Book Publication List

The Lacy Steele Mystery Series:

Morning Cup of Murder (September 2011)

Christmas Steele (November 2011)

Building Blocks of Murder (January 2012)

Family Case of Murder (April 2012)

Arch Enemy of Murder (September 2012)

Class Reunion of Murder (February 2013)

Wedding Day of Murder (September 2013)

Icy Grip of Murder (April 2014)

Ladies Circle of Murder (May 2015)

Last Resort of Murder (May 2016)

 

The Sadie Cooper Mystery Series:

Pecked to Death (August 2012)

Slumbered to Death (December 2012)

Salvaged to Death (July 2013)

 

The Justice Seekers Series:

The Vigilante Club (May 2012)

Orchestrating Justice (April 2013)

Vigilante Vendetta (January 2014)

 

The Shadow Realm Series:

The Shadow Grasper (December 2011)

The Shadow Talker (December 2011)

The Shadow Seeker (January 2012)

The Shadow Lifter (March 2012)

 

The Kings of Montana:

Cowboy Down (August 2011)

Cowboy Lost (August 2011)

Cowboy Found (September 2011)

Cowboy Proud (September 2011)

Christmas with the Kings (November 2011)

 

The Queens of Montana:

The Cowgirl Code (March 2011)

One Classy Cowgirl (April 2011)

Cowgirl Undercover (May 2011)

Cowgirl on the Run (July 2011)

The Cowgirl Who Loved Horses (October 2011)

 

The Honeywells of Kentucky:

Wild Stallions (December 2011)

Wild and Wounded (December 2011)

Wild Pride (December 2011)

Wild and Unbroken (January 2012)

Wild and Free (January 2012)

 

Mission of the Heart Series:

Worlds Apart (November 2012)

A Stone’s Throw (March 2013)

Common Ground (TBA)

 

Brothers Courageous:

Shooter (March 2012)

Gunner (April 2012)

Spotter (May 2012)

Point Man (July 2012)

 

Paradise, Montana Series:

Bumpy Road to Paradise (January 2014)

Purgatory in Paradise (February 2015)

Reunited in Paradise (July 2015)

Growing Pains in Paradise (January 2016)

 

Stand-alone Titles:

Murder on the Brain (February 2012)

A Christian Cougar (April 2011)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (August 2012)

The Pajama Affair (November 2011)

For the Girls (September 2013)

 

 

 

“It’s Steele Christmas”

*This is a short story in the Lacy Steele Mystery Series. It may contain spoilers if you haven’t read the first few books*

It’s Steele Christmas

“The Smithsonian is going to call soon and claim your grandmother’s VCR as an antiquity,” Jason said.

“Don’t knock this VCR. Without it, I might not have been able to preserve my favorite Paula Deen cooking shows,” Lacy said. She picked up the remote for the maligned VCR and pressed play.

Lacy’s mother groaned. “Lacy, not that again. I gain weight watching that show. “

“But it’s the Deen family Christmas special,” Lacy argued. “It’s festive.”

“Pick something normal,” Frannie said.

A Very Brady Christmas?” Lacy suggested.

“Mom, Lacy doesn’t understand normal,” Riley said. “You have to put it in terms she can relate to. Tell her to watch whatever would be playing on the TV if she pressed her nose to Cindy’s living room window.”

Jason’s ex-girlfriend, Cindy, was one of the beautiful people and always had been. The mention of her made Lacy frown and dig her heels in. “We’re watching Paula Deen.” She turned the television to a moderate level and swapped the remote for a spatula.

“Tell me again why I’m here,” Jason said. Before him sat a perfectly aligned row of candy eyeballs. A minute ago they had been in an untidy pile. Now they looked like a line of macabre souvenirs from a deranged serial killer. Or the work of a bored OCD cop.

“It’s Christmas Eve, cookie decorating day,” Lacy said.

“Yes, but why am I here?” Jason asked.

“Forced family bonding time. It goes better if you don’t struggle,” Tosh said. He put his arm around Riley who was deftly piping dozens of little black hats on snowmen.

“What are the eyes for?” Jason asked.

“For the reindeer,” Lacy said. Everyone in the family was allowed to cut and decorate cookies however he or she wanted. Usually Lacy was better at eating than frosting, but this year she had spent time plotting her cookie design. So far they were shaping up to be her best yet. The shapes had stayed after she baked them, unlike years past when they swelled and oozed into each other so that she ended up with indiscernible frosted blobs.

“I’m going to frost them, and you’re going to stick the eyes on,” she continued. “And you can’t take your time aligning them perfectly because the frosting will dry. Just plop them on and move on with your life.”

“I lack the ability to plop, but I will try to align them quickly,” Jason said.

“Here’s the frosting,” Lacy’s grandmother said. She set a large bowl of brown icing on the table.

“Letting Grandma make it for you was a good call,” Riley said.

“I could’ve done it,” Lacy muttered.

“Yes, and we could’ve had our stomachs pumped.”

“No one’s stomach was pumped,” Lacy said.

“No, we suffered a night of food poisoning instead,” Riley said.

“How did you get food poisoning from frosting?” Tosh asked.

“I thought it had eggs in it. I didn’t know it was only butter and sugar,” Lacy said.

“In Lacy’s defense, the eggs gave it a light, pleasant consistency,” her grandmother said. “I think she might have been on to something.”

“Mom, you don’t have to defend everything Lacy does,” Frannie said.

“She defended me,” Lacy’s grandmother said in a rare fit of defiance.

“Anyway, Mom made the frosting and Jason’s helping. There’s not much chance of Lacy messing up the cookies or winding up in the hospital again this year,” Frannie said.

“Mom, you know better than to say that. You’re tempting fate,” Riley said.

