Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mollie - the new addition

Originally uploaded by lsoderman
Finally got Mollie to sit still for a picture!

Mollie has this uncanny knack of being able to tell when her picture is about to be taken. As soon as you get her in focus, she gets up and moves. Somehow, she managed to stay put this time. I think she was really pooped and wasn't going to get up for anything.

She's a sweet dog with very soft fur. She had all the fur cut back right after we got her, and it's starting to grow in. She has a very light tan fur undercoat, but the longer hairs are black and gray, so she's starting to darken up.

She's been doing very well at home, but had a bit of trouble back at Melissa's folks house with their dogs, which got Mollie uninvited for future visits. We'll see how THAT goes.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Goodbye is the saddest word

I'm new at these post, so bear with me. Leo is the one who has a gift for writing. He has always 'bugged' me to write on here, but I just never felt I could put into words what I'm thinking. I still don't think I can, but I figured I'd give it a shot.

Leo wrote a post on the 6th talking about Maggie and how saying good-bye is never easy. Last night, we had to say our final good-bye to Maggie. No matter how much we plan things out, God always has the final word. I had hoped to let Maggie be put to sleep at the house, surrounded by family. She had been going to the vets every week for the past 6-10 months. I just wanted the final time to be in a calming environment when she drew her last breath on Friday morning. But, God had other plans.

Maggie had deteriorated quickly over the past 3 days. By Wednesday morning, she was no longer able to stand on her own. I know she was frustrated because she was me. She wanted to do it on her own. I took her out to go potty, but she couldn't go. On Thursday morning I woke to find that she had soiled her bed. I know how humiliated and frustrated she must have been, as she had tried to move off her bed. I cleaned her up and gave her lots of kisses. For the rest of the day she would have potty accidents, and each time I would clean her up and give her lots of kisses. She never once cried out in pain, but rather in frustration because she was alert and knew that she wasn't able to do what she needed to do.

As night came, I had a few people over to the house...Paul, her 'poppy' for many years, "Auntie" Amy who lived with us for a while and gave her a lot of TLC, and Lynne...Maggie's guardian angel, who came over each day at noon to give her medicine. After everyone left, my parents, Leo, Oliver & Sippi (the other dogs), and I....carrying Maggie, went to sit on the porch. We talked and laughed about her past antics. We were happy, even though we knew what was to come the next morning....but God had other plans.

As we were sitting there, Maggie started twitching like she does when she's in a deep sleep. However, this escalated into something like never before. She started seizing....hard and violent. I just held and comforted her. By the time it was done, she was spent. With her tongue hanging out and my urine soaked pants, I knew it was time for that final good-bye. I called Dr. Chinn and made arrangements to meet at the vet office. I went to change my pants while my mom sat with Maggie on the ottoman. When I came out Maggie started howling in a way that I can't describe. It was one of pain, frustration, and fear all rolled into one.

We loaded up the Hummer, with Leo driving, my parents in the car, and Maggie and me in the very back. That 15 minute drive was the longest, most heart wrenching drive of my life. Her howling echoing throughout the car, breaking my heart a little more each time. Feeling guilty because I wanted to wait until Friday and now here she was in pain and terrified of what she was feeling...or not feeling. As we arrived at the vets, we had to wait a few minutes for the doctor to arrive. Seeing Maggie laying on her side, no control of her bowels, and the tip of her tongue dried because she hadn't been able to put it back into her mouth was...can't think of a word, but I kept telling her it would be over shortly and she would be free of pain.

Once the doctor arrived, I carried her back to the place she hated to visit...the prep room. As the doctor prepared the sedation medicine and euthanasia medicine, we comforted her, telling her how loved she was. She had a hard time seeing, but her sense of smell was still powerful. When I moved away to sign the final papers, she began howling again. I put my hand over her snout and that immediately calmed her. I didn't move that hand until the very end. I had always told her I would be the last face she ever saw, and I kept that promise. At 10:10, she was gone. She was in a better place, free of pain, and able to play like she used to. We stayed with her while Dr. Chinn prepared the rest of the paperwork, and when it came time to put her in the bag, I was there to help. She will be cremated and her ashes will be kept with me, spreading some in Wyoming on the land she loved to run, chasing rabbits and getting sprayed by skunks.

Good-bye Magnolia, Pooh Bear, Pookie Bear, Maggie May...the list is long. She touched so many lives and I can say with certainty, she put a smile on everyone's face. She is something special and who ever she is with now, is so lucky to have her by their side! Thank you for being a part of my life and I love you SO much!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Saying Goodbye

I've always wanted a dog. My mom didn't like them. My dad would tolerate them, but wasn't a huge fan. My ex-wife is afraid of them. So I haven't really had a dog of my own.

When I met Melissa and the pups, I finally was able to have dogs. Sort of. Let's face it, they're Melissa's pooches. I'm just getting to know them.

Maggie is the older of the two. Melissa found Maggie in a Mississippi truck stop, abandoned as a pup. Ever since, they have been companions. Maggie has been there for Melissa through tough times and good times, always a gentle, calm, loving friend.

I liked Maggie and Oliver as soon as I met them. Oliver's the younger, excitable pup who wants to play every time you walk in the door. Maggie, on the other hand, has a sweet, lovable demeanor, happy to just get a scratch or some attention, but who occasionally would join in Oliver's games, chasing him around the house until she was gassed.

But Maggie's an older pup, and her health has slowly been failing over the last 18 months. About this time last year, we took Maggie with us to California to visit the beach for the first time in her life. She has a great time romping around the sand. At that time, we didn't think she'd make it to the end of the year.

