September, 2007

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Our homeschool heritage put to the test

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

“Did Thomas Edison invent the light bulb or the telephone?”

“I don’t know… both?”

“Or did Albert Einstein invent the light bulb?”

“Maybe.”

“I can’t remember.”

“I think that Thomas Edison invented both… but then again, Annie, I’m not very smart.”

I-35 South

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

Here I sit, in a Red Roof Inn in Austin, Texas. I am here with my sister Becca and her adorable puppy dog Gabe after an 11 hour drive south from Kansas City.

On Monday, Becca will have her first day of dog training school at Triple Crown Dog Academy. If thoughts of “dog training school” leave you at a loss, then don’t worry – you’re not the only one. Becca herself wrote a great blog about her dubious thoughts about what this experience might be like. I? Think that it’s rad that she’s following her passion.

To be honest, I felt a bit hesitant to take this trip with Becca and Gabe today. Last week, Gabe barfed all over the back seat of my Honda – rivers and fountains of chunky brown liquid that soaked into my upholstery and pooled in the space between the seat and the door – and the scent isn’t giving any indication that it will fade in the future… ever. The last thing in the world that I wanted was a repeat scenario. But today, the three of us lived out my wildest road tripping dreams: in Becca’s black Toyota Tacoma, driving south, with a dog, listening to music, seeing places I had never seen before. The only thing that would have made it more fun is if our other siblings could have been along – but we settled for a phone call to Sarah, urgently asking for directions to a coffee establishment in Edmond, Oklahoma. Gabe was a perfect angel, except when he decided that he NEEDED to hang out on my lap, which meant that his furry butt was in my face.

Now, since you have probably been craving a list from me, I give you:

“Things I saw on the way to Austin”:

* swarms of birds, “Planet Earth” style, between Kansas City and Wichita
* a billboard: “Just say yes to Jesus… or REGRET IT FOREVER,” in northern Oklahoma
* Oklahoma City, which is the site of the fabled Oklahoma City Bombing… and this nightmare
* so many Subway franchises, I couldn’t count
* “The Auto Ranch” north of Dallas, which, as far as I could tell, is just a sprawling field where cars go to die
* a billboard: “Call us for your Vasectomy Reversal: 1-713-REVERSE,” south of Ft. Worth
* a bumper sticker: “Cowboys for Jesus” (I should get the female counterpart for my Honda)
* a rest-stop painted as the flag of Texas, complete with matching trash cans
* Waco, Texas – two words: David Koresh
* a shirt in a truck stop: “Silly boys – trucks are for GIRLS!” (I almost bought it for Becca)

Tomorrow, we’ll drop Gabe at a doggie daycare at a local Petsmart, and head out to see the city. Imagine me all Sandra Bullock-esque, in a long flowing skirt and a tank top with cool, funky jewelry.

That’s how I’ve always imagined Austin.

Lest I get a big head

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

It’s hard work to be a model. I should know.

My sister-in-law, Ashley Parsons, generously took an entire Sunday afternoon to help me out with a photo shoot for, well, “my career,” I guess. I have to be honest and say that when it comes to “packaging” myself, I am severely uncomfortable. I have never wanted to be famous, never wanted to be in the spotlight – and yet I know that the package deal is what I have to do, even if just want to sing harmonies and write songs about unrequited love.

That said, Ashley did a kick-ass job of making me look good. When did my legs get so long? When did I get so stylish? Oh. Just Sunday afternoon when Ashley worked her magic. She is seriously so talented. If you’re getting married, book her. If you want a family portrait, book her. If you are having a baby, book her. If you just want to have a really fun time, she is your girl.

See here for some selections and a slideshow from the shoot. Killer shots. But lest I get a big head, here are some special, exclusive shots for you, my blog readers:

And of course, we all know that this girl?

Is actually just this girl:

The secret lives of old ladies

Monday, September 24th, 2007

This afternoon, I was hanging out with Micah and Tyler, the world’s coolest nephews (don’t dispute it – this is a scientific fact). We went upstairs to their playroom, full of awesome, rad toys. Micah proceeded to “beat” me with a baseball bat until I was lying on the floor.

“Here, Annie, put this under your head – it’s a pillow.” Micah shoved a big cardboard block my way.

“Now open wide – here’s your medicine.” He drove a small shovel into my mouth, so far that it gagged me.

“Time for pliers.” Attaching plastic pliers to my hair, he pulled.