“They’re going to be great,” Jason said.

“Suck up,” Tosh coughed.

Lacy ignored them all and focused on frosting her cookies. She had never mastered the art of the piping bag. Instead she did it the old fashioned way by smearing them with a knife. She told herself she preferred the more rustic look, but the truth was that she envied Riley’s piping skills. Still, as she examined her little brown deer, she had to admit they looked pretty good, almost as good as Riley’s snowmen. She handed her first cookie to Jason and concentrated on making a second.

“Uh, Lacy, do candy eyes come in different sizes?” Jason asked.

“Yes.”

“Did you buy the large ones?” Jason asked.

“Yes. Why?” She paused to inspect the deer he was holding aloft. The eyes took up two thirds of its face.

“I’ve heard of doe-eyed, but that’s a bit much,” Frannie said.

“That is one surprised deer,” Tosh said.

“It looks like it landed on an electric fence,” Riley added.

Mr. Middleton entered the room then and, unaware of any previous conversation, offered his own opinion on the cookie. “Why does Rudolph look constipated?”

They were all laughing. Lacy knew it was ridiculous to be overly sensitive about Christmas cookies, but she couldn’t tamp down her wounded feelings. She had tried so hard this year to plan the perfect cookie.

“I’m going to grab another bag of powdered sugar,” she said. She stood and left the room. No one hailed her back. They were so deep in laughter over the bug-eyed cookies; she doubted they noticed her absence.

The extra sugar was in a container in the garage. Her grandmother bought it by the skid and stored the extra in a plastic tub outside. She would never admit to crying over a reindeer cookie, but her eyes were clouded by something, so much that she missed the last two steps out the door. She pitched forward, her head crashing hard on the concrete. Everything faded to black.

“Wake up, y’all.”

The familiar smell of gooey butter cake wafted under Lacy’s nose. Her eyes popped open. Paula Deen stood bending over her, holding a piece of cake just out of reach under her face.

“What?” Lacy said. She reached for the cake. Paula snatched it away.

“It’s time to wake up, y’all,” Paula said. She stuffed the cake in her mouth and wiped powdered sugar off her lips.

“Paula Deen, what are you doing here?” Lacy asked. She sat up feeling remarkably unbruised after her tumble down the stairs.

“I’m here to show you what life would be like without you,” Paula said.

“Why?” Lacy asked.

“Because you asked me to,” Paula said.

“No I didn’t,” Lacy said.

“Well, you would have eventually. Thought I’d save myself a trip,” Paula said.

“Am I dead?” Lacy asked.

“Something like that.”

“Wait, how are you here? You’re still alive,” Lacy pointed out.

“Honey, I’m a manifestation of your inner consciousness. Let’s be glad I’m not a talking cupcake,” Paula said. “Now, stand up, we have to go.”

“Where are we going?” Lacy asked.

“We’re going to see what the world would be like if you’d never been born,” Paula said. The garage around them swirled away into dust.

“What happened?” Lacy asked.

“You weren’t here to live with your grandmother. Her house was bulldozed years ago.”

“But why? Where’s Grandma?” Lacy asked.

“You can’t guess?” Paula said. She tried to snap her fingers, but they were too greasy from the butter cake. She swiped them on her pants and tried again. This time the snap worked and, in an instant, they were in a different place.

“Where are we?” Lacy asked.

“Prison,” Paula said. “Where hard criminals do hard time.”

“I’m not sure I have the stomach to see this,” Lacy said.

“Brace yourself, y’all. We’re goin’ in,” Paula said. They whisked weightlessly through the solid walls of the prison, zooming around corners until they came to a small windowless room. Lacy’s grandmother sat in the middle of the room, cocooned by a gathering of younger women.

“And that’s the difference between knit and purl,” she concluded as she held her needles and yarn aloft. The other women clapped and began talking among themselves as they tried to replicate her technique.

“You’re allowed to have knitting needles in prison?” Lacy said.

“They’re safety needles, the kind given to children so they don’t poke themselves in the eye,” Paula explained.

“Hey, that’s the kind Grandma always gave me when she tried to teach me,” Lacy said.

“It’s almost Christmas. Aren’t you having any visitors this year?” one of the women asked.

“No, my daughter and granddaughter are much too busy this time of year,” Lacy’s grandmother said, a sad smile on her face.

“Mom and Riley don’t come to see her? Why not?” Lacy asked.

“Do you really want to know?” Paula asked.

“Yes, I want to see what they’re up to,” Lacy said.

Paula snapped her fingers and suddenly they were in New York.

“Oh, I miss Manhattan at Christmas,” Lacy said. The city was perfectly decorated and snowy. They strolled Fifth Avenue, admiring the windows.

“Come this way,” Paula urged. They veered into one of the fancy buildings, floating up several flights of stairs.

“Who lives here?” Lacy asked.

“Riley. When Barbara Blake died, the inheritance passed to her.”

“But that was only a million dollars. An apartment like this would be at least ten,” Lacy said. They floated into Riley’s luxury apartment and hovered. A phone rang.

“I’m coming,” Riley called, huffing and puffing from an adjoining room.

“Is she still pregnant?” Lacy asked. Pregnancy was the only time she had ever heard her sister breathless.

“Oh, you’ll see,” Paula said.

Riley waddled into the room, her large frame filling the doorway and spilling over. “Exactly how many babies does she have in there?” Lacy asked.

“None,” Paula said.

“Riley’s fat?” Lacy said.

“Without you around, all the treats went to her. She’s struggled with weight her whole life. Weight finally won,” Paula said.

“Hello,” Riley said as she picked up the phone. “No, I don’t have the money. I’ll ask my husband as soon as he gets home.”

“Did she marry Tosh?” Lacy asked.

