The produce section contained vegetables I’ve never even heard of, like:






Abbey had heard of durian; she called it “smelly melon.” Apparently, durian has such an intense odor that people aren’t allowed to carry them on buses in Asia, and in the grocery store they have to put them in these freezer displays to keep them from stinking up the whole produce section.


And I didn’t know that there were different kinds of eggplant, like Philippine eggplant…


…and graffiti eggplant. I bought some of these–they were so pretty. And tasty!

A woman in the produce section was making fresh kimchi.

066Don’t open the kimchi container!

There was a meat counter, but also a separate fresh seafood market with tanks of live lobster and fish.


I don’t know if you can read it, but the motto of the seafood market was “Experience the Freshness.”


And, wow, was it fresh! Live fluke here…


…and live abalone here. I’d never seen live abalone before.

There was an entire aisle of different kinds of noodles, an entire aisle of different kinds of rice, and multiple aisles of spices, pastes, and sauces that I wouldn’t even have the first idea how to use.


Like fried gluten!


And banana sauce! Is that sauce made from bananas? Sauce for bananas?

It was overwhelming.

065Five pounds of peeled garlic cloves–everything was just bigger at the Asian market.

And then, in case the food itself wasn’t enough, half of the store was a goods market, selling clothes, shoes, art, cookware—you name it. Abbey and I didn’t even go over to that side. It was just too much to take in.


The Asian market was much slicker than the four small markets: printed signs, wide aisles, very professional presentation. Interestingly, it was the only one of the five international groceries that carried products that contained artificial ingredients. Some of the snack products from Japan had hydrogenated oil, for instance.

073Crab chips! Made from real crab!

074And squid crackers! Made from real squid!

075And fried fish maw! Made from…real fish maw?

It made me sad that some of the products had hydrogenated oil and high-fructose corn syrup, because otherwise I might have bought some of the crazy candy they had on the snack aisle.

076Like Yan Yan Kids or Everyburger

082Or this candy…is that Pedobear???

My favorite part of the Asian market? The stockers (who were busy redoing some shelves while we were there) were all speaking to each other in Spanish. Definitely an international grocery!

081Complete with Danish butter cookies at the checkout.

At each grocery, we bought a few things, and then we went back to Abbey’s house and had a picnic of fresh, warm flatbread, feta cheese, olives, figs, apricots, and various kinds of pickles. It was wonderful. I will definitely be going back to the international groceries–and you should try them, too!


Adventure #10–Jeopardy Tryout

Originally written 2/24/15.

All photos from Flickr used in accordance with the Creative Commons license:


Photo credit: Jon Jordan,

Note #1—The Jeopardy casting directors said that I could write about this experience as long as I didn’t use any of the real questions that I got during the tryout, so I haven’t. I’ve made all the questions up. Some of them are real questions with real answers, and some of them are complete nonsense with no right answer (so don’t kill yourself trying to figure out the name of the knee-length pants from Uzbekistan, for instance).

Note #2—The name of the game show technically has an exclamation point after it: Jeopardy! I’ve left the exclamation point out on purpose. It’s weird having an exclamation point in the middle of a sentence.

Thank you. Here we go!

I’ve been a game show fan ever since I was a little kid. When I was sick and had to stay home from school, I’d curl up on the couch in a blanket and watch Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, followed by a whole glorious day of game shows: $100,000 Pyramid, Press Your Luck, and (my personal favorite) The Price is Right. Somehow, watching Bob Barker give away cars and washing machines always seemed to make me feel a little bit better.

As I got older, though, my tastes in game shows changed, and Jeopardy became my favorite. My whole family loved Jeopardy, and pretty much every weeknight you could find us eating dinner in front of the television from six to six-thirty, shouting out answers to questions with our mouths full. I thought Alex Trebek was amazing, with his twinkling eyes and perfectly-groomed mustache (gone now, alas), and my old dreams of winning a speedboat from Bob Barker were replaced by dreams of winning a million dollars on Jeopardy.


Photo credit: Mr. Littlehand,

But, since you had to go to Los Angeles to try out, and the likelihood of me getting on the show seemed close to nil even if I did pay to fly to California, that particular dream remained in the storehouse with all my other impossible daydreams, like the one where I was going to win the Olympics and the one where I was going to be a movie star. (There are a couple of other ones, like becoming a world-famous author, that I haven’t given up on yet).

Fast-forward to a couple years ago, when they started putting the Jeopardy contestant quizzes online. No longer did you have to fly to LA to try out; you could try out in the comfort of your own home. I was overjoyed. The first time I heard about the online test, I skipped out of a dinner date with a friend (since you could only take the test at a particular date and time) and holed myself up in my computer room with the door shut.

That’s when I found out that taking a timed test is a lot different than shouting answers at the TV.

For one thing, you only had 15 seconds to answer each question. 15 seconds goes by incredibly quickly, especially when you spend it like this:

Seconds 1-5–Reading the question (“This seedless fruit was the highest-grossing export from Suriname during the nineteenth century.”)

Seconds 5-10–Sitting there staring at the screen with your mind an absolute blank, empty of anything even resembling an answer.

Seconds 11-14–Panicking and screaming at yourself, “Just type SOMETHING, you idiot!”

Second 15–Typing a completely random word, like “rutabaga,” before the question disappears from the screen and is replaced by a new one.


Photo credit: Queena Sook Kim,

I don’t even know if they grow rutabagas in Suriname. Plus, rutabagas are vegetables.

For me, this process didn’t just apply to the difficult questions (“These traditional knee-length pants are the national costume of Uzbekistan”). Easy questions (“This man was the first president of the United States”) also left me staring and frozen, unable to think of anything at all.

I managed to type something for most of the questions, but if even half of my answers were right I’d be surprised. I’m sure that even the correct answers were misspelled. Twelve and a half minutes and 50 questions after I started, my screen went blank, and then a message popped up thanking me for participating. That was it. The test had left me a sweating, disheveled, nervous wreck, and they didn’t even tell me whether I’d passed or not.

They never do, I found out. You either get contacted later to go on to the next stage of the auditions or you don’t. That’s because the test isn’t pass/fail; it’s more graded on the curve. And the number of people they need for the next stage varies, so they might contact you months after you took the test, or they might never contact you at all.

