Photo Inspiration: Our First Vacation After the Honeymoon

I don't remember the year.  It was before we had kids but certainly not the same year we got married and went on our honeymoon to Las Vegas.  I was pregnant most of 1997, which really only leaves 1995 and 1996 as viable options.

I don't know why we decided to drive out west for our first vacation. We didn't know anyone in the area and we weren't meeting anyone coming from the opposite direction.  I think it might have had something to do with Ken's dad having served in the Air Force in Colorado Springs.  Ken had heard all about his parents' time there and I think he kind of wanted a visual to go with the stories his mom and dad had passed down to him.

Me?  I just love to travel.  When he proposed Colorado, I had no better idea and no reservations.  In fact, I was eager to visit the Rocky Mountains for the first time.  Books and photos can only do so much.  You sometimes just have to experience the world to truly appreciate it.

Being newlyweds, we didn't have a lot of money.  We were both working jobs that barely made more than minimum wage, so splurging on a hotel wasn't an option.  Luckily, we both enjoy camping and we owned a tent.

Yes, a tent.

In the Rocky Mountains.

Our campsite overlooked a valley where the critters would cross.
Ken preparing food.

Me eating the food Ken made and reading a book.  Life is good.
We stayed in a state campground just outside of Colorado Springs but not too distant from Pike's Peak. On our first night the wind blew so hard that the top of the tent was flattened to where it almost touched our noses where we lay on our air mattress.  Having nylon inches from your face when it should be several feet above you is disconcerting. The wind persisted and we eventually came to the realization neither one of us was going to be able to sleep comfortably in the tent. Our solution was to transfer our luggage to the tent and put our air mattress in the bed of the truck, which had a topper on it, thank goodness!

Where we slept for the rest of our vacation.
I don't remember much of the park beyond our valley view and a brief walk through the woods where I was convinced we were going to be attacked by bears or a mountain lion.  As you might imagine, my anxiety levels were high while Ken seemed perfectly at ease.

On the trail. 

Determined to be bear bait. He wanted to keep going and I didn't!

We didn't spend all our time at the campground, though.  We went horseback riding in the mountains, visited the Royal Gorge, went down into a cave, walked through a ghost town, and wandered a museum or two.  

The only thing I think that we wanted to do but didn't was visit Garden of the Gods.  I remember being at the park entrance but for some reason we didn't go in.  I imagine we were on our way somewhere else and thought we'd make it back there before leaving Colorado.  Sadly, we did not.  I guess that just means that we'll have to go back someday. 

Us.  Circa 1995 or 1996.

February 2018 Reading Wrap-Up

When I was putting that collage together I was surprised by the fact that I had somehow gotten through five books and one comic book (not pictured!) this month.  Two of these books took forever for me to finish, so I really expected the overall tally to be fewer in number.

I had started February with Lincoln in the Bardo, which was such a fast, enjoyable read I borrowed through Overdrive.  I picked this up on the recommendation of a friend because he thought I would enjoy it for it's focus on Abraham Lincoln as well as it's somewhat experimental storytelling style.  He was right.  I did.  I found the juxtaposition of quoted material and pure fancy to be intriguing.  I didn't check the quoted material, though, so I have no way of knowing how much of it was factual.  Those passages are presented in order to situate Willie's tragic passing in a time and place.  They give the reader an idea of how the war was going, what distractions the president was facing while trying to grieve, and how the populace judged Lincoln's actions before, during, and after his son's passing. Opposite these historical inserts is the true story of Lincoln in the Bardo.  Willie Lincoln's spirit lingers in the cemetery with a multitude of others too scared or confused to move on to whatever awaits them in the afterlife. 

It's an interesting story told in a rather unique manner.  If you're at all intrigued, I would recommend reading it.  It really is very good.

Next up, I read The Leaving.  This was my Under the Covers Book Club pick for February.  This young adult mystery was another quick read; I think I read it in two or three days.  After being kidnapped and assumed dead for ten years, five teenagers are dropped off in the middle of their hometown with no memory of where they have been or what has been done to them.  Finding answers to those questions would be dramatic enough but the five were originally six and no one knows why child number six didn't come home, too.  As the police work to find answers, so, too, do the children.