“Without you around, she never came home to meet him. She married someone else.” Just then the door opened and Robert came through.

“Riley, I’m home,” he called.

“About time,” Riley said. “Did you bring my cookies?”

He handed her a box from Levain Bakery. Riley opened it, took out a cookie, and bit into it. When she had swallowed, she spoke. “The loan company called. They found us.”

“I’ll get my suitcase,” he said. “Take what you can carry.”

“I’m not leaving here without those silver candelabras,” Riley said.

The conversation moved into the bedroom. Lacy saw Robert pull out a leather bag and rifle through it. “Who do you want to be this time? The Bernsteins?”

“No, last time we were the Bernsteins I had to play kosher. I’m not giving up bacon again,” Riley said.

“The Kosters then,” Robert said.

“What’s happening?” Lacy asked.

“They’re grifters,” Paula said. “They live life on the run, taking what they can scam from other people.”

“Are they happy?” Lacy asked.

“She eats her feelings and he’s having an affair. Eventually they’ll get a divorce and try to steal from each other, but not before they bring a couple of kids into the world and inflict their misery on them,” Paula said.

“Does Mom know?” Lacy asked.

“Your mama sees what she wants to in Riley,” Paula said.

“Where is she?”

Paula snapped her fingers and they were in Greenwich Village. “Mom is here? Why isn’t she in Florida?”

“She and your father divorced when Riley was ten. She came here to ‘find herself’ and never left,” Paula said.

“This place smells like incense and B.O. My mom would never be here,” Lacy said.

“Wouldn’t she?” Paula said. She stuffed another piece of gooey butter cake in her mouth.

“Where did you get that?”

Paula shrugged.

“Can I have a piece?”

“No,” Paula said. “Now pay attention.”

“You’re a lot nicer on TV,” Lacy muttered, but people filing into the cavernous room caught her attention. “Is this some type of fitness class? That makes sense. Mom likes to take care of herself.”

“There she is,” Paula said. Lacy’s gaze followed her pointed finger. Her mother’s hair was longer than she had ever seen it, straight and parted in the middle.

“All right, ladies, are we ready to get started?” she called.

“Mom’s the instructor?” Lacy said. “She does like to boss people.”

Her mother turned on some tuneless music and began contorting her body into impossible positions.

“My mom teaches yoga?” Lacy said.

“Hot yoga. It’s about to get real warm in here, y’all.”

She watched a few more minutes as her mother continued her stretches. Sweat beaded on her partially exposed back. “So, she’s a hippy?”

“Not hardly. In addition to teaching this class, she works as a waitress for a restaurant in Chinatown. After she burned through her settlement, the divorce from your dad left her broke. At night she sleeps in a studio over the restaurant. Her bedroom is above the kitchen. It smells like fried wontons.”

“What about my dad?” Lacy asked.

Paula snapped her fingers. In an instant, they were back at the home where Lacy grew up. “He didn’t move to Florida?” Lacy asked.

“He couldn’t. Your mother took his retirement in the divorce. He’ll work until he dies,” Paula said.

“Is he happy? Does he have friends? Does he date?” Lacy said.

“Twice a year he goes fishing with some buddies. He goes to church on Sundays. He dated a few people, but it didn’t last. He still says Frannie was the love of his life.”

“Does he go to Tosh’s church?” Lacy asked. She was sure Tosh and her father would be friends, at least.

“He did, but…”

“But what?” Lacy asked.

“About a year ago, Tosh went missing.”

“Missing? What do you mean missing?”

“He gone,” Paula said.

“But you know where he is, don’t you?”

“Are you sure you want to see? It’s not pretty,” Paula said.

“Show me.”

Paula snapped her fingers and they were suddenly at a house Lacy recognized. Even if she had never been there, she would have known the house by its décor—dozens upon dozens of taxidermy rodents.

“Why are we at Pearl’s house?” Lacy asked.

“Have you ever seen the movie Misery?” They floated toward Pearl’s bedroom. Inside, Tosh was chained to the bed.

“Pearl kidnapped Tosh? I guess that makes sense. Except she was arrested for her husband’s murder. I helped get her off,” Lacy said.

“She was tried for his murder, but it was a hung jury,” Paula said.

“What about Michael?” Lacy asked.

“In jail in Minnesota awaiting trial,” Paula said.

“Grandpa?” Lacy asked.

Paula made the sign of the cross. “Rest his soul.”

“I’m fairly certain you’re not catholic,” Lacy said. “What about Joe and Suze, Kimber and all my other friends?” Lacy asked.

“C’mon,” Paula said. She snapped her fingers.

“Wait, what about Tosh? Is he going to be okay?”

“She’ll let him go eventually. Or she’ll stuff and mount him. The future’s a bit cloudy on that one,” Paula said. “Here we are downtown.”

Only it didn’t look like downtown. Not only was it dreary and deserted, but it seemed darker somehow. Finally it dawned on Lacy what was different. “Where’s the Stakely building?”

“Demolished, of course. Only the other deal fell through and nothing ever took its place. Now it’s just a depressing pile of rubble.”

“And Joe?”

“Still in prison, in the infirmary. I fear he’s not long for this world,” Paula said.

“What about Suze?”

Paula snapped her fingers again. They flew to another familiar abode. “This is Barbara Blake’s house, Riley and Tosh’s home,” Lacy said. Except instead of being the cute bungalow it had been under Barbara Blake’s tenure or the stylish craftsman it had become under Riley and Tosh, it was a rundown heap with boarded windows. They passed through the walls into the living room. A pile of trash was in the middle of the floor. The pile moved and Lacy yelped.

