New York State of Mind

About two weeks ago, we just returned from our second trip to New York City.  The last time I had been in New York, I was the running the marathon.  I had a blast.  There was no cancer, no steroid weight gain, and it was me, my husband, my camera, and Les Miserables.  This time, I had some new lens, and got to see some new sites!

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A few days before we left, we had a snow storm.  The weather was completely different in NYC than it was in Colorado.  While it was cold and snowy in Colorado, it was warm and humid in NYC.

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We stayed in the Fabric District, closer to Macy’s and the Shopping District near Time’s Square.  The buildings were very interesting here.  The first night we hit the theater, went to Bryant Park, and went to The Palm West Side, where I saw my only celebrity– The Dude From Dateline NBC (Keith Morrison).

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My favorite addition to Bryant Park was the new “light balls” amongst the mums in the park.  I wanted to go ice skating either there, or in Rockafeller Center, but due to my blood counts, I had to forgo any kind of things that could cause internal bleeding, and me on skates can definitely cause me bleeding.

The next day we walked to the race expo at the convention center (near Marvin Gardens). NYC does have a LOT of green space, and there were still a ton of flowers growing in the green spaces.  Mums, Latinas, and a few wild flowers here, and there.  I have to say that the Expo was really hard for me.  I spent most of it mourning my “old” life and feeling sorry for myself.

 

On the way back to the hotel, we took a detour through Central Park.  We visited the finish line, and I took some pictures of the local fauna.  Lots of rats with wings and little songbirds.

More leaves, more squirrels.  We hopped onto a subway, went to our restaurant for the pasta feed.  I had the most wonderful Tiramisu, and grilled chicken with a mushroom sauce.  Needless to say, we ate our way through New York City.

After the race we went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and One World Trade Center.  Its was truly amazing to see both buildings.  I got to play with my panoramic lens.  Going back to the Trade Center was really cool.  The first time we had gone to NYC, the building was not done yet, and now you can travel to the top.  It was state of the art trip, and the new shopping mall underneath is a real wonder.  St. Patrick’s was absolutely gorgeous.

When God Paints The Sky…

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I have been blessed to live in areas of the country where the sunsets look like God is painting the sky.  He uses a retinol of colors, his pallet is amazing.  I have taken more sunrise and sunset pictures than any other.  Most of them are without filter.  Today, I’m going to share a bunch of them with you.  No matter where you live, I find that watching the sun slowly creep up, and down to mark the beginning and end of days is one of the most beautiful natural thing in the world.  Enjoy :).

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Sunset from my deck

Panorama Resized

Panoramic on the Bay in Florida

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Sky on fire in Colorado

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Sky on fire in Florida

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Sky on fire at my mom’s house in Orlando, FL

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Palm trees at sunset.

I love sunset and sunrise pictures.  My next goal is to conquer night-astro photography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Sanctuary…

My goal for this month was to write more, unfortunately, desire, health, and my heinous schedule has curtailed my efforts.  I made six trips to Lone Tree Cancer Center to get my infusion, only to have those infusions cancelled (until this past week), then I spent two days of my chemo recovery trying to stay awake long enough to entertain two children.  Needless to say this week hasn’t really gone as expected.  Normally, we do a Sunday morning hike, but my desire to walk through the woods right now is non-existent.  Further receiving distressing news about the health of one of my sister-in-laws didn’t make me feel like doing much.

So I am going to post some pictures of a recent hike we took to Catamount Falls, as part of the Catamount trail.  The trail itself is 5.5 miles (one way, but I could not do the entire hike, so I did just the Thomas Trail where the falls are visible.  These pictures were taken a few weeks ago, so the leaves are in full bloom.  I didn’t realize how much I missed four seasons until living in a state with one season.

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The first thing I noticed on this hike is the interspersed maple and aspen with the pine trees.  Pine in Colorado burns easily, but also grows easily, so when the fires went through a few years ago, the pine still thrived, and the hard woods did not.

