Please Do Not Landscape With Sagebrush.

Seriously. I understand the xeriscaping impetus; the amount of water used to keep landscaping green is pretty scandalous. But sagebrush is not landscaping. It’s ugly.

You think it might make for a kewl hedge sometime in the future, so you scavenge the scrub in no-man’s-land for little sagees to line up:

Fast forward to a full-grown, um, hedge:
Nope. Ugly.

So maybe you should just line them up in formation like a platoon on your front lawn, surrounded by an acre of grass and kept at bay by chain link. That might be groovy:
Nope. Ugly.

Well, you could always go for the natural look, you know, sage brush thrown in on a berm with a dry “creek” bed around it, and roses, and trees, and hollyhocks, and perennials, and a birdhouse?
Nope. Ugly.

You just can’t force sagebrush to look good. It doesn’t even look interesting in its natural habitat, let alone regimented into shrubbery or tucked into a cottage-style bed. It doesn’t look clever, it doesn’t complement or contrast well with other plants, and it makes your yard look trashy. Don’t. Do. It.


All-Star Marching Band

Missy and her BFF managed to qualify for Idaho’s All-Star Marching Band, and spent three days last week in an Army-style camp where they learned to march, ate at the mess hall, slept in the barracks, played their instruments, and met teens from all over Idaho.   They were also treated to a day at the water park and the hard-sell for the Army Marching Band (Have your college paid for!  Get paid to play! No foreign tours! Play in the Rose Bowl parade and at Disneyland! Travel for free on standby! Enjoy a nine-week boot camp learning to shoot rifles!). 

We went to watch them march in the parade at Weiser on Saturday–they looked and sounded great, and it was a very proud moment:


Way to go, girls!

Summer Solstice


We got feeling a little pagan and conjured up an impromptu Summer Solstice party with neighbors. We started at about 9pm, making wreath crowns and gathering s’more ingredients. The kids played in-the-dark games, the adults asked each other why we don’t do stuff like this more often, and we all burned marshmallows.

I am a Disciple of the Temple of Lasik

I started wearing glasses for nearsightedness when I was ten–thick lenses surrounded by those big, colored plastic frames so prevalent in the early 80’s.  At thirteen, I finally got contacts (and a cool haircut, and some Big Girl clothes, and shed the shyness–presto! a life!).  For the next twenty years I wore contacts until my eyesight got so bad that the lenses were too thick to be comfortable, and I wore glasses from then on. I hated wearing glasses–they always had spots, they bugged the bridge of my nose, and they hid my eyes, which I consider to be my best feature (so few to choose from!). Going without them was out of the question–I can’t remember what my numbers were, but I was so nearsighted that anything past six inches from my face began to get blurry in a hurry. You can see from this photo that even with ultrathin, ultralite lenses, the distortion due to lens curvature made me look like I had two edges to each side of my face: the real edges, then the ones inside my glasses:

Nikki with glasses

I had heard about Lasik surgery but was too freaked out to try it (these are my EYES, man!).  I imagined being strapped down and watching the lasers slice through my corneas and fiddle with my lenses, while smelling the putrid smoke from my living, burning tissue.  Then I imagined my head being wrapped up in yards of gauze while my eyes healed, and the anticipation of the Day of Unwrapping when, mirror in hand, I would discover that my eyes were Irreversibly Damaged (“NOOOOOoooooooooooo  . . . . . . “).  Then I would be sorry.  Then I would wish I could just go back to the days when the worst thing about my eyesight was wearing out-of-style frames.

But then two years ago, my sister and her husband had the surgery, and they seemed to be untraumatized; in fact, they were thrilled.  So I did some research and made an appointment for a consultation.  I was told that despite my mega-myopia and astigmatism, that I was a good candidate for Lasik.  I have to admit being somewhat skeptical–being what felt like legally blind, I couldn’t imagine that they could really fix my eyesight, it was just too poor.  But, encouraged by my sister and BIL, I went ahead and plunked my money on the barrelhead.