“Now the saw. You’re an old lady. There go your arms!” He imagined me chainsawed down to just a head.

Disturbed at his bizarre violence, I asked, “Micah, do old ladies get sawed?”

He didn’t bat an eye: “Nope. Just hammered and screwed.”

A blog as boring as western Kansas

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

The 9-hour drive from Denver to Kansas City was uneventful. The most exciting thing that happened was pulling over at a gas station to lie down, belly on asphalt, and yank a tumbleweed out from under the car.

Other than that, it was rattlesnake farms and “Come see the 5-legged steer!” signs. I almost ran out of gas, but I didn’t. I made it to Topeka in time. I almost wish that I WOULD have run out of gas – then I would have had a cool story for you. But. I don’t.

Here I am in Kansas City.

Signs and sights of Montrose

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

This morning, I leave my hometown of Montrose, CO, for the next stage of The Big Trip. But before I do, I would like to provide you with some images of small town life.

Let’s begin with the hair salons. These are some of my favorites:

This woman is so alluring, I can hardly stand it.

Personally, if I was Dick Todd, I would be pissed. Or pizzed.

A grammatically incorrect title, superfluous capital letters, a frightening picture. These models had to be outsourced – I’ve never seen them at Wal-Mart.
- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

Now, onto the matter of public art, which is a new development. I don’t remember Montrose being quite so creative and progressive.

I don’t know what this means.

Or this. But I’m sensing that the same artist was commissioned?

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph? Peter, Paul, and Mary? WHO?
Every town should have a pair of life-sized, majestic, rusted horses.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

And just for fun, a few more signs:

For those nights when you just can’t decide between chips & salsa or garlic bread. Have both. And partake of their $1.99 margaritas on Thursday nights!

SUDDENLY NEW APPRECIATION FOR PUNCTUATION AND PROPER SPELLING AND JUST PLAIN SENSE-MAKING RIGHT

And on that inspirational note, I must go load my car and hit the road. Colorado Springs tonight, Denver tomorrow, and by Saturday evening, I will have made it through Hades (western Kansas) and be snuggling with my nephews in Kansas City.

Little Miss Redcloud & Sunshine

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

I figured that since I had already climbed one 14er this week, I might as well do two more. In one day.

Yesterday, I summited both Redcloud Peak (14,034′) and Sunshine Peak (14,001′ – hey, when it counts, it counts – just don’t knock any rocks off the top). My dad and I met up with my mom – and 25 awesome women from Kansas City – for yet another mountain excursion. The goal was to make it to the top of Redcloud – and most of the women did! I was so impressed with these women and their serious effort. A variety of ages and fitness levels, every single one of them pushed themselves as far as they could go. It was absolutely heroic.

After reaching the top of Redcloud, I was feeling good. I had gained 4 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation in just 3:15 – not bad. I shared my peanut butter sandwich with Rowdy, and enjoyed the spectacular sunny sky and panoramic view, and cheered as more and more women arrived at the summit.

Since we had made such good time, we had the option to continue on to Sunshine Peak, a mile and a half a way. When asked if I wanted to proceed further, I thought, “What would make better fodder for the blog?” You already know the answer. Four of us decided to continue to the top of Sunshine. In order to do this, we had to drop down off of Redcloud to the saddle below, walk along a ridge, and then ascend again to Sunshine. No biggie – whatever. What’s another mile and a half?

Oh. Only trudging through 8″ of snow, with severe winds almost blowing us off the cliff, down precarious slopes and then straight up an icy escarpment to Summit #2.

Karla, Melissa, Melinda, and I plodded carefully, hats and gloves on, uttering no words. The wind howling around my Gore-Tex hood was as loud as thunder, as soft as drowning; I was lost in my own head, but formed no real thoughts. Just step, step, step. And in a mere 50 minutes, we arrived at our second summit of the day.

Me with Karla:

But the victory of a second summit was soon squelched by the heavy realization that WE ARE ONLY HALFWAY. What goes up must come down; we had to then turn around, and do it all over again. But you know, these women are hosses. And we had great conversations, and saw breathtaking views, and knew that that night we could eat WHATEVER WE WANTED.

So far, I’m impressed at the events of the first 9 days of The Big Trip. Big things have happened. And it’s only the beginning…

Bloody knuckles and rock stars

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Some days are very normal, basic, routine. Today was not one of those days. And actually, it deserves a long, thorough blog. We’re pretty good friends by now – I hope you’ll read until the end.