This mystery was followed up with one of the books that took forever for me to read.  Well, it felt like it took forever but obviously I'm speaking in hyperbole!  According to Goodreads, this fantasy classic took me a little over a month to read as I started it in early January and ended it in the first week of February.  The Once and Future King is an Arthurian tale.  It may have also been responsible for the Disney adaptation, The Sword in the Stone.

This book was a pleasure to read even if it did take me such a long time to get through.  Sure, it may have had a few dull passages, but overall it was beautifully done and I can absolutely see why it's considered a classic of the genre.  I've happily added it to my keeper shelf, although I doubt I will ever reread it. It's just sooo long!

Next I read a short story collection by a former faculty member in my university's English Department.  This collection would be categorized as literary fiction.  I found some of the stories more enjoyable than others, but isn't that often the way it works with short story collections?  Some just...resonate better than others. 

Finally, I finished out February with my Friends and Family Read-Along selection, Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.   I am happy to report that my second classic of 2018 was much more enjoyable than the first.  As a romance, it played upon the tropes common to the genre.  The headstrong, beautiful girl.  A love triangle (quadrangle?).   The only thing that really differentiated it from the historical romance novels I used to read as a teenager was the lack of sex scenes.  I guess that's why this is termed a classic and those books were called "bodice rippers".

Overall, it was a better reading month than I had expected it to be.

In February I read: 
  • 2 physical books purchased prior to 2018. 
  • 1 Kindle book purchased prior to 2017. 
  • 1 classic
  • total of five books toward my overall goal.

As the Challenge Stands After January:
  • Read 3 classics.
  • Read 18 books from my physical TBR piles.
  • Reread 1 series.  
  • Read 16 Kindle books purchased prior to 2018. 
  • Read 3 non-fiction books.
  • Read 64 books total.

January 2018 Reading Wrap-Up

Reading is many things to me.  It's entertainment and education.  It's the broadening of mind and spirit.  It's escapism.  Looking the books I read in January, I can see how each of those elements is represented in my reading choices.

Harry Potter was pure escapism.  Reading it was a chance to get reacquainted with old friends, to ride alongside in an adventure I could fully anticipate because it was well known and comfortable, even in its saddest moments.  And that last book is so very sad!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists was meant to broaden the mind and spirit by exploring the challenges faced by women around the world.  I discovered that while we still have a ways to go here in America, Nigeria seems to have an even longer road ahead of it when it comes to equality for all.  Little slights or outright abuses need to be addressed and rectified whenever necessary.

What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions was equally entertaining and educational.  The author's answers to those absurd questions were often laced with humor.  After attempting to explain a complex scientific fact or work through a compound math equation, he'd throw in a bit of welcome levity to make the dry science more palatable.

Moonheart and Ricochet Joe were pure entertainment.  New to me stories that held the potential to delight.  It took me a bit to get into Moonheart but eventually the setup began to pay off and the tension built to a satisfying conclusion.  Ricochet Joe, which I would consider a novella or novelette, had an interesting premise but seemed too brief and underdeveloped for my tastes; I expect better from Koontz.

The Bell Jar was terrible.  Just terrible.  I learned that I do not enjoy Plath's writing and will never pick up another one of her novels.  On the bright side, I've been meaning to read this for many years and can finally cross it off my list.

As These Relate to My 2018 Book Challenge
The Original Reading Goals Image

In January I read:
  • 2 non-fiction titles.
  • I read 3 Kindle books purchased prior to 2018.
  • I read one modern classic.
  • I read a total of six books toward my overall goal. 
As the Challenge Stands After January:
  • Read 4 classics.
  • Read 20 books from my physical TBR piles.
  • Reread 1 series.  
  • Read 17 Kindle books purchased prior to 2018. 
  • Read 3 non-fiction books.
  • Read 69 books total.
I also read three comic books in January but I do not intend to count them toward my goals as they are so quick and easy to read.  Counting them feels like cheating!

This Gets a Little Harder Every Time It Happens

Going back to regular programming here on the blog is difficult after writing a post like the one I wrote a few days ago.  I am still worked up.  Angry.  Tired of the ridiculous and ridiculing memes that are circulating on Facebook.  Tired of articles circulated as news when, in fact, they are mere opinion pieces lacking any nuance or thoughtfulness. 

I can't tell you how often I write up a pointed response only to delete it.   