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Near the streams, however, there are plenty of young maple and aspen.  We have a few growing in our yard now, and the colors have changed from a dark brownish to a golden red.  But my all time favorite are the cedar/aspen.

 

I love the golden colors.  They just make me excited for warm coffee mornings, hot chocolate, ‘amores, and the trappings of winter that are just not the same in Florida.  Not that I don’t miss flip flops, and eternal summer, but it for this Yankee it just isn’t the same.

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Florida does have it’s share of water, but there is nothing like a cool stream falling along creaky rocks, with falling leaves, and a brisk breeze.  I absolutely loved watching the water fall down 30 ft rock cliffs, and hearing the sounds of the brook near the valley.

I call Colorado my sanctuary, because I feel so much like home here.  Among the mountains, wild flowers, streams, and clear air.

And finally after several miles of hiking, sweating, and stops of sharp hypoxic breathing, we reached the bottom of the valley, and followed our stream back to the car.  There I reveled in the pictures that I took.  I realize that I love photography, because I love going back, looking at the streams, sticks, trees, flowers, and remember the smells, the feelings, and the pure joy I have during my hikes.  These are my happy times, and this is my sanctuary.

 

A Tale Of Two Schools…

There are not going to be any pictures with this story.  It is soon going to be written in a paper.  I’m risking not being able to be represented by a lawyer by blogging about this, going to the papers (which I tried to do in the beginning), and by coming out.  There was an injustice done on behalf of my son, and I want to warn other parents that this could happen.  Especially, parents with children on the autism spectrum (particularly those with non-verbal or barely verbal children).

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This is a note from my son’s school in 2011.  It’s a nice note, if you didn’t read the entire notebook, and notice that every single note from September to November was essentially the same.  And even then it looks harmless.  The teacher has very pretty handwriting and the occasional smiley face would mislead you.  The story starts in May of 2011.

My husband was at some school for the Air Force, I call it “Major’s School,” because even though I am a veteran, I hardly cared for the “continuing education” or aka “officer indoctrination.”  My daughter attended a very nice Preschool, I don’t remember the name off the top of my head, and my son went to Beavercreek Main.  We were amazed at Beavercreek Main (in Beavercreek, OH), because in VA, we were told to send my child to a private special needs school.  We were happy with the self contained special needs school, until we went to our first meeting to get my son enrolled at school, and we were asked, “What do you want on his IEP?”  I was spitballing, and answered, “I want him mainstreamed with an aide.”  Figuring that that was some kind of pipe dream.  I was waiting for Ed McMahon to tell me to “Reach For The Stars…” Though he was long dead in 2011.

He had the best teacher, Mrs. Murphy (later teachers we found would be equally great).  The thing about my son, is he has a way with people.  I know perhaps I am biased, but my son gets people to like him. He touches people in a way I just cannot explain or imagine.  Other people can vouch for it.  Mrs. Murphy gave us everything we asked for.  He had a dedicated aide, who absolutely adored him.  He was in mainstreamed, he got asked to birthday parties.  He started to read spontaneously.  He was learning to write.  Everything was going great.  That fateful May, we found out that our orders to Barksdale AFB were denied, and we were going to Eglin AFB, FL.  I thought I would love FL, and I did love FL.  Even though Florida was where my dad died, Florida was where this story took place, and later Florida was where I was diagnosed with cancer.

We were excited to move to a tropical tourist trap, looking forward to our many visits with the Mouse, and excited about year round summer.  We bought a beautiful home in a town called Niceville.  You can’t lose with a town named Niceville!  It was like a dream. We had visited the school districts main office, because when you have a child with autism, that’s what you do.  We handed them a newly minted IEP (Individual Education Plan), and we were told that our children would be attending James E. Plew Elementary.  How can you disagree with a beautiful school with gardens, lizards, and butterflies.

A week before the packers came, we got a phone call.  The school district had changed their collective minds, and had told us, that the school was not staffed for our son, and he would be instead attending Lewis Elementary School.  Less than thrilled with that assessment, we said, “OK,” because we were promised that his IEP would be followed.  We got Niceville, and found out a few short months my husband would be returning to Barksdale for upgrade training.  He would be leaving us for about three months.  Great, I can handle being a single mother for that long.