I did not get contacted after my first test. Undaunted, I took it again the next time they offered it, with about the same results. (“This subspecies of penguin was Richard Nixon’s favorite childhood animal.” “I have no idea! Who the heck would even know that! Arg–I’m running out of time–I have to type something–uh…uh…argyle! Wait–what? Oh, no–new question!”)


Photo credit: Joel Kramer,

I couldn’t find a picture of Nixon with a penguin, so you get plush Nixon instead.

I did not get contacted after my second test, either.

Then, in December, they offered a special online test for people living in Denver. Oh, yay! Another chance to try to get on the show!

But I felt guilty about it. The tests are always weekday evenings, usually a Tuesday or Wednesday, and (as a dance teacher) I work in the evenings. To take the online tests I have to take at least part of the night off work, which seems irresponsible to do when (let’s face it) I’m just chasing a pipe dream. So I waffled. I kept putting off registering for the online exam, wrestling with my overactive conscience. Eventually I decided that I wouldn’t take the test.

Well, fate stepped in. A bad, bad cold was going around my dancers, and I caught it. I went home early from class on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday (the day of the test) I was too sick to go in at all. I spent most of the day in bed.

However, I woke up in the afternoon with time to still register for the test, and I thought that it would be a shame to waste this unexpected night off. I had no expectations of doing well (I could barely think at all, my head was so congested), but what the hey. So that evening I closed myself in my computer room again and gave it a try.

To my surprise, I not only knew the answers to most of the questions, I could actually remember them. The largest member of the string family in an orchestra, the first vice-president of the United States, the capital of Missouri. I got them all. The 15 seconds didn’t even seem that fast; I usually hit the return button to go on to the next question before my time was up. Sick as I was, I felt pretty good about how I’d done.


Photo credit: Esteban Chiner,

If you like trivia and have been frustrated by the fact that all the questions so far have been fake, the three questions in the above paragraph are real and have answers. Have fun!

But, of course, the screen just said thank you.

What with being sick, some performances we were doing, and our Christmas break, I forgot about the test. I never expected to hear back from them anyway.

So when, in mid-January, I got an email saying that I was invited to an in-person audition in Denver the first week of February, I completely dropped my spoon into my oatmeal at breakfast. I couldn’t believe it. I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

I had a little scare the following week, when it turned out that they’d lost my email accepting the audition and had given my spot to someone else (I nearly had a heart attack, after which I ran around my house shouting, “No, no, no!” with my hands clutched to my head like some hysterical Victorian heroine), but they apologized and gave me a different slot, so that was OK. They sent me an email telling me to meet them at a downtown hotel at 11:30 am on a particular day. It was kind of like something out of a spy novel: don’t bring anyone else, don’t be late, and don’t forget to bring your paperwork with you.


Photo credit: Helena de Barros, “Victorian,”

Can I just say that one of my favorite parts of posting my blogs is finding random pictures on Flickr to illustrate them with?

Being paranoid, I left extra time to get downtown (I did NOT want this adventure to end with me being locked out for arriving late). I got there early, found the hotel, and found a nearby parking garage that only charged an arm instead of an arm and a leg. The semi-reasonable rate meant that there was only one parking spot left in the garage, on what the attendant called “the patio” in the back.

“It’s not covered,” he told me twice, anxiously. It was snowing, and I guess some people must be picky about that.

I didn’t care. As long as I got to my audition on time. So he gave me directions to “the patio,” which involved a steep, twisty entrance ramp not unlike Disneyland’s Matterhorn roller coaster, and a sharp turn onto what looked like the roof of another building. I drove there and parked. It was on the third floor, and I decided to take the stairs down (have to get my exercise), but I guess most people must take the elevator, because the creepy concrete stairwell wound all over the place and eventually disgorged me in a back alley littered with trash and graffiti. Yuck.

After regaining my bearings, I walked to the hotel entrance. I was about to go through the front door when I saw a sign on a stand to my right.

“Jeopardy! Contestants,” it said. “Auditions are located across the street in the ballroom.”

Oh. Why didn’t they just say that in their original email? And why was the hotel ballroom in a separate building across the street?

I felt (again) like I was in some kind of spy novel as I crossed the street and found the ballroom. There was another sign on the door:


Photo credit: JD Hancock,

“Jeopardy! Contestants: DO NOT ENTER until your scheduled appointment time. Please wait outside until you are called.”

There were a couple guys already there, standing under the entrance awning out of the snow, so I lined up behind them and waited.

While we were waiting, a pair of women walked by and glanced at the sign on the ballroom door.

“Jeopardy?” said one of them, stopping and looking at the first man in line. “Really? Are you trying out for the show?”

“Yeah,” said the guy, grinning like he couldn’t believe it either.

“Oh, my goodness, that’s amazing! You must be so smart!”

I sort of felt like a rock star.

By that time, a bunch more people had joined the line, and it was almost 11:30. The door opened and a man in a sports coat but no tie peeked around the door at us.

“Oh!” he said. “Come in, come in! You shouldn’t have to stand out here in the cold.”

We were ushered into a front room with chairs lined up against the walls and told to stay there until called for. I sat down and looked around. There was a decorative glass table in the middle of the room with a vase and one flower in it, and there was a little niche in the wall with a pitcher of water and some glasses. That was it. Sort of the “less is more” school of interior decorating. Looking around, I realized that I had imagined that we would be meeting in a normal hotel lobby, with couches, a check-in desk, and restrooms. Especially restrooms.

All of a sudden, I really, really needed a restroom; I always do when I’m nervous. Surely they would offer us a restroom before the test started, right? I couldn’t be the only one with a stress-activated bladder. I thought about sneaking off to find one, but the man’s instructions about staying put had been pretty clear, and I didn’t want to get disqualified. So I crossed my legs and soothed myself with the thought that there was probably a restroom in the place they were taking us to.

The room filled up gradually, until all the chairs were taken and the latecomers had to stand awkwardly in the corners. I was interested to note that there was only one other woman present, and only two African-American men; everybody else was a Caucasian male, ranging in age from twenties to (I would guess) sixties. Interesting. I wondered first why that was, and second if it gave me any kind of advantage. You know, since sometimes you’d like your game show to have people on it besides Caucasian males.

