Cupcakes, Guns and Sushi

As a small group of us polished off the last delicate morsels of our delicious dinner at Uchi this evening, I was reminded by my dining companions (albeit very graciously and gently) that it's been almost four weeks since I've made an entry to my blog. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Erin summed it up nicely: "The name of your blog is 'The Adventures of Pink Hair' - just because you've finished your trip doesn't mean you've stopped having adventures!" She's so right. I haven't stopped having adventures for even a moment - I work hard to make my life occur that way. It's just that I haven't been making the time to write about my adventures and when I stopped to think about it, I realized I've been missing it something fierce.

So, to bring you up to speed, much like the cheesy flashback sequence at the beginning of a movie, here's a quick pictoral summary of notable events having occurred in the interim.
At the beginning of September, Erin put together a phenomenal feast of healthy culinary delights to help Shawn celebrate his having lost over 100 pounds! (Wahooo, Shawn!):
My wonderful dentist, Mike Lessner made me some purty new teeth:

Mark dyed a bit of our dog Terri to match my hair:

And Brooke and I just concluded three whirlwhind days of attending the Austin City Limits Music festival.

. That's the quick recap for the past couple of weeks, but today it turns out, represented an excellent point at which to push the button and resume regular playback speed, because it included cupcakes, guns and sushi.

You see, today was my birthday, and while that's certainly no big deal, I find that I'm very, very lucky it creates the opportunity to do extra special things with some of the people I love. And I was very, very lucky.

After a leisurely morning sipping coffee and piddling around the back yard in the cool almost autumnal air, Brooke and I set out on some errands around town and landed at one of my favorite coffee shops, Dhaba Joy (adjacent to the wonderful all ages toy store, Toy Joy). The reasons to visit Dhaba Joy are numerous, but the one to mention here is this: real buttercream icing. This ain't no half ass Betty Crocker in a can icing or grocery store sheet cake shortening laden frosting abomination - no siree - this is real icing made with real butter. Butter and sugar. Sigh. I chose the German Chocolate cupcake on this visit and it was even better than I had ruminated about all morning, a pert little cake with a fluted chapeau, sitting confidently on a brightly colored plate. I savored every bite, experiencing the decadent pleasure that comes from allowing a dollop of deliciously flavored butter to dissolve in the warmth of your mouth. Go ahead. Try and pretend it doesn't sound heavenly if it makes you feel better, but DAMN it was good! After I finished my admirable confection, Brooke and I spent a few minutes exploring the colorful and glittery recesses of the treasure trove next door. Brooke had already quietly selected a number of fabulous trinkets to surprise me with later while I was busy licking the last smears of icing off my spoon, so we didn't stay long before heading back to the house to get ready for my next treat.

Late in the afternoon, Erin came by to pick me up and take me to Red's Firing Range for some target practice. How good a birthday treat is that, squeezing off a few rounds with your girlfriend before the cocktail hour? Erin arrived to pick me up dressed to the nines, complete with classic black skirt, heels, lipstick and trademark pearls. She looked so very pretty! I opted for the skull and crossbones frock to transmit a certain air of toughness and resolve.

Since I hadn't really shot a gun more than once or twice, the nice fellow behind the counter at Red's picked out a dainty little .22 revolver for me to cut my teeth on. "Got to learn to crawhl before you ken ruhn" he told me comfortingly. Even though his curiosity seemed to be nagging at him as evidenced by the sideways glaces he shot me periodically (this according to Erin - I was busy concentrating on the gun) he patiently and nonpatronistically explained every single thing I would need to know in order to load and shoot the gun. He sent us off with a fond, "Now you ladies have fuhn!" as we headed off to pick up our ammo and safety equipment.

Erin selected a 9mm semiautomatic, impressively large and businesslike compared to my cute little iconic shooter. As she popped off a few rounds, blazing hot brass casings came flying across the back of my booth, richocheting against the dingy concrete walls. To my right, two wide grinning fellas took turns squeezing the trigger of a gun that must have been designed to produce basketball sized holes in the sides of aircraft carriers. Every time one of them shot, it produced a shock wave that I could feel pass through every single cell in my body. It was so cool. The two of them seemed to be pleasantly amused at finding themselves shooting targets next to Pink Hair and Dottie the Gun Babe. Erin said while I was busy giving my target what for, she heard one of the clean scrubbed fellas turned to his buddy and say, "Well, I think it's about time we left for church now." I love Texas. I really do.