I went and registered my kids at their respective schools.  My daughter’s school, Plew, was great, I met her teachers.  They showed me the kindergarten classrooms.  She was tested, and all was great.  I went to my son’s school, and alarm bells rang.  I was not allowed to meet his teacher, because she was busy moving into her classroom.  I was not allowed to meet my son’s para, because she/he was not assigned yet.  I was not allowed to even see the classroom.  The principle was less than impressive, and I told my husband before he left for his upgrade class that I had deep reservations about the school.  NOTE NUMBER ONE:  If you have deep reservations upon first going to a school, do NOT enroll your kid there.

I ignored my instinct, and we enrolled my son there.  A few weeks into August, I FINALLY got a call back from the teacher, and they FINALLY set up a meeting with her.  We met in an office, and again I was not allowed to see the room, as it was not completed yet (mind you school was in a week).  I was again not going to meet his mainstream teachers, because they were not available (again alarm bells).  We sat down and talked about my son.  I told them that I knew that my child was capable of being a little brat, but he was a good kid.  He was off that day, because he was on a drug called risperadon, which affected his ability to regulate his body temperature.  I didn’t know this, but they were already formulating a case for my son to be placed in a self-contained classroom.

The evening before the first day of school, we visited the school, and were surprised to see that our son was going to be in a self-contained classroom with eight other children with significant disabilities.  It was a small room, it was a converted band room.  I was informed that my son was going to be sent into the first grade room ALONE, without a para-professional, and then pulled out if he acted up.  Which was NOT what was in the IEP they promised they would follow.  I was then informed that they were going to write a new IEP without testing my son, “To make the placement LEGAL…”  NOTE:  If they need to write a new IEP without testing that “to make the placement legal,” means that the school district has no f*$*ing intention of following the LEGAL IEP.  And again we should have instantly pulled him from the school district.

But we didn’t, instead both my husband and I decided that perhaps the school was right, and he needed a trial period in a self contained classroom to “get used” to the school.  My husband left the first day of school, and when my son got home.  The first of many negative notes.  About a week later I received another note.  My son had solicited a sexual act from another student.  Apparently, he looked her in the eye, pulled out his penis, and told her to “lick it.”  It was odd, because my son would not look ME in the eye.  He did have the tendency to pull out his penis, but it was rare.  And he would not engage in conversation with another human being, much less another child.  It was really concerning, because there is a history of sexual abuse in our family (long story, and I’m not going to write about it).

Anyway, I was terrified.  We were to meet with the school at the end of the week.  My husband came home early to attend the meeting.  We thought that we were going to be involved in a long investigation, because we both knew that a child, who is sexually aggressive is a sign of sexual abuse.  We went to the meeting.  I was surprised that there were just two teachers, no principle, no resource officer, and no other parents.  The teachers had said that they didn’t want it to become a big investigation and they didn’t want to involve the other parents.  They just wanted my son to wear pants every day at school.  I was suspicious, but my husband was amiable to their request.  I kept thinking to myself, if my son actually “did” what they said he did, then shouldn’t there be an investigation?  Is there something happening, or did something happen to my son?  Aren’t they mandated reporters?  Why wouldn’t they report my son’s actions to the police, because technically, my son committed a crime?  Why was this all fixed by being agreeable to wearing pants?  NOTE: If your child is accused of being sexually inappropriate, that is a SIGN that there is sexual abuse going on, even in autistic individuals.  Teachers are mandated reporters, those teachers broke a major law by not reporting suspected abuse.

