lydamorehouse: (Default)
I didn't get a whole lot of reading done over this last week. First, I was busy prepping for class, and then, right after finishing all that, I read and critiqued a manuscript for the Loft's writing coach program. (If you ever have an extra pile of dollars lying around and want to hire me, here's how you can do it.)

Then, yesterday, out of the blue, I got a note from my agent asking if I have any other trunk novels that I might be able to polish up and send off to Tapas Media again.  (She seems convinced she can squeeze real money out of them). I sort of do, but in order to meet what they're looking for, I'm doing a lot of revision... kinda major revision, which might not, ultimately, be worth it. But, I mean, what else do I have to do? (I mean, besides fan fiction.)

But, despite all that, I did plow through three manga that I picked up at Quatrefoil Library when I was there for Gaylaxicon's book club reading of Precinct 13. So, I read:

Dining Bar Akira / Kuimonodokoro Akira by Tomoko Yamashita
Man’s Best Friend / Inu mo Akurekeba by Takashima Kazusa
Your Honest Deceit / Kimi no Tsuku Use Hontou (vol. 1) by Ajimine Sakufu, and one I haven't had a chance to review yet:
Bachi Bachi by Kijima Hyougo.

You?
lydamorehouse: (??!!)
 Every time I teach teenagers, I take a moment to gather "market" information. I ask them what they're reading/watching/playing and what they wish they'd see more of.  For YA authors out there, here's what my Loft teens would like most of all:
  1. Assexual representation.  They want a character who is explicitly ace who DOES NOT FALL FOR SOMEONE BY THE END.  Please more GLBTQIA+ representation in general. Non-binary/Genderfluid/Genderqueer, too, please. (Ace comes up every year, by the way.) 
  2. Supernatural creatures who are *not* run of the mill vampires
  3. NO MORE ROMANCE.  Or, if there must be romance, can it please be something more than the tradition love triangle.  Better yet, let the triangle end in a poly arrangement (yes, my teenagers asked specifically for poly).  
  4. More dystopia, but no more Divergent rip-offs. How about a post-apocalypse that has nothing to do with the government dividing people by their skills/factions/what-have-yous?

Obviously, this sample size is small.  My class this year had twenty students, only four of them male-identified, one non-binary, and the rest using she/her pronouns. The majority of the class was female.  There were only two obvious PoCs. All of the students, except one that was there on a scholarship, came from families that could easily afford a $300+ class for their kids. Most were urban/suburban/Metro area, though some came from the 218 area code (I can't remember how many without checking my class list, but it was at least two. I remember because it surprised me.)  

The only other thing of note is that this is the first class where we've had to have a few discussions about the technical aspects of writing. Every year I teach, I try to have an opportunity for students to have their work critiqued. It's best when the whole class can participate and I can teach "how-to" peer critique, BUT with twenty kids it was strictly voluntary and I took their work home and typed up my response to their opening pages.  I bet half the class participated.  

Their abilities ranged wildly, but I was expecting that in a group of 13-17 year olds.  What I wasn't expecting was at least three students who seemed to have zero concept of paragraph breaks.  Their writing was otherwise good, it was just presented as a giant block of text.  I'm not sure where this comes from, and I had to take some time to remember how *I* was taught when a good paragraph break should come.  Of course, much of it comes from osmosis, from reading.  But I do remember someone requiring that we learn about what should be contained in a paragraph... I wonder which grade though?

Anyway, that was the only 'surprise.'  It's tempting to blame the lack of paragraph breaks on the internet.  But, I'm still not convinced that the Internet is ruining young writers. I suspect this lack of breaks comes from generally not being much of a reader.  (Voracious readers always have an obvious 'ear' for how stories are structured.) Or from reading things, like graphic novels or web comics, that come in a differently consumed format.

It was a weird year at the Loft this year, but, ultimately, the class was great.  My boss asked me to be sure to propose something similar for winter quarter.
lydamorehouse: (Bazz-B)
Today was the first day of my class at the Loft, Not Just the Zombie Apocalypse: Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy. Right off the heels of CONvergence, I got up this morning and taught 20 eager-to-not-so-eager 13-17 year-olds at 9 am.

Yeeeeaaaah.

I'm fairly wiped out now, to be honest. I think tonight is going to be an early night for me, especially since I have to get up and do it again tomorrow. In general, I'd say the kids are good. The kids are always good. The question is really, can I engage them. I think I did pretty well actually, since my measure of success is: did I get a bunch of them to open up and talk out loud in class? I did. So, day one: fait accompli.

I also thought today was the deadline for my review of The Wendy Project, a graphic novel by Melissa Jane Osbourne/Veronica Fish for Twin Cities Geeks so I read that again and wrote up a review.  I have a critique project I need to start working on.  

AND, tomorrow at Quatrefoil, I'll be giving a talk with the Gaylaxicons about Precinct 13. So, lots to "keep me off the street" as my grandmother might have said.
lydamorehouse: (??!!)
It's Sunday evening, and I am at home... all con'd out. I will do my best to recount Saturday and today, but my frazzled brain is not responsible for gaps in the narrative. (Also, there may be more typos than usual. My apologies in advance.)

Saturday started with a panel I was a little worried about because there was only one other person on it. Luckily, that one other person was Lois McMaster Bujold:

lois mcmaster bujold and lyda morehouse

Our panel was "Of a Certain Age" talking about stories that feature older protagonists.  

I'm happy to say that this picture (by Mary Loving) is as it should be. Lois is talking and I am listening. The room was packed, despite it being 11 am, so my assumption was that most people were likely there to hear Lois, a Guest of Honor this year. I had prepared what I called a "binder of women" (old joke from, ironically, a brighter time) which was actually prepared by [personal profile] catherineldf and you can find the first part of it here.  With Catherine's hardwork as our guide, we had a pretty good panel.  

Saturday was my day of loose ends. I did a lot of wandering around and catching up with people. I had one thing I *had* to do besides my later 8:30 pm panel and that was to stop by the Just Enough Trope Podcast table. They asked me if I'd be willing to be part of their show. Since Naomi had only gotten a couple of hours of sleep, I actually brought her with me so that she could skip her later time slot and catch a decent afternoon nap.  I am SUCH a good friend (plus I figured they'd more likely use the segment if Naomi was in it.  Who's a Slytherin? You're the Slytherin!)  I had tentatively scheduled 1 o'clock but they were busy and while I waited for them to be free and for Naomi to join me, I watched a Marvel cosplay meet-up.  I really wish I'd remembered to bring my camera, because there was some seriously good costuming, including a guy who had 3-D printed his Dr. Doom armor.  Such a Doom thing to do!--well, if you added magic as well as technology. My other favorite person was a perfect Domino, who kept not ever getting a call-out because so many fans are focused on the MCU and not the comic books. But, they eventually called for a photo shoot of "mutants" and she was able to go.

If you've never experienced one of these group shots, they're really fascinating.  They're often in the program, but can also be semi-spontaneous (like  flashmob, at least in terms of getting the word out via twitter) where everyone who is cosplaying from a certain fandom shows up in one location. A loud-voiced person will voluntarily jump up on a chair and start shouting out organizational commands. It always starts with EVERYONE and then breaks-out.  "All the Spider-Men...", etc.

Thor was late this year, possibly because the God of Thunder does not the Twitter, but he came with this adorable Hulk-child.  Watching the little Hulk play with what was obviously daddy's cape, made me ridiculously charmed and weirdly broody for all the Thor kid-fic.  

The one other thing that was a "do not miss" was Seanan McGuire's signing. I got the book signed and it will be ready to ship off to my friend in Oregon tomorrow morning.  So, yay!

I did a lot of wandering around which, for me, was not necessarily a good thing. I'm the kind of extrovert that feeds on interaction and being at loose ends makes me vulnerable to being overwhelmed by the crowd and the noise and the busy-ness.  I probably should have gone home for a couple of hours, but there never seemed to be quite the right time and so I decided to take my laptop over to the Caribou for a little downtime. I ran into Dana Baird and her husband Eric in the most amazing steampunk Lady Groot and Rocket Raccoon. I didn't realize the amaze of her costume at first because I just saw this intensely ornate Victorian dress (and she was out of the stilts and not wearing the mask.)

Here's what the full thing looks like:

Lady Groot and Lord Rocket, Steampunk

Photo credit: Emily Dyess.  

Here's another with just them:

Lady Groot and Lord Rocket, steam punk

photo credit: Audrey Casteline

Hanging out with Dana is always a ton of fun and I can not get over that she made that whole costume herself (including Eric's Rocket, though he made the steampunk gun.)  The sheer amount of talent (let's be real: FABRIC ART)  on display is staggering, and that's just Dana. The costumes are always mind-blowing.