I would imagine there are a few of you who are by now becoming a little uncomfortable with the notion of someone knowingly giving me a live firearm and encouraging me to shoot. I would just like to take a moment and say, don't worry - they only gave me little tiny bullets.

As you can see from the photo above, what you should be more concerned with is how accurately I shoot. Only winged the sonofabitch twice - the rest of the time, I meant business. Tee hee!

Erin and I finished shooting our ammo, settled up with the arms dealers and then headed back to the house to fetch Mark so we could proceed to what I consider to be one of Austin's very finest restaurants: Uchi. Dave and Dan met us there and we all chatted and enjoyed the fine autumn evening as we knocked back some delicious saki on the front patio.

We soon settled at our table and spent the next several hours savoring the genius of Tyson Cole, Uchi's executive chef. I've heard a lot of blah, blah, blah about fusion cuisine over the last years, but the food at Uchi is the real thing. It's all about interesting food relationships that you don't normally see bed down together. For example: Maguro (tuna) sashimi with goat cheese, cracked black pepper, Fuji apple and pumpkin seed oil (as seen at left). Simple but ingenious, perfect in balance and texture. You'll just have to take my word for it that this is the sort of food that can make you cry when you're PMSing. I closed my eyes to concentrate on what I was eating at least five or six times during the course of the meal. It is just such amazing food. Another dish we all shared that we loved were flounder wings (!), fried to a perfect crisp, napped with the flavors of cantaloupe, honeydew, ginger and wasabi.

After draining the last dregs of coffee from our cups and mopping up the last bit of desserty goodness from our plates, we made a final stop at the relaxing and beautiful patio out in front to sit and smoke and reminisce before parting company for the evening. A perfect denoument for a perfect and beautiful and lucky day. Thank you cosmos! Love, Shiree.



I strangely find myself in exactly the same position I did last Saturday - just needing to push on through to get this trip brought to a close and all wrapped up - only this week it's writing instead of driving.

Mark and I departed Colorado early Saturday morning, working to keep our plans open to suit our evolving moods. We stopped in the little town of Pagosa Springs and hit golden small town bakery pay dirt! We scored a loaf of freshly baked rosemary bread, an incredible looking cheese and artichoke terrine topped with candied figs, a local goat cheese and a piece of peach and cherry pie with gorgeous crust. One stop picnic provisioning! It made me pine for Austin all the more.

As navigatrix, I requested that Mark be on the lookout for a nice place to stop for lunch - possibly down by the reservoir we'd be passing in a short while. I buried my nose in the map and didn't dislodged it until Mark made a quick turn onto a small park road he had seen at the last minute.

Man did he ever follow my instructions to the letter! Mark found what I think is probably the nicest rest stop I've ever been to! It was marked Echo Ampitheater on the map, and after we parked and started hiking down the shady path to the observation point, we soon understood why. The alcove space in the cliff face was absolutely enormous and streaked with all sorts of beautiful colors. Luckily, there were few other people about, so it was quiet and serene wandering along the excellent trail that led to the ampitheater. We returned to the picnic area and spread out our decadent and delicious lunch in one of the wonderful little shelters that were set in the trees in the shade of a stunningly beautiful sandstone cliff. It was so lovely there!

After lunch we decided we'd go ahead and drive straight through to Pecos, Texas. Mark and I took turns steering us along the road, traversing New Mexico from northwest to southeast on state highways that ran through little towns. We stopped in Roswell and had dinner at a great little place that Nate and I had visited previously and liked, and I had some delicious green chile stew. For dessert, because I remembered how good it had been the last time, I got a sopapilla - so hot and fresh I couldn't touch it for a good 2 minutes. Slathered with honey, it was beyond delicious.

We drove on to Pecos after dinner and found a hotel room that we quickly put to good use. When we rose Sunday morning, we dressed for a swim at San Solomon Springs in Balmorhea, but when we got within striking distance, it was far too cool outside for the spring water to sound appealing. But that was really just one more symptom of us being ultraready to be home.

Six and a half hours later, I was home and it felt really good.
So, just 2 days shy of 6 weeks,
16 states,

7373.3 miles,

and a whole lot of cool stuff later...

...I was finally home. Not a moment too soon and not a moment too late. What an extraordinary journey. [She smiled a smile of deep contentment.]