So like good little automatons, we sent our son to school in pants.  The screaming, swearing, and other behaviors did not stop with pants.  Every single day there was a note in his backpack complaining about him– his behavior, his swearing, or his inappropriate behavior.  I got to the point were if I did his homework with him, he still would get an F.  There was nothing I could do that would satisfy them.  What’s worse, even though the notebook was full of frilly writing and smiley faces despite negative reports every day, the teacher started telling me that he was annoying, he was obnoxious, or that he was bad.  So every day I got the notebook full of negative reports, then I would be verbally reinforced with him being call obnoxious.  About three weeks after the whole exposing himself and soliciting a BJ from another student happened, he had a massive tantrum.  NOTE: If you are getting continual negative reports which are not adding up to what you are experiencing at home or in ABA therapy, there is SOMETHING going on.

The tantrum, though mentioned vaguely in at home notebook, was significant.  My son had a tendency to bang his head.  He normally did not bang it hard, or against hard objects.  At some point during the day, my son had banged his head against a desk 14 times.  He complained that he could not see.  The teacher in question hypothesized that he was “trying to get out of going to gym,” or that it was “pink eye” that he was treated for some two weeks ago.  She never intervened, she never called me when it happened, and she never sent him to the nurse when he complained he couldn’t see.  I called the pediatric clinic on base immediately after he was unceremoniously shoved into my car, and again the teacher complained of his annoying behavior.  The pediatric clinic told me to take him to the ER.  I did so.  The ER doctor hypothesized that Ryan had either bumped his cornea, or he had had a seizure.  Months later we discovered that it was a seizure.  NOTE: A child should not bump, bang, or otherwise hurt himself 14 times without intervention.  I specifically signed a release that allowed his special education teacher to perform a therapeutic hold if my son was a danger to himself or others.

Sadly, a few months later, it was confirmed that he had had a seizure.  Further testing from his behavioral therapy team indicated that he had regressed significantly.  When leaving Ohio, he was tested at functioning at just below grade level (kindergarten), after the head banging incident he tested at a 2-year-old level.  His IQ was at a 70, which was borderline cognitively delayed, it has since dropped significantly.  His IQ fell several points, and is now considered severely cognitively delayed.

We have since moved from Florida, and now live in Colorado.  My son is mainstreamed with an aide.  He has pull outs for Science, Social Studies, Art, and Music.  The reason I was told that he was never mainstreamed was because the kids would bully and tease him.  He has never been bullied here.  The kids know him and like him.  He is actually popular.  The only people I worried about bullying him were teachers.  The psychological staff, and staff at the school have made me feel more comfortable about his school situation.  This situation could have been totally preventable if the school district had just been forthright with their policies of self-contained classroom, and being sent to a separate school than what we were zoned for.  If we had been informed about the school situation before we had enrolled him.

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This is a note from the private placement we ended up placing our son in.  Notice the teachers have awesome handwriting, but it does not contain anything about his tantrums, him being inattentive, complaints about his behavior, nothing.  Nearly every day at ECAC my son came in happy, and he made progress towards his goals.  It has taken nearly four years for him to progress beyond functioning at a 2-year-old level, and now he has progressed to the point were he was when we arrived in Florida.

If you want to skip the long drawn out story, here’s the recap:

  1.  Trust your instincts.  If there are alarm bells regarding your child, their placement, or their behavior, dig deeper.
  2. If your child is accused of something completely out of character, or doesn’t make sense, ask for an investigation, particularly if your child does something that is sexually aggressive or inappropriate.
  3. When you have a non-verbal, or barely verbal child, and their behavior is drastically different between school, home, and therapy ask questions.
  4. A child should not be injuring themselves more than 1 or 2 times.  I understand kids are fast, but there is NO reason for a child to self injure 14 times with no intervention.  Further, if something does happen, which it sometimes does, request that the teachers administer first aid, send the child to the nurse, or notify the parent immediately.
  5. If there are negative reports, make sure the reports are actionable.  Teachers should not use words like irritating, annoying, or obnoxious.  If your child is being described in adjectives like this, then you need to speak to administrators.
  6. Report abuse immediately, and follow up.  The ER doctor submitted a DHS report, which was subsequently “lost” by the school district.  If I had followed up, the teacher would have been fired instead of promoted to principle.

