Unsuspecting Tourist. FINALLY!

20150113_111017I am SO excited about this post. Seriously. This is the one I’ve been waiting to share. Why, you ask? MONKEYS! So many monkeys. Stick with me…we’ll get to them quickly.

On this day of our see-everything-you-can-possibly-see tour of Kuala Lumpur, we decided to head a bit out of the city to explore the famous Batu Caves.

Prerequisite tourist information:

Set high in a range of rugged limestone cliffs just north of Kuala Lumpur, the Batu Caves are a vast complex of caverns that are a popular tourist and religious destination. The caves gained worldwide attention in 1878 when American naturalist William Hornaday came upon them and compared the largest cave to a grand cathedral. In the 1890s it was converted into a shrine dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Murugan and soon became the most important pilgrimage site for Malaysia’s Hindu population.

The first thing that strikes you when you arrive at the Batu Caves is your introduction to Lord Murugan. It’s not subtle. The statue is 141 feet tall and sparkling gold against the backdrop of trees and hillside. Fortunately, he looks pretty benevolent. I only had one tiny little Stay Puff Marshmallow Man/Ghostbuster flashback.

And may I add here that this is the world’s tallest statue of Lord Murugan? If you have been reading my previous posts, Jim and I were on a serious “’est’ in the world” tour. Tallest, biggest, fastest…we were on an “est” quest of epic proportion. Thank you, Lord Murugan, for keeping us on our roll.

20150113_110606In the area in front of the tallEST statue of Lord Murugan, there are some shops, small restaurants, and pigeons. Not “some” pigeons. Hundreds of them. And they are hopeful. It is clear the pigeons get fed often…and, yes, we joined the party. I have to believe the local businesses have a real love/hate thing going on with these birds. Yes, a tourist attraction…a messy, messy, persistent attraction.

Of course while visiting the pigeons we found a stray puppy. A darling, precious, needed-to-go-home-with-Nancy-and-Jim stray puppy. This is the one and only dog I saw during my entire trip, beyond the dogs at the airports who so very carefully sniffed my bags (and don’t you know they thought DANG, this woman lives with a lot of my cousins!).

20150113_110726The puppy really threw me for a loop. First, she was just a baby. I would guess 14 to 16 weeks old, give or take. Second, she was a little pumpkin (that is Nancyspeak for irresistible). Third, we were the only humans being kind to her. No one was specifically abusing her, but certainly no one else was being kind to her either.

I’m not going to go into detail about little Batu, as I dubbed her, here. I’m going to give her a post of her own because it links directly to my journey to a better understanding of the different religions and cultures we encountered on our trip. Maybe understanding isn’t the right word. There are some things I will never fully understand. Maybe it’s fair to say she helped me gain knowledge about the different cultures we encountered.

I will tell you that I left a piece of my heart with that puppy and I sure wish this story ended with her sleeping safely on my pillow. More about Batu in a later post. I promise.

Moving on. We were told by a guide in one of the caves adjacent to the temple that the Hindus chose to build a shrine in this particular cavern because the opening to the cave was a similar shape to the point of Lord Murugan’s spear. After a little research, I found that our young guide knew his stuff.

20150113_140115In 1890, K. Thamboosamy Pillai, an Indian trader, was indeed inspired by the ‘vel’-shaped (a vel is a divine javelin or spear) entrance of the main cave and promoted it as a place of worship to Lord Murugan. The Thaipusam festival, a major Hindu religious celebration, has been celebrated there annually in late January or early February since 1892.

Wow. We just missed our chance to visit the temple with about 1,000,000 Hindus on a pilgrimage. While it may have been an amazing event to witness, can’t say I’m too sorry. Too many people in one place can make for an antsy Nancy. But it would have been quite a sight to see, I’m sure. The Hindu attire and shrines we did see were quite colorful and ornate.

To get to the temple you first must climb 272 steep stairs. It looks impressive from the bottom and some might find it daunting, but it’s really not too bad. There are several landings along the way that allow you to stop to catch your breath and enjoy the scenery. I will say that the caverns are anything but handicapped accessible. I don’t think Lord Murugan made that a priority when he inspired this temple.

20150113_111342For me, the climb was pure joy because the first think that greeted us as we started our ascent was…YES! A MONKEY!

A darling little macaque monkey served as our initial tour guide as we counted our way up the 272 steps to the mouth of the cavern temple. Oh happy, happy day! We tried to take a bunch of photos of this little friend because who knew if there would be more? (Silly, silly Nancy, there were more. SO many more.)

DCIM100GOPROThis was a Tuesday morning, but the caves already had a steady flow of visitors, both tourists and Hindus coming to worship. The sights were spectacular looking up toward the caves and also turning to see the vista from our increasing vantage point.

Quick note here, if you are going to visit the Temple, you are asked to do so with respect to its religious significance. I found the following tips for visiting the Batu Caves online (obviously written by someone who uses English as a second language…not corrected here, because it adds to the flavor.):

  • Do not smile at the Monkey.
  • Do not bring any food during climbing the steps.
  • With effective from 12 August 2013, the Batu Caves Management Implemented New Regulation and Dress Code For Visiting Batu Caves Kuala Lumpur:
    • NO Short Pant and Hot Pant.
    • NO Short Skirt Above Knee.
  • Others Regulation:
    • NO Pets Allowed.
    • NO Spitting Around.
    • NO Smoking in the area.
    • Bring your own toilet paper

The dress code is not too hard. I wore ankle-length pants. I saw other women who wore shorts, but tied a scarf or shawl around their waist to cover their legs while in the temple. I don’t believe they would actually turn you away for breaking this dress code, but it’s all about respect. I will touch on some of the other regulations as we proceed, but we had zero problem with “no spitting around.”

Jim and Nan at caveThe shrines in front of and built into the walls inside the temple cave were beautifully ornate and detailed. The cavern itself is truly a natural temple and awe inspiring with or without the temple shrines. While, from a historic standpoint, the temple is relatively new, the limestone formation that houses it is said to be around 400 million years old.

nan and monkeyAnd, to my great delight, what did you see just about everywhere you looked inside the temple cave? MONKEYS.

Yes, the monkeys have made themselves right at home inside the temple. I did notice the locals banging sticks to keep them away from certain shrines where ceremonies were taking place, and I’m sure they think the monkeys are nothing but pests. It goes back to that love/hate thing that they likely have with those pigeons out front. But there is no denying that these funny little characters are a huge tourist attraction.

20150113_113125The downside to the temple, in my opinion, was that I didn’t feel it was well maintained. Lighting has been installed around some of the shrines to make them more visible and it seemed to be just slapped together with random lights set here and there, and wires draped in plain sight. The temple was also pretty messy. There was trash everywhere. I’m sure the monkeys had something to do with this, but it would seem they would try to police it a bit better. Or better yet, teach the monkeys to do it. Yes. The monkeys could help clean up the trash and earn the respect of the Hindu worshipers.

I’m sure that’s completely feasible.