She surprised us, and for a while, she seemed to be getting better. But in the last few months, her health has taken a turn for the worse. Maggie's health has been progressively deteriorating, with her liver and kidneys starting to fail and arthritis making her hips weak and making it hard for her to manage the stairs in the house.

Melissa has done everything she can, from medications to acupuncture. We've even given given her fluids by way of a subcutaneous needle multiple times a week. I developed a knack for getting the needle in the right spot for a quick drip. And Maggie tolerated all of it. Yes, sometimes she would hide in the bedroom when it was time for the drip, or head downstairs when Melissa was ready to give Maggie her meds. But she never lost her sweet disposition, and she seemed to understand that it was all being done to take care of her.

In the end, it's not enough. Melissa had told the vet to let her know when it was time, when Maggie was in enough pain or discomfort that it would be wrong to keep going. Last week, Dr. Chin said "It's time." Melissa had to make the difficult decision to put Maggie down. On this coming Friday, Maggie's vet will come to the house to euthanize Maggie at home, in a place where she's comfortable, around family. Melissa's folks will be here to say goodbye. Over the past few days, Maggie has been going around to friends' houses to say goodbye. In a few more, the rest of us will say goodbye as well.

When I started this blog, I picked a name that I thought was fitting to our lives. With two pups, Carolyn and Melissa, the name was pretty simple. I don't think I'll change it. Even in the short time I've known her, Maggie has been an integral part of our lives as a family, and I think it would be appropriate to leave it as is.

I took the picture above this morning at the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign. As usual, she put up with us posing her, getting her in the right position for the shot, still as sweet as ever.

I always wanted a dog. I'm glad I got to know Maggie.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

To all of our friends, I thought I'd send this little St. Patty's day wish.

This is the second year in a row that I have been able to get a picture of Carolyn with Brian, the guy who dresses up like a leprechaun at O'Sheas. He's a great guy, and fun to be around.

To commemorate the day, I thought I'd share a couple of Irish Blessings... and a joke or two:

May you be half an hour in Heaven
Before the Devil knows you're dead.

Jimmy-Joe finds a Genie lamp and rubs it. Out comes the Genie and asks "Master you have released me from the lamp and I grant you three wishes, what would you like"

Jimmy-Joe scratches his head, then answers "A bottle of Guinness that never gets empty. "Granted master" retorted the Genie and produced the bottle. Jimmy-Joe was delighted and got drunk on this one magic Guinness bottle for weeks then he remembered that he had two other wishes. He rubbed the lamp again and the Genie appeared. "Yes master, you have two more wishes, what would you like?" "You know that magic, never ending Guinness bottle" he asks the Genies. "Well, for my final two wishes, I'd like another two of them"

Whenever there is happiness
Hope you'll be there too,
Wherever there are friendly smiles
Hope they'll smile on you,
Whenever there is sunshine,
Hope it shine especially
For you to make each day for you
As bright as it can be.

Joey-Jim was tooling along the road one fine day when the local policeman, a friend of his, pulled him over. "What's wrong, Seamus?" Joey-Jim asked. "Well didn't ya know, Joey-Jim, that your wife fell out of the car about five miles back?" said Seamus. "Ah, praise the Almighty!" he replied with relief. "I thought I'd gone deaf!"

May your pockets be heavy-
Your heart be light
And may good luck pursue you
Each morning and night

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Copyright 2008 Soderman Consulting

Last weekend, I attended a mandated seminar by the county on parenting through a divorce. Appropriately, these are called COPE classes. These classes are mandatory for anyone divorcing who has a child that will be affected by the divorce.

So here I was, on a warm Saturday morning, sitting in the lecture hall of a library waiting for the seminar to start. Around me were individuals of differing ages, from both genders. Some looked relieved to be there, others like they were being held at gunpoint.

I was surprised by how many people there were in attendance. I don't know if this class was typical, but there were 30-40 people in attendance. This means 30-40 families and at least as many kids were being affected by divorce. They hold this class multiple times each week. Over the course of the month, this means hundreds of families touched by the end of a marriage.

The class was administered by two professionals in social work and psychology, both of whom have also been divorced, and have helped hundreds - if not thousands - of others through the over 15-year-old program.

The stats are staggering. Over 50% divorce rate in the US, many of which involve children. So much so that if current trends continue, single parent homes will surpass the number of two-parent homes. And those kids are what the COPE program is all about.

Their focus, from start to finish, is on the kids. According to their statistics, divorce only really had a lasting effect on 20% of the kids involved. But how do you know your kid is in the 80% unaffected?

You don't. And that's the point of the seminar. You may not see the signs of how they are affected for years. In fact, some folks may not manifest the signs until well into adulthood, when relationships of their own suffer. Such is the legacy of divorce on a child. So the class is designed to help you understand how a child might be affected, what signs to look for, and how to minimize the negative effects of divorce on your kids.

Many jurisdictions now make this type of seminar mandatory, and all should. The information is valuable and a vital to helping us raise our children in a healthy manner in spite of a divorce. But they should go further. The coping skills required are difficult to learn in such an emotional charged and painful situation. They should mandate the adults go through such a seminar to deal with each other in this situation. Many folks go into divorce looking not to separate from their spouse, but to punish them. The only ones that win are the attorneys.

Parents who are considering divorce should really attend one of these classes, whether mandated or not. You don't need to go together, but you should go. These classes, and the great folks that run them, will help you get through one of the most traumatic experiences anyone can go through, and come out ok on the other side. Tags: ,,,,


Technorati Tags: ,,,,

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rock Lobster

Rock Lobster Montage by Jahdakine One way I've made the morning commute more interesting is to put some songs on my iPod that Carolyn might like. I figured this would be an easy and fun way to pass the time. The playlist is Carolyn Fun, and it has a wide variety of music. For example, I found an old harmonica of mine and gave it to her, and now she can (basically) play Billy Joel's "Piano Man". She's darned close on the chorus, and it's a hoot to listen to her play along.