On the morning of the surgery, I was excited but nervous.  I knew that my earlier visions of mummy wraps and spinning blades were nonsense, but I couldn’t help but worry (my EYES, man!).  Still, I was unprepared for how easy it actually was:  I followed the doctor and his assistant into the laser room, which was darkened, and I took my glasses off for the last time.  Doc measured my eyes on a machine to calibrate his laser, then had me lie down on the table to put in the numbing drops.  The room was totally dark except for a dim light directly above my face, and I listened to him tell me to open my right eye wide so he could put on some sort of contraption that kept my eye open–it didn’t hurt, just felt weird.  Then he told me to watch the light and hold still.  I had been given a teddy bear to hold, and I gripped him tight while I obeyed.  “Now the light will fade, and you’ll hear some snapping noises and maybe smell a bit of a burning smell,” he said.  I watched the light grow dimmer and smaller until it faded to black, heard five or six rapid popping sounds, and thought I could detect a smoky smell, but before I could be sure, it was over.  No pain, no flying lasers, and completed in about fifteen seconds, start to finish.  Now, mind you, I wasn’t thrilled about having to repeat the process for the left eye, but less than a minute later it was all done and he had me back at the machine to check my new, reshaped lenses.  “Perfect,” he pronounced.

I had been in that room for maybe five minutes. 

I was given some dark glasses, eye drops, and warnings that my eyes would hurt some after the numbing drops wore off, but that the best way to combat that was to go home and sleep for a couple of hours, and I’d sleep through the worst of it.  I was told that my eyes would be light-sensitive for about eight weeks, that I shouldn’t rub them until the corneal flap healed, and that I needed to use the eye drops every hour or so.  And I got to drive myself home.

It’s been eighteen months, and I’ve been delighted with the results of my surgery from the day I walked out of the clinic.  My vision is now 20/15, with just a bit of astigmatism remaining, which causes me no trouble at all.  My eyes are no more light-sensitive than they were before the procedure, and the only glasses I put on any more are my groovy shades.  I consider it to be the best $3,000 I ever spent on myself, bar none.  Now I evangelize for Lasik every chance I get, and I’ve won a few converts who are also very happy.  If you are weighing whether or not to go for it, I encourage you to at least get the free consultation to see if you are a good candidate, and decide from there. As for me, I’ve got a testimony of Lasik.

mis ojos

TravelBlog IV: Rotorua, New Zealand

I don’t know why it has taken me over a month to finish writing about our trip to Australia/New Zealand.  But rather than psychoanalyse myself about it, I’ll get right to it.

So after leaving lovely Matamata, John drove us south to Rotorua.  New Zealand, a commonwealth of England, has abandoned reason in favor of tradition and mandates that one must drive on the wrong side of the road in a vehicle with the steering wheel on the wrong side.  John went on his mission to England lo, these twenty years ago, and still has no problem driving on the left whilst steering on the right, so he was our driver.  He asked me several times if I wanted to drive, but since we still have dependent offspring I declined. 

We found Rotorua and its Information Centre, which also housed an internet cafe and a sizeable gift shop.  Because my second daughter’s nickname is Kiwi (which is also NZ’s symbol and the nickname they are known by), I had a hard time resisting buying every cool kiwi item that I saw.  We ended up getting her quite a few things, tho’, just because it had to be done.  I tried to even it out a bit with gifts for the others–Kiwi got a kiwi Christmas ornament made from NZ shell, so I got ornaments for the other five, but I didn’t make up for the Wild Kiwi polo shirt, the jewelry box with a shell inlay shaped like a kiwi, two kiwi keychains (that’s legit–she has a keychain collection), and a stuffed (pretend) kiwi.  (You know how if you look at a word too many times, it suddenly looks weird and kinda loses its meaning?  That’s happening to me with “kiwi.”  I’m moving on.)