But still, trash aside, the temple is a wonderful experience and truly beautiful. From the Temple Cave, we headed over to tour the Dark Cave. The Dark Cave is exactly what the name suggests—a  really, dark, natural cave and an extremely important conservation site.

dark cave nanWe donned some hard hats, picked up small flashlights, and joined a tour group heading into the cave. Dark Cave is home to rare species of animals and insects including the rarEST (YES! Another “est!”) spider in the world, the Trapdoor spider. (Have I mentioned that two of my major phobias are pitch black hallways and spiders? Well, wasn’t this a nifty combo of both! Our own little episode of Fear Factor.)

Of course the cave is also home to a healthy number of bats. We didn’t actually see them and we were asked not to shine our flashlights toward the ceiling because it would disrupt the bats…and I did not want to disrupt the bats… but in the dark recesses of the cave you could sure hear them squeaking away, you could sure smell them, and yes, their guano was plentiful, though somehow our wooden walkway was clean.

Our guide, provided by the Cave Management Group (CMG), pointed out that it is the guano that sustains a tremendous and scientifically significant ecosystem. I will point out here that when the guide asked our group of about a dozen people what “guano” was, I was the one to pop up with “what is bat poop, Alex?” Yep. I got the bat poop question. I think the Italian tourists were very impressed.

Until CMG took over management of the cave, it was open to the public. Those dreaded “open to the public” words mean that the caves were abused with trash, graffiti, and disruption of the fragile wildlife within the structure. Though some of the mindless graffiti is still visible in sections of the two kilometers of passages (humans are SO arrogant), the cave is now a protected conservation site renowned for its rich scientific and educational value. Tours are conducted carefully, in specific areas of the cave and you are constantly reminded to stay on the wooden pathway and not to step on the natural floor of the cave lest you smash one of those beloved spiders.

20150113_130932_LLSWe were shown magnificent cave formations – stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, cave pearls, cave curtains, columns, and gour pools (none of which photographed well because it’s a dark cave and you can’t use a flash that might disturb the bats). It took Mother Nature eons to form these structures and it’s still a work in progress as water continues to gently change and form the cave. We saw millipedes, we saw trapdoor spiders, and we experienced what pitch black really is when we turned off all of our flashlights in the interior of the cave (blink all you want…your eyes aren’t going to adjust). It was truly a spectacular experience…a must-see for anyone going to Kuala Lumpur.

After surrendering our stylish hard hats, we stepped back out of the cave to find a world of monkey cuteness awaiting. Mom monkeys, ridiculously cute baby monkeys, mischievous teenage monkeys, and don’t-screw-with-me adult male monkeys. Monkey paradise!

20150113_133851I don’t really need to tell you that the monkeys were the highlight of the whole tour for me, do I? I could have stayed and watched their antics for hours. They were fascinated with Jim’s Go Pro camera. They were fascinated with my feet. They distracted me while one of their tribe attempted to steal my purse. They succeeded in stealing a bottle of water from another tourist. They climbed, they posed, they chattered, and I was 100% enamored.

20150113_133833So back up to that list of guidelines for visiting the temple…you know, where it says “Do not smile at the Monkey?” I think they don’t want it to appear that you are baring your teeth at them in case the monkeys see that as a challenge. I found, however, that it’s the monkeys who do the “smiling.” Try to get next to one of the mature male monkeys, who really have no interest in being cute or having their photo taken. They will bare their impressive teeth and lunge right at you.

20150113_134049Hey monkeys, take a cue from the guidelines and don’t “smile” at the tourists!

Big guys aside—and we happily gave them their space—the monkeys were amazing and charming. I can’t imagine living in a place where monkeys are as common as squirrels are in my neck of the woods.

We did finally tear ourselves away from the monkeys and wandered around a bit more by the shops and restaurants. I bought a “Coke Light” (they don’t call it diet Coke), and Jim bought a fresh coconut with a straw stuck in it. He is so the yin to my yang.

Then we found our way to the bathrooms where a woman sat at a table in front of the entrance asking for 25 ringgit (Malaysia dinero) as admission to the facilities. I kind of think she just stationed herself there, but who was I to question her and my bladder thought the price, about seven US cents, was more than fair.

So this bathroom. Um…the “bring your own toilet paper” suggestion suddenly made perfect sense and I got to once again master the art of squatting over a hole in the floor. I was introduced to this experience previously in Hong Kong at a public restroom, and also in Africa, only that was just squatting behind a huge termite mound…no hole in the ground. OH the call-of-nature experiences of the world. Good times.

Once back in front of the temple, I won’t tell you that I didn’t scour the place for my little puppy friend, Batu. I truly hoped to find her, though I had no earthly idea what I would have done with her if I could have found her. But again, that’s another story for another day.

We flagged a cab for another “interesting” tour of traffic through the streets that took us back to Kuala Lumpur and our home base apartment. Another excursion, two more “ests” added to our list. A good day.

Up next? Who wants to fly AirAsia?

Meanwhile…gratuitous monkey photos!

20150113_134154 20150113_133506 20150113_133458 20150113_133613  20150113_133956 20150113_133241 20150113_134014

Unsuspecting Tourist. Go! Go! Go!

20150112_145404You know that feeling when you’re on vacation—you know, a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, say to Malaysia or something? You feel like you need to try to see as much as you possibly can. This is not a “let’s relax” kind of vacation. This is a GET OUT THERE AND SOAK IT UP kind of vacation.

And this was the message that was bouncing around in my head on Monday morning in Kuala Lumpur. Jim’s brother was heading off to work, Jean-Yves was heading to school, and we had the whole day to do nothing but explore.

Prior to the take-off that almost didn’t happen (if you don’t know that part of the story, go back to this post), Jim had done a little research and identified some must-see sites. We decided to head to the city center because there were several things we could check off that list within easy distance of each other.

Now, in my last post I told you that next we would be exploring hornbills, monkeys, and temples. I actually misspoke…or mistyped. The next step in our journey really involved hornbills, a lack of monkeys and skyscrapers. Forgive me. I still blame jet lag.

20150112_133708

Yes, our cab driver did have a bobble Spiderman clock on his dashboard. Yes he did.

To get to the city center, Jim launched a new-to-us app called My Teksi (aka: Taxi). It’s a nifty little app that allows you to type in your location and your destination. Immediately after you hit enter it shows cabs in your area, and then cabs interested in picking up the fare are highlighted until one, somehow, is determined the “winner.” Then the app tells you how far away the “teksi” is and an ETA. Pretty nifty.

So we successfully got a cab and asked to be taken to our first stop, the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. A quick and nifty point here…just about everyone in Kuala Lumpur speaks English. Not all are fluent, but we did not run into anyone that we couldn’t at least communicate with on some level. We had drivers who were Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian and all were able to speak English fairly well.

I will admit that when Jim asked some touristy questions…and subsequently prompted answers to aid the conversation…we got a lot of smiles, nods, and “Yes, yes” replies that I’m fairly sure were just default no-clue-what-you-just-asked answers. But for the most part, there were no major language barriers on any part of our trip.

Impressive, really. I don’t believe foreign visitors to America have the same experience. Have you heard the joke? What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks only one language? American. (Oh hey…I can already hear replies being typed by my bilingual friends and family members. You are the glorious exceptions!)