Her next conquest - to my surprise, was "Rock Lobster" by the B52s. She not only has most of the lyrics down, but the sound effects as well. When they say "in flew a sea robin", she follows it with the requisite "lalalalalala". And she gets a kick out of the "bakin' potatoes, bakin' in the sun" line.

Other faves include Smashmouth's "AllStar" (it was featured in Shrek), "Cuban Pete" by Desi Arnaz, and "Banana Boat Song" by Harry Belafonte. Of course, she gets on one and I have to play it two or three times before we get to school, but it just makes for a happier trip.

If you've got a fair commute each morning, try coming up with your own set of faves to get your energy up. It's hard to listen to Rock Lobster without at least tapping your feet!

"Look out for that piranha!"

(By the way, click on the fun image above. If you know the song, you'll find the images perfect!)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Something Interesting While Googling

I was putting together a bio for myself, for a freelance writing application. I was looking to see the earliest reference I could find of myself on the 'Net (1994 , if you're curious), when I came across an interesting hit.

Apparently, there's a ship in the US fleet named the Soderman, a Large, Medium-Speed, Roll-on, Roll-Off ship used for transporting an Army Armor Task Force including 58 tanks, 48 other track vehicles and more than 900 trucks and other wheeled vehicles. Basically, it's a converted supercargo ship.

It's named after US Army Private First Class William A. Soderman. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for risking his life to save others during World War II. This intrigued me, so I decided to do a little more digging. This is what his citation reads:

Armed with a bazooka, he defended a key road junction near Rocherath, Belgium, on 17 December 1944, during the German Ardennes counteroffensive.

After a heavy artillery barrage had wounded and forced the withdrawal of his assistant, he heard enemy tanks approaching the position where he calmly waited in the gathering darkness of early evening until the 5 Mark V tanks which made up the hostile force were within pointblank range. He then stood up, completely disregarding the firepower that could be brought to bear upon him, and launched a rocket into the lead tank, setting it afire and forcing its crew to abandon it as the other tanks pressed on before Pfc. Soderman could reload.

The daring bazookaman remained at his post all night under severe artillery, mortar, and machinegun fire, awaiting the next onslaught, which was made shortly after dawn by 5 more tanks. Running along a ditch to meet them, he reached an advantageous point and there leaped to the road in full view of the tank gunners, deliberately aimed his weapon and disabled the lead tank. The other vehicles, thwarted by a deep ditch in their attempt to go around the crippled machine, withdrew.

While returning to his post Pfc. Soderman, braving heavy fire to attack an enemy infantry platoon from close range, killed at least 3 Germans and wounded several others with a round from his bazooka. By this time, enemy pressure had made Company K's position untenable. Orders were issued for withdrawal to an assembly area, where Pfc. Soderman was located when he once more heard enemy tanks approaching. Knowing that elements of the company had not completed their disengaging maneuver and were consequently extremely vulnerable to an armored attack, he hurried from his comparatively safe position to meet the tanks.

Once more he disabled the lead tank with a single rocket, his last; but before he could reach cover, machinegun bullets from the tank ripped into his right shoulder. Unarmed and seriously wounded he dragged himself along a ditch to the American lines and was evacuated.

Through his unfaltering courage against overwhelming odds, Pfc. Soderman contributed in great measure to the defense of Rocherath, exhibiting to a superlative degree the intrepidity and heroism with which American soldiers met and smashed the savage power of the last great German offensive.
To me, this sounds like movie stuff. The guy stood up to a tank not once, not twice, but three times. It really reads like a movie script.

It's quite possible that he is related. And if so, it's an honor.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Good Laugh...

Baby's First ROFL - More amazing videos are a click away
Baby's First ROFL I was stumbling around tonight for one more to thing to write about before going to bed and came across this. I defy you not to laugh along with this kid. He has one of the most infectious laughs I have heard in a long time. If you aren't grinning from ear to ear by the time this video finishes, you either have no heart, or you're Dick Cheney. Which, come to think of it, is redundant.

Watch the video, giggle along, and smile.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Friday, January 25, 2008

Adventures in Roadtripping, Vol. 5 - Heading Home

We woke up on Thursday morning to find it snowing - and to a phone call from Melissa's dad telling us we should get on the road.

It didn't look bad from the hotel window, but we fired up Google Earth and could see the storm was big and moving down from Montana. We got packed up, got everything ready to go, and I started moving bags out to the car. That's when I saw what we couldn't see from the hotel window - It had already dropped 1.5-2 inches of snow.

While Melissa got Carolyn and the bags ready, I made the trips out to the car, brushing off the powder and loading up the back. We checked out of the hotel, and headed over to Melissa's folks to repack the car and load the pups in.

Arriving in their neighborhood we could see that the snow was getting heavier. Plows hadn't gotten out yet, and any tracks in the snow were quickly filled up. We pulled the Hummer into their garage, where her dad David had turned on a heater, and started the process of final packing. The jigsaw puzzle of bags and blankets was fit together, and we loaded Carolyn and the dogs in to start the trip home. We said our goodbyes and pulled out.

The road was fine at first, but blowing and drifting snow got heavier. The snowfall itself wasn't bad, but the wind was driving the snow strongly. The patterns of blowing snow across the road were almost hypnotic, and gave the illusion of traveling across a stream. Melissa drove all the way to Casper, and a little farther. The weather seemed to be clearing up, and Melissa's hip was hurting a bit, so we stopped at a rest area to switch.