The very thought filled me with a sparkling new confidence. Up until then I had been terrified, and resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going any further, but now I felt a blossom of hope in my chest. I told myself sternly that it didn’t matter that I was a woman, that everybody had to pass the same tests, and if I didn’t pass I was going home just like everybody else. But the little blossom remained. I suddenly, and for the first time, thought, “I can DO this!”

Through an open archway to my left, we could see a bar along the wall in the next room where an employee was cleaning glasses. A guy near me with a hipster-style beard started joking that they should open up the bar for us, and someone else said, “Oh, yeah, because when I’m drunk I always remember my Shakespeare better.” Everybody laughed, and there was a camaraderie in the atmosphere that I hadn’t expected. But, after all, we weren’t really competing against each other; we were competing against the test itself.


Photo credit: Ryan Ruppe,

A tallish, thin man with stooping shoulders wearing a long-sleeved polo-necked shirt came into the room and smiled at us. He introduced himself as Gary, the casting director, and welcomed us to the tryout. The first order of business, he said, was to take a picture of each of us that would be attached to our audition paperwork so that he could remember who we all were. We stood up in a single-file line and had our pictures taken one person at a time against a blank wall. Gary was using a Polaroid-style camera, and when he was done with each of us he handed us a blank square of thick white instant film and sent us to stand over near the bar.

“I thought that they stopped making Polaroids,” said an older, bearded gentleman next to me, looking at his film as the picture gradually developed.

“They did,” I said, looking at the trademark stamped on mine. “This seems to be made by Fuji instead.”

“I wonder why they don’t use a digital camera?” someone else asked, which I had kind of been wondering, too.

The second casting director, a woman about my own age in a gray dress, started coming around and asking our names so that she could check us off on a list. I had a little tiny bit of a heart attack when she couldn’t find my name at first, but (I guess because of the email mix-up) I had just been added at the bottom and it was all good.

“Your name, sir?” she asked the older bearded man, smiling.

“Michael Banner,” he said.

“Not Bruce Banner, though, right?” she said with a laugh, checking him off the list. “You probably get that joke all the time.”

“Yes, I do,” he replied, “but not as much as my brother Bruce.”

I laughed, and he turned to me. “My brother is older than the comic book character, actually.” (That made me wonder how old he was, but I found out that the Incredible Hulk wasn’t created until 1962, unlike Superman, who was created in 1933. So he was probably in his sixties and not the World’s Oldest Jeopardy Contestant, which is what I thought originally).


Photo credit: GabboT,

Once we were all checked in, the second casting director said, “Now we’re all going to go into the room next door, where you’ll sit down, get some instructions, and then take a 50-question written test. Does anyone have any questions before we get started?”

Oh, yes, I had one. A VERY IMPORTANT question. I shot my hand up. “Will we have a chance to use the restroom first?”

There was some laughter, and also some nodding, and the casting director (whose name was Carina) pointed us to a far corner of the room we were headed into. I made a beeline for it.

The room we were headed into was (I assumed) the ballroom, and it was big, rectangular, and high-ceilinged, with tables and chairs set out in rows facing a big screen on the front wall. There was another table to one side of the screen that had laptops and a bunch of equipment on it, and sitting at the table was a youngish red-haired guy with big black plugs in his ears (the jewelry kind, not the kind you wear when you go swimming). He was pointing toward a door in the corner with a slow, repetitive gesture like a flight attendant.

“You look like a man who’s had to point out that door a lot,” I said as I passed him.

“Oh, yes,” he said, with the jaded look of someone who has been there for a day and a half already and wishes he was somewhere else.

The door led into a back hallway that was mostly concrete (but at least it was polished concrete, unlike the stairway in the parking garage), with exposed iron pipes running overhead. The hallway twisted and turned, with occasional unmarked doorways leading off to the right, and I thought again of my spy novel. Eventually I found the restroom, at the very back of the building.

Inside, the women’s restroom was just as twisty and turny as the hallway outside, and the stalls were set at strange angles to each other in order to cram as many toilets as possible into the space.

The building, I found out later, had originally been a bank, and when it had been renovated into a hotel ballroom, they had decided to put the restrooms where the vaults used to be. Someone with a sense of whimsy had decided to leave the original vault door as the door into the gents’ restroom, and so when I came out of the ladies’, I had to stop and take a picture. A couple ballroom employees came by while I was doing this and grinned at me, and I explained that I’d never seen a vault door on a bathroom before.


Here it is! Best bathroom door ever. Just don’t let it swing shut behind you.

The other woman at the tryout and a few men had made the trek to the restrooms with me, but because I stopped to indulge my love of silly pictures, I was the last one back to the ballroom. Everyone else was already sitting at the tables, writing something on pieces of paper in front of them, and I must have looked panicked because Carina said, “It’s OK—they’re just writing their names down.”

I found a seat at the front table, between Michael Banner and the guy who had made the comment about drunk Shakespeare recitation (whose name was Zach). There was a piece of paper in front of my chair with 50 numbered lines and a place at the top to put my name. There was also a fat pen with the Jeopardy logo on the side. The button on the end (the one you click to get the tip of the pen to retract) was big, red, and shaped like the signaling buttons on the show. Ha ha! Nice.

As I wrote my name down, Carina and Gary welcomed us to the audition again, and asked who was excited to be there. They were both very friendly, positive people who encouraged us throughout the tryout to cheer, clap for other contestants, and enjoy ourselves. The whole experience could have been very stressful (and there were definitely still moments of stress), but they made it fun and kept the atmosphere upbeat.

Before we took the test, we played a little warm-up game. A mock Jeopardy board, complete with categories and dollar amounts would appear on the screen at the front of the room, and someone would pick a category and amount. The question (or “answer,” in the parlance of Jeopardy) would appear on the screen, read on a recording by one of the members of the Jeopardy Clue Crew. Anyone who knew the answer was supposed to raise their hand, and Carina or Gary would call on someone to say the answer. You were supposed to speak in a loud, clear voice, and if you were correct you got to pick the next category and amount.

For me, this was the easiest part. I don’t know if I felt less pressure, or if I just happened to be more familiar with the subjects we got, but I felt like I was raising my hand three-quarters of the time. I got called on to answer once (“This city hosted the 2012 summer Olympics”), and I answered correctly. I even remembered to phrase my answer in the form of a question, which was part of what we were learning to do. It was super fun.