20150112_111453We arrived at the Bird Park in good form (very helpful that I stopped paying attention to traffic, because teksi drivers…eeeek!). I requested this attraction as our first stop because: A. World’s largest free-flight walk-in aviary! B. We were told a lot of monkeys hang out in the park around the aviary. Birds AND monkeys? I’m in!

The bird park was impressive. Here’s the prerequisite responsible tourist information I feel I should supply:

Located in the serene and scenic Lake Gardens, the KL Bird park offers 20.9 acres of verdant valley terrain to be explored. It is home to more than 3,000 birds of approximately 200 species of both local and foreign origin. One of KL Bird Park’s most extraordinary features is that a majority of the birds are free in the aviary, designed to closely resemble their natural habitats.

Legitimate tourism duties aside, here’s my personal observation:

No poop!

Seriously, with ALL of those birds cruising ALL over the park, you’d think you’d see and/or get hit by some waste. But I seriously don’t recall seeing any droppings. And some of the birds were pretty darn big. Now that is impressive. I did see uniformed employees throughout the park, and kudos to those fine folks.

20150112_114021Second observation: That is a HUGE freaking net overhead. Free to fly around, yes. Free to leave the aviary, oh no. I bet there have been some jail breaks, though.

This park is gorgeous. The birds were varied and exotic, reasonably photo op friendly, and truly looked happy. We went into one smaller section of the park (and shame on me for not knowing what kind of birds were on display…) where the birds immediately eyeballed us rather expectantly.

What? Could they tell we were “not from these parts?” Did they think we came bearing gifts?

20150112_121038A park attendant stepped in and handed Jim a cup of magic elixir. I have to believe it was magic because the moment these bright, colorful birds saw that cup, Jim became something akin to a statue in a park filled with pigeons. Immediate popularity. Where was this stuff when I was starting high school?

We were also handed some birdseed and the question was not, “Will the birds come to us?” The question was, “How do we get the birds to leave us so we can see the rest of the park?” I was truly in no hurry, though. I hadn’t encountered an animal of any species for four days and I was in official withdrawal. I probably could have stayed there all day.

giant pigeon

Just sunbathing. I promise.

We did manage to finally bid our new feathered friends goodbye and toured the remaining parts of the park. It did not disappoint. I will be busy trying to look up some of the species we saw, but they included hornbills, all kinds of parrots, macaws, peacocks, flamingos, a freakishly large species of pigeon that liked to sunbathe on the sidewalks (I initially thought one of the birds was injured until three more walked out and plopped down in the sun in the same leisurely manner), and numerous birds I can’t identify.

20150112_115146 (2)We closed out the excursion by stopping in the Hornbill Restaurant for refreshments. I am often a bit skeptical of food served at any sort of zoo…because…you know…fine dining is not their focus. But Jim and I were pleasantly surprised by the menu and the ensuing meal. He tried something with spicy local flare that had him initially guzzling water in surprise (but proclaimed it delicious), and I found a salad on the menu that was tasty and not a teeny bit scary. Adventurous palate and conservative palate—both happy.

Exiting the bird park, I was on the lookout for monkeys. We were told that you often see the little guys just hanging out there. Monkeys hanging out in a park just like squirrels rule the parks at home? Sign me up!

But alas, not a monkey in site. One of the ladies at the gate said that since it was a warm, humid afternoon, they were likely off napping in the trees. Fine. Elusive darn monkeys.

From there we wandered the orchid gardens for a bit. Yes, in Malaysia they can grow acres of the very plant that I manage to send to an early grave within a month or two. My father had the green thumb in our family. He would have loved these gardens. I found them beautifully insulting. Growing them like weeds. In my face.

Moving on, we grabbed a cab and headed to the Menara Kuala Lumpur Tower, also known simply as the KL Tower.

20150112_135809

View from the tower observation deck…the cool outside one.

Prerequisite responsible tourist information:

The KL Tower is a 421 meter high telecommunications and broadcasting tower centrally located in KL. This tower has an observation deck, where you can enjoy a bird’s eye panoramic view of the city. Menara Kuala Lumpur ranks fourth amongst the tallest telecommunications towers in the world and houses the highest McDonald’s in the world. It was constructed over a period of four years and was completed in May 1996.

My personal observation:

Does anyone else see a trend emerging here? Largest bird park in the world. Highest McDonald’s in the world? (And yes, McDonald’s IS everywhere. And no, I did not stop for McNuggets. Though the first food I did eat in Malaysia was Burger King fries. In the airport. I’m not proud.)

DCIM100GOPROOk, once you take the seemingly endless elevator ride to the outdoor observation deck, OH MY GOODNESS. What an amazing view.

You can walk around the full circumference of the building and, on a clear day, you can see forever and back (there is also an indoor observation deck, but it’s on a lower floor, indoors, and has lots of cheesy souvenir stands). If you, like me, love heights and a great breeze ruffling your hair ever-so-perfectly for photos, you will be in HEAVEN. If you do not like heights and wind, did I mention there is an indoor observation area with souvenir stands?

DCIM100GOPROI will also tell you that if you visit during a certain time in September, they allow base jumping off the tower. Good lord I would not be able to get a parachute strapped on Jim’s back fast enough before he yelled Geronimo and threw himself over the railing. There are videos looping on monitors throughout the indoor observation level that show daredevils doing swan dives and flips off of the railing. Jim was transfixed.

During that same time period in September, they will also let you sit on the ledge of the observation deck with your feet dangling precariously over the edge. You wear a safety harness so you won’t actually be able to take the plunge, but you still get the thrill of leaning out and seeing straight down. I would be 100% on board with this. LOVE heights. Love them. We were a little disappointed not to have that opportunity this visit. Reason. To. Go. Back!

Next on the Monday sightseeing agenda—the famous Petronas Twin Towers.

DCIM100GOPROPrerequisite responsible tourist information:

Soaring to a height of 451.9 meters, the 88-story twin structure is an architectural masterpiece and the crown jewel of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline. Majestic by day and dazzling at night, the steel and glass structure is the world’s tallest twin towers. A trip to levels 41 and 42 will take you to the Skybridge, a link between the two towers and the world’s highest double-decked bridge. The Skybridge provides a great view of the city. 

My personal observation:

DCIM100GOPROA lot of people crowd around this structure to have their photo taken. It felt like a bit of a party vibe on the plaza outside the towers. We joined right in.

This building is truly amazing. If you enjoy architecture, this is a place you might want to spend some time. It’s also a bit of a photographer’s dream…night or day. We took photo after photo…and yeah, selfie after selfie. We had to prove we were there, right?

DCIM100GOPROOH and the people watching! I will once again say that I think we were the only Americans there. I really ran across no other people from “the homeland”—though the couple from Ireland almost counted. After all, I do have fair skin, freckles, and reddish brown hair (I do feel obligated to state that the people who actually were from Ireland did not have red hair. Or visible freckles. I was the stereotype. Huh.)

20150112_150157And let us not miss a HUGE, exciting point here—tallest twin towers in the world! Tallest two story bridge in the world! (How many two-story bridges are there in the world?)

What a day! Largest free-flight bird park in the world. Highest McDonald’s in the world. Tallest twin towers in the world. Highest two-story bridge in the world.