My son’s case is finally getting the attention that it deserves.  There have been at least three instances of children abused at the different districts as recent as 2016.  I know of five cases of abuse before and after 2011.  The systematic abuse of non-verbal and non-communicative children in Okaloosa County has been occurring from before 2011-now.  Parents need to come forward, and tell their stories.

http://weartv.com/news/local/okaloosa-county-educators-arrested-for-abuse-of-autistic-child

http://www.crestviewbulletin.com/news/20170627/baker-teacher-charged-with-child-abuse

http://www.thedestinlog.com/news/20171011/state-steps-in-to-discipline-child-abuse-at-silver-sands

https://www.thepetitionsite.com/526/680/416/no-more-abusive-teachers/

http://www.nwfdailynews.com/news/20171011/jackson-wants-her-own-lawyer-district-would-foot-bill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring The ‘Hood

One thing I absolutely adore about my new house, and my new neighborhood is that I can live far enough outside of town that it’s a personal sanctuary, but I’m close enough to a city that has all of my personal favorite stores.  The farthest one away is a 45 minute drive on the freeway (to just past Lone Tree).

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Just up the road from our home is a field shared by cows and the pronghorn.  The males have horns like deer, and the females don’t.  They are quite shy, and when I pulled over they took off.  I had to switch lenses to my 800 mm.

The top two pictures show how close the pronghorns to the city.

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On sunny days and nights this is what I see.  This picture was taken before a stretch of foggy weather, then we had beautiful weather, and again we had snowy weather.

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The foggy weather still yields beautiful scenery. Though the mountain is not visible, the pictures, I still think the pictures are beautiful.

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A few weeks ago, the fog broke, and this is what we saw on Pike’s Peak.  Snow came back like the first time we visited, and picked out our new home.

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Yesterday, we had a snow storm.  It was fantastic.  I slowed down the shutter speed, so that I could capture the snowflakes in without them looking too blurry.  The after effect made for the most perfect winter wonderland.  Sadly, the only remnants of snow are in the shadows of our home, and where the trees cast a shadow.

Besides the pronghorns that live the fields near our home, we also have two red tailed hawks.  They have a nest in our front yard, and we can hear them call in the late-afternoon, when they come out to hunt.  We also frequently will hear their young cry for food.  There are plenty of insects, field mice, and snakes to feed their babies.

 

This year we had a record number of painted ladies.  The painted lady butterfly flew through Colorado instead of taking their typical route through Florida.  It is hypothesized that it was because of the hurricanes that hit during the season.  Before the freeze we experienced, there were still many wild flowers to attract the butterflies.

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And of course there are song birds galore.  I imagine they will be migrating soon, so I won’t hear many of them during the winter, but I can still enjoy them.  The hummingbirds have gone already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time Flies When You Are Having Fun

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Immediately after I was released from the hospital, we went to celebrate Shane’s 20th reunion at the Air Force Academy.  Twenty years have flown by.  In twenty years, we moved around twelve times (thirteen if you count extended TDYs)– Minnesota to Colorado Springs to Oklahoma to New Mexico (me) and Louisiana (him) to North Dakota (both) to Germany to North Dakota to Virginia to Ohio to Florida to Colorado Springs. We have survived five years of separation, and four deployments (two combat).  And now we are back where it all began.

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Thursday, we went to Antlers, a local hotel, and picked up our tickets.  One thing about the reunion is it’s quite expensive (the tune of $900!).  The registration alone was $100 each.  It included a dinner and free drinks on Thursday night.  There we met up with friends we hadn’t seen in years.  I found out that several people Shane sang with in Catholic Choir were living here locally.  It was so nice to see people I hadn’t seen in 20 years, and being asked to come hang out!

On Friday, we went to the actual Academy and toured it.  We went to Shane’s old squadron.  Talked to the cadets.  We learned interesting statistics about the new class.  The greatest statistic was the cadet class in 1997 was only 10% female, while the cadet class in 2021 is 30% female!  It was so nice to see such a change in environment at the Academy.  Most of the women at the academy are studying STEMM majors.  So it’s not just “fuzzy” majors.  These women are going to be the future leaders in Engineering and Math career fields.

