Sunday, December 30, 2012

Going Home

Nikki and I went back to Baltimore for Christmas with just the black suitcase and her purse. This is all we're leaving with: the suitcase, her purse, a carry-on from her mom, and a book bag she borrowed from Ginger Jon. Why all the extra luggage? While there are some Christmas gifts in the brown bag, most of the luggage is stuffed full of Utz chips. Nikki LOVES Utz chips. She's also tucked four bottles of Maryland wine into the suit case between all her clothes. Luckily Southwest Airlines allows passengers to check two bags and have a carry-on and a "personal item" to take with them on the plane FOR FREE. I highly recommend flying with them during the holidays.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Creatures of the Night

I was in the mood to feature night animals and other silly things on the white board at work. This wasn't a terribly popular subject, so I've suggested that Lyndsay be in charge of choosing the next topic.

I started us off with the howling coyote on the right side of the board. There are a lot of coyotes in my area; we heard some fighting & squealing late at night last week on the Cherry Creek Trail. There's a Batman-looking jewel thief/cat burglar and a singing, howling cat a la Garfield. Twila, who works in one of our school's centers, drew the jar full of fireflies. I have no idea who drew the black widow spider, but as an arachnophobe, I must admit that it makes me uncomfortable.

On the second white board, my owl flies over everyone, hunting for food. The Sasquatch (Carol's) roars to scare away hunters. (I don't understand the quote: "I saw a werewolf @ Trader Vicks & his hair was perfect.") I committed copyright infringement with my doodle of Mike from "Monsters, Inc." Anne was supposed to draw the bats, but Kevin beat her to it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Autumn in the Rockies, PART TWO!

Finally!! I can post SOME of the pictures that Mom, Grandma, and Aunt Charlene took when they visited us in September! This entry will be similar to the first one I wrote about their trip, but Nikki didn't take these photos, and I wanted to show off what the ladies considered really interesting/pretty. Hopefully this'll satisfy your hunger for an entry until we can get the rest of them sorted out and edited. :) NOTE!!! I have NO IDEA who took what pictures. I think most of them are Grandma's, but it's hard to say. Just enjoy them and don't worry about it. ;)

The day started off wonderfully with a beautiful sunrise over the trees by the ladies' hotel room. Obviously, Nikki and I were asleep, but because Mom, Grandma, and Aunt Charlene were two hours ahead of us mentally (time zone stuff), they were up bright and early.

The rest of the day was cloudy/hazy and chillier the higher up we went into the mountains. Good thing Nikki told everyone to bring some warm clothes for when we visit the Rockies!

Do you remember this little park in Lyons? What a nice place to have a picnic...maybe with some barbecue...and french fries...mmmmmm....

Nikki, probably tweeting or Facebooking or some other social media thing the kids are into these days.


This is TOTALLY my new user picture. Isn't it a great picture of me?!

Everyone - but especially Grandma - was in total awe of how big and beautiful and dramatic the mountains are. You can see them from almost any place in Denver and the surrounding area, and the closer you get, the bigger they are, and the smaller you feel. This view is from Estes Park. (I'm pretty sure.) You should click on it to see a larger size; it's a pretty cool picture.

Mom was a lot gutsier than I was when it came to getting close to the Elk at Lake Estes. Call me crazy, but I just don't trust an animal that carries weapons on its head!

Some more views of Lake Estes. Pretty sure these two were taken by Grandma.

Can you find Mom in this picture? ;)

Mom and Aunt Charlene in RMNP. (Go Ravens! Beat the Steelers!)

Nikki wanted to crop Mom's hand out of this picture, but I told her not to because it kinda looks cool this way! I think it reflects the casual nature of our trip and also that it was still warm enough to have the windows down at this point!

I was having an AWESOME time "surfing" the dashboard until Nikki got all "mom" on me and made me sit with Mom. "It's not safe up there! What if I have a sharp turn, and you fly out the open window and fall down a cliff or get hit by another car?!" I mean...she had a point, but what a total kill joy!