This morning at 5am, my dad, our dear friend Dan Clader, and I left for Mt. Sneffels (elevation 14,150 feet) in the San Juan mountain range of Colorado. Our mission? To walk/climb/scramble our way to the very top.

Now, I consider myself as being in good shape. I exercise daily, eat the right sorts of things, and when it comes to cardio activity, can keep up with most anyone. However, Dan and Dad are not just “anyone.” These men are mountaineers, highly experienced climbers, who have climbed every one of the 54 peaks over 14,000′ in Colorado. Still, they were excited to have me along as such an eager participant – especially since I spent the majority of my childhood as lazy,

Still, Colorado mountain climbing is a whole different animal than hiking the smooth trail on Mt. Si in the Washington Cascades. The Rockies are rough, rugged, and demanding. I have spent the past 7 years at glorious sea level, breathing loads of delicious oxygen. Could I really keep up on an expedition beginning above tree line?

I’m so glad that you asked. My friends, do read on.


For the first 2 hours, I proved myself to be a worthy climber. Quick and strong, with plenty of endurance, I raced up switchbacks, scrambled through rock fields, and maneuvered up and over huge boulders. I continually scraped my hands on sharp rocks, and the blood soon crusted into my the creases of my knuckles. The terrain was complicated, and our big dog Rowdy was having a rough go at times; Dan and Dad fashioned a harness for him, and together they lifted/pulled/heaved his poor, terrified bulk through the cliffs and crags. Nevertheless, all in all, we were making good time.


But then, everything changed. Suddenly, the ground rose rapidly, and my feet were no longer a reliable source of balance; my body was forced to double over at the waist to grab hold of the rocks. The scramble turned into a full-on rock climb, sans ropes, ascending stone walls with open air all around us. Dan led the way, and coached me on where to put my right hand, right foot, left hand, left foot. This worked for awhile, but ultimately, his help and encouragement could not stop my inextinguishable fear of heights. “Uncomfortable” turned to “frustrated,” and then, without warning, “frustrated” turned to “terrified.”


And in an instant, I felt as though a huge piece of soggy bread was stuck in my throat. “I can’t breathe,” I gasped, and hugged the side of the cliff. In the same way that the wind was whipping over the mountain face, I sucked for breath, air over gravel. Dad and Dan spoke calming words, that I could do it, that I couldn’t stop here – but alas, the panic had set in, and refused to give up its foothold. The tears welled in my eyes, and when I squeezed them shut, huge droplets appeared on my cheeks. I clasped the precipice, face to the rock, and willed myself to flee the situation I was in.

– – – – – – – –

It is the summer before 4th grade, and I stand atop a bluff, my back to the drop-off. My camp counselor assures me that I am harnessed in, that I cannot fall, that I am safe. But it cannot be true – I cannot possibly stand with my heels hanging over the edge, trust the rope, and lean backwards. I cannot rappel to the flat ground below. Tears overflow, I cannot breathe. I will not make it off this cliff alive. But, wonder of wonders, I lean back, and find myself staring straight up at the blue sky, suspended with my feet against the rock wall by nothing but a rope and a belay. I rappel. And I survive.

I am 14, and clinging to the top of the “Power Pole,” part of the ropes’ course on a group retreat. Hand over hand, I have climbed the 23 feet to the top – now, all that I need to do is to place my feet on the tiny surface on top of the pillar, raise myself to an upright position, balance with nothing to hold onto, rotate 180 degrees, and then leap to a trapeze suspended 8 feet away. That’s all. Instead, I wrap my arms and legs around the pole and cry. I cannot breathe. I cannot possibly do what is required of me. But, wonder of wonders, I tentatively place one foot, then both feet, on top of the wooden post, swiftly push my body up, swivel to face the trapeze, and jump. And I live.

– – – – – – – –

I open my eyes. I have been clinging to the cliff face for 20 seconds. I blink rapidly – once, twice, three times – willing myself to see clearly again. I take a few deep, calming breaths, and remind myself that I have felt this way before, and I have lived to tell the tale. I envision myself gathering my courage, cupping my hands and drawing every ounce of available gallantry to myself. And wonder of wonders, I move my hand, move my foot. I continue with the climb.