So I scroll on by, biting my tongue.  Biting my tongue about the dismissive and patronizing comments about the generation that we're allowing to be murdered in math and English classes across this country.   

Then I come here and stare at the blank page wondering what in the world I should write about now.  How do I return to regular programming?  How can I switch from dead children to fluff and nonsense?  How abrupt is that?  How jarring? 

It's difficult.

That's why you get this post.  It's my sorry attempt at a transition from the serious to the seriously unimportant.  

I'm sorry I can't do better. 

School Shootings, Gun Control, and Mental Health

Yet another tragic school shooting occurred yesterday.

According to this Guardian article, there have been eight school shootings resulting in death or injury in the United States since January 1, 2018.  This figure contrasts with the figures collected by Everytown for Gun Safety, which includes incidents where no loss of life or injury occurred but that a gun was present or possibly even discharged.  Excluding yesterday's horrific event, Everytown for Gun Safety has recorded seventeen (17!!) incidents.

Seventeen gun-related incidents in seven weeks. 

It's appalling.



I know that talking about this subject is not easy.  I also understand that the topic of gun control is a red-button topic for many people because they see it as a direct and immediate assault on their 2nd Amendment Rights.  Frankly, I don't care.  I don't care about your butt hurt feelings if you hear about dead children and your first thought is for your precious firearms instead of those who were injured or even killed.  Maybe that attitude right there is part of the problem in this country.  When an inanimate object seems to be of more inherent worth than human lives...I find that troubling.

And don't tell me this isn't the time to talk about this issue.  Don't tell me we should be praying and grieving alongside the families of the fallen instead of working toward a solution.  That's bullshit talk.  That's distraction and subversion.  Here's why.  When you average a deadly or injurious school shooting nearly once a week, there will never be a "good" time to address the problem.

No, the time is now. 

Conversations need to happen not just among the citizens of this country, but among our legislators.  Serious conversations about the shootings, gun safety/control, and mental health issues should be ongoing.  The 2nd Amendment should not be overturned (bet you didn't see that coming!).  Guns don't need to be rounded up and collected - that's right, my dear paranoid right-wing friend, I don't want your guns.  I just want to put some reasonable safety measures in place.  And before you start crying about infringement, let's take a look at our beloved 2nd Amendment as it appears in our nation's founding documents. 

Amendment II
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Source: National Archives

That's it, folks.  That's all it says.

It doesn't say you have the right to bump-stocks, military grade weapons, extended ammo magazines.  Then again, it doesn't say you can't.

Does our Amendment need amending to deal with modern weaponry?  Remember, this was added to the Constitution in 1791.

Weird History put together a list of weaponry available in 1791.  As you can see, no assault rifles, bump stocks, or extended magazines in that list.  Do you think our Founding Fathers even considered a day when such marvels of death and destruction would be available so readily?  Do you think they envisioned a nation where its citizens would turn those weapons against each other not for purposes of defending the state or nation, feeding oneself, or for personal protection but for...God knows why?

Also, can we consider words two and three in that sentence?  Well regulated.  Well.  Regulated.  To my mind, that implies oversight, rules, and laws.  So why can't we discuss ways in which to regulate the average citizen's access to some of the more commonly used mass murder accessories at the very least?  Yes, I'm picking on extended magazines, bump stocks, and even military grade weapons.  Are those fun to own?  I'll say yes.  Are they necessary?  I'm not quite so convinced.

Also, if we're talking about having military grade weapons in order to fight against our government or an invading nation, I'd still put my money on the guy with the nuclear button, drones, aircraft, tanks, and naval ships.  Just sayin'...

Also, just because you have a gun doesn't mean you're the better shot, will get the upper hand, be in the right position, or will somehow become magically invincible simply because you are on the side of all that is GOOD and HONORABLE.  If only life worked that way...

And I guess that brings us to the argument to arm all teachers or to post armed guards at all schools.  Might it deter a few crazy gunmen?  I'll say yes.  However, there are still issues with both scenarios.  First, if the shooter could see the guard and could kill them from afar when the guard is unaware, there goes that line of defense.  Unlikely, sure.  So, let's say for the sake of argument that the guard is better trained, better armed, and wearing protective body armor.  How can schools that can't afford to pay for textbooks and other basic educational needs be able to suddenly pay for armed guards?  Funding is an issue for the majority of public schools in this country.