Suze sat up and pushed a mess of dreadlocks off her face. “Time for food, Squiggles,” she said. She used a rock to bash open a can of vegetables, not caring when the liquid gushed onto the floor. She picked up a spoon, scooped some peas, and set it on the floor. In a little while, a mouse skittered out and began tentatively nibbling the peas. Suze watched with a smile.

To her right, another mouse scampered out of its hiding place and began edging toward the spoon. Suze picked up the can and flattened the oncoming mouse. “No, it’s for Squiggles!” she yelled.

Lacy turned away. “I’m ready to see Jason.” If everyone was so bad off without her, she couldn’t imagine how much worse Jason was.

“Are you sure? You might not like it,” Paula said.

“Positive. Take me to him,” Lacy said.

With a snap of Paula’s fingers, they were suddenly in a beautiful ballroom filled with dancers. Two of the dancers Lacy recognized. Jason, bedecked in a tuxedo, led Cindy around the floor at a dazzling pace. They were both beaming.

“I think I might be sick,” Lacy said.

“I warned you it wasn’t pretty,” Paula said.

“I thought he’d be miserable. Look at them. They look like they’re filming a toothpaste commercial. If I stick my foot out, will she fall?” Lacy asked.

“Keep watching,” Paula said.

Jason’s phone rang. He led Cindy to the side of the dance floor as he took the call. He talked for a minute before stuffing the phone back in his pocket. “It’s work. I’m so sorry, but I have to go.”

“So soon?” Cindy said.

“I’m sorry,” Jason said. “Let me take you home.”

“Don’t be silly. I can get a ride with Melody. Be safe tonight.”

“Sure thing,” Jason said. He leaned down and gave her a quick kiss on the lips.

“Stop that,” Paula said when Lacy began trying to ineffectually scratch Cindy’s eyes out.

“All this time he insisted Cindy meant nothing to him, but the minute I’m not born he goes running to her willowy, blemish-free arms,” Lacy said.

Paula snapped her fingers and they were at Jason’s house. Jason was just opening the door.

“How did he get here so quickly?” Lacy asked.

“Time lapse.”

“I don’t know why we’re here. He’s just going to change and go back to work,” Lacy said, only he didn’t. Instead he opened the fridge and peered inside. Sighing, he closed the refrigerator and headed for the couch. He turned on the television, drummed his fingers restlessly on the remote, and turned it off again. He stood, walked to the table, and picked up the mail. There was one Christmas card, a corporate greeting and picture of a Christmas tree. Jason propped the card in the center of the table and returned to the fridge.

“What’s he doing? Why isn’t he going to work?” Lacy asked. As if in answer to her question, he took out his phone, dialed, and spoke.

“It’s Cantor. Thanks for the call. No, nothing wrong, I just needed an out. Later.”

“He lied?” Lacy whispered. Jason never lied, ever. She watched as he took out some lettuce and made a salad. When the salad was prepared and the work area clean, he sat, picked up a fork, and set it down again. He stood, walked to the counter, and began rifling through drawers. When he found a candle, he held it triumphantly aloft before lighting it and setting it in front of the tree card.

“Merry Christmas,” he muttered and started to eat his salad.

“That’s so sad,” Lacy said. Knowing that he had purposely ditched Cindy went a long way toward restoring her warm feelings toward him. “He’s bored and alone.”

“It gets worse,” Paula said.

Jason finished the salad, washed the bowl, stuck it in the dishwasher, and opened the cupboard. He put his hand on a box and withdrew it.

“What is that?” Lacy asked. “Is that millet? Jason doesn’t eat millet.” She stood on her toes to read the boxes in his cupboard. “Kasha, buckwheat, quinoa. What is going on here?”

“Lacy, Jason’s gone gluten-free,” Paula said.

Lacy gasped and covered her face. “It’s worse than I thought.”

“Maybe you should wake up now,” Paula said, only her voice sounded funny. “Lacy, wake up.”

Her eyes fluttered. Jason’s face was startlingly close to hers, his eyes filled with concern. “Do you eat millet?” she asked.

“Why would I eat bird seed?” he asked.

“How do you feel about gluten?” she asked.

“I don’t,” he said. “Are you okay?”

“Fine, I think.”

“I’m sorry we were teasing you about your reindeer cookies,” he said.

“It’s not a big deal,” she said.

“Look.” He held up a cookie. Someone had added a bulbous red nose, puckered pink lips, and lashes to the oversized eyes. It looked adorable. “I think you win the cutest cookie contest.”

“Did you do that?” she asked.

“I did the nose. Your mom did the lips. Riley did the lashes.”

“Thank you. It feels good to be alive,” she said.

“I’ve always thought so.” He lay down beside her. The concrete was cold and she shivered. He draped an arm over her, warming her with his nearness.

A new, more disturbing thought occurred to her. “You didn’t call an ambulance, did you?”

“I’m afraid so,” he said.

“I don’t want to go to the hospital,” she said.

“You got a pretty good bump on the head,” he said.

“You know they’ll just keep me for observation,” she said. “It’s what they do every time I get a concussion. They’re so unoriginal.”

“Then I will stay and observe you,” he said.

“You don’t have to stay with me,” she said.

“What else do I have to do?” he asked.

She pictured him sitting in his lonely, undecorated house eating millet in front of a Christmas card and candle. “Absolutely nothing. In fact, I might be the best thing that ever happened to you.”

“I think this head injury knocked some sense into you. You’re speaking truth,” he said. Outside, they could hear the siren drawing nearer. Riley stuck her head out the door.

“We decided to move the cookie party to your room, as soon as you get checked in. It won’t be the first time we’ve spent Christmas in the hospital with you. And it probably won’t be the last.” She disappeared back inside the house.

“Do you want me to disinvite them?” Jason asked. “It’s going to be chaos at the hospital.”