Malaysia! You over-achiever, you.

20150109_233230This day of sightseeing was brought to a successful close when we finally collapsed into the back of a cab that we were pretty sure was heading in the right direction to get us back to the apartment and that gorgeous, cool swimming pool. Let me add that I had no problem showing my Fitbit step goal who was boss on our first solo foray into the heart of Malaysia. Ten thousand steps? I laugh at you.

The day was nearly perfect. So very nearly perfect. The only thing missing?

Monkeys. Where were the dang monkeys?

photobombed by a bird

Photo bombed by a bird. Awesome!

(Spoiler alert…they were at the temple!)

Unsuspecting Tourist. Wakey! Wakey!

trafficAfter more sleepless hours on an airplane than I care to count (though everyone else sure managed to sleep!) we were finally settled in Kuala Lumpur (KL) and ready to be tourists.

Sort of.

Yawn.

You see, my internal clock was still living and begging to sleep on Tulsa time—a 14 hour difference. The key to beating jet lag, according to Jim’s brother Jeremy (and the guy should know, he travels ALL the time), was to get out into the sunlight. Force the need for a nap away while soaking up some vitamin D. So on Sunday morning, when my internal clock was very sure it was actually Saturday night anything-but-live, the guys all headed out for a run in the neighborhood while I decided to head down to the fitness center by the pool to hop on a treadmill.

The plan was to get my blood pumping and erase the last traces of the cankles from our long trip. If you have never traveled for hours upon hours on a plane in economy class, where there are no lovely foot stools, you may not be aware that your feet and ankles will swell to the point where there is no distinction between your ankles and your calves. It’s lovely.

I donned my exercise togs and headed into the nice little glass-walled, bright and sunny workout facility. It was still early in the morning, so there was only one other person there—a friendly Indian man who gave a polite nod and smile as I hopped on a treadmill down the row from his.

Ok, ready to go. I punched the button that should have started the machine. Nothing. Hmm. I punched the button again, several times, because if at first you don’t succeed, repeat, repeat, repeat, right? Nada. Ok. Check to see if it is plugged in (learned that one from a washing machine repair guy because…well…you get the picture). Yes. Plugged in.

By now the nice Indian gentleman is starting to glance my way. I shrug and say it must be broken. He smiles, shakes his head, and says something with a beautiful accent, while pointing toward the front of the machine. Listening with ears apparently not yet tuned in to unfamiliar accents, I had NO earthly idea what he was trying to say. He pointed…I moved toward the front of the machine. He pointed some more, I moved to the left. He pointed some more, I moved to the right. It was a bizarre game of hot/cold and I was losing.

Finally I heard him say “button.” Ok, there was a button somewhere. And then I heard “plug.” AH HAH! Let me give you a piece of international travel advice…there is often a button on the outlet that you have to push to get the electricity flowing. Top right corner by the plug in this case. Valuable information. I looked like a pro later when I went into the kitchen to use the toaster oven.

Yay. Working treadmill. Thank you kind Indian man.

Now, why am I telling you about my morning workout? I am supposed to be detailing my experiences in a foreign land and telling you of profound sightseeing excursions. What could a treadmill possibly lend to this story? Stick with me because my time on the treadmill was my first true dose of “cultural awareness,” the catchphrase I invented that will come into play a good deal as I chronicle my experiences on this trip.

treadmillAs I trudged the sandman away, I was soon joined by a lovely young woman wearing workout gear that consisted of a shirt with long sleeves, long pants, running shoes, and a scarf carefully wrapped around her head and neck. Now I had previously seen ladies wearing hijabs (the correct term for this specific style of head covering…I’ve been studying). There are a few Muslim women in my home area and we had certainly seen Muslim women on our trip to Kuala Lumpur. I guess what caught me off guard was seeing a woman wear such full coverage in a setting that normally inspires shorts, tank tops, and sweat bands.

To be honest, this was my first experience seeing Muslim attire in a setting outside of say, a shopping mall or an airport, and I never really thought about how these devout women participate in all of the normal stuff that everyone does. It is possible I have led a somewhat sheltered life.

I was in short sleeves and knee-length running tights and I was sweating. Although my quiet new workout friend seemed to favor really toasty workout gear, she immediately set her treadmill to a fast walking pace and set off with no problem. Oh, and she totally knew to press the button on the outlet to get the machine rolling.

In just a few more minutes, another woman joined us. This woman was wearing a long, full skirt with an ornate jacket made of a tapestry-style fabric, and also with a hijab covering her head. Oh, and she was wearing flat sandals with thin leather straps crisscrossing the tops of her feet.

This is your workout gear? I felt sincerely under dressed.

But yes, this was her workout gear. She too knew about the damn button and hopped on the treadmill next to mine, setting the speed at a pace that made it nearly impossible for her to stay upright with her heavy skirt flapping against her legs. But stay upright she did, even if she did it in the fashion of a toddler hanging onto a fast-walking adult’s hand for dear life.

I also found it interesting that neither of these women acknowledged me or each other. There were no greetings, no glances and smiles at each other, no small talk. It’s not that they were being rude…I never got that feeling…but we were not going to be bonding. And DARN IT. When I’m curious about something I generally find a way to ask questions. I was obviously not going to get a little workout time multitask tutoring on the intricacies of the Muslim culture and their different views on proper apparel.

It was also obvious (you don’t have to hit me over the head with a dumbbell) that asking these ladies to pose with me for a selfie was also out of the question. I did sneak a photo of them…and felt immediately a bit guilty for it, though I can’t explain why.

Respective exercise sessions completed, I joined Jim and Jeremy for a trip downtown for a look around and a trip to an electronics store that had the part Jeremy needed to repair his son’s fried not-a-weapon-of-mass-destruction Xbox One. (Don’t get the joke? Back up and read here.)

Driving in KL. Wow. Not something I would ever want to attempt unless someone offers me a dare with a REALLY good pay-off. I previously compared the streets of KL to the streets of New York City if you took those streets and tied them up in a jumble of knots. I still stand by that description.

Now add in a few million drivers (maybe I exaggerate, maybe not) in cars and taxis (taxi is teksi in Malaysian), with speeding motorcycles mixed in cutting in and out of traffic. These daredevils drive as if it’s midnight on the lonely roads in Mounds, OK instead of midday in crowded KL. Add to that chaos the fact that with just about every turn, I knee-jerk believed we were on the wrong side of the road—and we were, it just happens to be right in KL. I finally just set my backseat driving nerves free and focused on the scenery instead of watching the road.

Scenery. Scenery is good.

20150112_150157Downtown KL is filled with some amazing architecture. Since that is Jim’s profession, we were both enthralled. We snapped photo after photo and determined that Monday would be our day to head down to tour some of these amazing structures.

We arrived, in one piece with no motorcycle hood ornaments, at a four-level shopping mall with a parking garage that seemed to spiral down to the earth’s core without a free space to be found. Was ALL of KL at this mall on this day?

electronics mallWhen we finally found a slot for the car and made the epic journey up from the center of the earth and into the mall I was awestruck. First, this was a mall devoted to nothing but electronics. No GAP. No Victoria’s Secret. Phones, computers, televisions, game stations…yes. Jeans, shirts, shoes…nada. Orange Julius? Maybe.