And humorous:

t-rex can't hug. Their arms are too short

Photo credit Michael J. Egglehorn

I ended up having dinner with Eric and Dana at Subway and they stopped by their car so Dana could put on the stilts (an amazing process to watch!!) and then I headed over to my last panel of the day, "Local Urban Fantasy."  

I was not in the best headspace for this panel. Plus, I never know if, with a title like that, people want a laundry list of what's out there or an exploration about why people write it/tips for writing it, etc.  I tried to provide a balance, but I'm not sure how successful that was.  I think if I had been in a better place it would have been find, but I left feeling like the panel was all over the place...  A little defeated by that, I headed home.  

Today I had only one panel, "Ms. Marvel Fan Panel," and I it was probably one of the best ones in terms of my abilities to moderate... and, hardly anyone saw my crowning achievement because: 9:30 am.  The room wasn't EMPTY, but I bet there were less than a dozen brave souls.  I stayed around afterward because I wanted to catch up with Naomi after her "From Fan Writer to Pro Writer" panel.  I actually ended up watching that and then Naomi and I went out to lunch to catch up.  We'd mostly missed each other this con--which is hardly surprising given her extra load as one of the GoHs.

After that, I headed home, promptly crashed for a 45 minute nap. I woke up, had a home-cooked meal, and then started to feel mostly human again.

Which is good, because tomorrow at 9 am I teach "More than the Zombie Apocalypse" to TWENTY TEENAGERS.  Normally, I cap my Loft classes at 15, but I agreed to add 5 more because THERE IS A WAITING LIST. I'm feeling a little pressure, if you can't tell. But, I looked over my syllabus and I should have plenty of time tomorrow to think about ways around the fact that the class is WAY TOO BIG to successfully do peer critique. Unless I super-limit the size of the sample?  Hmmm, now I'm thinking we could do "first pages." That might be fun, actually.  We can be sure to talk about hooks tomorrow and I'll have them bring in a first page.  OoooOooo, that might work!

If you can't tell, I'm naturally a very organic teacher. So a lot of how tomorrow goes will depend on whether or not I can get some response from my teens. (You're shaking your head, but I LIKE teenagers. Plus, these ones have all volunteered to be here.)

That's me. You?
lydamorehouse: (Default)
 I'm at the Caribou/Einstein's Bagel across from the con hotel; Mason is at home, still asleep. My extroverted introvert announced last night that he has had a tremendous time, but he is officially DONE with people. I understand completely.  I may be an extroverted extrovert, but that doesn't mean that a five day con doesn't wear on me.  

Yesterday was an especially busy day.  I had only two panels, but they were spread out over a whole day.  My first one was at 2 pm and my final one started at 8:30 pm. Plus, I wanted to be sure to catch Lois McMaster Bujold's signing because I had a faraway friend who wanted an autograph, and that was at 12:30 pm. Naomi had invited me to meet her and a friend at Caribou at 11 am, too, and while the kids and I managed to get to con by 11... we did not find parking until almost ten minutes later and I showed up at the Caribou around 11:30.  I sent the kids off to DQ for lunch and ran off hoping  hadn't blown my chance to hang out.  

Luckily, I didn't miss Naomi.  Even luckier, Tyler Tork, his wife (whose name currently escapes me), and Bryan Thao Worra were there.  I have always liked Bryan, ever since some Minicon somewhere lost to the annals of time where he was the only person at a Krueshenko's party who could tell me what had happened to Captain America after Cap had been shot (I'd been catching up with Marvel comics at this point and I was a little desperate for news.)  Plus, I've been following his travels via Facebook and, in the way of social media when it works as it should, that has bred a certain sense of connection and familiarity in my heart (even if Bryan doesn't necessarily feel the same way, you know?)  

So we had a lovely chat about all sorts of things because everyone there was super-interesting. I could have had my own little con right there, all day, but Naomi being GoH and Bryan, being Bryan (and a former guest of honor, like myself,) had places to go.  I wandered over to the signing, disappointed that there were no books by Lois to be had in the dealer's room. For whatever reason, there is only one bookseller in the dealer's room, and they're a publisher, so they are only selling their own authors... which I don't think includes any of the GoHs?  I might be wrong about that. However, the con has dealt with this by having a certain number of author books for sale at the merchandise window, which normally mostly sells con tee-shirts. I was able to pick up something for my friend there and get it signed.  

I wandered around for a while and, by chance, ran into the entire Slash panel (my 8:30 pm panel) in the cosplay poolside atrium. We were chatting and squeeing about Yuri on Ice and other current fandoms that are seeing a lot of slash action and we ended up talking a bit about Free! and I awkwardly recommended my Bleach/Free! x-over TO THE WOMAN WHO PODFICC'D IT (Opalsong) who, even more AWKWARDLY, I HAD ALREADY MET,  in person, a couple of years ago.  

At that point, I decided I may have "won" CONvergence for being the most braindead person, ever. 

My first panel was "Take a Pew, Pew, Pew" about religion in science fiction, which I think went well, though... in the way of CONvergence panels, it wasn't necessarily very in-depth.  The cool part of that panel was that we had a woman on it who is a Church of England vicar. She has written an FAQ about what vicars do, to which I teased, "since most Americans only know about vicars from the BBC" and then my friend/fellow panelist Bill cut in to add, "And yet somehow she left out all the bits where she solves crimes once a week!"  But, so you see, that was the tone. It was funny and clever, but not terribly deep.  I still had fun and learned some, so that was worth it.  

I had wanted to hit Naomi's reading after that, but the kids were hungry so we went over to Friday's.  By the time we got back, I was able to see "Refugee Life Hacks" which was amazing and Saymoukda Vongsay is  my new girl-crush. She is brilliant and funny and bad ass, and I am now a devoted fangirl. I may actually have to attend poetry readings and theatre in my future just to catch more of her work.

The kids and I met up to watch "Judging a Book by its Cover" which is one of those annual "comedy/improv" panels that CONvergence does.  The idea is that a team of panelists is shown a real-life book without its cover and they have to not only guess the title, but make up the story of the plot, as though they're experts on the book.  It's one of those that's intentionally over the top. Even if you've read the actual book, you're supposed to come up with all the silly.  It was very silly.  I enjoyed it a lot.  Plus, I found out that the vicar's husband is none-other-than Paul Cornell, who came over to introduce himself and tell me he enjoyed the panel, etc.  That was kind of cool, because Paul has long been one of the "cool kids" of CONvergence.

My slash panel went much as it always does. As I was telling a friend, the point of it is to be a sort of "a state of the union" of slash--and overview of what's new and what's trending, and while I participate in the slash fandom regularly, I'm not an expert on All of The Things.  So I had a great time because I love everyone on the panel, but I'm not a MAJOR contributor to the discussion.  I talked enough not to feel excluded, but I'm pretty sure Bess and Jo could run that panel on their own. If you're curious what we recommended this year, Jo helpfully put together a great list: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1EvaiDBDu6KFfQGH76lgbG9QvMFXQsJe-ZarsD7e7SvM/edit

Okay, I have to run off and collect my badge from the car, because of course I left it on the seat... and then I'm off to my 11 am panel today "Women of a Certain Age" with Lois McMaster Bujold.



lydamorehouse: (ichigo hot)
We won't be heading out to CONvergence until about 11 am today.

Nothing much, in terms of programming, happens until 12:30pm today, anyway, but I think Mason and his friends want to make a full day of it. I was able to pick up my badge and his last night after the secret pro/con com volunteers GoH meet-and-greet, but we'll have to stand around to pick up the other two's and at least Ms. R---- will have have "the Talk" about weapons, I think. Mason might only need to have his "bone saw" peace bonded, and I don't know exactly what weaponry Mr. D---- is carrying, but planning on some standing around in lines is probably wise.

I will get a better picture (we took this late last night with the iPad because Mason wanted to show off his progress to his friends), but, yes, Mason's cosplay finally came all together and thanks to Shawn's sewing skills it looks really tremendous.  This picture does not do it justice, but it's what I have at the moment. (I will get better ones today).  What you can not quite see is that Shawn was able to quick tailor the lab coat so that it has tails and make it into a fair approximation of single-breasted. He's got a tiny little blood-stained dove on his shoulder.

Mason as Medic from TF2

So Mason is set and looks really GOOD this year.  Everyone will easily recognize who he is (so long as they know TF2, of course.)

I did my first skim through the program booklet last night after I brought it home. Besides panels, I have a number of things I need to remember to do this year, so I took some notes on the pocket program booklet in the hopes that I will ACTUALLY remember to do them.

Today, the only thing on the agenda is getting all my young charges their badges, etc., and my 3:30 panel on artificial intelligences (which, knowing that Naomi is on it, I feel confident that it will be thoughtful and intelligent, even if a lot of *my* panel prep involved Wikipedia and Google.)