I've driven in some pretty nasty snow before, which was a good thing, because we were about to hit some ugly stuff.

Just outside of Rawlins, we hit some strong winds and heavy blowing snow. Click the play button in the middle of the video to the left to see what it was like. The truck in front of us would completely disappear, then reappear, even when it was only three car lengths ahead of us. We were travelling at about 25 mph.

Temperature outside was 0 degrees and the wind was about 20-25 mph, so it made for a very cold very unfriendly arrival in Rawlins. We stopped at the local Taco Bell to gas up and get some grub, but even the dogs had no real desire to get out. They jumped out, did their business and high-tailed it back into the car.

Once we left Rawlins, the road improved dramatically. Sure, there was still blowing snow, but the wind lessened and the snow got lighter. We were 15-20 minutes away from Evanston, WY, where we planned on staying the night, we Carolyn announced that she needed to go potty. The wind is still blowing, it's still colder than a witch's you-know-what, but she can't hold it.

We pulled off the highway at the next exit, found a wide spot in the road, and Melissa proceeded to help Carolyn pull down her pants for her first experience in dropping trou for an emergency potty stop.

Carolyn had picked up the phrase "freezing my butt off". Here, she put it to practice. It was blowing and cold, and her naked bottom was out there. Not even the dogs wanted out.

We made our way into Evanston, and stayed at a hotel that Melissa was familiar with and that would not involve dodging the anti-pet commandos. We grabbed a bit to eat, and settled in for the night with a light snow falling outside.

The next morning, Melissa called her mom. Looks like we left at just the right time, as they had received about 2 feet of snow in the past 24 hours, and had closed the roads after we left. Has we stayed until Friday as planned, we likely would not have been able to leave until Saturday. We loaded up, grabbed a quick breakfast, and headed out.

On the way up, Melissa had mentioned about the Olympic ski jumps at Park City, and we decided to shoot by there on the way home. As we pulled onto the road for the Olympic Park, I noticed a sign that let us know that the World Junior Luge Championships were in progress. This is a sport that has always fascinated me, and this was an opportunity to see something few people get to see.

We pulled up to the park headquarters and museum, and Melissa let the dogs out to run while I got some information. While we may have dodged the pet militia in Evanston, the leader of the stormtroopers must have moved to Park City. This guy came out of the building very forcefully alerting Melissa that pets were NOT ALLOWED on the property. Melissa wrangled them back in, and we gathered Carolyn and headed out to the luge track.

The luge track is the same as the bobsled run, with different starting points. These are juniors which mean teens who are flying down the ice track at about 50-70 mph at about 1-2 inches off the ice. These guys whiz by you in the blink of an eye. I was able to catch one guy zipping by with my digital camera (just click the play button in the middle of the video)

After watching a few lugers make their run, we headed back to the museum. The luge competition would be on break for 1/2 an hour, and the dogs were still in the car.

The museum had some great exhibits. Upstairs, the exhibits were specifically related to the Olympics. Carolyn was especially interested in the headdresses and costumes that were worn during the opening ceremonies.

In one case was a display of the different medals awarded. They really are beautiful, and you don't get to see them up close like this very often.

Downstairs, the museum had exhibits on skiing, with explanations of why the powder in UT is so light and great for skiing. There were a couple of displays we all played with, like the ski jump simulator and the simulated downhill ski run. There was one that really had the potential to get your adrenaline flowing - the avalanche simulator. You stood in front of a display with the image of a canyon, and when you pressed a button, you saw what happened when an avalanche came roaring down. Even though you knew it was a simulation, it still got your heart to race a bit.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, just a simple run down I-15. As we got further south, we had to keep stripping layers off, with the temperature at the start of the day at 15 degrees, and by mid-afternoon, in the 50s. Carolyn watched her videos, Melissa and I talked, and we made our way home.

All in all, this was a great trip, and Melissa's folks are good, kind people. With any luck, we'll be able to make the trip again in the summer, and see what the area looks like in warm weather.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Adventures in Roadtripping, Vol 4. - Mato Tipila

We woke up to a beautiful day, albeit cold. Today's trip was out to Devils Tower. Spielberg or sci-fi fans will recognize it as the "landing site" for the UFOs in "Close Encounters", the monolith that Richard Dreyfus carved out of mashed potatoes.

Outside, it was a brisk 15 degrees. We headed east to the monument, around an hour and a half away. About half the trip was on good but snowy roads. Traveling in the Melissa's Hummer, it was a fairly comfortable ride.

When you get about 10 miles out, you start seeing this thumb of rock sticking up from the landscape. It really is remarkable.

The Native American legends on the creation of the tower vary, but my favorite is a Sioux legend of two boys who had wandered far from home when Mato the bear, an immense beast saw them and decided they might be a tasty treat. The boys, terrified, prayed to their creator to save them. They rose up on a huge rock, and try as he might, Mato could not reach them, leaving his claw marks on all sides of the rock. Looking at the tower, you can see how the legend came alive.

When we arrived at the monument, we pulled up to the Ranger Station to get more information. Carolyn was looking forward to getting her fourth Junior Ranger badge, but the Visitor Center is closed during the winter months. Luckily, the ranger at the Ranger Station was incredibly helpful, and was able to give all the Junior Ranger materials before we headed up to the base of the tower. She also recommended a great spot to get a shot of the tower.