These people LOVE their electronics.

And the mall was packed from top to bottom. OH the people watching. I can tell you that I think we were the only Americans in a sea of diversity. Chinese? Check. Indian? Check. Malaysian? Check. Middle Eastern? Check. Australian? Check. European? Check. (Insert a lot of other nationalities/checks here) Oklahoman? Teeny tiny check.

This was a great place to see every type of attire from what I consider normal street clothes to women in full black robes with the traditional niqab head covering (covers the head and face leaving a small slit across the eyes).

You know, in the United States, we have different religions and cultures, but few can be identified so profoundly by clothing. I was fascinated and hungry to learn more. I still am. It’s complex, it varies greatly by country, and I’m wearing my fingers out typing questions into Google. This will be the vacation that keeps on giving because I’m determined to learn more.

20150113_134154Just know that my fascination with Muslim culture and attire is going to pop up time and again as I share details on our experience abroad. But up next? Hornbills and monkeys and temples…oh my! See you tomorrow?

Unsuspecting Tourist. Howdy Malaysia!

KL Day 2So let’s see. On day one (snuck in a link to it there) of my chronical of the Unsuspecting Tourist, aka me, we got right up to the point where we were about three hours from take-off. My bags were packed. All of the animals were settled and we had a solid plan in place for their care for the next 12 days. I was FINALLY starting to relax and just look forward to participating with Jim in our own episode of the Amazing Race. (Yeah, we pretended. Wouldn’t you?)

It was at this very point that I heard the little chime that tells me I have a text message. How nice! Someone sending a note wishing me a happy, safe vacation. I have the best friends and family!

Huh? Oh no. This was no wish-you-well text. This was a your-whole-trip-is-blowing-up text.

“Sally has the flu.”

This is the part where I had an out of body experience in which I saw our epic vacation waving goodbye to us as it faded away into a fine mist. Sally is our dog sitter. You know…for that collective 800 pounds of dog I mentioned in my previous post? Jim and I just stared at each other in disbelief.

Ok. Breathe. Breathe. (Yes, I did chant this to myself)

Just when it seemed all hope might be lost, I remembered that, hey, I am really good in an emergency. You have a crisis? I’m your gal. I have odd moments of clarity in the most unlikely situations.

My panic addled brain suddenly remembered my trusted veterinarian/dear friend telling me that one of their vet techs was a great pet sitter. OF COURSE! Just call in a pinch hitter. In rapid fire fashion, texts were sent, calls were made, plane tickets from Tulsa to Houston were bumped, and BAM, we found ourselves introducing a new pet sitter to our herd of dogs.

She only needed to survive a night or two until Sally felt well enough to take over. Despite looking a bit startled by the herd of canines greeting her, and despite the mind-boggling instructions being rattled off by two slightly crazed tourist wannabes, Sky, our shiny new pet sitter, assured us that she was up to the challenge.

We left her with something like eight pages of instructions and phone numbers for Sally and any and every one we felt could help her out.

Ok. Not-so-small bump in the road handled. To the airport! GO! GO! GO!

Slightly delayed, but still in good form to catch our international flight, Jim and I made the first leg of our journey from Tulsa to Houston. One small step on a trip to Malaysia, one giant leap for the trip that very nearly didn’t happen.

We collected Jim’s 12 year old nephew, Jean-Yves, from his grandparents and headed through security…where Jim was immediately frisked and scrutinized because the bag that Jean-Yves was carrying tested positive for some sort of explosive or something. Yeah, they don’t pat down the adorable minor child…they go straight for the guardian who likely forced said minor to carry that bag. My theory is that Jim’s father rubbed a little gun powder on the bag and stood just outside security barely suppressing tears born of laughter.

Once they determined that the Xbox One Jean-Yves received for Christmas was indeed an Xbox One and not a weapon of mass destruction, we lined up to board the flight that would take us to Dubai for a brief layover before a connecting flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Sounds simple until you realize that the first leg of that journey takes more than 16 hours and the “shorter” flight to Malaysia takes about six hours. I would like to tell you that we traveled in the first class lap of luxury…or even the relative comfort of business class…but no. It was economy all the way, baby. Have you priced those first class tickets? Yikes!

It was a humongous plane. You know, the double-decker kind that makes you wonder how this hulking thing can possibly get off the ground, let alone carry you safely over an entire ocean? Yeah, I don’t focus on that stuff too much, but don’t you know that Orville and Wilbur would be high fiving each other for hours if they could see this feat?

We settled into our seats and, with a little time on my hands, I decided to give the Sky Mall catalog a gander. You know the magazine. It’s filled with stuff you can purchase…clever, fancy stuff that you can ONLY find in Sky Mall.

For example, there is Fit Desk. This is basically a laptop desk attached to a stationary bicycle. Yes, you too can sweat and prepare for that huge presentation in one calorie burning session.

john lemonOr how about the glow in the dark toilet seat? No more excuses for poor aim! And there’s the Micro Kickboard Luggage that combines carry on convenience with play yard fun. Just flip down the handy scooter on the back of the suitcase and hop on! Look out granny, I’ve got a plane to catch!

By the time I got to the “John Lemon Scented T-shirt” I decided it might be time to find a new diversion. Ahhh…inflight entertainment. Movies, television shows, music! Perfect.

While most people on the flight found some way to sleep a number of the hours away, I managed to watch three movies and 19 episodes of Two Broke Girls. You know…rich girl loses everything, meets spunky streetwise girl, moves in, gets waitressing job, AND they start a gourmet cupcake business while exchanging nonstop witty repartee? Got it? Any questions about season three?

Dubai pepsiSo finally, after hurtling through space and time, beaming up with Scotty, and, I’m fairly certain, at least one alien abduction, we landed in Dubai with about three hours to kill. Our to-do list included, in order of priority, bathroom, snacks, finding our gate, and people watching. That last one might have actually been tops on my list…well…after bathroom. But OH the people watching! We were certainly not in Oklahoma any longer.

Our stop in Dubai was the start of my curiosity about Muslim culture and confusion over the different clothing involved. I quickly realized how very naive I am about different cultures and customs. Such a deal…a vacation, an education, and a soft drink that looked and tasted like Pepsi…but I’m still not entirely sure that it was.

Ok, one more six- hour hop, skip, and a jump and we landed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Time to check in with our friends at customs and head off on our who-cares-about-Waldo, where-the-heck-are-Jim-and-Nancy adventure.

Explain to me why I always feel guilty when facing authority? I really have led a fairly crime-free life, yet I get the jitters every time I have to pass through customs. Maybe that time when I was five and I accidentally took a balloon from the grocery store without paying for it will come back to haunt me? My mom made me take it back in the store to pay for it, but still…

Sweat beaded on my forehead as they scanned the fingerprints on my index fingers. The agent studied my passport…looked at his computer…read the report about the nearly stolen balloon…and let me enter Malaysia anyway. Whew. That. Was. Close.

Jim’s brother Jeremy was right there waiting and we safely delivered Jean-Yves into his waiting arms. Responsible escorts no more, let the vacation begin!