These next four pictures are from when we were up at the tundra, where it was TOTALLY cold and really sparse as far as plants and animals were concerned. The air was thin and cold, so I don't blame things for not wanting to live up there!

Grandma and I in a super cute family photo

So this is a glacier, or I guess, USED to be a glacier. I mean, it's still there, but MUCH smaller than it used to be. Global warming sucks! It takes away all the cool stuff like glaciers and polar bears. I bet it used to be AWESOME to walk around up there when it was almost all snow. Now people are probably like, "*yawn* More rocks. Yay. Oh, look. Snow. Hrmm." :(

The ladies wanted to know why there were tall branches sticking out of the ground on either side of the road for miles and miles. Nikki told them that they were used to let snow plow operators know where the road was so they wouldn't plow the wrong area. Everyone was so surprised that the sticks would have to be that tall, but Nikki said that the Rockies get a TON of snow dumped on them in the wintertime. (See below)

From the source article: "A snowplow faces 23 feet of snow on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado on May 13 [2011]." (emphasis mine) (National Park Service via AP) They probably couldn't even see the sticks at that point!!

The Alpine Visitor Center also needs to have sticks tell people where it is when it snows a lot! (Nikki said the logs on the roof are built that way so it doesn't cave the roof in, but I can't find out WHY that keeps the snow from caving in the roof, so who knows if she's right or not.)

View of Eagle River from the back "porch" of the Alpine Visitor Center

Now, I KNOW that Grandma took this picture because she showed it to me right after she took it. She thought it was so neat how the sign was captured in the photo as we zipped along the highway down the mountains.

We drove down I-70 on the way back to the hotel and passed Sports Authority (formerly Invesco) Field at Mile High, which really, everyone just calls Mile High Stadium. As you probably know, this is the new home of my dreamy Peyton Manning, who is steadily leading the Broncos to victory.

So that was Day One with the family. The next day they abandoned Nikki to a life of office drudgery [Nikki Note: *SIGH*] and drove down to Garden of the Gods to check out some of the coolest natural architecture I've ever seen in my short armadillo life.

[Nikki Note: Looking through the many, many, MANY pictures my family members took, I noticed that they weren't sorted chronologically; they were sorted by photographer and THEN chronologically. So all of the above photos were taken by Grandma, and there are STILL MORE pictures from Day One that I have to look for, file, and edit. Before we get to Garden of the Gods, I'll have Claire write another post about our first day, if there are any photos that warrant posting. We might just throw the pictures up here for you to enjoy.]

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Nikki Post: I'm SO SORRY (and not dead)

Hi all,

I'm so sorry for not posting in a super-long time. My life has been consumed by many other things. I'm in a play (my first in Denver AND my first for which I'm getting PAID!), so there were rehearsals and a tumultuous tech week, and I was in every single opening weekend show. (We have alternate actors who switch off for different performances. I'm only going to be a minor character in the pre-show this upcoming weekend.) I've been volunteering and having some work stress and some life stress. All of this means that I haven't traveled anywhere, with Claire or otherwise. I have a few hundred pictures from when my mom, aunt, and grandma came into town at the end of September I need to edit and post. Having that many photos to go through is a daunting task, and having not gone with them on their adventures means I don't know a lot about what they did or what they saw. Luckily, my grandma has been really good about posting her pictures to Facebook, often with captions explaining what everything is, so I should be able to get some information from there. I just haven't had the time to sit down and force myself to do it.

Posting at least the photos from their trip to Garden of the Gods is one of my goals for this week.