We also found out that Shane’s boss in Florida, General Silvaria is now the Superintendent at the Air Force Academy.  It was nice to see him and his wife again.

At the end of the day we went to the memorial service.  There were several deaths in the four reunion classes (1972, 1992, 1997, and 2007).  They read the names of the deceased this year (including one senior) in each class.  Played Taps, and the Missing Man formation of A-10s.  The clouds have begun to roll in, and the angels began to cry during the formation.  It was beautiful and sad at the same time.  There was one guy in Shane’s class that died this year in combat.  It made this ceremony extra special, as the family was there to lay roses on his name.  There was not a dry eye in the crowd.

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At the end of the ceremony, I caught this nice fellow watching with his friend.  He is a PTSD service dog, who was attending with a 2007 graduate.  It’s a stark reminder of the sacrifices that living veterans are making.  It has changed my attitude about being a veteran.  I am considered a disabled veteran, and for years I was not proud of my service.  I didn’t deploy.  When I left the service I got someone else’s going away gift, and I felt like I didn’t sacrifice.  But recognizing those that did make the ultimate sacrifice, and seeing the PTSD dog made me feel blessed, that even though I have service connected cancer, I did experience what my husband and other vets have experienced.

The weekend ended with the football game.  I don’t have any pictures from this event.  I brought my camera, but decided to put it back in the car.  The game was a close one, but our Falcons could not pull it out in the end.  Anyway, the kids, Shane, and I went to the class tailgate, where we met a friend from both Shane’s squadron AND pilot training, Ryan.  Turns out Ryan is a published author, so I got his card to discuss with him how to get published (I have kind of decided to publish my book as a collection of short stories and novellas).  When we got to our seats, it started raining.  The rain started out lightly, then the wind picked up, and by 9:00 minutes into the game, it was 48-degrees, with driving rain, and 30 mph winds.  We watched the Falcons score first, and then we decided to leave.

As we left, my son, decided to hit every puddle.  We got home, fired up the fireplaces, and turned on the game.  Luckily we left, as the game was on an 80-minute lightening delay.  We flipped from various Big Ten games, drank hot chocolate, and ate chips and dip.  All-in-all we really enjoyed ourselves at the reunion.

 

July Camping

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In July we went camping.  It was our first Colorado camping trip and we had a great time.  We went to Eleven Mile State Park.  I don’t even know how to describe where it is, but it’s on the other side of Pike’s Peak.  The reservoir runs along a river fed by snow melt.  The lake has Northern Pike, Salmon, Trout, Bass, and Crawdaddies.

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Yes, that’s right Crawdaddies, Mudbugs, or crawfish, the little red delights that are often found in the French Quarter on Mardi Gras.  They were in season when we got there.  Some of the park rangers were having a weekend seafood boil.    We were surprised to say the least.  Unfortunately, our boat is broken, and Shane had to take it to the shop after we got home.

While the kids and Shane went fishing, I walked around camp, and took some pictures of camp. I found one of the Colorado Springs Rocks.  The staff from a beauty salon in town had hidden rocks throughout the park.  There were a lot of song birds too.  The top two pictures posed for me on the picnic table.  The other bird and rabbit were regular visitors to our campsite.

 

And flowers galore!  We took hikes on the third day through the pine and birch trails.  I have traded tropical flowers for wild flowers.  Succulents, red poisonous berries, and other fragrant flowers.

 

And of course a new toy.  I sucked it up and bought a super wide angel lens.  It took perfect pictures of the landscapes around our camp.  I could get full mountains without turning my camera all sorts of different directions.  I still haven’t figured out astrophotography.   But hopefully I will be able to take pics when I get out of the hospital.

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And we had our security system.  She LOVED sleeping outside, and getting in touch with her wild side (chasing ground squirrels and birds).  Thor didn’t pose for me.  He would walk up to me every time I put up my camera.  The only time I can get a good picture of him is if I am at the end of the yard, and he’s running towards me.