That part lasted maybe ten minutes, and then we took the written test. For the written test, we had 8 seconds (EIGHT SECONDS! Eek!) to answer each question, and we didn’t have to put “Who is” or “What is” before it—there wasn’t time. Carina and Gary stressed that we should put something down, even if we didn’t think it was right, and that we could get partial credit for a partially-right or misspelled answer.

Then we were off. Once again, the questions popped up on the screen at the front of the room, read by the Clue Crew. And once again, I found myself in my online test nightmare:

“Now-independent countries Togo, Cameroon, and Nauru were once colonies of this nation.”

“Uh…uh…I don’t know…pick somewhere…NETHERLANDS.”

“This single-named artist won song of the year at the 2002 Grammy Awards.”


(“No! No, you idiot! It’s Kanye WEST. That’s not a single name!” But it was too late, and I couldn’t think of anything to replace it with).

“This African river flows through parts of fifteen different countries, even though it is shorter than the Nile.”




Photo credit: Global Water Forum,

This is the Amazon River. It touches zero countries in Africa.

Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see both Michael and Zach scribbling industriously after each question. Were they getting all these questions right? How?!?

Halfway through the test, on question 24 (“This is the middle name of the author of ‘Two Years Before the Mast.’ “ARG!!! Who would know that????”), my pen started to run out of ink. I pressed harder with it, carving my hilariously wrong and random answer (STANLEY) into the very fibers of the paper.

What was I going to do? I couldn’t keep on writing with an empty pen and hoping they could read my primitive carving. I had a pen in my purse, but I was pretty sure that it wouldn’t look good for me to haul out my purse, complete with iPhone, onto the table during the test.

Wait…there was an empty space at other front table, the one on the far side of the middle aisle. If I carved my next answer into the paper and then jumped up really quick, maybe I could grab the pen from the empty space before the eight seconds were up.

I was tensing my legs to carry out this desperate plan when I looked up and caught Carina’s eye. With a panicked look on my face, I held up my dying pen, and Carina ran over with another one. THANK GOODNESS. It was bad enough that I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions—at least I wouldn’t have to explain why I was running across the room to get a different pen.

Less than seven minutes after it started, the test finished, and I threw my (new and working) pen down on the table in despair. I was sure I had gotten about ten questions right, and I was positive that I had gotten about ten so wrong that I would get disqualified just on principal (“We here at Jeopardy could not possibly allow you on the show after you wrote that the capital of South Sudan was St. Petersburg.”) I had no idea how I’d done on the other thirty. I’d written something down for every question, but I was not at all confident that my answers were right, or even on the same continent as the right answer.

(Since the test, I’ve found out that several of these answers were, in fact, completely wrong. I thought that the author of Doctor Zhivago might have been Tolstoy, but I was passing a bookstore in an airport the other day and saw that it was actually Boris Pasternak. Oops. On the other hand, I randomly guessed that the hibiscus was the state flower of Hawaii, and that turned out to be right. Hooray!).

Gary and Carina came by and picked up our tests so they could start grading them. Michael on my left asked Zach and me what we had written down for the last question (“Ecce Quam Bonum, the opening of Psalm 133, translates to this in English”), and I had miraculously gotten it right (“Behold How Good”), because that had been the motto of the university I attended. That made me feel a little tiny bit better.

“Ah,” said Michael. “I missed that one. Otherwise, I felt all right about this test, though not as good as I felt about the online exam. With the online exam, I think I only missed two.”

Ugh. I had definitely missed more than two on the online exam, and if I’d gotten even 30% on the test I had just taken, I was going to be surprised.

The three of us chatted while Gary and Carina finished grading, and then it was time for all of us to do a mock Jeopardy episode. Three people at a time got to go up to the table at the front of the room and play a five-minute game, complete with signaling devices. In fact, the first thing we got to do at the table was practice pushing the buttons on the signaling devices. If you’ve ever watched Jeopardy, you know that some people have a really hard time getting their buzzers to work, so this is not as random as it sounds.

There are, it turns out, two tricks to ringing in:

  1. You have to wait until Alex Trebek finishes reading the question all the way through. If you ring in too early, you get locked out for a second, giving your opponents a chance to ring in first.
  2. You can’t just press the button once. You have to mash it down over and over again like a frenzied kid in an elevator. This is because the buttons cancel each other out if two of the players push them at exactly the same time. You have to keep trying until one of you gets through.

So we got to play with the buzzers to make sure we knew how to use them. Then the screen at the front of the room changed to a Jeopardy board, categories, dollar amounts, and all, and we got to try out a very short game. Carina reminded everybody that they needed to talk loudly and clearly, and during the game she would (very nicely) let people know if they were too quiet. Then, after the game, Gary and Carina asked each person about themselves, like Alex does on the show, only longer; we had all had to put some interesting facts about ourselves on our audition applications.


Photo credit: Rex Roof,

I was in the third group to go up, so I went pretty early and didn’t have much time to get nervous. That was probably just as well, because even so it was like I had sawed open my skull, turned it upside down to let my brain fall out, and then scoured out the inside to make sure no little bits of brain were left behind. Anything I ever knew, I had forgotten. The things I did remember got blocked on their way from my head to my mouth, like salmon swimming upstream to spawn and smacking into Hoover Dam.

Let me give you some examples.

I have a Masters degree in English; English literature, specifically. So I was excited when an English literature category popped up on the screen. I asked for English literature for $200, and this question came up:

“This English writer is most well-known for Paradise Lost.”

Easy! It was Andrew Marvell! Wait, no—not Marvell. Oh, no! Somebody else! Somebody beginning with M. Who else started with M? Christopher Marlowe? A.A. Milne?? Edna St. Vincent Milay???

By that time, of course, the man next to me had rung in and correctly answered, “Who is John Milton?”

MILTON. How could I have forgotten that?


Photo credit:

This is John Milton. I was going to post a picture of Black Beauty (see below), but when you look for “black beauty” on Flickr, you don’t get pictures of the children’s book. Just to warn you.

Mentally kicking myself, I tried to refocus, and a little while later I rang in on “This escaped slave, known for his oratory and writing, became a leader in the abolitionist movement” and got the answer right (“Who is Frederick Douglass?”).