Please know that I haven't lost interest in this blog at all and that I'll be bringing my laptop with me when I'm home for Christmas so that when insomnia strikes, I can upload pictures and stories of our adventures back in Baltimore. I'm really looking forward to going home this year, as I've been homesick for my nieces and nephews, and because I get to have a party with my bridesmaids AND look for potential wedding locations for next year! Lots to do, and hopefully I'll get to make some time to keep you all up-to-date about our holiday adventures. :)

Thanks for reading,

Friday, October 26, 2012

Armadillo Interlude: Halloween


PS: I'm not dressing up as anything this year because I'm not a fan of trick or treating. Too much mischief out there in the world, and I'm too small to deal with little kids all jacked up on sugar. Nikki and Steve are going though, even though they're both almost 30. (They're doing a favor for a friend. Long story.) I'll probably sneak off with their candy (especially their Reese's!) after they've gone to sleep for the night. I may not like Halloween, but I LOVE CANDY!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Nikki Post: Fall Fest

Autumn WAS in the air in Denver - chilly nights that smelled of wood fires, bright leaves scattered on the ground, slightly gloomy days with the sun peeking through just when you need it to most - but lately the temperature's been in the high-70s, which is awesomely ridiculous. The leaves are DEFINITELY prettier than they were last year, and today is blustery as all get-out. Inside the dean's office though, we were celebrating all things autumn on our white board.

Few things say "autumn" like falling aspen leaves and a scarecrow (that isn't very scary). Judith, one of our associate deans, disliked the orange marker we originally had. It was too dried out for the pumpkin she wanted to draw. Luckily, our friend Twila in one of the school's centers bequeathed her orange marker to us so we could have our pumpkin. (I could NOT find a single orange marker on our online office supplier website! Ridiculous.)

Teri joined the party and drew the basket of apples (with an adorable worm coming out of one). Mmmm....cider....

Anthony once again added his artistic talents to the white board by drawing a...gonna go with witch? Calling for help? Regardless, we're very happy to have him in our drawing group.

Kevin drew the corn maze, which is fantastic as always. I've yet to do a corn maze this year, although there IS one on my "bucket list": a corn maze in the shape of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. If I'm gonna do a corn maze, I'm gonna "go big or go home."

And then I drew a demonic-looking squirrel stealing an apple.

The other side of our fall fest is more of a scene than a motley assortment of fall figures. Here we find Tracy (the blond in the pink scarf) warming her hands with me (in the purple scarf) by a campfire. I think the tree looks awful, but Tracy said that several people complimented how good it looked. (She's a good friend.) A spooky ghost tried to haunt us, but luckily, one of the Ghostbusters arrived to bust him.

...and then there's the football. Making fun of Tim Tebow is a favorite pastime for some of us in the office, mainly because he's such an easy target. (Although he probably couldn't even throw to himself if he were his own target. BOOM!) Pretty sure Marshall drew this, although it could also be Shawn. Neither is particularly good at adding to our white board themes in any relevant way. ;p

Our finished masterpiece

Friday, October 12, 2012

Nikki Post: We're All A Bunch of Clowns Here

The number of people in the office who participate in the white board game is growing. We recently got Anthony, our Director of Finance, to draw something, small though it may be. Teri, the dean's executive assistant, suggested the theme of "circus," and as usual, my coworkers and I went wild.

We start our tour of the circus outside the big top, along the midway where a sword swallower does his thing, and a bird (penguin?) rides a mama elephant while baby tags along. Kevin drew the elephants, and everyone was really, REALLY impressed with his skills. Seriously, look at that baby elephant. How cute is it?!

Once inside, the crowd (those dots) were treated to a stunning display of activities, all apparently happening at once. High above the crowd, and performing without a net (!), an acrobatic band of brothers twirls and swings through the air, their every move highlighted by spotlights. (I mentioned to Teri that I realized too late that, practically speaking, all of these acrobats except the one standing on the platform would probably die because it didn't look like they'd be able to catch one another, but Teri assured me that it was just a matter of perspective and that everything would work out okay in the end.)

A man elegantly dressed in a blue top hat and blue velvet pants tames a lion, perhaps in preparation to stick his head inside its mouth. (Yes, that's a lion. I'm not a good artist. We've established this.) Behind them, Lyndsay's cotton candy treats tempt one and all. A giant tub of popcorn, large enough to feed the whole crowd and the circus performers too, waits for someone to drown in its fluffy, buttery goodness.