We drove up the short road to the parking area, spotting a few whitetail deer on the way. Melissa pulled the Hummer into a parking space, but decided to move it to a closer spot next to the telescopes. As she put the vehicle in reverse, I blurted out "STOP". Directly in front of us, perhaps 50 feet away, were two deer laying in the snow. I slowly got out of the vehicle with my camera and got about 20 feet closer. I got a few good shots before they started getting nervous, got up, and walked up the hill. The snow was too deep and the trail covered, so I got back in the Hummer and we moved to the other side of the parking area.

Carolyn looked around for the items to check off in her Junior Ranger book, and we admired the the majesty of this site sacred to so many Native Americans. She even looked through the telescope to see if she could see the "crystals" on the mountain (the crystals are feldspar crystals formed when the rock cooled).

But we couldn't stay long. It was less than 10 degrees out, and a light breeze was making it colder, and tougher to stay out. We loaded back into the Yukon, with Carolyn a bit disappointed that she had seen very few of the things in her Junior Ranger book.

We headed back down the road and turned off to the location the ranger mentioned for a picture. And the ranger was right - the location provided a dramatic, open shot of Devils Tower. I got a couple of shots off, and we started back down the road.

One of the items Carolyn needed was a butterfly, and though it's technically *not* a butterfly, we did see a moth, so she checked it off. Just a few yards down the road, we came across a deer about 30 feet up the hillside. He stood still, even holding hi ground as we slowly backed up to get a better shot. I'll post it as soon as I get the film developed, but I expect that will be one of the more dramatic shots I've taken of deer. Carolyn was able to say goodbye to him before we continued, and she added another checkmark.

A little farther on, we saw a lone squirrel, yet another checkmark, and that brought us back to the ranger station. We stopped for a minute, and I checked Carolyn's book, asked her a few questions about what she saw, then pulled out her official Junior Ranger certificate (already filled out by the ranger), and her new Devils Tower Ranger badge. She really gets a kick out of getting these badges!

We then started out to Hulett, WY, for lunch. It's a small town with a lot of lumber (it's where Melissa's folks go to get firewood), and we stopped at a small cafe to grab a bite.

The place was rustic, but homey feeling. We were seated in a new addition at a HUGE wooden table. I love stopping at little places off the beaten path as, more often than not, I'm surprised at the quality of the food. I am delighted to say that this place was no exception.

The girls ordered cheeseburgers, and I ordered chicken-fried chicken. When the food came out we realized we might be in for a treat. The servings were large, undoubtedly to cater to the hungry local crowd. Neither Melissa, Carolyn, nor Marvell were able to finish. The fries were delicious, and the onion rings Melissa got were tasty and sweet. My lunch was great, with juicy chicken fillets in a crunchy breading. The mashed potatoes and gravy matched the chicken.

And the best part? The whole meal for all four of us was about $30 bucks, including sodas/coffee. A steal considering the quality of the meal. If you ever head out to Devils Tower, take the short little trip to Hulett and get yourself a great meal.

On the trip back to Gillette, we got to see more deer, and a couple of huge flocks of wild turkeys (the gobbling kind, not the drinking kind). The view was beautiful with snowy hills broken by tall pines and the occasional farm house.

As we approached the interstate, I turned my GPS on, and found that right next to I-90 was a geocache. It was located within the fenced in area of a Rest Area, and I found it quickly. Carolyn got a necklace out of it. A quick check of the GPS showed another on the way home, so Melissa made her way there as well. This one required trudging through a bit of a snow drift to find, and it scored Carolyn a little green cloth bag.

By this point, we were five minutes from Melissa's folks house. We got settled in there, and once everyone was in, Melissa and I went for a drive around town to see more of Gillette. She showed me the airport, and a neighborhood with an interesting story. Once a growing subdivision, it now is almost abandoned due to high methane gas levels. Apparently, nearby coal mining activity may have caused some underground shifting that allowed the gas to seep at dangerous levels. The Rawhide neighborhood was evacuated in 1987 and there still seem to be a few residents, but is is a little eerie.

We headed across the road to a new elementary school and a development with a large open area in the middle of it. And grazing there, a small herd of deer.

We headed back to her folks house, and her dad wanted to take us out to dinner. We headed to the Golden Corral, a fairly good buffet. Carolyn was plenty happy - they had pizza there. That kid can pack pizza away. If she could, she'd have it 7 days a week, three meals a day.

After dinner and a quick stop at Melissa's folks house, we headed back to the hotel. We had heard weather reports warning of a real cold blast coming in, so I fired up the laptop and Google Earth to see if I could get some info. I was able to find National Weather Service information that showed the storm in Western Montana but heading our direction. We settled in for the night, with the thought that we might need to leave a day early.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Adventures in Roadtripping, Vol. 3 - Hanging Out

Day 3 was destined to be a catch-up day. The girls (Melissa, Carolyn and Marvell) had planned on making it a shopping and grooming day, hitting the local discount stores and getting their hair done.

Me - I slept in a bit, then got up and tried to work online. The connection at the hotel was sporadic. To top it off, I had Melissa's laptop and tried to access my work email and while I could read, I couldn't respond due to my work mailbox being full. This, of course, makes no real sense to me, as sending responses to emails are how I get emails out of my Inbox. I can only archive them from my workstation at work, so I can't do much to open up space.

Having failed at trying to work while on vacation, I turned back to my ailing computer. When last we checked in, it was dead. Kaput. Finito. Being stubborn as a mule, I decided that wouldn't be enough. I tried firing it up again, to no avail. Then an odd thought hit me. I plugged everything in as it was the last time it worked. When I pushed the power button, lo and behold, it sprang to life. I felt like Frankenstein rejoicing over his monster. I proceeded to wait until it had completely powered up, unplugged the devices I had just plugged in, and rebooted. It rebooted without a problem. Whooping ensued.