“I sort of like the chaos,” Lacy said.

“It’s growing on me, too,” Jason said. “I guess these are our last few minutes alone. We should make the most of them.” He eased closer, his lips brushing hers. “Merry Christmas, Lacy.”

“Merry Christmas, y’all,” Lacy said.

“Hmm?” he said.

“Never mind,” she said and kissed him until the medics arrived with her neck brace and stretcher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Eight: Arches National Park to Zion National Park

We left the beautiful red rocks of Arches and headed west. But not before my husband and daughter collected some petrified wood from the roadside because geology rocks.

Speaking of rocks, the ones on the east side of Utah faded from red to brown, but were still beautiful in their own desolate way. We were now in the phase of the trip where a sign on I-70 warned that there were no facilities for a hundred miles, bad news to me as I downed my large travel mug of coffee.

Today was another long driving day as we spanned the width of Utah. Eventually we exited off the interstate onto Highway 89, a scenic byway that spans from the Grand Canyon in the south to the Grand Tetons in the north. Desert rocks gave way to lush, verdant valleys. Cows began to reappear on the landscape. (As did Mormons on ATV’s. This part of the route is the old Mormon trail and ATV’s are apparently the law if you live in the area.)

We arrived at our hotel, a working bison ranch. (They also had goats, ducks, chickens, and flies.)

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And then headed to the park.

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Zion National Park is probably the most famous (and therefore the most crowded) park in Utah. For that reason travel is prohibited inside the park. You have to take a shuttle, which is free and runs every few minutes going both directions. Today we only had time for the shuttle. Tomorrow we hope to hike a bit. But here are some highlights from the trip in.

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Supper was at Oscars, a local joint in Springdale. Our hotel/ranch had an onsite restaurant that looked good, but at about $50 for a bison steak, it was more than our budget allowed.

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After supper we walked around the (tiny) downtown of Springdale and got an equally tiny portion of ice cream. Then on our way out of the park we saw these guys:

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Tonight our resort has no TV and limited Wifi. Maybe we’ll sit on the porch and watch the buffalo roam.

Cross Country Trip, Alaskan Cruise, part 2: THE END!

I know two people in Alaska: Santa, and my best friend from growing up, Kenny. They both live at the North Pole. Sadly, we saw neither on this trip. In fact, we saw relatively little of Alaska. It’s 14 times the size of Ohio, twice the size of Texas, four times the size of Montana, three times the size of California…you get the idea. It’s huge! I would love to come back again and see more, but getting here is daunting.

Our cruise started at the top of our journey and went south, so our next stop was the capital, Juneau. Juneau is only accessible by boat or plane.

What does one do in a remote capitol first thing in the morning? Find a bakery, of course!

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At 44 miles long, Juneau is the 3rd largest city in the world, though the population is only around 35,000 people. The town had a fun, funky feel to it. It reminded me of Portland—there seems to be a new and young food movement, which is how we happened upon a half dozen other bakeries.

It was so hilly that it’s sometimes called Little San Francisco, and it receives little snow because it’s actually a rain forest. (It also receives very little sunshine.) The town had one fast food drive-thru—a McDonald’s. Their arrival was so heralded that 90% of the population ate there on opening day. That may be the last time anyone over the age of seven was that excited about McDonald’s food.

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There were a lot of murals in Alaska, as well as a lot of flowers, and rhubarb, tons of rhubarb.

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Back on the boat, we searched for entertainment. Without alcohol and gambling, our closest friends became karaoke and trivia. Have mercy. Apparently the only words to “We Are Family” that we know are “We Are Family.” There are verses, lots of verses.

The next day we landed in Ketchikan. In both Juneau and Ketchikan, the cruise lines had built up little touristy meccas immediately in front of the boat. It was challenging to get past these and see the true heart of the city. In Ketchikan, we walked up the hill to a park and saw some salmon spawning. We also saw some harbor seals and bald eagles. We have bald eagles where I live, but this was the first time I ever heard their beautiful (and loud) call.

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This guy and his mate were in the center of town, totally undisturbed by people.

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These seals came in for a closer look at the kayakers.

Ketchikan had a dearth of bakeries. Let us observe a moment of grief-filled silence for their lack.

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While we’re on the subject of food (as if we’re ever not on the subject of food), let’s talk about the cruise. For years, I had heard about the awesomeness of the food on cruises. After having experienced it for myself, I can tell you that this is both true and not true. There is a. lot. of. food. Tons. Even if you only open your mouth to breathe, someone, somewhere will try to stuff a piece of food in it. I respect that. Most of the food is okay. Some of it is good. Occasionally it’s excellent. Mostly, it’s just a lot.

There’s breakfast, a breakfast buffet, lunch, a lunch buffet, a formal supper, 24 hour room service, 24 hour pizza, and 24 hour ice cream. Thankfully there’s also an awesome workout room that’s better equipped than my local YMCA. (And with a better view.)

They were big into celebrations on the cruise. The waiters sang to my parents for their 50th, and to my sister and brother-in-law for their 25th.

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*Cruise tip: Bring a travel clock. There’s no clock in your room and no way to wake up for those early score excursions, should you choose to take them. Speaking of shore excursions, choose wisely. Most are overpriced, crowded, and touristy. Personally, we had much more fun exploring on our own.

Our final stop was in Victoria, BC, which I recently discovered is an island. Sadly, we arrived too late for many things, but it was still pretty.

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There was this soda shoppe that made milkshakes. Finally, some sugar on this vacation!

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The next morning we were back in Seattle. What’s the logical thing to do when you’ve spent a week being force fed like a pate goose? Immediately look for more food, of course!

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Piroshky, Piroshky: Russian pastries so good they named them twice. The huge line was a good testament to how great these things were.