Mason has a number of to-do things checked off, including a LAN of Overwatch (one of the multi-player games he loves.) So I have no idea how late I'm going to end up staying at con tonight or how things are going to work with getting the various younguns back to their respective homes. Today, I am thinking of as "getting oriented and figuring out logistics" day, because the current plan is that the Terrific Trio want to attend tomorrow (Fri.) together, as well. Thing is, I can absolutely play con chaperone all night, if the kids want, and so long as their parental units are down with them being out late. CONvergence comes but once a year.

I need to tell one story about last night's meet-and-greet. It's going to sound a bit like bragging, but [personal profile] offcntr  will appreciate it.  

In fact, Frank is in town.  Yesterday, the four of us (Frank, his wife Denise, Mason, and I) went out to lunch at Zen Box, one of my favorite Japanese restaurants in town. (I should note, I would not necessarily have suggested it, had I known Frank was going to generously offer to pick up the tab.  It's on the pricey side, being in downtown and all.)  At any rate, we had a lovely time catching up and, as a long time SF/F fan, Frank lamented the fact that CONvergece doesn't offer day passes, because he totally would have gone because, OMG, OMG, Seanan McGuire is one of the guest of honor!! (A paraphrase, but the squee was evident.) I offered to get a book signed, because, while there are not a huge number of perks associated with being a pro writer, getting to hang out with other cool writers is DEFINITELY one of them.

So, there I am at the secret pro/con com volunteer meet-and-greet chatting with folks I know there, and all of a sudden I get the proverbial tug on my sleeve from someone who introduces themselves as Seanan McGuire's guest liaison. They say, "Seanan McGuire would really like to meet you, may I introduce you?"  And, I have to admit to being taken aback because, WHAT, WHO, ME? And also, HOW CHARMINGLY FORMAL! So, of course, I jump up and say, yes, and introductions happen and Seanan says, "I just wanted you to know I'm a big fan of your work." And, I said, "Really??!!" because who knew, and also, wow!  But I had to laugh a little and tell her, "How funny, because I am literally tasked this weekend with fangirl-ing you by proxy for my friend Frank."

We then spent the next half hour or so talking about cool bugs, frogs, endangered newts, and her Maine Coons.

A great start to con, if you ask me.
lydamorehouse: (swoon)
 Over here in the U.S. we had this stupid* holiday that falls on THE FOURTH of JULY no matter what day of the week that turns out to be, and so I am utterly confused to discover today is Wednesday....

Did I manage anything?  One thing I have noticed about myself with these regular Wednesday check-ins is that, no matter how crappy a reading week I might be having, I have reliably read at least one or two volumes of some manga or other.  So, in fact, this week I have read:

Ten Count (Vol. 4) by Rihito Takarai. As I talked about in my extensive review of this over on MangaKast, this yaoi has to be the smuttiest thing my library is purchasing on a regular basis. It's chock full of seriously dubious consent and, while there ARE censor bars in place, they don't actually cover a whole lot of the graphic stuff up terribly well. NOT THAT I'M COMPLAINING. I'm just surprised.

Bloody Monday (Vol. 1) by Ryou Ryoumon/Kouji Magumi. I have not officially reviewed this one yet, but it's a fun combo of cyberpunk meets bio-engineered plague apocalypse story--or at least that's what volume one seems to be shaping up to be. Given my vague dislike of body-horror, I'm thinking I should probably flip through the next several volumes of this at the library before I decide whether or not to continue. This story, however, did have one of my most favorite EVER hacker moments, though.  Our hero's laptop with the super-secret intercepted transmission he's been trying to decode gets melted by the spy-villain, and he's super-bummed and the reader thinks, "Oh no! There goes all the evidence," but when the hacker's best buddy asks him about it he shrugs and is like, "I loved that laptop, man. I built it from the ground up. It's irreplaceable." And his friend is like, "DUDE THE SECRETS!!" Hacker is all, "Huh? Oh, I have multiple copies of that. One of them is even on the cloud. Do you think I'm STUPID???"  So that was awesome and a nice dig at the Hollywood trope of information somehow existing in a vacuum.  

I have a bunch of books around to try next, and I think I'll probably try Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal next? I just don't know if I'll be able to consume anything more dense than manga during Convergence week.  I will for SURE be reading a graphic novel called The Wendy Project because I got a review copy of it for my gig with TwinCities Geeks, which is due some time next week.  

You?

----
*stupid.  Okay, there's nothing inherently WRONG with the Fourth of July. I'm just not a huge fan of all the amateur firecrackers (the big ones are _fine_, but my neighbors' racket until 2 am TICKS ME OFF) and it's been painfully difficult to be anything resembling the traditional sense of "patriotic" since November, since what I love about my country is its IDEAL as a democratic republic that thrives on reasoned discourse.   :-P
lydamorehouse: (Default)
 Last night, I tried to get Mason into "Monty Python and the Flying Circus."  Thanks to our friend John Jackson, Mason already knew that Monty Python could be very hilarious. John (and I think Jack) showed Mason a bunch of various famous sketches on You Tube.  So, for instance, Mason knows all about the "Dead Parrot sketch" and "The Ministry of Silly Walks." 

But, I thought, "Yes, but those are all out of context.  He should really watch an entire episode."  Or at least, that was my thought when a compilation disc of "Monty Python and the Flying Circus" came across my notice when I was checking media at the library.  I brought it home, convinced Mason that it would be awesome, and queued it up.

What I forgot was how surreal Monty Python was and how, sometimes, entire episodes had running gags that just sort of fell flat or were just plain weird and only funny because they just didn't END.  I realize that what I'm saying could be construed as nerd blasphemy, but, seriously, try watching some of those full episodes again... I think you will be forced to agree with me that, yes, there are gems, but some of it is just straight-up bizarre. 

At one point Mason turned to me and asked, "Is this what humor was like in the 1970s?"

I gave him a sad face and sad, "Yes, son, and we had to IMPORT it."
lydamorehouse: (ticked off Ichigo)
 Actually, I think we have things under control, but in a fashion that is very typical of my family, today, only about four days before CONvergence starts, Mason says, "Oh, yeah, there's some cosplay stuff I should probably get together."  Only the stuff?

Is all of it.

However, this year he's decided on someone fairly do-able, IMHO. This year, Mason wants to go as the medic from TF2 (Team Fortress 2) a video game:

medic's outfit from TF2

The biggest hold up is, of course, the coat.  I have suspenders, we found a wide, black belt. The gloves can be faked with dish washing gloves painted the appropriate color. He's got any number of pants and we can find not-perfect/but close-enough boots.  We drove all over creation today attempting to find a trench coat we could modify.  No luck!  However, I had the brilliant flash that we could find a double breasted (or possibly even single-breasted) coat like this at a chef's uniform store (I saw a lab coat on their web site that was very close for $30) at somewhere like Midway Uniform which is literally right up the street (next to Ax-Man).  

Guess what?

It's closed today for the holiday.

Luckily, Mason and his friends probably won't go to CONvergence until Friday at the earliest, so I think we're going to be able to pull this one off. Mason has the round glasses already. He wears them every day.  His blue hair isn't quite right, but it's a similar haircut and he thought he might as well go as the "blue team" version (probably with a white coat, but again, we're all about the "close enough" look).  He and his friends have already made one of the props that this guy carries--a hacksaw gun.   So, that will also be recognizable enough.

Some day we will start this process earlier.
lydamorehouse: (Default)
I'm at CONvergence every single day a you can see below. I'm a little surprised at the number of panels I'm moderating (including one with Lois McMaster Bujold and... me?) This should be an interesting con, of course, made better by the fact that my friend Naomi will be one of the Guests of Honor.