We bought half an hour of internet time to check and send email (ok, I admit it!  I also checked fMh for the UtahSnacker report), then set about finding a motel.  We settled on Kirau Park Motor Lodge, which had a great combo of good prices, location, accomodations, and an owner/manager who was the best concierge ever.  He set us up with evening entertainment, a lake cruise for the next morning, AND he filled our private geothermal pool for us since we were going to be out past the normal time he shuts the hot pipes down.   I had to take a photo of our pool:


A shuttle picked us up to take us to a traditional Maori meal baked in a hangi–an in-ground cooking pit that steams food.  While we ate, we were treated to Maori songs and dances as a means of telling their story.    At one point it got a little hokey when I got pulled up on stage to make a spectacle of myself trying to dance with poi balls, but it wasn’t as funny as the men who got chosen to do the haka

Back at the motel we simmered in our hot tub for a while.  Rotorua was built over a thermal field, so most buildings built before 20 years ago took advantage of the free heat–our motel was one such place.  However, over 100 natural geysers became extinct, and when Rotorua’s most famous geyser, Pohotu, stopped spouting, the government took action and cemented over 160 wells in the area and banned future geothermic wells in order to attempt recovery.  Pohotu and a few other geysers have since reactivated, suggesting that the well draw was indeed the culprit.  The sulfur smell was strong sometimes, but the natural attractions were worth it.

The next morning (my birthday!  Happy 38th to me!) we got on The Lakeland Queen Cruise steamboat for a breakfast cruise around Rotorua’s lake.   We followed that with a ride on The Swoop at the Agrodome–a sort of tandem bungy swing that takes you up about 125 feet before you pull your own ripcord and soar down at about 90mph, swinging back and forth until you lose momentum and they finally let you off.  It was very fun, but what we REALLY wanted to ride was THE ZORB.
I don’t know why we don’t have Zorb in the U.S.  Well,  I guess I do–we’re too sue-happy and the liability would be crushing.  Still, you can’t argue that it would be fun to get inside a big rubber ball with a couple of buckets of water sloshed in, and roll down a hill.  Unfortunately, John’s back and neck would never take it, and the day we were there was cold and windy, and I didn’t want to be wet and cold.  Here is a link to a YouTube Zorb experience (and don’t forget Jackie Chan’s Zorb escape in Operation Condor!): The Zorb!

After all that, we still had the afternoon to visit the geothermal reserve at Te Puia, acres and acres of hot springs, boiling mud pools, steamy streams, and geysers, crisscrossed with paths and bridges on which to take your own nature walk.  None of our photos did it justice, but we tried:




We could have stayed for hours longer, but the reserve closed at 5:30pm. So we settled for Thai food and a soak in our tub-o-sulfur.

Best. Birthday. Ever.


Why oh why did I waste nearly all of my (limited) spare time this weekend reading The Corrections (Johnathan Franzen)?    I’m glad it was only two bucks at the thrift store, but I threw away more than that in my lifeblood by sticking through all 560 pages.  I haven’t been so disappointed in a book since Joan Didion’s (also overhyped) The Year of Magical Thinking–sure, Franzen has some clever turns of phrase and clever twists of plot and clever use of dialogue and an overall sorta smartness in his writing, but the pacing is agonizingly slow (I did lots of skimming) and the characters are thoroughly unlikeable.  I may have felt a twinge of sympathy for a couple of them at a point or two, but each of the five main characters and ALL of the minor characters are cruel and corrupt to a variety of degrees.  It is amazing to me that Franzen could spend long, itemized paragraphs detailing a character’s deeds and misdeeds, and yet reveal them as so superficial, with little depth of feeling for anything but their own ambitions.  The theme of correction that runs throughout the book implies that this dysfunctional family might find their way to peace in the end, but no such luck–just more myopic navel-gazing.   In case you didn’t catch my drift, I don’t recommend this book.

How To: Get Your Mom Busted

Fourth in a series by Madame Chaos, resident expert in keeping life interesting.

Yesterday I discovered the astonishing fact that there is a higher authority than my mom, and I’m absolutely giddy to convey such extraordinary news.  If you would like to test my theory that one needn’t be older than two to humiliate one’s parental unit(s) in the eyes of the law, simply follow these directions:

First, use impeccable timing:  In my house, timing cannot be underestimated, because the measures used to facilitate control over my freedom and creativity can be draconian; in this case, my parents have installed those infernal doorknob covers on all outside-access doors.  While I have no doubt that I will soon find a way to render them useless, in the meantime I can occasionally circumvent them by my vigilance and a bit of luck.  In this case, I noted that Mom was both making sundaes for nine kids AND participating in a phone survey for the CDC; I needed merely to lurk by the back door until one of our naive guest children opened it and allowed me outside.