We summitted at 10am, and each of us had tears – this time, from the sheer thrill of success, of victory, of the triumph over fear. We stayed on the freezing crown of Sneffels for about 12 minutes before the weather started to roll in, then it was time to scramble down the mountain. With lightning illuminating the sky all around us and corn snow pelting us in the faces, we ran for the last 1/2 mile to the car, and collapsed into the Durango exhausted and wet, weary and elated. We were victors, surviving grueling physical exertion, emotional trauma, and extreme weather.


Then I came home and ate a hamburger and watched “Blades of Glory.”

Awkward vs. Awkwarder

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Last night, I attended a 5th-8th grade volleyball showdown, held in the gym of a local church. The contenders?

The Christian Schoolers (the Knights) vs. the Homeschoolers (the Flames).

I was there in support of my friend Kellyn, who was celebrating her 11th birthday on the volleyball court as one of the Knights. Technically, it was a girl’s volleyball tournament, but the homeschool team was co-ed for lack of players. But even with boys, the Flames were snuffed out in a mighty way by the Knights.

Since I served time as both a homeschooler (7th and 9th grades) and a Christian schooler (8th grade), I feel as though I have the authority, expertise, and first-hand experience to expound on the peculiar, offbeat nature of last night’s crowd.

Let’s start with the homeschoolers. What is it with homeschoolers being so obviously conspicuous? (And what is it with me being so excessively redundant?) All of the girls wearing homemade plaid jumpers and knock-off Keds, their long, straight braids and bangs topping their heads, led by their matron, Captain Mother Conservative. Arguably, not the most alluring of attire – and yet somehow, it must be working for them as the moms continue to get pregnant. They drive their 15-passenger vans and somehow manage to educate at least 7 children in different grades and levels of cognition.

I stand in awe, actually. Homeschooling, when done well, renders well-educated, well-spoken, polite, cool humans. I don’t think I could ever homeschool my kids. I’m going to need time to read US Weekly and go shopping and drink mid-day margaritas.

Then there were the Christian schoolers – fairly normal kids… although I saw several moms with bitchin’ woman-mullets and at least one dad with traces of Skoal on the corners of his mouth. I overheard conversations on the evils of evolutionism, “Church Putt-Putt” night at the local mini-golf course, and required chapel attendance.

Mostly, I was entertained at the exchange between players between volleyball serves. The process was as follows:
1) Kid serves ball.
2) Ball doesn’t make it over the net.
3) All players immediately swarm the server for high-fives.

In the same way that I might “cheers” to beers with a table of friends, these kids made sure that they high-fived every. single. one. of their teammates, every. single. time. Because if you miss even one other person, ever, it’s bad etiquette.

And God forbid they be awkward.

This used to be my town

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

This morning, I awoke in my hometown of Montrose, Colorado. My parents left Colorado for the glamour of Kansas City about 4 years ago, so over the past several years, my visits to Montrose have been few and far between. Anxious to get out for a stroll down memory lane, I decided to walk across town and then back.

Twenty minutes and just over a mile later, I arrived at what I thought was “the end of town.” But the joke was on me – the town does not end where it once did. “The end of town” is now at least 2 miles further south. Home Depot? Chili’s? Applebees? Starbucks? Since when did the sleepy little town of Montrose explode into a suburban sprawl?

And so I turned east, and headed for my old neighborhood. As I wound through the residential streets of “New English Gardens,” sporting such titles as Cambridge, Stratford, Sherwood, and Kent, my mind was flooded with memories of my childhood. Riding bikes through the adobe hills, fishing in the canal, setting off dry ice bombs to freak out the neighbors, daring each other to trespass into the old man’s garden – I felt like I was 9-years old again.

The Parsons family moved into the house on Leeds Ave. in January of my 5th grade year, and my parents remained there until I was 20. The subdivision was brand new when we moved in, and we had the chance to customize the paint colors, the tile, the carpet, the linoleum. I remember being so excited at the prospect of living somewhere brand new. I even got to choose the carpet color for my bedroom: cornflower blue. My parents did the landscaping themselves, and planted aspen trees in the front yard.

Today, I paused in front of our old house. I barely recognized it. The siding that was once white and blue is now 2 tones of brown. The trees that I remember as saplings, seemingly arboreal crack babies for so many years, now have thick, thriving limbs. The driveway has been re-paved, and an unfamiliar truck is parked in the driveway.

Now, as I sit at the Coffee Trader, Montrose’s most charming coffee shop, I am hearing songs by Paula Cole, the Backstreet Boys, and LFO playing through the speakers. And as I type these words, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” is starting. As if things could be any more 1999.