Thursday, July 6


3:30pm
DoubleTree Atrium 7
AI in Science Fiction: From Evil Overlords to Companions
There is a diversity of AI in writing and film, from benevolent to malevolent. How does an AI become good or evil? Are they just programmed that way? Panelists: Naomi Kritzer, Jamie Riedesel (mod), Eric Zawadzki, Lyda Morehouse, Lathan Murrell


Friday, July 7

2:00pm
DoubleTree Edina
Take a Pew, Pew, Pew! Organized Religion in SciFi/Fantasy
Beyond "The Force", how do creators deal with organized religion (and disbelief) in science fiction and fantasy? What do they get right, wrong, and what do they reveal in their thinking? Panelists: Caroline Symcox, Lyda Morehouse, Tim Wick, Bill Stiteler (mod)


8:30pm
DoubleTree Atrium 2
Slash Panel
Buckle your seatbelts, it's time for the annual panel about same-sex shipping! From Yuri on Ice!!! to married space monks, let's talk State of the Slash Union 2017. (This is an 18+ panel; talkin' about the porn is definitely on the table.) Panelists: Bess Stuvenoxend, Skazka 9000, Jo Thrace, Lyda Morehouse (mod), Kes S


Saturday, July 8

11:00am
DoubleTree Atrium 7
Of a Certain Age
What stories feature older characters as the hero? How do these stories hook readers? What can you learn from them when the storyteller does the job well? Panelists: Lois McMaster Bujold, Lyda Morehouse (mod)

8:30pm
Sheraton Whalon
Local Urban Fantasy
A panel of local authors of urban fantasy, stories set in or around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Panelists: David Lenander, Lyda Morehouse (mod)


Sunday, July 9

9:30am
DoubleTree Atrium 4
Ms. Marvel Fan Panel
Marvel has four different heroes under this same overall title. They're all good, but which is your favorite? Panelists: Kathryn Sullivan, John Seavey, Tim Lieder, Lyda Morehouse (mod)
lydamorehouse: (??!!)
Having been driving a lot on our vacation I didn't read a ton, but I did manage some graphic novels this week:

PaperGirls, Vol. 2 by by Brian K. Vaughan/Cliff Chiang,
For the Love of God, Marie! by Jadie Sarson,
and a manga called Scum's Wish/Kuzu no Honkai (Vol. 1) [I think, I read this on-line, so I'm not sure how far I am in the actual tankĊbon. I got through all of them that were published on MangaReader, about 15, which I'm guessing is only the first volume.]

Interestingly, there was kind of 'the perils of promiscuity for women' theme in both For the Love of God, Marie! and Scum's Wish.  I gave up on Necrotech by K. C, Alexander. I wasn't in the mood for it, I suppose, also on the road and it was an inter-library loan so it needed to go back sooner rather than later. 

How about you? Manage anything fun?
lydamorehouse: (Bazz-B)
Yesterday was a lot of driving. I didn't end up posting anything last night because we didn't stumble in the door until after 8:30 pm (we left Rapid City at 7:30 am. Now, there is a time change in there where we lose an hour, but still that's a LOT of hours on the road.)

We did some classic stuff. We stopped both at Wall Drug and the Corn Palace.

the corn palace

450

We started to see a few more families on the road at Wall Drug, but Mitchell could have been a ghost town. Shawn and I both remarked at how several store fronts were closed and/or empty in Mitchell. It's June. This should be the beginning of the tourist season for them, I'd have thought. We were there right at noon and I had a BLT from the one place we found to eat. That was the other thing, the 'historic' downtown didn't have a lot of places to get food. You'd think it would be more like the other tourist towns we travelled through, like Cody, which is just lined with diners and burger joints and pizza places. Something for everyone, as they say. All of that interspersed with trinket shops.... but no, they seemed to have department stores and... furniture? Not something you're going to haul the rest of the way across country with you.

This actually made me wonder if the over-the-road tourism is down in this part of the country. Okay, well, a quick Google tells me that my anecdotal sense is WAY OFF. Apparently, tourism numbers are up, according to the South Dakota Tourism Industry Information for 2016.

Maybe we were just lucky? Because we planned this trip so early into summer vacation?

I don't know. Interestingly, Wikipedia tells me that the largest draw to South Dakota is actually the Sturgis Motorcycle rally. Maybe that's the thing that's shifted? The demographics of the people traveling across country? We certainly saw a ton of motorcycles all throughout our visit both to South Dakota and to Yellowstone.

Also, I'm super curious why so many of my fellow travelers were white. It wasn't 100%--but there was a shocking sea of white faces waiting for the geysers to blow. Why is that, I wonder? Or is this another anecdotal misinterpretation of mine? I couldn't easily find a demographic statistic for the visitors to Yellowstone, though I did see that 2016 was a record-breaking year for them. So what do I know?

We did stop at the Minute Man Missile Site (Delta-09). That was kind of spooky cool. There was a fence around the site that had this sign:

cows out of missile site

It says, "Help us keep cows from entering this area. Please close chain as you enter and exit." There's a lovely little center icon of a big red no symbol over a cow.  

One of the missiles is preserved:

missile in launch pad

As a kid of the 1980s, I found this very chilling, frankly.  Mason looked at us and said, "And how do you think I feel, knowing that 45 has the launch codes?"  

...

Right.  So, that left us all feeling a bit... freaked out.

Otherwise, I have to say that the thing I'm noticing now that we're home is that I still have my tourist eye on everything.  I kind of wished that I'd had my camera this morning when I went for coffee because I had a sudden yen to photograph the neat old houses that are in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood. Maybe this is something I'll have to start doing as an antidote for all the depressing politics.

I thought about going out to Pride today but I just couldn't muster the thought of fighting crowds after all of the fighting crowds at Yellowstone and whatnot. Good news: I'll be gay all year 'round.

lydamorehouse: (crazy eyed Renji)
Today was day two in South Dakota. Today was the day we decided to do a lot of the typical tourist stuff. Shawn had read in the guidebooks that the very best time to go to Mount Rushmore was early in the morning, so we were on the road again around 7 am. On the other hand, the guidebooks were right. We had the place to ourselves.

Here is our postcard perfect shot of Mount Rushmore.

The classic shot


Turns out Shawn LOVED the museum at Mount Rushmore and we spent a lot of time looking at the exhibits. Today, over dinner, she said that Mount Rushmore was one of her favorite parts of today, in fact.

Mason looking up at Mount Rushmore

I like this shot because it highlights one of the things that first struck me about Mount Rushmore. Most of the pictures you see look like the one I took, so you never have the sense that these faces are just carved out of the top of a mountain. When Shawn and I traveled here in the 90s with Karl from Czech, that was the thing I most remembered: that Mount Rushmore was actually just a tiny fraction of the mountain. For some reason, I had somehow thought someone had carved an ENTIRE mountain.

This time I was able to be more impressed.

From Mount Rushmore we took Iron Mountain Road "backwards" towards Custer State Park. If you go the other way, several of the tunnels have been cut to perfectly frame Mount Rushmore. Having done it the right way with Karl, we didn't feel we needed to do it that way this time. Iron Mountain Road is famous for its pig-tail bridges and switchbacks. There are also one-lane tunnels cut out from rock. We stopped at one of the overlooks.

Mason on the rock

The road was really fairly beautiful, lots of tall pines and jutting rocks. We've been having amazing weather, too, the wind was actually chilly this morning. You can see that the "sky was not cloudy all day" as the song says.

After getting off 16A, we turned toward Custer State Park. There is an entry fee to the park of $20 per vehicle. We stopped at the Visitor's Center and heard the park ranger telling tourists that there was good bison viewing off Fisherman's Road. To get there we took off on Wildlife Loop. Shawn and Mason were pretty convinced we'd never see any animals because most of the view consisted of miles and miles of this:

desolate Custer State Park

We started making jokes about a government conspiracy to hide the wildlife, especially the elk (which we kept mispronouncing elf). However, we did turn off on Fisherman's Road, which was dirt and gravel. But, that was where a lot of the wildlife was (no elf,) but we did see a huge herd of bison (including babies) and more pronghorn.

And my favorite: PRAIRE DOGS.

praire dog

I love how this one is just sitting with its feet in the air.

prairie dog lying down on the prairie

Then we got a classic bison blocks the road moment:

bison in the road

And, then, the "tourist" burros. Apparently, the burros are not native to South Dakota, but they were left in the park by workers. They are super friendly, looking for hand outs, and will stick their heads in your car.

burros

Unlike some people, we didn't get out of the car or feed the burros.

From here we drove up Needles Highway (aka Highway 87). I... could have used a few more guardrails on this drive. The roads were super-duper narrow and there were sections where there was just a tiny bit of asphalt between me and the cliffs.

needles highway

guard rails are a thing, South Dakota!

This scary-ass road culminates in this:
Needles Eye

The "eye" is so narrow that as our car went through, Mason could stick his hand out the wind and touch the wall of the tunnel. I have no idea how some of these big-ass trucks that kept passing us on the road got through that thing without scraping off their rearview mirrors (at the very LEAST.)  
I was really sort of surprised that the rangers that took our money did not measure the width of the car.  

Even though I white-knuckle drove this, I think it was probably my favorite part of the day.

We then stopped at a Subway in Hillcity for lunch.  Subway has become a weird go-to lunch place on the road. Shawn used to hate Subway, and now she's like, "OH LOOK, A SUBWAY!" I think because the food is always consistently decent and there are vegetables.

After this we turned towards home base.  We dropped Shawn off at the hotel, and then Mason and I took in a round of mini-golf at the pirate themed mini-golf course just down the street from our hotel. From there, we tried to go back to our creek, but it had been discovered by some frat boys (and one girl) who brought pizza to the rock, so we went across the road and found a new creek to wander around.

creek in black hills

And explore, we did:

Mason in river

I call this one "uh, Ima, what do leeches look like??!?"