KL wrong sideFirst jet-lagged impressions of Kuala Lumpur:

  • Wrong side of the road! WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD! Oh. Never mind.
  • Palm trees grow there like maple trees and oak trees grow here. Forests of palm trees.
  • You think America is a melting pot? Have you been to Malaysia?
  • Motorcycles and scooters swarm through heavy traffic like gnats. Traffic laws apparently do not apply to two-wheeled vehicles. Eeek.
  • Roads in Malaysia are as intense as the streets of New York only take those streets in New York and tie them into knots that make no sense whatsoever. There you go.
  • A lot of the architecture in Malaysia is amazing.
  • So many people.
  • Sidewalks in Malaysia = an extreme sport (or are non-existent).
  • The view from the 17th floor of the Embassy View Apartments on Jalan Ampang (that means Ampang Street…see how much I learned?) can only be described as a postcard. Couples on House Hunters International would take this apartment on the view alone before even noticing the open floor plan and the four beds/four baths.
  • A shower never felt so damn good (this after that 32 total hours of travel time…you can only re-apply deodorant so many times before you just turn into the creepy smelly woman).

The rest of day one/two (they melded together at some point) is a bit of a blur. I know we settled into a nice room in the apartment. I know I got to put on clean underwear (TMI?). I know a nap was involved somewhere. I know the Xbox One we risked life and limb and body cavity search to bring home was immediately fried by plugging it into the wrong converter. Twelve year old boys LOVE it when their dads accidentally do that (Don’t worry…Jer later fixed it. Happy 12 year old). I believe we took a trip downtown to see some sights and have some dinner. I think. I’m pretty sure. I do have photo proof, if not conscious memory.

And the news from the home front? In the time it took us to get from Tulsa to Kuala Lumpur, Sally the dog sitter’s Tamiflu kicked in and she felt good enough to head out to Tails You Win Farm to keep the dogs company. All was well in KL…all was well in Mounds. Now we just needed to figure out how to exchange our nights for days so we could actually stay awake long enough to experience Malaysia.

(Hint…we succeeded! There will be more…)

KL night  KL towers

The Unsuspecting Tourist

plane to KL 2So…what would you do if you found out that you had two weeks to prepare for a 12 day international vacation? What would you do if you were ME and you found out you had two weeks to prepare for a 12 day international vacation? ME! The one who lives on an E-I-E-I-O farm with a herd of animals that like to eat once or twice a day…every day.

Well, Jim’s prediction for my reaction to his wildly generous Christmas gift was that I would say, “Wow. Oh f*ck. Wow.”

So yes, I opened a gift on Christmas day and inside I found a travel itinerary for a 12 day tour of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with side trips to Langkawi, Malaysia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, both in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

WOW!

And then I saw the departure date: January 7. The upcoming one.

Oh f*ck!

My brain immediately came up with 43,107 reasons why I could not possibly leave the country in two weeks.

And then I looked at the travel guides detailing our destinations. Back to WOW.

Yep…you nailed it, Jim.

So let me admit right here and now that I am not necessarily the most spontaneous person in the world when it comes to travel. We have dogs. Lots of dogs. We have a borderline cameo on Animal Planet Hoarders number of dogs (disclaimer: lots of foster dogs…that do find great homes…this keeps us out of the headlines and still in the “good guys” column).

We also have horses, pigs, donkeys, a mule, and one very unintelligent ram.  It takes a village for us to just leave town for a long weekend. Twelve days? Out of the country? Um…yes, I may have been screaming on the inside, and a little on the outside, just thinking of the logistics.

Oh, and I co-own a business with a friend that I would like to keep as a friend. There’s that.

But Jim had been planning, apparently for months. And this was not a randomly selected destination. Jim’s brother lives/works in KL (that’s what all of us savvy travelers call Kuala Lumpur) and we were going to serve as escorts for his 12 year old son who was returning home after spending the holidays in Houston with his grandparents and mom.

Let me just say here that we also got to take a great trip to Thailand a few years ago while serving as escorts for Jim’s nephew. Of course this kid has made these trips enough that he could likely navigate just about any airport in his sleep, but yes, we played the part of the responsible adults. As a side note, I will volunteer to escort this kid well into his adulthood as long as Jim’s brother keeps landing in exotic destinations. To the point that he has to spoon feed me oatmeal on the plane. Yes I will.

In reality, Jim really had things well planned. He had cleared our travel dates with my dear, wonderful business partner. He had booked our pet sitter. He had looked into getting a different pet sitter to care for the barn animals so that our doggy pet sitter would not be overwhelmed.

Our passports were current thanks to Jim’s five day birthday celebration in Los Cabos, Mexico, this past July. (We planned that one for six months. We planned that one to death.)

Ok. So a trip to the other side of the world in two weeks. Go with it Nancy. Relax. Just be excited. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Who wouldn’t jump at this chance?

Oh how I wish I could have followed all of that grand advice. But in reality, I might have been a wee bit panicky about the whole thing. Just a wee bit.

The date approached and I prepared. Thanks to that five-day Mexico trip I actually had the clothes I needed for our warm weather destinations. No stress on the packing front.

The house sitters were ready to roll. No stress there.

The travel plans were in place. I didn’t have to contribute a single thing. Just show up and get on the plane, Nervous Nancy.

As our departure date approached, I started to embrace the adventure. How many people from Mounds, Oklahoma get to hang out in a high rise apartment in KL? How many get to go to a lovely beach resort on the island of Langkawi? And then how many get to top it off with a whirlwind 24-hour tour of Dubai?

Not many, bordering on none. Most likely none.

In hindsight I think it was wise of Jim to only allow me two weeks to get my head around this trip. Who knows what dark places my brain might have traveled with too much time to overanalyze every last detail. Obviously, since it is now January 20, 2015, we all realize the trip happened and I survived. In fact, I not only survived, Jim and I had a great time…that I have yet to write about.

windowYou see, we responsibly decided that I should not write about the trip while we were actually ON said trip because of the line of burglars that would surely form at our front gate if the world realized we were away. You know, those burglars who are willing to break into a house with about 800 collective pounds of dog waiting inside the doors and windows.

I honestly didn’t believe that home invasion was a likely threat. Plus, I have to imagine that burglars would be pretty discouraged, after braving all of those dogs, to find that the thing of greatest value inside this house was my collection of had-to-have-it gorgeous skeins of yarn that I bought with no clue what I would make out of them. They were just too pretty to pass up. Is there much call for baby alpaca wool yarn on the black market?

Anyhow, for the security and sanity of our house sitters, we wisely opted to not advertise the fact that we were far, far away. Very grown up of us, right? I know.  Now I just have to decipher all of my scrawled notes that I faithfully wrote in my journal each day of the trip so I can share the journey here.

It is possible that I need to check in with my grade school teachers to see where we went so very, very wrong with my handwriting lessons. I can’t decide if it says we flew on a plane or chewed on a cane. Bear with me. I swear I will decode it and get to the good part…that would be the actual trip.

KL balcony 2And in parting, you know that quote “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry?” Yeah, well, on departure day…mere hours before we were going to leave on our well planned vacation…we got word that our dog sitter had just been diagnosed with the flu.