OK. I wasn’t a total moron. “English lit for $400, please,” I said.

“This 19th-century author wrote beloved children’s classic Black Beauty.”

I knew that! I had been crazy about horses and horse books as a kid, and I’d read Black Beauty several times. It was Anna Seward!

On the verge of ringing in, though, I froze, suddenly convinced that something was wrong. Was it really Anna Seward? That didn’t sound quite right…

The man on the end rang in. “Who is Anna Sewell?”

Anna SEWELL. Anna Seward was somebody different. I looked her up later and found out she was an 18th-century British poet, a fact I never could have told you if you’d asked, but whose name my brain had thoughtfully dredged up for me instead of the right one.

Gritting my teeth, I tried to concentrate, and after a few minutes I got called on to answer “This season is called Fruhling in German, primavera in Spanish, and printemps in French.”

“What is spring?” I said, and, since that was correct, I got to pick the next category.

“English lit for $600.” I was going to get this one right.

“This Bronte sister wrote Wuthering Heights.”

I mashed the button so hard that it’s a wonder I didn’t break my thumb. They called on me to answer. “Who is Charlotte?”

“No,” said Carina, kindly.

ARG! It was Emily Bronte who wrote Wuthering Heights, not Charlotte! ARG!!!!!

So I was 0 for 3 in English lit. I wasn’t sure whether it was a good thing or not that I’d at least hit the button on the third one.

On the other hand, Carina said that I had the perfect loud, clear voice, and that everyone else should try to speak exactly like that. Thank you, twenty years of teaching dance.

The game was over (they weren’t keeping score or anything, so there wasn’t a winner, thank goodness), and we got to put our buzzers down. Then it was time for the interview. That part was fun and laid back. It was basically just chatting with Gary and Carina, who were really nice and seemed interested in finding out more about us. They told me that I might be the first Irish dance teacher to ever try out for Jeopardy, and they asked me about my 40 adventures. Everybody in the room laughed when I told them about wrestling alligators. So that part was good.

I went back to my seat. Instead of dismissing us when we were done with the game, they asked us to stay and clap for the other competitors, which was great; it kept the atmosphere in the room positive and upbeat (it would have been awful for the last three competitors if everyone else had left). It was also interesting to me to hear the different questions and see if I knew the answers, to see how the other competitors reacted to the pressure, and to listen to the interviews.

Watching the other contestants play the game made me feel better, because a number of them looked like they were having the same recall problems I had experienced. My neighbor Michael, for instance (who I suspected had done much better than I had on the written exam), only answered one or two questions. More than half the people had trouble with speaking too quietly and had to be asked to speak up, and more than half of them looked really nervous the whole time. So, while I still wished I’d done better, I felt like I was at least in the same boat with everybody else.

The most interesting part was listening to the interviews. I liked hearing about what people did for a living, for instance. There were a number of teachers of various kinds and a lot of IT professionals, but there was also a guy who was the head maintenance man at a Catholic church, a bookstore manager (Michael), and a structural engineer (the other woman).

As I sat there listening, I also began to suspect that part of the purpose of the interviews was to weed out people who were too, um, loony for the show. It hadn’t even occurred to me that such weeding would be necessary, although it should have; having been exposed to lots of different artists and intelligent people from a young age, I’ve always known that genius and weirdness go hand-in-hand.

On Jeopardy, you see contestants from a wide variety of backgrounds, with a wide variety of personalities, and while you might end up liking some people more than others, they all seem decently normal and, you know, functional. Nobody seems like a conspiracy nut, for instance, or likely to start screaming cuss words at Alex Trebek. I’m guessing now that this sense of civilized normalcy is carefully cultivated by the casting directors, and I am in awe of their skill in, uh, picking out the nuts.

I mean, it’s got to be a fine line, when you’re interviewing a room full of smart people, to separate the merely eccentric from the awkwardly abnormal. In our group, to give you a couple examples, we had a man who collected movies (with nearly 4000 of them, largely in the Japanese horror genre–he was taking Japanese classes so he could watch them without subtitles), and a man who had won prizes in interactive fiction competitions (which are basically text-based video games). These two guys seemed interestingly quirky, not crazy.

There was another contestant, however, who set off my Nutjob-o-Meter in a big way, and I couldn’t have told you why he crossed the line and the others didn’t. But if I’d been the casting directors, I would have drawn a giant red X across his application and then shredded it, just to be safe.

In fact, he was so odd that I’m not even going to describe him, in case he somehow found my description of him and hunted me down or something.

(Although, since I’m an alligator-wrestling Irish dance teacher, maybe I shouldn’t be talking about other people being weird.)

The last question Gary and Carina asked each person was “What would you do if you won some money on Jeopardy?” I liked hearing everybody’s plans. One man said he’d take his kids to Disney World; another said that he and his father would see a baseball game at every major league park in North America. There were a ton of travel plans, and a couple people who would buy cars for themselves or others.

I said that I’d have more adventures, of course.

After the last group played their game, everybody sat back down for the wrap-up. Gary thanked us again for coming, and he told us that if we had passed the audition, our names would be put on a list of possible contestants for eighteen months. We weren’t allowed to take online Jeopardy tests during that time, but if we hadn’t been contacted after a year and a half, we could try again, and he hoped we would (there were actually two or three people there who were trying out for the second time). He answered some questions, and then our two-hour audition was over and everybody applauded.

The best part? We got a gift for participating: a pair of ear buds in a case with the Jeopardy logo (plus we got to keep our pens). What could be more perfect than to finish off my game show audition with a consolation prize?

I don’t expect to get invited to do the show. I’m pretty sure I didn’t pass the written exam, and I don’t think I wowed anybody with my stellar game play. On the other hand, I didn’t make a complete fool of myself, and I had a blast. And now I know what to expect if–WHEN–I make it back to another audition a few years down the road.

Because you know I haven’t given up on that dream just yet.

Fancy vs Lazy Recipe: Hummus

Fancy Hummus

Fancy Hummus

2 cups dry chickpeas*

¼ cup tahini

Juice of 1 lemon

1 large clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


*For authentic hummus, DO NOT use canned chickpeas. Only lazy Americans use canned chickpeas.