From here, we turn towards the home fires. Probably taking I-90 through Wall Drug.
lydamorehouse: (ichigo hot)
 Originally, we'd planned to spend three days here in South Dakota, using Rapid City as our "home base." We decided today to cut it short. Our family is just plain tired of the road.  There's a ton to see here, but today proved that we're pretty close to saturated with "scenery."  Tomorrow will be our last full day here, then we will do the huge drive home.

This morning we let ourselves sleep in. With the time zone difference (we're in Mountain Time)  that really only meant until about 7:30 or so. Then, after fueling up on the hotel breakfast, we headed down 79 for Hot Springs and the Mammoth Site.  79 is not the most scenic, but Shawn snapped a picture.  You can't tell from this picture, but it really looked like it was going to rain on us.  A huge dark cloud loomed in the west.  

South Dakota hills

However, when we got to the Mammoth Site, we had a great time.  The site itself is interesting because it's a working paleontology dig.  When we were there, in fact, we saw people excavating.  At first, we thought it was going to be a bust because we had to buy a ticket for a tour that didn't start right away and they told us to "enjoy the gift shop." By the time the tour started, Mason was muttering about capitalism.  But, we had an amazing tour guide. He could not have been more than 12? Maybe 13?  He looked younger than Mason, but he did a phenomenal job. He was incredibly knowledgable.  

Plus, we got to see mammoth bones!

mammoth skull with tusks

I learned that there are actually mammoths other than woolly mammoths.  Apparently, the majority of those found at this site are of a kind known as Columbian mammoths.  Also, we aren't supposed to call these fossils because they have not turned to stone.  They're actually just dried bone.

There were also a ton of other animals that were discovered in this sinkhole, including another extinct mega-fauna, the short-faced bear.

short-faced bear skeleton

I have to admit that since Mason was very much focused on the Cambrian Period, I never learned that much about the age of mammals. I didn't know that llama used to roam here, as well as some kind of now extinct camel, something called a camelop. That's pretty cool stuff. 

We left the museum pretty enthused for the rest of our day.  I have to say, too, though we didn't get any pictures of it, Hot Springs seemed like a  neat town. I sort of regret not exploring it a bit more. There was a Pioneer Museum that we could have checked out, and a very cute downtown made mostly out of red sandstone.

Instead we drove up 385 toward Wind Cave National Park.  We didn't have any intention of actually going into Wind Cave.  What I wanted from the park was prairie dogs!  I love prairie dogs.  If I had a fursona, I think it would be a prairie dog. I mean, look at them. They fat, sort of cute, a bit territorial, social, and enthusiastic.

prairie dog town!

I literally could have spent the rest of the day watching the prairie dogs popping around, zipping from hole to hole, and chirping at things that annoy them.

SO ADORABLE.

As we were cruising through the park at low-speed and my family was getting really tired of me happily chirping, "Oh! More prairie dogs! Let's stop!!" we spotted a group of pronghorns on the side of the road.  Perhaps you already know this, but I was able to wow my family by telling the that the "antelope" of the song, "Home on the Range" with the line "where the deer and the antelope play" is actually referring to the pronghorn.

pronghorns, America's antelope

I really did not expect to see pronghorns in the wild on this trip.  Just as I did not expect bears.  We also saw what we figure was a marmot sitting on a fence post in Wyoming. 

From this park, we'd hoped to cross over into Pringle and head up towards Custer, but... we were caught in a time loop and could not escape the buffalo.  Seriously, we must have circled the interpretive center three times trying to find our way out.  However, we did see this lovely buffalo a lot:

buffalo in wind cave national park

Thanks to the compass that is built into our car and a very helpful park ranger in the interpretative center we managed to escape the gravity well of Wind Cave.

Custer, of course, is a tourist trap of a town.  We got out there, though, because we were all getting really kind of hangry and I needed to pee. Shawn was really, really, REALLY done with crowds, though, so finding a place to eat that wasn't wall-to-wall tourists was hard.  We managed to find a sit-down place that had decent food and we were all in a much better mood after chatting with our server, Joseph, who was from Tennessee originally and sort of found himself stuck in Custer, having been brought here as an army brat.

Besides getting food into our stomachs, the smartest thing we did was peel off 385 and head down Sheridan Lake Road toward Rapid City. Hardly anyone was on that road and it was GORGEOUS.

black hills with rocks and trees

Having seen pronghorn, however, we started to really hope for elk.  At one point, our entire family spontaneously attempted an elk call, which was sort of a terrifying bellowing groan in our estimation.  :-)

Sheridan Lake Road

As we were driving along here, we spotted a pullout and decided that what this burnt out family really needed was an hour in the woods just sitting and reading and exploring.  There was a small pat that led us to a stream that had a ton of small fish and crawdads.  

Mason dipping his toes in the stream

my big fat butt in the river

I managed to drop my phone in the water.  Ironically, I'd been very careful and taken it out of my pocket and set it in my shoes, but when I sat down to put my shoes back on... bam! It tumbled into the water.

Classic.

However, I managed to turn it off right away and it's apart, drying right now. I have faith it will recover. Otherwise, Tracfones are cheap. This is why no one buys me a smartphone. :-)

Tomorrow, we're going to hop up early to see Mount Rushmore before the crowds and then do the wildlife circle in Custer State Park.  Then, finally, we shall head for the home fires!
lydamorehouse: (??!!)
One thing we've been noticing as we've been going along is how few families seem to still do this whole road trip thing. We seem to be throwbacks, dragging our child across the country. Do people still do this?

I should say, clearly, people still do, but they all seem to be retirees, no children. There were hardly any groups that included children, unless they were Native American. We saw several Native American families all traveling together.  (Also, the majority of tourists in these places seem to be white.)

Today, however, was one of the few days I regretted this idea. We saw some pretty amazing things, which I'll get to in a moment, but we spent a lot of time on the road. Worse, we kept hitting road construction that was more than a slowdown through some orange cones. We'd come to a full stop and then have to wait for a "Follow Me: Pilot Vehicle." This was frustrating as heck, though occasionally it meant that I had time to frame a kind of lovely-in-its-starkness photo.

fence post in Wyoming

I call this, "Lonely Fence Post."

We also legitimately came across sections of road in Wyoming that had been sloppily paved over and a road sign that read, "Road Damage." My family and I spent some quality time trying to figure out if it was more expensive to print up the sign and mark the road or to actually fix it. Obviously, Wyoming Department of Transportation figured the signs were cheaper.

The interstate driving was really, really dull through much of the state. I kept saying, "Well, there are some horses. We must still be in Wyoming." A lot of it looked like this, only more desolate:

Wyoming never ends

The nice surprise was the Big Horn Mountains. Shawn had done some research (naturally) and found us a highway that was rated safe for RVs. Shawn had found a blog and a video of people in an RV driving over one of these stretches (maybe Beartooth?) and we kept repeating what the blogger had said anytime we went down any grade as steep as 7 percent, which was, "My wife was on the floor... crying." (Their experience was apparently much steeper and their brakes were burning out.) We didn't have anything like that, but it was pretty exciting driving through this:

Big Horn Mountains

We would pass signs that would tell us which era of rocks were exposed. There was a lot of "Pre-Cambrian" and "Lower Cretaceous." At one point, after a particularly long and arduous "Follow Me" truck construction zone, we decided to stop at a roadside diner called "The Meadowlark Resort," just outside of the town of Ten Sleep. The diner had a poster of Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire from the TV show Longmire/books by Craig Johnson. Apparently, the nearby town of Buffalo was an inspiration for the novelist. The only reason that was particularly striking to us is that Shawn and I, who loved the show, had started thinking about the fact that the landscape must be very similar to the faux Absaroka County that Longmire is the supposed sheriff of.

Big Horn Mountains

It was good to sit and have a real meal, something we've been neglecting this whole trip. We've been subsisting on road food and things we've packed like trail mix, chips, beef jerky, and granola bars. A real omelet made by an actual short order cook was just the ticket. It probably added a half hour to our day, but I regret nothing.

Except all that interstate driving. The interstate was hideously boring. I kind of wanted to claw my eyes out after driving for hours and hours along the interstate. The only good thing about the interstate was that the speed limit was 80.

Eventually, we got to Devil's Tower. Or, at least the turn off for Devil's Tower. Devil's Tower was made famous for my entire generation by the mashed potato scene in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." There was, of course, another "Follow Me" truck on the way to Devil's Tower. Also, the guidebooks lie. This is not a quick jaunt off the highway, this is a legitimate detour WAY THE HECK OUT. However, it is classic:

Devil's Tower

The gift store would sell you aliens.