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We were foiled in our attempts to get crumpets, so we got Greek yogurt instead. What’s so great about Greek yogurt, you may ask. Well, this is unlike any yogurt you’ve ever had. It’s perfectly smooth and creamy with only a slight hint of tang. Think of the best most perfect custard you’ve ever had, make it ten times better, and you’ll be close to this yogurt.

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Next we tried Dahlia’s bakery. They’re known for their ($35) coconut pies. We tried a pie bite. It was meh, but the triple chocolate cookies were good.

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Finally, the piece de resistance, the thing I’ve been hoping to try on my previous visits–insert drumroll–Top Pot Doughnuts!

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Friends from back home will be wondering how these compare to Schuler’s…plug your ears if you’re unwilling to read this blasphemy…they were better. At least the glazed and sour cream old fashioned were better. Schuler’s still holds the title for chocolate covered cream filled, but these glazed were amazing. They tasted like the inside of a popover–perfectly soft, rich, and custardy. They were awesome and the perfect end to our wonderful vacation.

How do you wrap up such a marvelous trip? What was best–the breathtaking, marvelous sights? The view of our marvelous country? The food? It was the food, definitely the food. Of course family time trumps all of these things. Not only did we get to take the trip of a lifetime, but we did it together. And we ate. A lot. Thanks for reading and sharing with me, Vanessa.

Cross Country Trip: Alaskan Cruise, part 1

We made it across nine states and two time zones, through several national parks and monuments, navigated a couple of hotels that could flatteringly be described as fleabag, and yet none of that was as daunting as getting on the boat.

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First we had to make our way from our hotel in SeaTac to the pier in downtown Seattle, no easy task. Shuttles have been set up for this purpose and make a tidy profit, none of which goes to put seatbelts or shocks in their vans. Then you arrive at a giant terminal where—for a fee—a kindly porter will take all your luggage and make it disappear. Next you step inside the vast building, and that’s where the real fun begins.

We were herded; we were prodded; we were swiped and searched. It was all very Ellis Island.

Finally we were urged onto the boat and like the cattle we resembled, we settled in at the feed trough while our rooms were prepared. There were people, so many, many people. By this time we were so overwhelmed and desensitized that we may have been strip searched and de-loused. I don’t recall. All I know is that there were cookies, and they weren’t very good; if the lunch buffet was any indication, things didn’t bode well.

They picked up a little when we were allowed to go to our rooms. You know that scene in Titanic when the boat starts filling with water and the peasants are locked in steerage? Our room was a floor beneath that one.

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Actually, it was quite cozy. The bed was king-sized and it had some clever storage so that our suitcases remained out of sight. The lack of windows made for excellent sleeping conditions to those who are averse to having any light in the room. (If you’re like me and light bothers you, take some tape to put over the tiny lights in the room and the peephole. They’re more apparent and distracting in the otherwise pitch blackness.)

The first night and all of the next day, we were at sea. For someone who has never been on a cruise and may be wondering if you would enjoy it, here’s a handy test:

If you’re an extrovert who loves to meet people and enjoys food, then a cruise is your Utopia.

If you enjoy being pampered by a staff of 900 men and women whose only purpose is to serve you round the clock—including twice daily room cleaning and 24 hour room service—then a cruise is for you.

If you’re the type of person who hates to plan vacations and would prefer to have someone tell you when and where to show up, then a cruise is for you.

If you love alcohol and gambling, then a cruise is for you.

If you’re an independent introvert who doesn’t drink or gamble, like strangers, crowds, being touched, served or waited on and finds great joy in planning vacations, then a cruise might not be for you. (Guess which one I am!)

Despite the fact that a cruise might not be a great fit for my particular personality, it was a great experience and quite possibly the best way to see our particular portion of Alaska. Some of the things we saw are only accessible by plane or boat. And after an initial adjustment, I really began to warm up to the resort-like atmosphere of the boat. After a while, you begin to resent anything you have to do for yourself. It’s a good thing the cruise was only 7 days. Much longer and I might have started to refer to myself in the third person like the queen. “We would like our water refreshed now. We are ready for our turndown service.” But I digress…

The “fun day at sea” was made difficult by the ever-present yet low-grade nausea some of us experienced while we adjusted to our sea legs.  The day was foggy and cold, not ideal for relaxing on a deck (something unheard of with a 5 year old anyway.) We attempted to fill our day with fun ship activities. Carnival offered a lot of them, as well as a camp for kids. We took advantage of that for a short time here or there. They did a good job stocking the room with toys and planning games and activities for the kids. One day our daughter had her face painted like a tiger; another she was wowed by a magician.

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The employees were wonderful. Most of them were Asian, some were from Eastern Europe and a smattering were from the UK or US. All of them were kind, warm, helpful, and friendly. They made the journey pleasant and joyful, even if it was a strange adjustment to be waited on constantly. Even though we saved for the vacation for a long time and tried to budget carefully, the solicitousness of our servers often made me feel excessive and frivolous. This was made worse when we found out that many of them were highly trained professionals in their own countries–doctors, lawyers, etc. Our waiter was an electrical engineer, and yet he served us with professionalism and good attitude. It was an unexpected lesson in humility. And there was this.

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On the second full day of the trip, we cruised into the Tracy Fjords.

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The water is jade green from silt deposits. (Jade is coincidentally the state stone of Alaska.) The white chunks are chunks of ice.

We saw humpback whales, orcas, eagles, goats, and this glacier.

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As beautiful as the fjords were, we were ready to get off the boat. The next day was our first stop at Skagway. It was adorable! The town is home to only a few hundred fulltime residents but full of charm. It still looks like a Wild West frontier town with wooden boardwalks and wooden buildings.