  1. Put the chickpeas in a large pot and fill the pot completely with warm water. Let soak overnight.


  1. In the morning, drain the chickpeas in a colander and rinse with cold water.


  1. Put the chickpeas in a different large pot and fill the pot completely with water. Boil the chickpeas, uncovered, for 90 minutes.


  1. Reserve some of the cooking water for thinning the hummus later. Drain the chickpeas in a colander and rinse again with cold water.


  1. Rub the chickpeas as you rinse them to remove the outer skin. Discard this skin. Using chickpeas with the skins on will give your hummus an unpleasant texture.


  1. Put the tahini and lemon juice into a food processor and blend until smooth.


  1. Now add the chickpeas, salt, garlic, and olive oil, and pulse the food processor 3 or 4 times, or until the mixture has a creamy consistency.


  1. If the mixture is too thick, add some reserved cooking water 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse the mixture again, until the desired consistency is reached.


  1. Serve on a shallow platter with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of paprika. Eat with flatbread that you’ve purchased that day from a local Middle Eastern market.



Servings: a bunch


Prep time: 8 hours of soaking the chickpeas, which isn’t so bad because you’re asleep while that happens, then like 20 minutes of peeling the skins off the darn chickpeas, and another 10 or so pouring things into the food processor and pressing the pulse button. And then you’ll have to wash all the dishes, including not only the food processor, but also two pots and a colander.


Cook time: 90 minutes, but you don’t have to do anything during that time, so it could be worse.


Overall appropriateness for Lazy Chefs: Meh. Seriously, I feel like having slightly grainy hummus is worth not having to peel the skins off of every single frickin’ chickpea.




Lazy Hummus


1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained*

¼ cup tahini**

Juice of 1 lemon***

1 clove garlic

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup water


*Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are usually in the aisle with the beans at the grocery store.


**Tahini is roasted sesame seed paste. It looks kind of like very liquidy peanut butter. My grocery store has it, and since my grocery store is the most bare-bones, unfancy grocery store ever, your grocery store probably has it, too. At my grocery store, it’s in the kosher food section, since that’s where they stick everything Middle Eastern.


***If you want to be really lazy, you can buy lemon juice in a bottle instead of squeezing your own lemon. In that case, use 3 tablespoons of juice.


  1. Put the garlic in your food processor or blender and pulse a few times. Many recipes call for you to chop up the garlic before putting it in the food processor. This is silly. That is what the blades in the food processor are for.


  1. Plop all the rest of the ingredients in the food processor. Hit blend.


  1. Let the food processor run for about thirty seconds, until everything is smooth. Ta-da!



Servings: a bunch


Prep time: maybe 10 minutes. The biggest chunk of time for me is trying to scrape the last bit of hummus out of the food processor.


Cook time: none!


Overall appropriateness for Lazy Chefs: Great! It’s easy, it’s healthy, and it tastes good. Hooray!


Fancy vs Lazy Recipe: Pesto

Fancy Pesto


2 cups young, small Genovese basil leaves from a farmer’s market

½ cup extra virgin olive oil imported from Italy

3 garlic cloves from a fresh bulb, peeled just before making the pesto

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup pine nuts imported from Sicily

½ cup high-quality Parmigiano Reggiano cheese imported from Italy that you have only just grated


  1. Pluck the basil leaves from the stems and throw the stems away. Wash the leaves in cold water. Dry them thoroughly by placing them between two layers of paper towel and pressing gently.


  1. Place the garlic cloves and a pinch of salt in a mortar and crush them with a pestle. Add the basil leaves and crush with light, circular movements of the pestle. Add the pine nuts, cheese, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and continue to pound the mixture, adding olive oil from time to time, until a creamy paste is formed.


  1. Once this process is started, you must finish making the pesto within 30 minutes or the basil will darken and the sauce will be ruined.


  1. Toss with pasta and serve immediately. Pesto will not keep, so you must eat it all right away.


Servings: enough pesto to adequately cover 6-8 portions of pasta.


Prep time: 30 minutes of constant work (plus you’ll need to go out and get yourself a mortar and pestle, because if you’re reading this blog, I’m betting you don’t have one already).


Overall appropriateness for Lazy Chefs: You Have Got To Be Kidding. Sorry, Fancy Pesto—you lost me at “mortar and pestle.”




Lazy Pesto



2 cups basil leaves, which you can get in the produce section of your supermarket

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup shredded parmesan cheese*


*the shredded stuff tastes better in the sauce than the grated stuff, so it’s definitely worth getting the shredded.


You might notice that I didn’t list pine nuts. Pesto traditionally has pine nuts, but they’re expensive and add a lot of calories and fat without (I find) adding a lot of flavor, so I leave them out.



  1. Rinse the basil leaves, then pull the leaves off the stems and throw the stems away. I never bother to dry them, which means that there’s a little water in the sauce. That’s a big no-no for Real Chefs, but an acceptable compromise for Lazy Chefs.


  1. I also once tried leaving the leaves on the stems and just putting the whole kit and caboodle in the food processor, but that didn’t turn out well. Definitely take the time to pull the leaves off.


  1. Put the garlic in a food processor (or a blender if you don’t have a food processor) and pulse until the garlic is chopped up. Some recipes call for you to chop the garlic before putting it in the food processor. That’s crazy talk. The blades in the food processor chop up the garlic just fine.


  1. Add the basil leaves and salt and run the food processor until all the leaves have been chopped up.


  1. Add the cheese and pulse a few times.


  1. Now scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the olive oil. Pulse the food processor a few more times until everything is well blended.


  1. You can now use the sauce on pasta, bread, rice, etc. It tastes best within a day or two of making it (but I’ve also refrigerated mine for most of a week).


  1. This recipe makes a pretty dry sauce. You can add more olive oil to make the sauce creamier if you want; just be aware that olive oil has 119 calories and 13.5 grams of fat per tablespoon and make sure you pay attention to how much you’re using.


Servings: a bunch


Prep time: 10ish minutes. The biggest chunk of time will be pulling the basil leaves off the stems, and then getting all the sauce out of your food processor.


Overall appropriateness for Lazy Chefs: Good! Find someone else to pull the basil leaves off the stems and you can upgrade the recipe to Great.




Adventure #9–Water Walkerz

Originally written 12/31/2014.