Also, because I could no longer take the Interstate, I insisted on a detour through "ANYTHING PRETTY." So we took off on 14-A towards the Black Hills National Forest. This also took us through Sundance, Sturgis, Leads, and Deadwood.

Sundance City Limits sign

The Black Hills National Forest was really amazing, but Mason was starting to lose it in the back and said, "OMG, it's just more rocks and trees. Shoot me now!"

Black Hills

As you can see, he's not wrong. We were getting pretty punchy by this point, too, and Shawn was snapping photos by sticking the camera out of our sunroof.  We got some surprisingly good shots that way.

black hills

Then, finally, we made it to the hotel!  I was super-ready to be here. Our only concern at this point is, do we really want to spend the next several days DRIVING AROUND???!!  Ask me tonight and my answer would be: no $%!@ing way.  I'm going to guess that tomorrow, I'll be all, "Pack up the car, we're on the road!"

We have to AT LEAST see Mount Rushmore.
lydamorehouse: (temporary incoherent rage)
 Shawn dragged us out of bed at 5:30 in the morning because she read that it's best to hit Yellowstone early in order to avoid the crowds.  Turns out there was another bonus, which was, morning is when the animals are the most active.  We've been staying at AmericInns the whole way and they have continental breakfast that isn't horrible. Cody, like Beulah, sports two coffee shops (possibly more, but two were easily seen from the main drag) and so I went out at 6 am to try to find a decent brew. I found someone who would make me a latte, but it was fairly awful. Tomorrow, I will try the Mudd Shack or whatever it was called.

It's about an hours drive between Cody and the east gate entrance to Yellowstone. We passed through mountain tunnels, which is always cool.  This is the reservoir made by the Buffalo Bill Dam.

on the way to yellowstone

The landscape up to Yellowstone was very similar to a lot of what we'd seen in Montana.  No trees and a lot of scrub leading up to rocky outcroppings.  Shawn and I both confessed that this was pretty much what we were afraid all of Yellowstone would look like (oh boy, were we WRONG.)  In fact, once we got to "cruising altitude," as it were, things looked a lot more like the landscape around Bearskin. Shawn said, looking out at all the pine trees lined up along the roadside, "This looks like home." (Grand Rapids, MN.)

Are we in Montana or Wyoming?

But this is Wyoming/Montana: scrubby.

We passed a lot of horse ranches, too.  I joked that where in North Dakota it was all, "I found a cow!" in Wyoming it's "I found a horse!"

Shawn had made a big deal about finding us a hotel room at all in Cody this time of year, and so any time we saw a "vacancy" sign on any of the dude ranch/hotels, we teased her saying, "Oh, sure, you couldn't find anything open! We could have stayed here and had pony rides!" Luckily, she's a good sport and used to us ribbing her.

Even before the official gate, we saw people pulled off to the side of the road.  This is what's known in the Yellowstone area as a "bear jam," aka the kind of traffic jam that happens whenever wildlife is spotted.

Here's what everyone was looking at:

buffalo in sage grass

I really love the contrast here between the brown/black of the buffalo and the silvery green of the sage brush.  This shot seems almost stereotypically Wyoming, don't you think? At first I worried that this big guy was sick being so far from a herd, but Shawn read that male buffalo are loners. Mason said he clearly saw that this fellow was male.

The flowers were really lovely.  There were pearly everlastings growing here too (which remind me of deep woods northern Minnesota):

pearly everlastings

One we were in Yellowstone proper, the road grade started getting significantly steeper.  I worried a lot about our new/used car, but it performed like a beauty.  Pretty soon there were snow caps in the distance.  We had to pull over to take a picture. (We tried selfies, but we kind of suck at them.)

Shawn and Mason with snow-capped mountains in the background.

We took a ton of pictures as we moved higher and higher into the mountains.  But here are a few of the more interesting shots we got:

Slyvin Lake

snow capped mountains at Yellowstone


top of the world


Then came the most amazing thing. We saw a traffic jam ahead and I jokingly said, "Hey, maybe there will be bears at this bear jam."  GUESS WHAT??!! THERE WERE BEARS.

bears!

A pretty good shot considering that Shawn (being non-suicidal) took this picture from inside the car, the window rolled down, with telephoto.  There were many more morons who were out of their cars, setting up tripods, and milling around.  It is possibly not obvious, but these two are GRIZZY BEAR CUBS.  The one in the foregrounds still has a bit of white baby fuzz.  There is a mama grizzly somewhere near and, unlike the stupids, we were long gone before she showed up.

We saw dumber people, though.

There was a whole contingent of stupid walking across a grassy plane towards a giant herd of buffalo.  Buffalo can run 30 mph.  People can not.  There were idiots with children doing that.

Sigh.

It does make me wonder how many people die from wildlife every year.  Especially since you can get great shots from inside your car. Like this:

deer

And this:

buffalo herd

Then, we did what every tourist to Yellowstone must do. We went to visit "Old Faithful."  OMG. The visitor center near "Old Faithful" is a massive complex and it is ENTIRELY JAMMED WITH HUMAN BEINGS. I don't normally mind crowds, but I do not like being elbow-to-elbow with that many sweaty, impatient people.  Mason had the right idea. He put on his Moose Hat (which he picked up at the first gift shop) and read:

moose hat

But we didn't have to wait that long for the big eruption.  For all that, the actual geyser was nifty.  Mason and I managed to score some good seats right next to the walkway's edge.

old faithful erupting.

But our stop here was one of those times when no one knows what to do--should we try to eat here? Do we just grab cereal at the convenience store? Get in the car again and subsist on potato chips?--and we were all h-angry and hot.  Luckily, I had an epiphany in the bathroom and that was that when the guidebooks told us we needed to practice patience, they didn't mean on the road, they meant with each other.  So, we suffered through the long lines and got some real food. (Actually, I made my family find a seat and I waded through the food lines).  After that, we felt much better getting out of there and getting back in the car.  

We did decide, though, that if someone wanted a cheap version of Old Faithful, you could crush into the bathroom, let someone like me who has stinky farts let out a good gassy one, turn on the hot water faucet, and then everyone cheers. Because that's something that's never in any guidebooks: geysers STINK. They smell like sulfur, like rotten eggs. In fact, the whole "clean pine forest" smell up in Yellowstone has a whole undercurrent of "who farted?"

At any rate, after all that hassle, we decided, in fact, that we didn't need to see any more geysers. If there were a lot of people gathered to see a "site" that wasn't wildlife, we would just pass that site right on by, in fact.

I think we made a good choice. We did see these "painted pots" however:

painted pots

After that we mostly just pulled out in spots where there were hardly any people.  Thus, Mason got some time to contemplate nature on the Summer Solstice:

Mason and Yellowstone

The very last thing we did was look at the giant falls... that I've forgotten the name of.  Because you know what else I wasn't prepared for in Yellowstone? How BAD the signs are... and the maps.  I think a lot of tourists would be a lot less cranky if there were better signs directing people to places. But, we had to do a complete 180 at one point otherwise we would have missed these.  And, they were pretty darned spectacular, too:

falls!

That was Yellowstone.  From here, we turn east towards Mount Rushmore and home.... though it will still be a few more days on the road.

Right now, I'm off to avail myself of the hot tub. My shoulders are aching after all that white knuckle driving on the roads.  Going up had me worried about the engine, going down had me freaking out about the breaks.  I could use a massage, honestly.

Tomorrow? MORE DRIVING.  We go from here to Rapid City, hopefully going past Devil's Tower. 
lydamorehouse: (nic & coffee)
We got up bright and early this morning and headed west. Today was a day of heavy driving, not a lot of stopping, though we did manage a few. I made Shawn stop and take a picture of cows on our way out of Beulah, though. It was such a familiar sight that I had to have it immortalized.


cows on the hill (ND)

That's North Dakota to me, right there.

Ww stopped at a rest stop that overlooked Theodore Roosevelt National Park, aka the North Dakota Badlands. After we left that rest stop we lamented not taking a picture of the picture of the buffalo wandering around in front of the Interpretative Center. We did see a giant cow pie on the grounds, so we know that it was accurate that buffalo occasionally invaded the rest stop.

ND badlands

This picture doesn't really do the badlands justice. They're such weird places, actually.

As we entered Montana, we discovered that Shawn really does not like the landscape of Montana. "Alien," was what she categorized it as, and, "Dead." As the driver, I have to disagree. I found Montana fascinating. The colors are so different, everything is legitimately sage colored and the trees are replaced by scrub. It seems flat and uninteresting, but when you're driving, you become hyperaware that you're constantly going UP at a fairly steep incline.

But there's not a lot to look at, that's for sure. Here's typical landscape:

flat of Montana

You can see why they call it "Big Sky Country," though.