Golden Days in Durango

I spent the next three days relaxing at Penn Ranch in a way that I somehow hadn't been able to access previously. Possibly because the concept of agenda was nonexistent except for a few important items like throwing a stick for the dog to fetch or admiring the tiny mosses that grew in the cracks between the pink and lavender quartzite boulders by the river. Gregory's gracious and affable dad Bill was in attendance and was a wonderful cohost. Luckily, Gregory's younger brother David was also visiting with his girlfriend Sinead. Gregory's delightful girlfriend Marcia joined us on Thursday and her daughter Cordelia and mom (whom everyone referred affectionately to as Yaya) joined the rabble on Friday afternoon. We all lolled about the Ranch, sometimes coalescing into frivolous activities (croquet in the horse pasture was superb!), sometimes just sitting in a chair, staring off into the distance at the mountains that wrap around the little valley like a sensible stole, cup of hot tea in hand to mitigate the slight nip in the air.

I picked Mark up Thursday evening at the bustling Durango airport and we enjoyed a nice sunset drive back to the ranch with me using every bit of navigational stamina I had to execute all the proper turns. On our way, we stopped at a small reservoir near the Ranch as the sun slipped below the horizon.

Just ahead of us, a white Euro van spilled its crazy contents: 5 dogs, several of them quite large, three children and two adults! I'm guessing it was essential that all 10 of them run around a bit and tire themselves out if there were to be any hope of harmony on the remainder of their travels. No matter, Mark and I were only there to bask in the orange rays for a moment before we scooted on out to the Ranch. When we finally got there and got Mark settled in, all three couples set out on a night time hike down to the bridge that spans the beautiful little rivulet running through the Ranch. We lay on our backs and scrutinized the dense canopy of stars above our heads. I don't know if I've ever seen the Milky Way look so bright before. Every couple of moments, one of us would cry out, "Look! There's one!" as a shooting star streaked through the velvety black sky. It was a delicious starry nightcap before retiring to sleep the sleep of the dead. Ahhhhhhhhhh.....

Friday morning, after the first batch of coffee had finished brewing, Gregory and Marcia set out just after the sun had come up to see if they could catch a nice fat trout for our breakfast. I lazed around and drank coffee and fried up a mess of bacon as Mark slept noiselessly on the nearby sofa bed. I so dearly love those early hours of the morning, all to myself, quiet. They charge my batteries like nothing else. I puttered around until all of a sudden it seemed Mark was up and drinking coffee, David was asking about eggs and then Marsha and Gregory waltzed in with an absolutely gorgeous rainbow trout - huge! At least 16-18" long!

I have to stop here and say that Gregory, and everyone in his family as far as I have had the pleasure of observing, are all really good cooks. They know a lot about good ingredients and how to prepare simple delicious meals. The Penns also seem to attract fellow foodies, and as an example, Marcia added her own wonderful influence by not only bringing fresh home grown tomatoes and herbs to contribute to the weekend's meals, but also by making biscuits and cutting them out ROUND! Wahoooo! I ate like an empress for three days with all those great cooks around and it was soothing balm indeed after a long punishing reign of Midwestern meat and potatoes. I was in heaven.

Gregory and Marcia stuffed the cavity of the trout they had caught with crisp fried bacon and an assortment of fresh herbs that Marcia had brought from her garden. They then rolled it in some olive oil on a cookie sheet, and.......EEEEeeeeeeekkk!!!! It just about rolled off the cookie sheet! I kid you not - that completely dead fish just about flopped off the sheet and onto the floor, right before it went into the oven. Creepy. I've never had trout that fresh.

But damn it was delicious! Our feast included fresh roasted trout, scrambled eggs, bacon, piping hot baking powder biscuits and tiny little flapjacks that Bill had made. Fabu-loso!

Friday evening, with the backdrop of a lightning storm raging behind the westernmost mountain tops, I made some colored fire for everyone to enjoy. I had decided to dedicate this fire to my granddaddy, because he'd been on my mind a lot during the trip. He was quite the traveller and loved to go on adventures and tell stories (sound familiar?). I feel like a good part of my adventurous spirit probably comes from the branch he produced on my family tree. What I wanted to celebrate was the joy of being free to roam and having the ability to drink in everything the world has to offer and that felt like an important occasion on which to presence my granddaddy. I carved a brick in honor of his ability to take many threads and weave them into a parable which oftentimes yielded common understanding and unity. By unity I mean making me realize that we're all hooked up to the same outlet. That's a good understanding to have and I thank him for that. Here's a few pictures of the fire I particularly liked (this first one looks like a cowboy boot of fire!):


Wednesday, August 27

Wednesday morning when I got up, I had a choice to make. A choice that seemed difficult and was most definitely tainted with the tang of guilt. I hadn't had any success to date, either via e-mail or cell phone, reaching my friend Gregory to arrange for a visit while I was in Durango, so I wasn't sure whether to go ahead and head on home or linger about a bit longer and keep trying to reach him. I had woken that morning with a strong sense of homesickness and its opinion was very clearly on the side of heading on out and saving the visit for another time.