All photos from Flickr used in accordance with the Creative Commons license:


Photo credit:


This really should have been Adventure #6, since it happened before my fishing adventure, but since I never got my act together to write about it, it gets to be #9 instead.

At the end of August, my sister and I had a meeting on the west side of town, and it went so fast that we had several hours of free time before we had to be anywhere else.

“Let’s go to Heritage Square!” she said. “You can use it as an adventure!”

Well, I’m never going to say no to an adventure, so off we went.


Photo credit: Bradley Gordon,

Heritage Square is a…hmm. I’m not exactly sure what to call it. It’s kind of like an amusement park, since it has rides and games, but all the different rides and games are owned and operated independently by different companies, and you pay for each ride separately (there’s no fee to get in to Heritage Square itself). The rides and games tend to be more of the traveling festival type, mostly kid-sized and with an air of being able to pack up quickly to move on to the next town, even though they’re installed permanently at the site.

There are shops in buildings designed to look like 19th-century houses along a pretend Main Street, so it’s also kind of like an outdoor mall. You can get all kinds of souvenirs and tacky gifts, plus candy, fake tattoos, and those Old Western black and white photos of you looking awkward dressed as a can-can girl. The houses are cute, painted in pastel colors and roughly three-quarters size so that the whole Main Street has the feeling of a doll village, but most of the shops are empty. When you’re there on a weekday morning when school is back in session and almost no one is there, it feels like embarrassingly like a ghost town. All it needs are tumbleweeds blowing down the street.


Photo credit: Don Graham, “Shaniko Ghost Town”, 

This is a real ghost town, not Heritage Square on a weekday morning.

One of the main attractions of Heritage Square is its theater, which puts on tongue-in-cheek parody-style musicals all year long. I’ve been to two different productions and enjoyed both. One of the times I went was a dinner-theater-style event, with dinner first in the theater’s small restaurant and the play afterward; one of the times was just the play. The musicals are fun and the actors enthusiastic about their work.

The other main attraction is the Alpine Slide, where you ride a gondola up the side of the mountain to the top and then ride a tiny sled back down a winding concrete ramp set into the hillside at a frightening angle. Adults can ride alone, or share a sled with a child. There are two different slides: one is basically the “slow lane,” for people who are terrified and riding the primitive brake all the way down (that’s me), and the other is the “fast lane,” for maniacs who just ignore the brake altogether and fly down the course at speeds that would get them pulled over on the highway. With both, people sometimes flip their sleds, either by applying the brake too suddenly, going too fast around a corner, or careening into the slow person in front of them. If you flip, you get a nice piece of road rash as a souvenir.


Photo credit: Charles Willgren,

These girls are in the fast lane. I would be on the other side, crawling along with my eyes shut.

So Heritage Square is an amusement park/traveling festival/outdoor mall/theater/doll village/ghost town. Its website calls it a “Family Entertainment Village,” and I guess that’s as good a description as any.

Both my sister and I had been to Heritage Square before, so we skipped the tacky souvenirs and the Alpine Slide and headed to a newer attraction, the Water Walkerz. My sister was especially excited to try these out. Water Walkerz are giant inflatable balls, like clear beach balls, that you get inside so you can run around in a swimming pool. The pictures on the website showed kids and teenagers rolling around on top of the water with happy smiles, for all the world like hamsters in plastic balls.


Photo credit: Martin Thomas, “Gizmo Unleashed,”

The website had this to say about the attraction:

Have you ever wanted to feel like you could walk on water? Now you can! Jump inside the giant Water Walkerz bubbles and create an unreal experience of actually being able to walk on top of water! Experience the ripples beneath you in your quest to stand up, run around, and conquer this incredible interactive attraction. Nothing compares to the excitement of being able to glide across Waves!

It sounded super fun.

The Water Walkerz turned out to be in a new part of Heritage Square called Miner’s Maze, with several other different attractions and games. Everything had an old mining town theme, with weathered boards, rickety-looking facades, and signs designed to look hand-painted. The ticket booth, where we went first, was in a little wooden building like a shack, and a sign with a  cartoon miner on it held his hand up to show the minimum height for some of the attractions.


Photo credit: Bill Debevc, “Oro Wash Miners House,”

Like this, but with tickets and a bored teenage clerk.

We bought our tickets and then looked around for the Water Walkerz. On the website, the pictures made it look like the kids were rolling around in a swimming pool, but we didn’t see a big swimming pool anywhere. All we saw was a kiddie-pool-type thing. It was maybe twenty feet on a side and two feet high, its edges covered by blue plastic trash bag material. In front, there was a wooden platform with a couple steps leading up to it. The top of the platform and the pavement in front of it was covered with Astroturf.

Inside the kiddie pool were five or six inflatable balls in three different translucent colors, like giant balloons. They filled up pretty much the whole pool.


“I think that’s it,” my sister said.

She did not seem disappointed. I, on the other hand, felt cheated. How was I supposed to run free like a hamster in a twenty-by-twenty kiddie pool?

But, what the hey, we were there and we’d paid for our tickets. We went over to the Astroturf and joined the line of small children waiting to get in.

I noticed, looking around, that we were the only adults in line. There were other adults standing around the wooden perimeter fence taking pictures of their kids, but everybody else in line was under the age of ten. It made me feel a little awkward.

Oh, well. Nothing said that the Water Walkerz were only for kids, and the weight limit was 250 pounds, so I guessed it was OK.

As we waited, I watched the kids in front of us to see what to do. The ride operator, a twenty-something man with a scruffy beard who looked like his job had sucked out his will to live, dragged one of the colored globes out of the pool and onto the Astroturf-covered platform. “Please sit still while I roll you into position,” he said to the kid in the globe in a despondent monotone. He moved the ball forward until a long, black zippered line—the entrance, I guessed (for lack of a better word)—was close to the platform, and then he unzipped it. All the air gushed out and the ball deflated, and the kid inside squirmed out onto the Astroturf, smiling and laughing.


This is my sister, smiling and laughing as she squirms out a little later on.

The next kid in line had already taken her shoes off and put them on a shelf to the side of the waiting area. She went up the stairs to the platform, handed her ticket to the operator, and crawled inside the deflated ball. The operator (looking like he’d rather chuck himself into the pool screaming, “Goodbye, cruel world!”) zipped the entrance mostly shut and then put a big hose into the remaining opening, inflating the ball with an air compressor that stood nearby. When the globe was inflated, he zipped the entrance all the way shut and rolled the ball into the pool before grabbing the next globe that was due to come out.