My family and I had a long discussion about "Big Sky" and what other mottos Montana could have used. Pretty much all of us were in agreement that really, if it were us, we'd advertise the fact that there are DINOSAURS bones everywhere. I'd have put "The Land of Dinosaurs!" on the license plates, but that's just me. When we were arguing about whether the landscape was interesting or ugly, I muttered, "Well, it's prettier than Indiana" and Mason thought that would make a good state motto, too: "Better than Indiana."

The thing about Montana is that for all the weird, scrubby flat stuff, occasionally stuff like this will randomly jut up out of the ground:

random rocks of Montana

This is Makoshika State Park. We stopped for the Interpretive Center which had some dinosaur bones in it. We wandered around a little bit, and I was kind of tempted to drive around in the rocks, but the woman in the center said there was only a couple of miles of paved road before it became unpaved switchbacks. So, yeah, no. Not with our car.

Mostly we didn't stop except to pee, but all the the rest stops there was this helpful sign:

sign for rattlesnakes

The only place we spent any really amount of time was at Pompey's Pillar. This is where Clark left some graffiti on a rock. There was a really nice set of stairs we climbed to see it and there was an elder tour bus there, so we didn't have to feel badly when we had to stop a lot to take rests. Pretty much at every perch were some nice older folks who admired Mason's hair and asked us where were from.  

Clark's graffiti

Here's a shot from above:

pompey's pillar

Then there was more driving... we saw mountains in the distance, but happy stayed between the pass all the way to Cody.

Tomorrow, Yellowstone!
lydamorehouse: (I love homos)
We planned one more day in Beulah, ND, mostly because we had hoped to get flieschkuekchle from the deli at the Beulah grocery store for dinner tonight. So we decided to bum around the area to see what could be seen. Plus, one of Shawn's relatives told us that there was actually a road up to Salem Sue and Mason got it in his head that if we'd touched Dakota Thunder (the giant buffalo), we ought to be able to say we'd also touched Salem Sue.

Looking at the map, we thought we planned ourselves a pretty decent day of it, and so we headed off bright and early to Lake Sakakawea. The trip took us back to Hazen, and, because the map didn't have a name marked on the road that looked like it took us to the lake, I stopped and asked for directions from the gas station employee. I asked him the best way and he said, "Head back toward Beulah at the next gas station and turn north." I showed him the map and said, "Here? But it has no name." He gave me a funny look and said, "Just go north. You'll hit the lake."

Apparently, roads don't need names if they go to the lake.

As we turned down that road, we discovered the Hazen cemetery, where some of Shawn's relatives are buried. We stopped to look around and Mason found a shed snake skin, from the size of it, it was probably a rattlesnake.

snake skin in the cemetery

He's holding it up, in the wind. It was a Very Blustery Day, as A. A. Milne might say. We actually decided to take the snake skin with us, and so we stuck it in a plastic baggy. It's the sort of thing that will go nicely on our altar.

On the road there, we had to stop for a family of ducks that made their way across the two lane highway. It was the first of many times that I hit the brakes suddenly for critters crossing the road. A TON of gophers dashed across the road (and one lost its life under our wheel, alas, despite my best efforts.) But, most of the things trying to cross made it. I made sure of that as best as I could.

The lake was fairly spectacular.

Lake Sakakawea

Floating in the breeze we saw a pelican. We also drove down to the boat landing and stuck our hands in the lake, just to say we had.

Then it was back on the road for the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. This is where I started pointing out cows. There are, in case you were wondering, a LOT of cows in North Dakota. In fact, in one of the brochures Shawn picked up at the Knife River site, we learned that for every one person, there are three cows. Pretty soon this became a running joke and I'd say, "Hey, everybody, guess what? I found some cows!" Many of the cows had calves, so part of the game (for me, at least) was looking for the babies.

I needed a game, because we drove around a lot.

We got out and walked around a lot at the Knife River Site, though. They have an interpreter center there with some history of the site. The village is notable because it's where Louis and Clark picked up Sakakawea, actually.  All that's left right now are depressions in the earth where the earth lodges once stood.  They had a reconstructed earth lodge out front:

earthen lodge at Knife River

There were miles of trails, but we took a short hike down to the water's edge.  The sun was bright and the air smelled AMAZING, mostly wild clover, I think. I told Shawn that I thought it smelled a little like laundry detergent, and I suspect that's not a coincidence.

ND fields

Knife River (ND)

From here we made a return trip to Salem Sue, the World's Largest Holstein. We found the road in this time and drove up a very narrow, winding hill.  It was actually fairly busy at the top of the hill, which made me wonder what people did if they met another car coming the other direction on that gravel road. Luckily we never found out.  The cow was there. She's still delightful.  I have no idea why this giant cow has charmed my family so much, but it totally did.

There was also a heckuva a view from up there.

Shawn in ND

I was also impressed with the scrubby wild roses growing on the hill around Salem Sue.  They reminded me of the roses I'd find growing near the railroad tracks in LaCrosse, WI, where I grew up.

wild roses


The next "destination" was the Enchanted Highway. When we planned this trip, I looked at the map and said, "Wait, The Enchanted Highway just stops? That seems dumb. Shouldn't we find a way so that we can come up it on our way home from somewhere?" Oh, good idea, Lyda.  TOO BAD IT MEANT HOURS OF DRIVING THROUGH PRETTY MUCH NOWHERE.  

We kept having to tell ourselves as we drove through towns like Mott ("Mott, the spot that god forgot" as Shawn's dad just to call the town he was born in), that our secondary motto this trip is, "The journey *is* the destination."  But, OMFG, I was tired of driving by the time we finally hit the beginning (or end) of the Enchanted Highway.  But, the bizarre statues were worth it in my opinion.

Interestingly, the only place we saw real, live pheasants crossing the road, was right before this statue:

giant pheasants on the Enchanted Highway in ND

(Mason is there for scale)

Weird fish sculpture

world's largest grasshopper

Some ominous weather started dogging us here at the giant grasshopper statue, but we managed to outrun it, by heading north. 

eye of saurian or geese in flight?

The official name for this one is "Geese in Flight" but I kept calling it the Eye of Sauron.  I think it looks like a giant eye on a hill.

The rest of the drive back to the hotel was a lot of me saying, "Hey, look, I found some cows."  We did, however, see a runaway llama, though. As we were headed along 200, I saw something galloping on the hill. I started to say, "Hey, a cow," but then my brain said, "No, not cow, horse? No... LLAMA!"  The llama was clearly on an unscheduled walkabout since it was being herded by a pick-up truck with its hazards flashing and an ATV.  That woke us up.  

This was outside of a town called "Zap," which made it all the more surreal and hilarious. 

We were pretty road punchy by the time we made it back to the hotel.  We'd hoped to catch that fleischkuekchle at the deli, but it turned out that it was closed. Worse, the only other restaurant in town that served them was also closed. Damn you, Sunday in a small town!  But we met up with Shawn's brother Keven (who was also in town for the reunion) at the DQ for dinner instead. A far cry from fleischkuekchle, but I was so hungry at that point (having only really eaten the road food we'd packed, which consisted of things like beef jerky and trail mix) I was happy with ANYTHING.

Now I'm going to collapse into bed and rest up for another long drive across the country to Cody, Wyoming!
lydamorehouse: (crazy eyed Renji)
How I know my spouse loves me?  Shawn researched all the coffeeshops near the hotels we'll be staying at during this trip.

Of course knowing where they are and knowing what they'll be like are two different things.  I went out this morning and checked out Javalicious, which I was originally excited to find because their Facebook page shows something that looks like it could be real espresso, complete with espresso art.  However, when I found Main Street Beulah, the coffee shop was closed.

main street, downtown Beulah, North Dakota

A very lonely street.  

A very sad and caffeine-deprived Lyda.

Luckily, Beulah has a surfeit of coffee shops, having a second one on 19th Avenue.  I set off for that down Central Avenue, mostly because I wanted to admire the town.  When Mason first saw Beulah, his impression was "suburb." He's got a point in that there's something about Beulah that doesn't feel terribly... established? The houses all look like the kinds of ramblers that were popular in the Midwest in the 1950s-1960s.  The lawns are wide and the houses all have the kind of suburban distances between them--which isn't terribly descriptive if you aren't familiar with American suburbs, but think: wide and open. Driveways that lead to two-car garages.  That kind of place.

It seems pleasant enough, though I'd never want to live here.

For one, the second coffee shop looks like this:

a shack that serves coffee

They also don't open on a Saturday until 9 am. They're not open at all on Sunday.  And their coffee was.... well, it was a step up from the hotel coffee, which is what I subsisted on until we headed to Hazen for the family shindig.  But, it was really only *one* step up. 

Sadly, I will have to be satisfied with this for another full day.

(And who knows what Cody, Wyoming will bring in terms of coffee!)