Second, use the real estate adage of location, location, location:  I’ve held an enduring fascination with the road that runs in front of our house because I discovered early on that if I run straight for it, I’ll get everyone’s attention.  It is a rural, dead-end road and cars are rare, but my presence on or near it is charged with irresistable excitement.  I hesitate to give the precise nature of my activities near the road yesterday because my Mom doesn’t know the details, but suffice it to say that I was not disappointed with what followed.  So if you’re going to try this at home, sufficient proximity to any road will do.

Finally, wait for the magic:  As I was conducting my business above, a black-and-white car with pretty lights on top stopped and two men in brown suits and hats with shiny accessories got out and ushered me to the front door.  Knock knock.  My sister opened the door to reveal a house full of kids in swimming suits, and I stepped in while one of the men said, “Is your mom or dad home?”  Sis fetched Mom in the kitchen, who came to the door with the phone in one hand and a jar of fudge sauce in the other.  This is what followed:

Hat man: Ma’am, we had been responding to a call up the street aways and saw your daughter alone by the road and thought we’d better stop.

Mom: We have those doorknob thingies on all the doors . . . . (looking around and seeing the back door ajar), but I see that one of the doors is open.

Hat man: An escape artist, huh?

Mom: Yes, but usually she’s naked, too.

Hat man (gesturing to my shirt pulled down so the neck is around my waist and the sleeves are flapping jauntily by my hips): Well, she’s halfway there. So you’ve taken some precautions then?

Mom: Well, those doorknob thingies don’t help if the door is left open . . . we’ve got extra kids today playing in the water in the backyard and I didn’t notice what had happened. Thank you for bringing her in.

Hat man: Have a good day.

Now THAT’s entertainment.  Unfortunately, I’m the one behind bars:


Until next time, sign me . . . . .
Madame Chaos

Rocky Mountain High

Em and Lisa

This past weekend I met with a remarkable group of LDS women at their annual Rocky Mountain Retreat in the mountains above Denver.  Initially, I planned to go in order to support my pal Lisa, who was addressing the group about the genesis, growth, and direction of her blog, and to meet other like-minded women (read: Mormon feminists).  I really wasn’t prepared for the sense of connection I immediately felt with the people there, and the remarkable combination of excitement, acceptance, curiosity, sisterhood, and warmth that prevailed throughout our time together.  I already miss them. 

Friday morning at 7, Lisa and I stumbled sleepily out of her friend’s car onto the sidewalk in front of the airport, in front of United’s curbside checkin.  We didn’t know if we should check our luggage or carry on, and the dude at the checkin said our bags looked a little big.  I’m not sure how he knew that for sure, because he was staring at Lisa the whole time, and I think the reason he forgot to give us claim stubs was because she’d cast her Redheaded-1000watt Smile Charm on him.  I think he just wanted Lisa to have to show him her ID and then write out the luggage tag so he could get her phone number.  As we walked away, he called, “Anything else I can do for you ladies?”, which Lisa took as trolling for tips (oops, we only had twenties) but I’m sure was actually him seeking a last desperate exchange with her.