I spent the rest of the day catching up on email, fantasy hockey, blogs - the important stuff. Melissa came by and picked me up, and we headed over to her folks house for dinner. Marvell had put together a delicious dinner of liver and onions, something I never get enough of. I was starved, as I had tried the cafe at the hotel for lunch. It's never a good sign when the "fish" entree is fish sticks shaped like stars...and that's the good looking item.

Melissa decided to stay the night at her folks place, as she hadn't been feeling well and it would allow her to sleep in. A late wake-up for Carolyn is 7:30, so Melissa staying at her folks would afford her an extra hour or two. After dinner, I took Carolyn back to the hotel and got her into bed, and spent the next few hours online. I did some searching for geocaches in the area, and prepped the files I needed for some searching the next day.

If you're not familiar with geocaching, check out the site Basically, geocaching is like a high-tech treasure hunt, using a handheld GPS and information from the Internet. The "treasures" are boxes or canisters ranging from 35mm film canisters to old Army boxes. Inside you'll find, at a minimum, a paper log on which to record your find, and perhaps some little trinkets to trade for. It's a lot of fun, gets you out into the fresh air for some exercise, and takes you to some places you might not have otherwise visited.

I hit the sack for the night, ready for the next day.

When I awoke, I connected the GPS to the computer to download the files. No luck. I tried connecting the broadband modem, also with no luck. Apparently, whatever caused the computer to not fire up with them disconnected was now causing them not to be recognized. Realizing I had to get out of the hotel and over to Melissa's folks house, I emailed the files to Melissa's computer, hoping there might be a connection there somehow.

Sure enough, there was indeed a wireless connection, albeit weak. As a side note, for those of you with wireless access at home, be sure to set them up as secure connections. The only reason we were able to connect was because someone nearby had an unsecured connection. This could be used by someone with nefarious intentions to cause trouble, using their Internet connection to disguise their activity. In this case, it helped me get access to the file I sent to Melissa. Using her computer, I was able to connect the GPS and prepare for the trip to Devils Tower the next day.

We spent Day 4 running around Gillette, learning about the town, the neighborhood, and hitting more discount stores. It had been snowing steadily, but not terribly heavily, all night, and the roads were a bit mucky. We did hit one store, Robb's, which is basically a salvage store. From what I understand, they buy loads that have been damaged in transit, much of which is usually still good. I picked up some razors and 35mm film at a fraction of the usual price. We also hit Value Villa, another bastion of thriftiness in Gillette. Here, the main stock in trade is used clothes, some of which are in basically new condition. If you're looking for some clothes at a super bargain price, it's worth the trip.

We spent the afternoon teaching Carolyn how to play Husker Du, a memory game like concentration where the goal is to remember where different symbols are on the board and match them up with each other. After Carolyn played Marvell, it was my turn. At which point Melissa decided to beat up on me. They say the memory is the first to go. I can't remember what the second is.

Husker Du gave way to another perennial cutthroat favorite, Uno. This diabolical little card game requires the players to leave all semblance of civility behind and work at destroying the players next to them in pursuit of emptying their hands of colored cards. In other words, a family game.

Dinner was a delicious pot roast and as we ate the snow started to fall. We began wondering if the trip to Devils Tower was going to work at all. But we'd leave that for the next day. Melissa stayed the night again, and Carolyn and I headed back to the hotel for the night.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Adventures in Roadtripping - Vol 2. : Big Heads On Mountains

After the mishaps of the previous day, I was hoping for a better start to day 2. We had decided to take a trip to Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument, and got a relatively early start. We headed out to Melissa's folks' house to pick up her mom Marvell, and after packing up the car, we started out on the road.

Melissa's folks own a Yukon, and we took the Yukon for the trip. It's bigger and definitely more comfortable than the Hummer. We popped a DVD in the entertainment system, giving Carolyn and Marvell the opportunity to watch Shrek.

We stopped at the state line with South Dakota to take a picture, then at the nearest rest stop where I got this cool shot. It is a concrete representation of a teepee. The sun was behind it and the picture just worked.

A little further down the road was an old house that Melissa had always wanted to get a picture of. It was a little tough as the sun was behind the house, but I tramped through some tall grass to get a good vantage point. In the end, it made for a nice picture.

The trip was fun, and we had a good time listening to Carolyn make up stories and try to teach Marvell how to play games on her Leapster.

The road into Mt. Rushmore from Rapid City is a tourist magnet, with reptile farms, drive-thru zoos, and other oddly placed amusements. After driving about 2.5 total hours. We arrived at Mt. Rushmore.

It was cold and windy, making it tough to stay outside. Luckily, the museum is inside and warm. Here, Carolyn collected her first Junior Ranger Badge of the day.

The museum is nicely done, with good views of the monument from the inside. The exhibits include the scale sculptures that were used to plan the "carving" of the mountain into the monument we are all familiar with.

If you have kids, and you want to have some fun visiting the National Parks, get them into the Junior Range activities. They're free and each Park has a Junior Ranger program tailored for the location. They also have differing activities depending on the child's age, so young kids aren't trying to write essays on the creating of a mountain-sized monument.

In this case, they have a few activities where the prospective Junior Ranger has to ask questions of Rangers (like what their job is), as well as find information in the exhibits.

One question created a bit of fun. The question is "What is the Hall of Records"? Regardless of what the movies try to tell us, there is none at Mt. Rushmore. There were plans for one,but they never came to fruition. There is a single door on the back side of the mountain, but behind that door there is a only a short passageway, no Hall of Records.