Our room at this hotel comes with an in-room jacuzzi-tub which I tried out this morning. It was... interesting.  For one, those things take FOREVER to fill (and I'm not terribly patient), and second, it turns out that if you don't fill it at least a full inch over the little nozzles, they will spray you IN THE FACE. Okay, that last part might have been dumb luck, but I swear the tub was out to get me.  

Then I spent a ton of time trying to figure out what to wear. Shawn had packed me a nice shirt, but when I put it on, it just felt... *shakes head*... it just wasn't right. Plus, I wanted to make a good impression on these people. I was pretty sure I was going to be the only lesbian they were ever going to knowingly meet, so I kind of felt like I had to represent. Luckily, I had packed a plaid shirt.  I mean right? If you're going to be the only lesbian they know, you might as well embrace at least one of the stereotypes!  

Honestly, I was pretty worried about how all this was going to go.  We had hours and hours we were going to be spending with these people and (I'm not making this up, I checked Wikipedia,) Hazen is 97.7% white. This is not a place comfortable with "diversity," you know?

But, well, if they judged us, they did it the classic Midwestern way: quietly and behind our backs. To our faces, everyone was nice.

That worked out, because what we were there for was for Shawn to reconnect to her mother's extended family.  The reunion was based around her uncle Bobby and his wife Chris's 60th wedding anniversary. The food was... well, it was free, so I probably shouldn't complain about it, but let's put it this way: the event took place in a literal church basement. Macaroni salad featured prominently. 

We have one more day here. We wanted to stay long enough to be sure to have the Hazen supermarket's fleischkeuckle and so we're going to spend the day tomorrow seeing some of the nearby sites, which include Lake Sakakawea, Garrison Dam, Dickinson Dinosaur Museum, and Knife River Indian Historic Site.  We will may also see a few of the sculptures on  Enchanted Highways, so that should be fun.
lydamorehouse: (writer??)
We took off from Saint Paul this morning around 8:30 am. The directions to Beulah, ND are as follows: take I-94 West, turn right at the sign for Beulah. I think for a lot of people this drive can be done in 8 hours, however, you have to factor into this that my family LIVES for roadside attractions.

LIVES for them.

We also stop at every single rest stop between here and there, just because. The very first rest stop we came to had a very unusual name:



Despite the name, this was a fine place to use the bathroom. It was also the first time we ran into a group that would follow us much of our trek out west: the Mission Possible people. They were a large group of teenagers, all in matching tee-shirts, and we can only assume they were probably some kind of church group. But, pretty much if we stopped, they were there (or were there shortly after we arrived.)

The next place we stopped was Fergus Falls, MN, at the Continental Divide marker. This is not THE Continental Divide, though it is a point that "separates water that flows into the Mississippi watershed with the one that goes into Hudson's Bay." There's a giant surveyor's telescope statue, a little open-air interpretive center (which happened to be inhabited by a family of barn swallows and their fledglings), and a huge tee-pee type structure:

mason at Fergus Falls, MN

Oh, as a bonus you can see Mason's new hair color.  Yeah, so that happened.  Mason wanted to do something radical before the trip, I think precisely because we're headed into Trump Country.  I think he wanted to make it absolutely clear that he was One of Those People. Anyway, I think he looks super-cool and was happy to pay for it.  

There was a really pretty bush there, though I'm not sure what it was: sweet pea?

flowering bush

The next place we stopped was Rothsay, MN.  Why Rothsay, you ask?  Well, it's the home of the world's largest booming prairie chicken.

booming chicken and Mason

Directly across the park, which you can see a hint of in this picture, is the Rothsay Public School, home of the... Tigers? I mean, I guess I can see why you might not want to name your high school team the "prairie chickens" because 'chicken' has bad connotations, but why not the "Boomers"?  Honestly, I could hire myself out to these people. 

Once we headed into North Dakota proper, we discovered a few things. The first of which is that there are NO SERVICES off any of the exits. Normally, on these kinds of road trips, one depends on getting gas at some station just off the exit.  Wisconsin is great for this. Anytime you see an exit, you're pretty much guaranteed gas, a toilet, possibly a McDonald's, as well. North Dakota? NOTHING. Worse, the roadside rests became fewer and further between. In Minnesota, you'd see a sign at each rest stop saying, "Next Rest Stop in ___ miles" and most of the time, it'd be 30 miles. We crossed the border into North Dakota, and suddenly the signs read, "Next Rest Stop in 69 miles."  

Which is how we ended up in Valley City, ND.

Because we pulled into the first rest stop we saw (which was in the center of the highway, so a left exit) and it was closed.  All the Mission Possible kids were there eating lunch, but we really, really needed to pee. I did snap off a picture of how FLAT North Dakota is, however:

flat with flat sauce

The very next town was Valley City, so we pulled in.  We thought our best luck for a place to pee was the Visitor's Center, which was quite a distance into to town.  It was a very weird little winding road that took us past a John Deere shop and several industrial looking places before we hit main street and this:

military plane?

Not exactly a friendly entryway to town... and then the signs to the Visitor Center seemed to point us into an empty parking lot next to a gas station.  In fact, I drove in and then drove back out again because it didn't seem right, but there was a sign saying "Visitor's Center" on a small little depot-like building off on the other side of the dusty parking lot.  Turns out the Center also doubled as the town's Department of Motor Vehicles. The parking lot was also kind of... odd. Someone had spay painted a very rough outline of where you should park with a helpful scrawl of "park here." I should have taken a picture of this because it was very amateur hour meets "Pennywise," if you know what I mean.  

But, the actual Visitor's Center was quite pleasant. They had a toilet, so I would have loved them even if they were terrifying. They had a little train history display and the carriage car of the Northern Pacific's superintendent (?), supposedly the only one still intact.They had a gift shop, so I bought a few postcards there to send to my various international friends.

Shawn's back has been hurting, so we decided to a little more walking around.  Just across the street was a little walking bridge over the river and so we strolled across that and back again.  

walk bridge

Back in the car, we watched a whole lot of nothing and NO SERVICES pass us by.  

Shawn confessed to really loving scanning the dial for music. No surprise we found a lot of country music, but then Shawn and I are actually fans of country & western so we were kind of happy when we came across 104.7 DUKE FM. We heard "Stand By Your Man" and "Vaya Con Dios, My Darling" and just a ton of "wow, I can't believe they're playing THAT." We passed many miles singing cheesy country songs. 

The next place of interest we were headed for was Jamestown, ND, home of the world's largest buffalo statue.  Shawn had previously only ever driven past the buffalo, which is visible from I-94, but since I accidentally turned into the first exit to Jamestown (in search of a toilet, what else?) we ended up checking out not only the buffalo itself, but also this tourist trap "frontier town."

world's largest buffalo

Shawn is 6'1" for scale.  

Also, for reasons known only to its sculptor, the buffalo is anatomically correct:
buffalo balls

I guess this is important to some.  Also, note the placement of the park bench. How many teenagers do you think take pictures touching the buffalo balls every year? Thousands, I'd bet.

In the field beyond is a buffalo preserve. We never saw the herd, which is a shame because there is (or, apparently, was) a very rare albino buffalo that's part of the herd called "White Cloud." It's unclear if her albino offspring or the other spontaneously born white buffalo is still there, but we saw no buffalo at all, so it didn't really matter.  Shawn has it on her trip bucket list to see buffalo in the wild. We did see a buffalo farm just outside of the Twin Cities, but Shawn claims that "doesn't count" because they were on a farm. 

Then there was more driving.  Lots an lots of driving.  

The next place we stopped was North Dakota's capitol, Bismarck. Shawn suggested that the capitol building itself was a must-see.  It totally was. Oh, and I forgot to mention that we dubbed this entire trip's motto:  "Might Be Worth a Detour"  If you can stop, stop!  That's what we figure.
capitol at Bismark

We went inside and took a look at the senate chambers.

senate chambers, bismarck ND

There were all sorts of cool art deco features, including these little seating nooks:
seating nooks in Bismarck capitol building

We hit a traffic jam outside of Bismarck that delayed us, which was frustrating because the next planned stop was OUR HOTEL ROOM in Beulah, ND.  We're spending the weekend here for Shawn's family's family reunion/wedding anniversary.  We'd hoped to make it in time to eat dinner at "the house," but between that construction and the construction delay we hit coming up the highway to Beulah, there was no way.

Oh, actually, we had to make a stop to see Salem Sue, the world's largest cow statue:

salem sue at a distance
Salem Sue close-up


As we waited for the construction delay, we did get to see the spectacular sight of a rainstorm coming across the great plains:

rain on the plains

Heckuva start to the trip, wouldn't you say?  From here it's a few days here in Beulah and then ON TO YELLOWSTONE.  Expect many, many more photos.

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