Now THAT proved to be a great way to get the old blood pressure pumping. Ahhh…but I’ll save the rest for future tales. Stick with me…it gets really good. Bon voyage!

The Every Day is a Holiday Tree

Every day is a holiday tree
Small beacon
A surprise in the holiday night.
A bright reminder
in a pitch black landscape.
There to inspire wonder
that a Christmas tree
can glow in the middle of nowhere.
Now left to light the night
for as long as it will.
A perfect reminder that every day
is a day for celebration.

This is a follow up to my post, My Perfectly Imperfect Christmas. I had several people message me that they wanted to see a photo of the little magic tree so I put Jim to work to capture the image…tricky in the dark. The photo is zoomed in…the tree is actually just a little blue glow to the naked eye. I love it. It will stay there as long as those little lights care to glow…and as long as the horses, donkeys and mule will leave it alone! So far, so good. Merry every day!

My Perfectly Imperfect Christmas

Christmas treeWhen I look out into my back pasture right now, I struggle to see anything that is particularly beautiful. The landscape is dormant and basically monochromatic. The days have been gray and devoid of the sunlight that I desperately crave. I think the weatherman reported that we have seen only three sunny days since Thanksgiving. ACK!

This is the landscape that ushered in the holidays. A bunch of blah. Add to this the fact that everything I have ever really know to be “the holidays” has changed. Of course it has changed. My family has changed over the years.

That family in the grainy old photos has grown up. I’ve been through a parade of Christmas photo hairstyles. The 80s were particularly poofy.

My grandparents, parents, and oldest sister are gone now. Spouses joined the family, then some left. My nieces and nephews grew up to form families of their own. Adorable great nephews and an angelic little great niece entered the picture to breathe new life into the wonder-of-Christmas years.

But for me…well…every Christmas is still compared to the old family routine. For a good portion of my life, Christmas was blissfully predictable. There was a big dinner with extended family at Mom and Dad’s house on Christmas Eve. Then it was a Christmas morning of fun, laughter, excess, and time spent together. It was day of jolly elfin magic and early morning gifts followed by a brunch featuring all of our favorite, decadent breakfast foods (so much bacon, so very much bacon). Kids snacked on surgery treats from stockings while adults likely enjoyed some spiked beverages that somehow made it into the breakfast category (you add tomato juice or orange juice and voila!).

And it happened like that every year. For years and years. The routine held steady. And then, bam!  It all changed.

Now, I’m not turning into a pouting child here, well, ok, maybe I am. I have a tad bit of trouble with change. But I have really been working on going with the flow. Creating new traditions. Finding my own special in the most special of holidays. I’ve also really started celebrating the heck out of Halloween. I’m all about the holiday that allows…nay, requires you to dress up as someone else.

But I digress.

Christmas is still about family, and celebrating together. It is. The routine has just changed. It just all looks different now. And I have to embrace different.

Last year, I embraced it by hiring a company to cover our house in lights. It was the first Christmas without my dad and the third without my mom. I needed some holiday sparkle and magic. It was nice. The house looked wonderful and welcomed me home every night. My spirits were lifted.

And it was expensive.

This year, we decided that hiring the lighting guys again was a bit like mixing money in with the hay we throw to the donkeys. We’ll do our own lights, we said. We’ll light the place right up. I had my doubts. The holidays tend to sneak up on us.

We’re often the people at the Christmas tree lot at the eleventh hour. Jim actually prefers to do his shopping on the day before Christmas. Every year we say we’re going to get cards out…and…well…did you get yours? No? Hmm.

So it was shaping up to be a pouting kind of Christmas. I was trying to get in the spirit, but the spirit was apparently flying around someone else’s house and skipping right over me. Bah humbug.

And then it happened. My little Christmas miracle.

Christmas treeI came home one night to my dark, decidedly un-Christmassy house. Bah. I unlocked the door and stepped into my living room where there was no sparkly festive tree. Hum. I looked out the back window and…hey, wait. Way out there in the pitch black version of the photo above (here, another copy so you don’t have to go all scroll crazy…now picture it all dark), was a little, blue, glowing tree. Bug, stand down! Stand down! I believe we have some Christmas happening out there!

Yes, somehow, way out in the middle of a pasture, where there is no electricity, there was a solo, tiny, perfect tree glowing blue. I am fairly sure that my horses and donkeys did not pull off this Christmas magic. Jim feigned ignorance, and though the hogs are pretty clever, I’m still betting that the only other human who lives out here deserves the holiday high five for turning my frown upside down.

Of course I’m kind of anticipating the day when the lights end up wrapped around a very disgruntled mule, but for now, every evening, as night turns out the lights, I know I can search the pasture to find my perfect little tree shining away.

If this were the perfect Christmas story, I would go on to tell you that the little pasture tree inspired the most profound, heartfelt, joyous Christmas in the history of Nancy, but that would be a tad too Norman Rockwellesque for us.

christmas pigJim did put lights on the house and trimmed some trees in the front yard. I put my glowing pig on the front porch (because nothing says holidays like a glowing pig), and did manage to decorate a tree. Then Jim and I both got the real-deal flu. Not the “gee, I kind of feel like I have the flu” flu. THAT IS NOT THE FLU. The real flu makes itself VERY known. There’s no “kind of” about it.

So on the scale of Christmases that take tradition and tuck it in bed with Tamiflu and unlimited Sprite on the side, this one was an imperfect 10.

And still, my Christmas was special. Every single time I looked out into the night, I was reminded that even the most seemingly imperfect Christmas was perfect in its own way. Yes Nancy, there is a Santa Claus. He looks a lot like a pale, coughing Jim.

I’m keeping my little magic blue tree shining in the pasture until next December, at which point I am officially calling do-overs for Christmas. Seriously. Watch for that card in the mail. If I start now…

Oh and if I forgot to say it, Merry Christmas. I know I’m late, but feel free to apply it to the 2015 Christmas. Help a gal out. Put me way ahead of the merry game. Thanks. And, hey, Happy New Year, while we’re at it.

house lights 2014

Cooking the Thanksgiving Meal—Tails You Win Farm Style

Thanks HowieLet’s make one thing perfectly clear. I’m not much of a chef. My culinary skills are fairly limited (I can make mac and cheese…I can make one fabulous tomato bisque that a friend gave me baby-step-by-baby-step instructions for…I can make nachos). In fact, my idea of being a good cook is in knowing where to shop for really great carry-out (that I can then put in my own serving dish…you get the picture).

All that said, this fine year, I decided to cook our Thanksgiving meal. It’s just me, Jim and…oh, at last count with holiday guests…25 dogs and one wolfdog. Intimate, really.

We could have gone to enjoy a lovely meal at the home of some amazing friends. It would have been wonderful. These people know how to cook. They have a gourmet kitchen that makes me panic just a little when I simply stand in it. They have burners and ovens galore. They have a sink with a special faucet just for filling big pots with water.  (In my world the use for said “pot filler” would be to douse whatever fire I likely set…but WAIT…you don’t use water to put out a kitchen fire…so we can all see how that would go.)