Bypassing the looooooong line at United, we headed for the ticket kiosk, only to find that something was up with our flight and we’d have to stand in line after all.  No biggie, we got there in plenty of time, but the line did. not. move.   About half an hour later we learned that something was wrong mechanically with the plane, and that the agents were trying to move passengers to other flights.  It took another hour for our turn with Mr. Grumpy, who informed us that all the flights to Denver–including other airlines–were full until 5pm.  At the time, we thought Lisa was slated to be speaking at 5pm, and when she protested that she had to be “giving a talk” at that time, he said we could try a standby at noon.   Discouraged, we went through security and up to the gates, but then decided to work the system on our own:  we went to the gates of other airlines and asked the agents there about direct or connecting flights to Denver, until we found ONE SEAT on Frontier that would get there on time; I had told Lisa to say that she was the “keynote speaker” at a retreat.  We asked why we hadn’t been told about the seat at the United counter, the Frontier agent told us that United saves seats for their Extra Snazzy Million-Miler Uptight Premier customers, something my frequently-travelling husband has run up against.   Frontier couldn’t release the seat to us until United gave Lisa an eticket , so we had to go back to the ticket counter and stand in The Line From Hell again, hoping that there wasn’t an ESMMUP customer who would get the ticket before us.  I called John and asked him about some obscure United rule he had told me about: Rule 403.  It states that United has to provide transportation that is acceptable to the customer, whether on their own or another airline.  Lisa and I put on our Mean Eyes and confronted Mr. Grumpy again, ready to hit him with his own rule if need be.  He said the Frontier seat wasn’t showing up, but printed out the ticket anyway. We asked about the luggage, and only then realized that we didn’t get claim stubs from Mr. GooglyEyes out front.  The answer was not encouraging.

We couldn’t worry about that, though; we had to see if we could still get the Frontier seat.  We headed down to the Frontier counter, manned by Nicholas.  Lisa was upset about the possiblity that we wouldn’t fly together, and she combined the Redhead-1000Watt Smile Charm with the Stomach-to-Heart-to-BrainMush Charm:

 Lisa:  If you can get us both seats on this flight, I will make you an Almond Chicken Curry that is to die for.  I’ll even bring it to you.

Nicholas, grinning:  I’m allergic to almonds.

Lisa:  Almonds are icky.  I will never, never make Almond Chicken Curry again.  But my Green Curry is famous. People rave about it.  You will love it.  Get us both on that plane and I’ll bring you Green Curry for a week. 

Nicholas, grinning some more, and typing furiously:  Well, we do still have the one seat.  We could try standby for the other ticket, if you want.  There’s a good chance you could both get on.

Lisa, adding in the Narcissism Charm:  If I have another baby, I will name it Nicholas.

 We went back through security, but this time I had the misfortune of a random security screen, getting frisked and having all my belongings rifled.  Then, the scanner showed nitrates on my sandals (we’ve got six horses), so I had to be Xrayed again.  Once it was determined that I wasn’t going to be setting my shoes alight in-flight, we headed for the gates.  I was on standby for both the United flight at noon and for the Frontier flight just ten minutes later, and as it turned out, I had a spot on the United flight and there was room for Lisa, too.  We made a last minute decision that she’d stick with her Frontier plane because that’s where her checked luggage would probably be.  We are such suckas.

On the plane, my seat mate was a 60-year-old ex-Army nurse on her way to Texas.  She was very interesting, and also interested in the idea that I was going to a gathering to discuss Mormon feminism.  She had taught at Ricks College for a time, and, as all teachers at LDS schools do, submitted to questions asked of her by a General Authority.  “It was one of the most sexist, invasive moments of my life,” she said, but without a trace of bitterness–more amusement, really.  “And,” she said, “once I got past the proselyting thing with my Mormon neighborhood, I really enjoyed the Mormon people and respect them very much.  But,” she added, “because of my profession I did notice that there was a high incidence of depression among the Mormon women who were expected to have child after child and be fulfilled by it.  I wish there had been more of a tolerance for feminism back then . . . good for you and the others you will be meeting with.” 

Once we got to Denver, I met up with Lisa (hooray for cell phones!), and we looked in vain for our luggage.  The lack of claim stubs haunted us again, but we were told that our bags were probably on the 5pm flight they had originally booked us on, and that they would be delivered to the lodge at the retreat.

The long-suffering Emily, to whom Lisa had been giving cell-phone updates on our travel traumas, was waiting for us in a green Jeep, and after lunch at a 50’s diner, a sojourn into a grocery store for potluck ingredients, and missing a few turns on the freeway, we finally made it to Snow Mountain Ranch.

Since this post is too long already, I’ll save the details of the retreat for another post.  In the meantime, check out Bored in Vernal’s posts about the retreat and her kewl slideshow of the photos she took.  You may see a couple of photos of a woman in a lime green shirt who is showing her “Walk This Way” groove–I stayed far away from her!