Anthony's aforementioned contribution is the floating, radiating clown head hovering over the crowd. I think it's supposed to be the Jack-in-the-Box mascot, but it looks like some kind of terrifying mind-control device, no doubt operated by none other than...

...DAVID HASSELHOFF, THE MANIACAL CLOWN!! With this "episode" on the white board, David's time as a recurring character came to an end. (Tracy insisted.) David chose to go out in style, in a clown car no doubt overstuffed with Baywatch babes and rabid German fans.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Autumn in the Rockies

WOW! WHAT A CRAZY WEEK I'VE HAD!! Nikki's mom Diane, grandma Shirley, and aunt Charlene all got into town on September 22nd and left October 1st. Nikki spent the weekends with them, as she couldn't get off work (except Monday to drive them to the airport), but she left me with them to go adventuring. We went to more places in Colorado in one week than Nikki and Steve have visited in one year! [Nikki Note: To be fair, my family members didn't have to go to work and plan their adventuring around 8-hour work days and long (for Steve, anyway) commutes. Although I really AM jealous of them.] Combined, the ladies took over 700 photos (mostly of me) during the week. Nikki says that she'll have enough blog material to last at least two months, if she spaces everything out right. If she starts getting lazy and not posting on time, don't worry; I'll whip her back into shape. ;)

The first Sunday we were all together, Nikki took the ladies up to Rocky Mountain National Park to drive along Trail Ridge Road and see the aspens changing color. This is one of the things Colorado residents love best about autumn. Frankly, I think the colors Baltimore trees turn are more spectacular, but the way the bright yellow aspen leaves were scattered among the green pine trees WAS really pretty.

To get up to RMNP, we drove through Lyons, which is just a few miles outside of Estes Park. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Mom, Grandma, and Aunt Charlene go geocaching, which is a treasure hunt using GPS coordinates and clues. People all over the world hide these caches, which can be as tiny as a tube of chapstick or as big as a 2-gallon bucket, and other people find them. When you find a cache, you have to write your name in it on the "log," and if you want to take/leave a little toy (if there's room), you can. They also have these things called "travel bugs," which are little tokens people take from place to place and "check-in" online so the original owner can see where it's been. Kinda reminds me of me! Mom and Aunt Charlene said that there was a cache hidden near this little park, so we pulled over to investigate.

There were a bunch of these engraved pictures on the ground in the middle of the park, commemorating Lyons' history.

This awesome water fountain was also in the middle of the park. The artist who made the weird egg-thing in the middle has a business in town.


How cool is this?! Nikki would be 108 years old by the time the capsule would get opened. She asked what I would put in a time capsule to show the future what life was like in 2012. At the time, I said I'd probably put in a DVD of season one of Jersey Shore, with a note apologizing for that show ever being on the air, but now I'm thinking I wanna put that weird corncob armadillo in the capsule. No explanation. Just this weird little figurine of an armadillo dressed as a corncob.

Aunt Charlene and Mom (a.k.a. "the girls") were using Mom's new GPS/geocaching smartphone app to try and figure out where the local cache was. Grandma, Nikki, and I were kinda bored of waiting, so we took some more pictures (hers will be coming later) and hung out by the fountain.

Grandma used to go square dancing all the time when she was younger. She told me that she even had special outfits and dresses she would wear!

Finally, the girls found the right coordinates and set off to find the hidden treasure. Grandma went back to the car because her ankle was bothering her, but Nikki and I followed Mom and Aunt Charlene, eager to see where their search would take them. Turns out, the cache was hidden on an electrical transformer near some dumpsters. Not that glamorous. :p Mom found it, but Nikki said that she'd suggested it was on the transformer. (She's terrible at geocaching.)

Mom and I celebrating her find. I'm holding the cache. (Doesn't she look JUST like Nikki in this photo?!)

The log inside the "micro" cache.