Today, they will serve the perfect wine. They will have perfect hors d’oeurves. They will have feast beyond compare. They will follow it with an array of desserts that could make the cover of the holiday edition of Bon Appétit Magazine and their table presentation could grace the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, the holiday how-to edition. I know this. And they will pull it all off with effortless smiles to hide the hours of planning and work that went into the whole affair.

And it would have been a lovely, gluttonous experience.

But this year, with all of our doggy house guests (and my vision of the havoc they could wreak while we are away enjoying said lovely Thanksgiving gathering), and realizing that I have NEVER in my adult life just had my own stay-at-home-and-figure-it-out feast, I decided that Jim and I would have a Tails You Win Farm Thanksgiving.

Turkey, yams, mashed potatoes, gravy, and whatever other side dishes should happen. Yep. Doing it ourselves.

Stop laughing. Seriously. I have feelings.

For a week or so I have been planning.  I have been on Pinterest. I have Googled until my fingers are numb. I found that it’s a tad tricky to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for two. Or so I now believe. Though I have nothing to compare it to. But I have SEEN people cook a huge Thanksgiving meal. (I’m usually in charge of salad and rolls. Hard to screw up salad and rolls.) Thanksgiving recipes are designed to feed the masses. Huh. Just another fun hurdle in my culinary pilgrimage. (Look! I even used a Thanksgiving word!)

Anywho, I gathered recipes, I bought a small turkey breast—all white meat, no scary sack of guts inside. The perfect size for Thanksgiving pour deux. I think that’s French for ‘Thanksgiving for two.’ Why I think I need to use French in describing a strictly American holiday, well, I blame the fact that I am channeling Julia Child.

Bright and early this morning, I awoke with dawn’s first blush, all excited to go start the preparations for our first, wonderful, stay-at-home Thanksgiving feast. The turkey breast was perfectly thawed in the refrigerator. Step one. Success!

I brought my little turkey breast out to “pat dry with paper towels and season.” As I set it out on a tray on the counter I SWEAR I heard the theme from jaws.

thanks groupDa dum.
Da dum.
Da-dum-da-dum-da-dum.

Rut Row.

And so they started circling. Their leader…the one with the incredible reach…nowhere in sight, but I could feel him lurking. Waiting. Watching for that one precious ‘distract the human with cute puppy antics’ opportunity.

OH HELL NO.

And THIS is why I will never score my own cooking show. Well, besides the issue about me not really having a clue what I’m doing in the kitchen.

I am fairly sure you cannot have a cooking show that involves lots of cussing, threats (albeit empty ones) to lurking canines, and the potential for including dog hair in the seasoning list. Nope, not even the dude on Hell’s Kitchen can rival my misuse of the English language and my mom’s old Betty Crocker cookbook on this day.

So now, the turkey breast, having been bathed in butter (because, like bacon, butter makes everything yummy) and properly seasoned (to the best of my knowledge), is tucked safely in our slow cooker (yes I am using a Crock-Pot to cook our turkey. Don’t judge. It’s going to be tender, juicy and wonderful. You will be BEGGING for my recipe which I can’t share because I kind of just tossed some random stuff in there that seemed like a good idea at 6:30 am).

thanks brookeAnd, in this lull between turkey prep and rest-of-the-stuff prep, I am sitting on a stool in the kitchen watching the Crock-Pot. Let’s change ‘watching’ to guarding. Yes, mimosa in hand (thank you Jim…again don’t judge…it’s made with orange juice therefore a perfectly logical beverage for 7:44 am on Thanksgiving morning) I am guarding my slow-cooking turkey breast.

Because you know they’re out there. Those little and not-so-little furry bastards are plotting. They are waiting for that one moment of distraction that will turn my perfect little Thanksgiving into a movie script that would most definitely include Chevy Chase in a starring role.

Thanks Kaine and CinderHuh. A movie script for a Thanksgiving story starring Chevy Chase and Kainan the wolf dog.

Might. Be. Worth. It.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. Wish me luck either way.

Out of the Woods

Maria's tree

Artwork by Maria Wulf. Photo used with her permission.

A funny thing happened on the way to writing a new poem. For days a thought bounced around inside my mind. Words floated in and out, but it just wouldn’t come together. Then I saw a post by Maria Wulf featuring one of her wonderful, whimsical works of art. I think this piece was really a test of a new technique she was trying out, but the moment I saw it, I realized she had captured the thoughts that my mind could not bring to order. How wonderful it is to accidentally collaborate. And that little test masterpiece Maria created? It is now mine to cherish forever. Thanks Maria…let’s accidentally do it again sometime soon.

Here is Maria’s artwork as my mind interprets it…

Out of the Woods

Determined roots find purchase,
Defying ever-shifting soil and rock.
Branches reaching, constantly reaching
Though brush and thicket strive to thwart.
Not the tallest in the forest,
Perhaps not the most glorious crown,
But I am strong, I am supple.
I am tenacious,
I can bend without breaking.
I will dance in the wind.
I will offer shelter through the storm.
I will find my path to the sun.

This Day

20140710_192150I’m not writing about wolfdogs today. I’m not writing about dogs in general today. I’m not writing about donkeys, horses, mules, hogs, or even squirrels today.

Nope, I’m setting all of my favorite topics aside to write about 9/11. But it’s not what you think.

Of course this day holds meaning for me—for everyone worldwide. I remember this day clearly in 2001. I had just turned 40 years old and I never dreamed the country that seemed like such a safe place could be paralyzed by fear, even for just a moment. Of course, I’ll never forget that day.

Today, however, I’m actually writing about 9/11/2002. That was the day we all anticipated as a gloomy anniversary; a day to reflect on terrific loss and devastation. I might have gone down that path, if not for my co-worker at the time, Weltha Wood.

Weltha is a wonderful, bright, delightfully bohemian woman who proudly marches to the beat of her own drum. She has a beautiful smile and amazing eyes that capture your gaze and almost dare you to try to look away.  She can be a bit of a force when she wants to be. I have always enjoyed her very much.

On 9/11/2002, Weltha taught me a precious lesson. As I prepared to join a nation in somber remembrance, Weltha greeted the workday with one of her terrific smiles.

“Today,” she proclaimed, “is my birthday.” My heart sank a little for her at that moment.

“Oh…this must be so hard for you,” I responded thinking how terrible it would be to have your birthday overshadowed by such a terrible event.

“No,” she said shaking her head. “This day was my day long before terrorists tried to make it their day. I refuse to let them take my day. This is MY birthday.”

And as I let her words sink in, I realized how very right she was. I would not let evil control this beautiful day either.

So I returned Weltha’s smile with a genuine one of my own and wished her a very happy birthday. Now, each year on 9/11, the first thing I think about is Weltha’s birthday. I make a point to wish her a happy birthday every year, even though we haven’t worked together for over a decade. And every year she thanks me.

I wonder if she realizes she is the one who really gave me an incredible gift on her special day.

Today I will bow my head in silent remembrance, but only for a moment. The rest of this day I will hold my head high in celebration of life, liberty, and the fabulous birthday girl.

I won’t let them steal this day from me either, Weltha. Happy, happy birthday to you.