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We took the Yukon Gold White Passage train, retracing the steps of the old gold seekers. The scenery was beautiful.

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Clearly, we were all spellbound.

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Next up: the capitol and more naps, many, many more naps.

Cross Country Trip, Day 10: Seattle to Bainbridge Island

We started our day by heading to Bainbridge Island. Not because we necessarily wanted to see the island, but because ferries are a must do and the best way to see Seattle’s skyline, or so everyone says.

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Are you a honkaholic? If so, Washington would like you to stop.

I’ve ridden in ferries before–to Put-In-Bay on Lake Erie and Monhegan Island in Maine. They could have fit in this one with a few of their friends and still had room to spare.

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This is one small portion of the giant, giant vessel. Commuters find them so boring that they remain in their cars and sleep. We took our car; don’t do that. The downtown is within an easy walk of the ferry station.

Here’s a bit of our view on the way:

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Bainbridge Island was a cute little town that’s worth a look. The stores were quirky and interesting.

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And especially this:

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I love, love, love premium ice cream. Not only does it taste delicious, but it doesn’t use artificial ingredients. My dye-sensitive daughter was able to eat strawberry ice cream for the first time in a long time.

Next we went to my favorite place in Seattle.

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First we went here.

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A crumpet is like a mix between a really good English muffin and a pancake. It was griddled, drizzled with melted butter and honey, and so good that I almost forgot to take a picture until it was too late. Must learn to make crumpets.

We hoped to see the guys throwing fish, but no one was buying. (Cheap, cheap people.) These guys were playing, though, and they were good.

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At the market, you can get some of the most beautiful flowers you’ve ever seen for five bucks.

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Along with fruit and vegetables.

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It’s like your neighborhood farmer’s market on steroids. With the original Starbucks.

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And the original and ridiculously long Starbuck’s line.

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Supper was my favorite clam chowder from Pike Place Chowder. It’s worth the drive or flight from wherever you live. Seriously.

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Tomorrow we board the boat, and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the food the view. I’ve heard a lot about Alaskan cruises and the amazing food unbeatable scenery. I can’t wait to go to a midnight buffet be with my sisters and their families again. We’re going to gain a lot of weight have a lot of fun.

Cross Country Trip, Day 9: Spokane to Seattle

This is the hotel dog, Penny, clearly an energetic rapscallion.

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Washington is farm country again. Unlike Ohio, Washington has kindly labeled their crops with little blue signs so you know what you’re passing. So far we’ve seen peas, alfalfa, potatoes, and my old friend, corn. I look forward to these signs with breathless anticipation…It’s possible that the scenery is a bit boring along I90.

Interspersed with the crops are orchards. Orchards are something else I have idealized. Occasionally my husband and I talk about chucking it all and buying an orchard. Then we look at our garden and houseplants and decide we should learn to keep those alive before we take on a thousand trees.

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We stopped at a fruit stand in Ellensburg.

Cherries are the thing here. I love sweet cherries; it was hard to pass them up, but we’re going to Canada. Bad things happen to people who smuggle fruit across the border. I’ve seen Locked up Abroad. I’m not going out like that.

Farther west the landscape turned scrubby and arid again, and there are a few dozen windmills standing watch for their Don Quixote.

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Soon the scrubby hills gave way to more mountains and pines. This difference in eastern and western halves of the same state is foreign to me. In Ohio, the only difference between the east and the west is that Canton roots for the Steelers and Toledo is uncomfortably close to Ann Arbor.

The first thing we saw in Seattle was this guy.

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A fascinatingly ugly troll holding a VW under a bridge.

We glimpsed the Space Needle as we drove past. It’$ po$$ible to $ee in$side the $pace Needle, but we cho$e not to. I’m not $ure why.

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Next we stopped at a landmark store called Archie McPhee’s.

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It was filled with odd things like this:

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Supper was at Ray’s Boathouse Cafe on Puget Sound. The view was spectacular, and so were the oysters. (Oysters are to Seattle what Lobster is to Maine.)

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We grabbed a cookie and tart to go before heading down the street for ice cream. On the way, we ran into a festival. (Still not exactly sure what it was for, but it was a chance to soak up some of the local culture.) The ice cream was Molly Moon, a local place that uses high quality ingredients. The chocolate was awesome.

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Oh, and it was next door to this cupcake place, Cupcake Royale. They were good, too. So far Seattle and I are getting along just fine.

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Cross Country Trip, Day 8: Essex to Spokane

Today we leave Montana. I must remain strong. Before we go, a couple of things about Glacier that I forgot to mention. It wasn’t as crowded as Yellowstone, glory, hallelujah. And the water was an aquamarine color, and so crystal clear that you could see all the way to the bottom.

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We stopped for breakfast at the Healthy Haven Café.

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It was the only restaurant we saw, besides the one at our hotel. A teenage brother and sister who tried to outdo each other on which could be the most helpful and efficient staffed the mom and pop place. Their grandma made our omelets and waffles to order. The also helpful pop advised us to take the scenic route to Spokane. Along the way, we passed fruit stands offering fresh cherries and huckleberries. (Side note: yesterday in West Glacier, we stumbled upon a farmer’s market and a woman selling homemade huckleberry pies for $26. There’s gold in them there berries.)

*A word about birds. My husband loves birds, and I’ve learned to love them, too. So far on the trip, we’ve seen bald eagles, osprey, white pelicans, magpies, eastern bluebirds, and—my favorite—ravens. Ravens aren’t common near us. Before this trip, I had never seen or heard one. Though they’re often confused with crows, they’re different. First of all they’re huge (25 inches.) They can live up to 21 years, and they mate for life. Their beaks are black, they’re extremely intelligent with intricate and dedicated family communities, they use tools, and they can mimic any sound, including human speech.