On the other hand, I did genuinely want to see Gregory and spend some time with him, so the part of me that loves people wasn't satisfied with the go ahead and leave option.

A furious argument ensued and before it was all over, Mark had to be called in for some coaching. He actually helped immensely by simply providing two new local phone numbers that I could use to try and reach Gregory. I thanked Mark for his sense of calm assurance, hung up and hunkered down to figure out what I should do. All of a sudden it was completely obvious to me. I had been seduced by the Plan again. I had become attached to getting home and having a plan to get there. What I needed to do was get back in the moment and simply call Gregory and see if we could figure out a way to spend time together that sounded fun. It needn't be any more complicated than that. And when I started from not knowing, all of a sudden everything was so damn easy! All sorts of things were now possible. The first thing I did when I got my freedom back was to call Mark a second time and ask him if he'd be willing to fly to Durango the following evening. That way he could enjoy the ranch for a day or two and then ride with me as I completed the last leg of my journey home. Having Mark with me those four days would nip the homesickness in the bud and help me to just be present and enjoy Gregory's company instead of pining for home so much.

Gregory soon returned the call I had placed to one of the new numbers and we made arrangements to meet for dinner that evening in Durango. After dinner, I would follow him out the twisting/turning/convoluted road back to the Penn Ranch, where I would hang out for a couple of days before heading home.

In the meantime, the Mesa Verde National Park lay directly on my route from Cortez to Durango, and Gregory made the third recommendation I'd received to make a visit. And by now I've learned that three times is not only the charm, but an important instruction to heed.

Mesa Verde National Park contains the archeological remains of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years (A.D. 600-A.D. 1300). The park boasts over 4,000 archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings and is considered to be one of the best preserved sites in the U. S.

I spent some time driving around, poking about well protected pits and gazing at the remains of ancient cities lurking in distant niches. It was entertaining to imagine what life must have been like there, all those many years ago. There is so little recorded history of this culture that all the historians have are guesses. I like it better that way, myself. At the top of one of the mesas was a structure that the pundits thought must have been some sort of temple (I shudder to think what they'd think were temples from our culture). Along one wall, the curious basin below had been installed. I really liked all the shaping that the rock had undergone, by water or by hand, it mattered not.

About the time I finished tromping around the Sun Temple, I noticed and thought on how my fuse on natural beauty and wonder had continued to grow shorter and shorter as the trip progressed. For today, anyway, I decided I'd had enough of ancient civilizations and was ready for a good cup of coffee and some quality time with my laptop. I headed into Durango and quickly found a friendly/servicable coffee shop where I could jack into the net while savoring a rare cup of well made coffee until dinner time. It was a lovely couple of hours.

After meeting Gregory and a few other folks for beer and dinner at a pleasant local microbrewery called Steamworks, I followed the red glow of Gregory's tail lights on a wonderful goose chase of a drive up into the mountains northeast of Durango. In the dark it was a wild and wooly ride, much of which was spent bouncing down dirt roads. I would never have found the Ranch if Gregory hadn't led me out there, but once I was there, it was sure swell to be there. I turned in early after a quick peek at the stars. It felt good to drop off.

Tuesday, August 26

As soon as I was able to get my act together and out of my hotel room Tuesday morning, I headed directly to Arches National Park in southeastern Utah. Arches is your classic Utah rock park - completely gorgeous, with all sorts of fascinating and spectacular formations to ooh and aah over. The geology of this particular area has promoted the formation of a high number of balanced rocks and arches that are formed as layers of rock wash away over the eons. The water that has sculpted these amazing formations by dissolving away the softer rock (better to get rid of Soft Rock - it's excruciating) is also responsible for their being ephemeral - the formations are in fact in progress and change continually. Just a couple of weeks ago, for example, one of the park's most popular and photographed arches, Wall Arch, tumbled down without witness. We sometimes get the gift of seeing something evolve tangibly, when the whole process has taken millions of years.