All "professional" geocachers have "handles" (user names) that they use on the website and in the logs. Aunt Charlene is "Caviar" because her husband raises fish and caviar. Grandma is Creampuff. (Her boyfriend Bill is "Sweet Man.") Mom is "Lil Creampuff." Nikki is "Baby Creampuff." And I just got to be Claire. Little do the geocachers of the internet know that this mysterious "Claire" is actually an armadillo travel correspondent!

Next we drove up to Estes Park, which is a town right on the edge of RMNP. Nikki's car Becky had some trouble getting up the big hill leading towards the town (it's a hybrid, which means it has a small engine), but it was smooth sailing down. If you haven't been to Estes, you should totally go! The landmark sign outside of town has one of the most gorgeous views of the valley below. Naturally, we pulled over for a photo shoot.

Mom and I get all meta and take a picture of Nikki taking a picture of us.

Three generations and an armadillo (Note Nikki's stupid hair/sunglasses. She really should stay on the *other* side of the camera!!)

We had our first taste of Colorado wildlife while taking tourist shots: wild turkeys!! They were just wandering all over the place, being ugly and eating food. I've never seen a wild turkey before (just the ones on a Thanksgiving dinner table!), so this was pretty cool.

gobble gobble

We also saw the prettiest bluebird I've ever seen in my life: a Stellar's Jay. (Thanks to FlickrHiveMind for helping with the ID!)

Some of the tourists were getting a little too close to the wildlife, feeding them peanuts and trying to get them to eat out of their hands. I wanted to scold them and let them know that feeding wildlife is NOT a good idea, because you could accidentally poison the animal or make it too used to humans or get rabies or something, but Nikki told me to stay out of it. I told her that it's all cute and photo-worthy until someone gets a finger bitten off.

Of course that didn't stop me from taking a picture.

We drove down the hill to Lake Estes, which is a gorgeous, HUGE lake near town. We were just going to show the family how pretty the lake was, but as we were driving to the parking lot, we saw a giant elk, just chillin' under a tree! Obviously, we stopped to take pictures, and then MORE people stopped to take pictures. It was super cool. Everyone was stoked to be so close to an elk.

We skipped visiting town to go straight to the park. Grandma got us a senior discount (which is good for life!), so we only had to pay $10 for a weekly pass instead of the usual $20. The park ranger who helped us was suuuuuuuuuper dreamy, as are most of the park rangers I've met here in Colorado. (Like most female armadillos, I love a man in uniform.) We first stopped off at a meadow area because there was a virtual cache that the girls wanted to check out. (National and State Parks are off-limits for physical caches, so virtual ones make you answer questions about the site and/or take a picture proving you were there.) Grandma and I stayed behind and took pictures. (Prettier ones are on Nikki's Facebook fan page. See link at the end of this entry to check them out!)

This is only a sliver of the beauty the Rockies had to offer us that day!

As we continued to drive around, we saw other signs that told about the animals that live in the park. Nikki was especially interested in the Bighorn Sheep, because it's the only "Colorado" animal she hasn't seen yet. She's seen a moose and a black bear and elk and pronghorn, but no sheep. (Spoiler alert: She still hasn't seen one.)

I'm always interested in seeing how big my paws are compared to the paws/feet of other animals.

My favorite stop of the day was at the Alpine Tundra, waaaaaay up towards the top of the mountains (starting at about 11,000 feet above sea level!). It's the highest you can go in ANY national park in the US. The tundra is cool because it's so high up that trees can't grow there anymore, just these tiny little flowers and lichen, which is a kind of moss. There are still some animals that live up in the tundra, but not many because it's COLD and WINDY!! We didn't have heavy coats with us or hats (well, Mom did), so the hoodies had to do. It was so pretty up there though that I didn't mind. Plus, Nikki's a really good heat source. ;)

You can see in this picture that the tundra is a pretty bleak-looking place. A lot of rocks and small plants and not much else. If you clicked on the link about the tundra, you would've read that plants STILL manage to grow up here, but it can take 100 years for them to grow back if they're stepped on. Nikki gently told a nice lady not to walk on the tundra and told her why, and the woman was SO EMBARRASSED!! Her husband even walked away from her like he didn't know her. I felt bad for her, and Nikki did too, but the woman said she was really grateful that Nikki said something before she destroyed too many of the plants. The lady also said that she'd let other people know too so everyone can enjoy this awesome place for years to come.