We found all this out when Carolyn asked the ranger (as she was supposed to). Meanwhile, Melissa and Marvell had found a book about it, and thought it existed. I told them no, we had just asked the Park Ranger. He then became the arbiter. I asked him if he could settle a wager for us about the Hall of Records, to which he rolled his eyes. He pulls out the same book.

After a quick laugh, we asked about the filming of National Treasure with Nick Cage. Apparently, they spent 17 days there, for a total of about 30 seconds of screen time. But is has generated a whole bunch of email and phone calls, mainly from folks who have been there but never saw the lake behind the monument.

For the record, the lake exists - it's just 17 miles away at Sylvan Lake.

We got lots of pics at Mt. Rushmore and headed off to Crazy Horse Monument, less than 20 minutes away. The big difference between the two? Mt. Rushmore was funded by government funds, where Crazy Horse is funded entirely privately.

The monument has been under construction for nearly 60 years, and is now being worked on by the children of the original sculptor. It is an immense project, and as I mentioned above, it is funded by private funds. This results in a $25 per car entry fee. But there is a lot to see, including the monument, museums, and displays on the construction of the mountain and Native American history. Carolyn picker up her 2nd Junior Ranger badge here.

We had lunch in Custer, a little town south of the Crazy Horse Memorial, and headed back. On the way we stopped at Jewel Cave National Park, the 2nd largest cave in the world. There are an estimated 140 miles of cave, the vast majority of in unexplored. So how do they know how big it is? They measure the volume of air moving through the explored areas, and from that they can estimate the volume of the cave.

Carolyn heard the name "Jewel Cave" and of course, had to go. Besides, it's another Junior ranger badge.

We headed in while Melissa and Marvell stayed in the car. After some poking around in the Visitor Center, we went down with the ranger for the Discovery Tour, which us just a quick orientation of the cave. It was late in the day, and all other tours had been completed.

We exited the elevator over 230 feet below the surface, and approached the entrance to the cave. The ranger explained the air pressure difference in the cave by releasing the latch o the door, and the door was pushed open by the change in air pressure. We entered the cave's first chamber, and Carolyn started to get scared. The room was high, with large voids. In addition, there were large voids leading down, and we were on a flat area in the middle. As we talked, Carolyn got more scared. We tried talking with her, the ranger and I, but she was starting to cry. It was time to go, just three or four minutes after we arrived. Then the ranger asked if she wanted to see crystals.

He said the magic word. Carolyn perked up immediately, and followed him to the next platform. He showed her a vein of crystals in the cave wall, including some pink ones. The fear was gone. As Carolyn said, the crystals made her brave. We talked a few more minutes with the ranger, and headed up. She finished up her Junior Ranger book, and collected her third badge of the day.

From here, we headed back to Gillette, spying a number of deer along the way. All in all, a fun, if cold day.

Pics from Day One

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Adventures in Roadtripping - Vol 1. : Heading to Wyoming

We've been planning this trip for some time. Melissa didn't get to head home for Christmas, so we made plans to come out after the new year and spend some time with her folks.

Her folks live in NE Wyoming, an area of the country I had never been to, and there was the potential for Carolyn to see some real snow, so this sounded like a great roadtrip.

Melissa packed up the Hummer and got everything ready so that when I got home from work on Friday, we'd get the last minute things and set off on our way.

I managed to get out of work relatively close to my scheduled time, and headed home, changed clothes, and grabbed everything I could think of. This included the GPS, laptop, digital and film cameras, and cellphone charger.

Off we headed, into the night and the desert highways, headed for Cedar City, UT, our first stop.

I had fun answering email on the road (Sprint broadband connection - woohoo!), and following our track on Google Earth with the GPS connected to the laptop.

We arrived fairly quickly without mishap and got off the highway. As we approached the hotel, Melissa realizes that the hotel we chose is not the one she had stayed in before. We had picked the hotel for the ease of access to the outside for the dogs. Oh, did I mention the pups were with us? No? All of the folks mentioned in the title of this blog were in the car, along with all the necessary gear for the five of us for a week on the road.

No big deal, so it's not the place we thought it was. Until I met the lady at the front counter.

I stood there patiently after handing her my credentials, and notice a fairly large "NO PETS" sign on the all. Hmmm. She hands me back my stuff, and puts a paper in front of me explaining that there is a strict "NO PETS" policy and that there will be an additional $100 charge if we violate it. She's not smiling. The windows on the Hummer are tinted, she couldn't have seen the pups. She needs the license info from the car, so I use that as an excuse to head out to the car. It's going to go down to about 18 degrees that night, so the dogs can't stay in the car. Melissa assures me that she can get the dogs in and out without a problem, so I write the info down, take it back in, and hand the signed paper to the stern-faced counter matron.

We head to the room, thankfully placed near the back of the hotel, and we start by getting Carolyn inside. Melissa takes the dogs by car to the next block to let them run around. I help Carolyn get ready for bed, then start to connect my laptop to check email, etc.

The laptop won't fire up. It won't even show a power light. Nothing. I try the reset button on the bottom. I pull the battery. I curse under my breath and start to sweat. Everything is on the laptop - bills, writing projects, email, contacts - everything. And I can't get to any of it.

Melissa gets back, hurries the dogs into the room, and gets ready for bed. We decide that it would be better for me to sleep with Carolyn that night, as Melissa can keep the dogs on the bed with her and keep them with her. Me, I'm starting to go into a full-scale panic.

I try to sleep. I say try because I went to bed about 10:45 and realized at about 10:47 that Carolyn likes to move in her sleep. No, that's not quite it. I think she either dreams of being a Rockette or the next Mia Hamm. I got booted in the head, the ribs, the derriere and a few other choice spots. I tried moving her. She moved back. I tried turning her over. She countered with a roll of her own.