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Am I a raven geek or is geek an all encompassing term that doesn’t need a qualifier? Don’t answer that.

We made our way to some giant cedars in southwest Montana.

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Montana would like you to know that a cedar can topple onto your head at any moment.

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Next we eased next into Idaho whose beauty was nothing to sneeze at. Lake Pend Oreille created a picturesque byway. It was large enough for houseboats!

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For supper we ate at a restaurant I mistakenly thought was on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. It wasn’t, but it was still in a presidential train car.

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The portions were huge. My husband ordered a portabella mushroom sandwich. Must try to duplicate after vacation. I have the feeling we’re going to need to eat only vegetables for a long, long time after this trip.

As a final bonus for the day, our hotel (a Holiday Inn Express) has a dog, a golden retriever named Penny. How awesome is that?

Cross Country Trip, Day 7: Helena to Essex

Oh, Montana, how I love thee!

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It’s calling to me. Is Montana in need of teachers? Because I know a guy. Of course, it takes a special person to live somewhere so remote, so wild, and with such harsh winters. I am not that person. I am the person who would become stranded on the highway during a snowstorm and end up muttering and stumbling aimlessly in my underpants. Still, a girl can dream.

The drive to Glacier was so spectacular that it was difficult to imagine the park being better. We stopped for gas in Browning, the center of the Blackfeet nation. They were preparing for a pow-wow; the place was packed.

A few miles up the road, we entered the park from the east at St. Mary. Glacier has over a million acres, two huge lakes and a ton of waterfalls. The big attraction is Going-to-the-sun road. Isn’t that a lovely name for a road? The aptly named road runs east and west and crosses the Continental Divide. It is the only place to be named both a National Historic Landmark and a National feat of Civil Engineering. It’s narrow and cuts through mountain passes that are still blanketed with snow in some places. Though it’s impossible to convey the beauty in mere pictures, I’ll post some anyway.

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Signage for bears abounded.

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Lies! We saw no bears.

For supper we stopped in the town of West Glacier at West Glacier Restaurant. I don’t know how they came up with that name. Clever people. There aren’t many restaurants up here, so we were a little leery of one plopped in the middle of the main drag, but this one was great. The food was good, the portions large, and the prices—though somewhat higher than what we were used to paying—weren’t exorbitant. And they had huckleberry milkshakes!

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*A word about huckleberries. Huckleberries are wild berries grown only in the Pacific Northwest. They look like wild blueberries and taste similar. They’ve become iconic of this part of the U.S., and are a big business. There’s huckleberry everything.

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150 years ago, if one wanted to go to Montana, she must board a train, land in St. Louis, take a steamboat north to the bottom of the state, and go from horse or on foot from there. (A good reminder when the car gets cramped.) Now the train goes all the way to Glacier. In fact, it goes right to our hotel in Essex.

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Staying with that theme, the Izaak Walton Hotel has locomotives and caboose to rent overnight.

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We stayed in the main hotel that is more like a dorm, although cute and full of charm.

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The one large room is divided into two smaller rooms and a bathroom. I’m bunking with my daughter who thrashes like an addict in withdrawal. Pray.

Cross Country Trip, Day 6: Big Sky to Helena

Today was not a good day, at least according to the map. Planning a long vacation to a place you’ve never been months in advance—what could go wrong? Well…

Yesterday we exited west of the park, sneaked into Montana, and stayed in Big Sky. But we still needed to finish our park adventures and then head back north again. The better plan would have been to stay on the east side of the park and then go north, but that’s not what happened. A gentleman I met on the elevator reminded me of why I planned it that way, though. We stayed in a mountain inn with complimentary breakfast for $99. Dwellings closer to the park charge upwards of $300 or more a night.

Montana is unbelievably picturesque. To quote Norman Maclean, “A river runs through it.” Mountains, pines, and lush grasses are cut with sparkling, gurgling water. Anglers abound. (If I use that word for fly fishermen, does it make me athletic?)

Back in the park, traffic is heavy. Every time anyone spots an animal, everyone comes to a standstill so people can grab their cameras and snap pictures. Rubes, all of them. Look, a bison!

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The park rangers are not happy with the arrangement and shoo us along as if we live nearby and can see the sights anytime we want. Next time it happens, I’m going to show them the bunk bed pictures and try to buy more time with sympathy.

*Side note: most of Yellowstone is without cell phone service. Being nearly a Luddite, this doesn’t bother me, but I’m wondering if the teenagers in the park are having withdrawal. Possible symptoms may include waking up to the beauty around you, talking to people standing inches away, and thumb spasms from lack of texting.

The park makes up for their lack of phones by posting signs warning you of your impending doom.

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Signs not included in montage: “Beware of Armed Badgers” and “Beavers Wearing Crips Colors Are Extremely Hostile and Misunderstood.” Yellowstone is a tough place.

There was even a handicapped accessible sign here:

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Their definition of accessible scares me.

This is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, complete with waterfalls.

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We also saw a mud volcano. It smelled like sulfur. This was probably my favorite part of the park, and it was slightly less crowded. (People, people everywhere. Oh, the humanity.)

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We exited north through Mammoth and Hot Springs which also serves as the park’s headquarters. It was huge and interesting, but of course we had no time to explore. There were also these guys.

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Supper was in Livingston, Montana.

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Such a cute town. Some towns have a vibe, and this was one. The people were friendly, the town full of charm and character. Interestingly, they get less snow than surrounding communities because they’re nestled between two mountains. They get lots of wind for the same reason.

Tomorrow we arrive in Glacier. We’re all sharing a room again. There’s no television or internet, but our daughter’s been practicing her interpretive dancing skills, and we brought Old Maid and Go Fish. Should be fun.