Also, here's something else to think about with armed guards.  I work on a campus with unarmed safety officers and armed police men.  There are several federal law enforcement agencies just a couple of buildings away.  City police patrol the area regularly.  Yet, we still have active shooter drills because even a well-staffed police force cannot be everywhere at once.  The same would be true of armed guards at a school.  Which door should they focus on?  How about windows?

Also, do you think that Virginia Tech didn't have a police force on campus?  They most certainly did and yet that massacre happened. According to their website, the department had 40 sworn officers, 8 dispatchers, and 7 security guards.  Thirty-two people died in that shooting.

So what about arming instructors and employees?  I can see this as a last line of defense and am not necessarily against it.  However, yesterday's assailant pulled the fire alarm with the intent of drawing victims from the safety of locked classrooms.   Why?  My guess is that this student knew the policies and procedures for an active shooter because he had practiced them as a student himself.  He knew there would be locked doors once the shooting started.  In order to do as much damage as possible, he pulled the alarm in hopes of drawing people out of those safety zones. 

Now, imagine the press of bodies that a teacher or administrator would have to assess in those moments.  Who is the shooter?  Was that a gun I just saw or was it a cell phone?  Crying, screaming, chaos.  What if they shot an unarmed person by mistake?  What if they killed an innocent themselves?

My point in raising these issues is not to say that armed guards and armed faculty and administrators is a terrible idea.  It might actually save lives.  I just wanted to point out that those options come with no guarantee.   When I hear people talk about placing guards or arming staff, they talk about it as if it would magically stop all this madness.  I'm not so sure.

This madness, to my mind, must be fueled by mental illness, diagnosed or not. After all, does a sane person commit mass murder?  Strangely, the professionals in the field of psychiatry offers some surprising information on this matter that seems to dispute my thoughts on the matter.

2001 study looked specifically at 34 adolescent mass murderers, all male. 70 percent were described as a loner. 61.5 percent had problems with substance abuse. 48 percent had preoccupations with weapons; 43.5 percent had been victims of bullying. Only 23 percent had a documented psychiatric history of any kind―which means three out of four did not.
Sourced:  Pacific Standard

These figures raise a couple of questions for me.  First, does the lack of documented psychiatric history mean there was, in fact, no form of mental illness at play?  Had the individual in question sought out help or been forced into counselling would a disorder have been identified?  Were they mentally ill despite the missing diagnosis?  It seems possible, perhaps even likely.

Yet, let's assume the most common denominator is the real factor here.  According to an article in the NCBI, loneliness can lead to psychiatric disorders as well as health problems. 70% of the mass murderers studied were loners.  Does that mean we as a society need to be more mindful of the isolated and unseen?  Would inclusion and acceptance have prevented these horrors?

What about substance abuse and its roll?  Isn't addiction a form of mental illness? It has earned a place on the American Psychiatric Association's site, which leads me to believe this disorder definitely has some mental illness potential.

I'm not even sure what to say about a fascination with weapons.  I know a lot of sane people who are obsessed with their guns and yet I would trust them with my life and those of my loved ones, so this statistic alone this doesn't seem too damaging.  Noteworthy, perhaps, but I would need it contextualized to view it as a symptom of mental illness.

However, the research on bullying, as one scholar points out, "is associated with severe symptoms of mental health problems, including self-harm, violent behavior, and psychotic symptoms" (Cambridge University Press Article by L. Arseneault, L. Bowes, and S. Shakoor). 

Does all this mean the right cocktail of isolation, substance abuse, weapon obsession, and victimization at the hands of bullies could result in an undiagnosed mental illness?  Your guess is as good as mine.  I don't know, and I think it would be dangerous to erroneously attribute mental illness to everyone who shares these traits or experiences.

Still, it makes me wonder if we started working as a society to address issues of mental health if we could perhaps reduce these violent and horrific events from occurring with such frequency?

There are no easy answers.  Taking away guns from upstanding, mentally sound citizens is not the answer.  Addressing mental health issues may help, but its unlikely to be a cure-all either.  Equipping public places with armed guards or staff may save lives but, again, it's also unlikely to dissuade the truly homicidal who intends to die that day, too.

I don't know what we can do different.  I just know that we are doing right now isn't working.