Protect the tundra!

Info about the tundra and how it's formed

Full disclosure: I am an animal, and I love when people feed me. However, I'm not a WILD animal, so it's ok when people feed me. When you feed a wild animal (like the little girl towards the beginning of this post), you make it too used to humans. Then it always gets really close to humans and lets its guard down, and what if there was a human who wanted to kill or hurt it?! It wouldn't suspect that! Plus, when wild animals get too used to getting food from humans, they stop hunting themselves, and that OBVIOUSLY causes problems. Plus, maybe the food you're giving them isn't good for them. Like, what if that chipmunk has a peanut allergy?! (Probably doesn't, but you get my point.) So, the moral of the story is - don't be a jerk. Let the animals be animals and feed your armadillo friends instead.

The marmot: one of the animals that braves the tundra's cold and lives there anyway. We didn't see one. :(

Glaciers are really awesome. They're these (usually) huge things of ice and snow that never melt and move veeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyy sloooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwllllllllllyyyyyyyy, carving out valleys and canyons. You should totally check out the site I linked to if you don't know much about glaciers.

I don't see too many glaciers out there, but the ones that ARE there are moving. very. slowly.

Just below the tundra is the subalpine forest. This is the last place trees can grow before they get to the too-harsh climate of the tundra. A lot more animals live there too, and even though it's still pretty high up above sea level (9,000 - 11,000 feet), it's a lot easier to hike there too!

The weather in Denver can be really unpredictable. The morning could be really cold, but by the time afternoon rolls around, you're sweating because temperatures are in the 90s! And it'll rain, but only in a few places, so you could drive three blocks and have rain-not rain-drizzle. So imagine how crazy it must be up in the mountains, where weather is pretty much MADE!

I can totally see why they call it "Cloud Factory," can't you?
Ok, enough learning! It's time for tourist pictures!!

Here I am enjoying the gorgeous views from the tundra. Just off-camera, Mom is at the ready to grab me in case the wind tries to blow me off the mountain!

Mom must've had Nikki take, like, ten pictures of the two of us with different views of the mountains behind us. I chose the three I liked best.

She was holding onto me tight! Dang wind.

Ok, this is totally my paws-down FAVORITE picture of me and mom. Look at that view!

Our last stop of the day was at the Alpine Visitors Center, where you can buy cool souvenirs to prove you were at the Rocky Mountains (tee-shirts, key chains, stuff like that) and awesome jewelry and Native American art and other stuff. Nikki bought her dad some jams and bought herself a bumper sticker, and Mom bought a picture frame. Grandma bought a magnet. (She collects them from every state she's been to. I think she's been to all of them!) I don't know if Aunt Charlene got anything.

They had a book section, and when I saw this, I BEGGGGED Nikki to buy it for me, but she doesn't like talking about poop, so she said no. >:P I made her take a picture of it for me though, so I could share it with all of you and make you laugh.

How great is this?!?! I mean, the idea that you can say, "Oh, yeah, this is a bear" just by looking at its poop and what's in it is SUCH a cool idea to me!

Nikki found a book that SHE liked, but I told her that she had enough books that she hasn't read yet, so she'll just have to save this one for another time. Plus, I don't think its subject matter is very appropriate.

GREAT title though!

So that's our family trip to the Rocky Mountains. The ladies and I went back later in the week without Nikki, but she hasn't been able to sort through all of those photos yet. In the meantime, check out the pictures of this visit that Nikki posted on her Facebook fan page so you can get a better idea how pretty the mountains are when the aspens are changing colors.