By about 2:15, I was done. Here I was, sitting on the edge of the bed, head in hands, worried about Gestapo Pet Police breaking down the door or bringing in CSI to check for dog hair, shaking in withdrawal from not being able to be instantly connected to the entire world from Cedar City UT, and wondering if I was ever going to get to sleep, and if I did, would I be woken by a swift kick in the nads from a sleeping breakdancer.

This proceeded for nearly three hours, with me doing laps between the edge of the bed, the laptop on the counter (maybe if I push the power button *one* more time...), and getting into bed, only to be booted in the head. Repeat.

I finally fell asleep about 5:00 am. We got up at 6:30 am.

I finally gave in, and decided the laptop was a goner for now, and that I'd deal with it later. We got dressed, and Melissa performed her pet smuggling routine one more time to get the dogs into the car. No SWAT team awaited our escape, and there was an entirely different (much less stern-looking) lady at the counter. No extra charge on the bill - we made a clean getaway before they got any wiser.

On the road, we started talking about what we'd be doing over the next few days. We talked about Mt. Rushmore, and I said that would be great, as I have my annual National Parks my home... I joked about turning around to go get it.

My digital SLR camera is in the shop, so I brought my pocket digital and my film SLR. There were some beautiful snow-covered landscapes on the way, so I decided that while Melissa drove, I would take some shots. I grabbed the SLR, hit the shutter button to check the light level, and the lights dimmed out. That's right, the batteries had gone dead. Little button-sized hearing aid batteries. The last set lasted over five years. These? About 9 months.

At this point Melissa told me she would drive. With the luck I was having, it might be a bad idea for me to get behind the wheel.

For a moment, I started to think back - had I roughed up a little old lady recently? Did I run over a little kid's chihuahua? I couldn't recall any heinous acts.

In poker, sometimes you just run bad. You make the right decisions, you play your hands properly, and you still get the crap kicked out of you. I decided this was one of those situations.

We found a K-Mart and I got batteries for the camera. I'll try getting the data off the laptop hard drive. And we'll just have to pay to see the four ex-chief-execs carved from stone. And as soon as I set my mind around this new attitude, the day got better.

I got some great shots in Provo Canyon of the mountains, a waterfall, and a really cool rail snowplow. I got some of antelope, a beautiful sunset, and of Carolyn and Melissa at the Wyoming state line.

Carolyn and the dogs made the trip wonderfully, considering today's drive was over 12 hours. Melissa and I traded off driving, and it was a nice, easy trip, albeit long. And we laughed about the run of luck.

We made it to Melissa's folks house about 7:45pm got the dogs dropped off, and headed to the hotel.

As I brought in bags, I could smell that the guys across the hall from us were partaking rather heavily in the "herb". I thought for a moment that I might call the front desk. Nah.... I need the good karma...

Oh, and Melissa's laptop + high-speed internet in the hotel = an end to my withdrawals. Pics to come.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The princess and the sandwich

The princess and the sandwich
Originally uploaded by lsoderman
More from Carolyn's Birthday party -

The little bell in front of Carolyn was there so she could have someone bring more food or lemonade should she desire.

No, she is not getting a bell at home.

Each of the "princesses" got a little teapot with lemonade, a teacup, and plenty of hot and cold treats.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A new start...

So, given events of the last year, I decided it was time to let the old blog sit archived, and start another. It took me about an hour to figure out what to name this blog, and how to start it.

In any case, here's the latest...

We (the five of us) are doing very well. In case you're not up to speed, the five of us are the ones mentioned above - Maggie and Oliver (the pups), Melissa and Carolyn (the ladies) and yours truly.

Carolyn just celebrated her 5th birthday at Olivia's Dollhouse Tearoom, which was quite the affair. Carolyn and her 4 princesses (four friends from daycare) spent a couple of hours being pampered like royalty. In the pic above, you'll find Alyssa, Ashley, Caitlyn, Briannon, and Carolyn, all dolled up. The place is a dream for little girls. They get to dress up, they get made up and have their hair done, they put on a fashion show, and they get a tea party to go with it. The girls all had a great time.

And yes, you read that right, Carolyn is now 5. She's growing up at light speed.

It's been almost a year since Stacey moved out, and it has been an interesting trip so far. It's why I feel so lucky to have found Melissa. She takes no crap from me, and makes me happy. And she loves Carolyn. No surprise, Carolyn loves her too.

We're still Las Vegas, and I have moved from the Flamingo to Harrah's, about three doors down. Same job, running the poker room, a job which is a mix of party host, referee, and labor relations specialist. It can be fun, and it can be difficult. Is it something I want to do for the rest of my life? Nope. But it fits the bill for now.

Melissa teaches 4th and 5th grade, and is currently on track break. They do year-round schools here, and her track gets a three-week break after the Christmas break. So she has been on an extended vacation of sorts. Next week, the five of us will pile into Melissa's Hummer and head to Northeastern Wyoming to visit Melissa's parents. This will be the first time Carolyn and I have met them. And it may be the first opportunity for Carolyn to see real snow, as opposed to the foot or two we get around here in the mountains.

Carolyn's Grandma Grace was out for the weekend and got to be there for Carolyn's birthday party. I think she had a good time, and we really enjoyed having her.

My typing is keeping Melissa awake, so I'm going to wrap this up for now. I have invited Melissa to chime in on the blog, so hopefully she'll leave a note or two...

Be sure to leave a comment, let us know you saw the new blog, and let us know how you're doing!