I drove all around the park admiring the strange geology. For me, as with most people I would imagine, nature has a way of putting things immediately into an enormous perspective. It's hard not to get the vastness of the universe when you stand in a place so old and so large. I spent a happy afternoon drinking great long draughts of different flavors of infinity.

And as is often the case with one of my adventures, the day would hold two completely different takes on eternity - one fashioned by the cosmos, the other by a humble man with a big idea. After completing the long and lovely drive out of Arches and back onto the highway, I passed through Moab (didn't need to rent a raft or buy climbing shoes) and careened anticipatorily toward the next stop on my itinerary: Hole N'' the Rock!

Aside from a horrific display of grossly incorrect punctuation, the Hole N'' the Rock is a rarified opportunity to visit a time capsule carved out of rock, filled with bad taxidermy and portraits of Jesus and FDR. A fellow by the name of Albert Christensen and his wife Gladys spent a number of years carving a 14 room mansion out of the side of a sheer cliff face south of Moab. In the early 50s, they hosted a huge influx of new residents brought in by the local discovery of Uranium by operating a diner in one of the larger chambers of the Hole. The classic 50s seafoam green kitchen is iconic in every way, except for the rough cave walls that serve as the backdrop (also painted a pleasant seafoam green).

Albert and Gladys worked on their dwelling until 1957 when Albert succumbed to a second heart attack. Gladys continued on bravely, however, living in the Hole and operating the diner for another 17 years. She fixed up one of the rooms for her own, began sleeping there and using it to display part of the huge doll collection she had amassed. All of the home's original furnishings and objets d'art are still lovingly displayed, precisely placed with the aid of old pictures from the spot's heyday in the 50s. Albert's attempts at amateur taxidermy also grace the interior. A pet horse sprawls awkwardly, held aloft by an unseen support because every bit of your attention is riveted instead on his garish red glistening tongue. Albert's beloved pet, Harry the Donkey, stands silent witness in the corner by the window. He smiles despite his Frankenstein's monster visage. Can you imagine being immortalized with pompom fringe? That Harry must have been a good sport.

The most glorious thing about Albert and Gladys accomplishment is that they left it to share with us, bad stitches on the donkey's nose, fake fur flowers, multiple Jesuses and all. The carefully preserved interior is so charmingly personal. What I got, much more than experiencing awe at an immense hole in a rock, was a strong sense of Albert and Gladys - and man is that a tricky thing to convey of you ask me. You see, I've been thinking a lot about identity lately. When we struggle with what will happen after we die, it's mostly about losing (or keeping) our identity. Albert and Gladys left us this detailed pointer to their identity and thus have preserved it for the time being. And maybe that's all we can do, whether we build the Taj Mahal or the Hole N'' the Rock. Albert and Gladys did a wonderful job with their legacy. I got a huge buzz off being in their orbit.

I had just barely made in time for the very last tour of the day, so I wasn't able to goof around after my tour. I did manage to snap a picture of this awesome metal sculpture that was parked in the parking lot before I drove out of the gate that was being held open for me by a handsome attendant.

I sped off to my next destination so I'd be sure to reach it with plenty of daylight left, maybe just as the sun was setting if I was lucky. I was headed to a place called Newspaper Rock, the site of a rock face that contains one of the largest accumulations of petroglyphs anywhere in the world. Historians think the drawings span two millenia and have no idea why this one area received such a high concentration of markings. There are hundreds and hundreds of pictures carved in the rock, even a few relatively contemporary markings - one I spotted was dated 1906 and another 1954! The need to leave a mark seems to be universal and timeless. Some of the glyphs are a bit unsettling. I found the one pictured at right to be pretty damn menacing, actually. I wouldn't want that thing running around in my neighborhood, eating sheep and babies!

I didn't stay at Newspaper Rock long. I think it was the ancient petroglyph equivalent of grocery store check out line tabloid overload. There was so much to absorb visually that I became overwhelmed. It wasn't even close to sunset, and the spot didn't maximize the beauty of the setting sun anyway, so I decided to move on toward Cortez, Colorado where I planned to spend the night.

The sunset began to fall just as I passed over the border from Utah to Colorado. I found a spot or two to pull over and snap some pictures as the streaks of orange came and went. The light was so lovely.