Here is my sister enjoying getting her globe inflated. I love the expression on her face.

I’d thought that there would be a timer that let you know how long you got to stay in, but there wasn’t a timer per se. The operator just pulled out the globes in the same order he put them in, putting one in and then pulling out the next one over and over and over. No wonder he looked like he hated his life.

With five balls in the pool and a few minutes per ball to exchange riders, it basically meant that everybody got to stay in fifteen to twenty minutes, which seemed reasonable, given that the tickets had only been a couple bucks.

It also meant that the line moved pretty quickly. Soon it was my sister’s turn to get in, and then mine. I stepped up onto the platform and handed the operator my ticket, saying, “Hello!” and smiling at him. I felt like he could use a little friendliness in his day. I wasn’t sure how well it would go over, but he smiled back, which made me feel good.

I got down and my hands and knees and crawled into the deflated globe (mine was blue). It was not a very dignified entrance, and I was glad that my sister had not caught it on camera. The inside of the ball was slightly damp and had the same vinyl-plasticky smell as new shower curtains—mmm! It was interesting sitting inside while the globe inflated, like being inside a balloon while it was being blown up. The inflation only took a minute or so, and then the operator zipped the entrance shut.


Me in my vinyl cocoon, awaiting inflation.

I had figured that I wouldn’t be able to hear anything inside the ball once it was zipped closed, but that wasn’t the case. I could hear the operator talking to me and kids screaming on nearby rides and everything, but the sounds seemed to come from oddly far away. It was exactly like in a cartoon when characters are underwater.

The operator rolled me into the kiddie pool, saying, “Have fun!”, and I was off. Instantly, I discovered a few things:

  1. My fantasy of being a hamster in a hamster ball was not going to happen.

If you’ve ever seen a hamster in a ball, you know how they do it: they stand up, put their little front legs up on the side of the ball, and then run, propelling the ball forward at a great rate of speed. My cats always loved watching the little guys zip around the living room when I had hamsters as a kid.

With that in mind, I stood up and put my hands on the front wall—and then promptly fell over. I don’t know whether it’s the instability of the water underneath your feet or what, but it is next to impossible to stand up in a Water Walker. For the next several minutes, I used every balance trick I knew to try to get on my feet and stay there, only to find myself falling on my butt, my face, and my head over and over again.


Here is my sister going through the same process. The kid in the pink ball on the right is on her feet and looks like she’s running, but it’s an illusion. A second later she falls down, too.

At least it didn’t hurt to fall. It was actually kind of fun, like being in a bouncy castle.

Eventually, I did manage to get on my feet and stay there for about a minute, walking forward with my feet and hands, and that’s when I discovered the next thing.

  1. It didn’t matter that we were in a tiny pool, because you go nowhere fast in a Water Walker.

Even on my feet, doing exactly what I’d seen my hamsters do, the Water Walker hardly moved at all. Again, I’m sure it’s something that a physicist could explain, but I was flummoxed. Why wasn’t I flying all over the surface of the kiddie pool, bouncing ten-year-olds out of my way? I wasn’t flying. I was barely even crawling, and the far wall of the pool continued to look as distant as the Great Wall of China.

Discouraged, I threw myself back down on the floor of the globe, bouncing on my stomach. I don’t know why, but I wanted to get to that far wall as though it were the summit of Mt. Everest or something. I was NOT going to let this Water Walker and its bizarre physics defeat me.

So I rolled like a log to my right, rolling the ball with me. The ball finally started to move, although its progress could be measured in inches per hour. After what seemed like an eternity, I bumped into the blue plastic side of the pool.


Here I am, crawling toward the far wall. To dream the impossible dream…

Success! Sir Edmund Hilary would be proud. Too bad I was too dizzy to enjoy it. That’s when I realized the third thing.

  1. A lack of oxygen makes it hard to get excited about stuff.

While my sister and I had been waiting in line, I’d noticed that the kids were not enjoying the Water Walkerz the way I intended to; they were not running around like hamsters. Instead, the kids had mostly been bouncing inside the balls, falling down, and then just laying there. Were they lazy or what?

No, I discovered when it was my turn. They were running out of oxygen.

I didn’t start choking or anything like that. I could still breathe fine. But after about ten minutes, I just didn’t feel like bouncing or rolling or standing up anymore. Part of it was the difficulty of moving the globe—it didn’t feel worth the effort if you couldn’t go fast enough to play bumper cars with the other Wakerz—but part of it was definitely a low oxygen content inside the bubble.


My sister has reached the “I’m just going to sit here and enjoy my oxygen deprivation chamber” stage.

So I lay down. It was comfortable there, like a water bed, and the underwater-type-sound made me feel far away from the outside world and free from cares.

I was still lying there when the operator came over to drag me out.


My sister getting dragged out. Doesn’t she look like a princess riding in one of those palanquin things?

The exit process was interesting. The operator pulled me near the platform, and then I had to help him by crawling to a specific place so that the zipper was where he could reach it. He hauled me out onto the Astroturf and unzipped the entrance, and oxygen and sound rushed back into my world as the vinyl bubble collapsed (lightly) on top of me.

I crawled out, feeling like a victim in a horror movie who has somehow managed to kill the Vinyl Blob and is now escaping from its blasted corpse. Or maybe like a baby Vinyl Dragon bursting from its translucent blue egg. Either way, not a very dignified exit. I freed myself and stood up, thanking the operator, who grinned and asked if I’d had fun. At the very least, I felt like I’d brightened his day.


Sweet, sweet oxygen!

So that was my first Water Walkerz experience. I think it will probably be my last; one of those floating loungers goes about the same speed and doesn’t involve oxygen deprivation or a feeling of car sickness. “Nothing compares to the excitement of being able to glide across the waves?” Whoever wrote that on the Water Walkerz website should be stuffed into one of their own globes, dragged out to sea, and forced to try to make it back to shore.

However, on the Water Walkerz website there is a picture of people rolling around in them on the grass. Can you go fast in one of them if it’s on dry land, I wonder? If so, sign me up for my next adventure.