Puddles in Pensacola

Before our weekend trip to Pensacola, Florida, Penny was already an interstate traveler, as she visited the Wildflower Trails Festival in Linden, Texas (at which there were no wildflowers or trails) in April. This, though, was a much longer trip – hours longer, even, than our trip to Mandeville earlier this year. We took the long way there, down I-49 to I-10 because there’s a dog park right off the interstate in Baton Rouge, and I wanted to give Penny a break.

We spent somewhere around 8 hours on the road, and by the time we made it to Pensacola, we were both exhausted. We were very glad to see Palmer, though, who was working for there for two weeks. It was around 6 o’clock by the time we got there, so we headed almost directly to dinner at Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille, which welcomed us with excellent food, a lovely sunset, and a bowl of ice water for Penny.

The next morning, we headed to the beach, where Penny found her true love: big puddles of water. She was so excited and pulled so hard to get out into the surf that Palmer had to hold her because she was about to pull me in.

We couldn’t go to any beach in Pensacola, though. We had to go to the Dog Beach. It was really nice, though, because there were no fences and it was just a section of normal beach bounded with signs. The caveat was that dogs were supposed to stay on-leash. Not that half of them did. Penny, though, followed the rules.

After tiring ourselves out at the beach, we went to Shaggy’s for lunch. I ate a pile of super-fresh fish and had a local beer. I could get used to eating by the water.

26668270503_2e011f5d63_kAfter lunch, we took Penny to another dog park, this time inland, so we she’d really be exhausted. She had a great time and made a new friend! A couple brought their two dogs, one of which was a lab mix, and he and Penny ran around and around until it was time to head back to the hotel for a serious nap.

We had dinner at the Sunset Grille on Perdido Key. There were a few too many children for my taste, but the food was good and the sunset was amazing. They chose their name well. The sunset alone was worth the 45-minute trek from the hotel.

The next morning, Palmer had to do laundry, so Penny and I paid an early visit to the dog park. We played Ball, and she ran around with the other dogs like she was a regular.

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Palmer and I decided that Penny needed more beach time. The first time we went, we weren’t wearing swimsuits, so Penny was limited to the shoreline. We had a really nice breakfast at George’s Artisan Bakery and Bistro, picked up some necessities, and headed back out to the dog beach. We had underestimated the ridiculous amount of traffic headed onto Pensacola Beach on a beautiful Sunday. There’s only one bridge over the bay, and it’s a huge bottleneck. It took us well over an hour to get there, so by the time we made it to the island it was time for lunch, and everywhere was crowded. Since our restaurant choices were severely limited because Penny was with us, we ended up back at Shaggy’s and had a good time.

Finally, we were off to the beach, this time with swimsuits, beach towels, and an umbrella. The trade-off to preparedness, though, was no camera and very limited phone use because Sand. Penny bounded into the water as soon as we got there. Palmer took her farther out in the surf, and I guess she got intimidated because she was almost instantly ready to go.

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Luckily, though, she came to her senses and enjoyed herself after that. I, on the other hand, finally came to terms with my absolute hatred of sand. It gets everywhere and it’s hard to clean off. I think Penny will probably be limited to rocky seashores and lakeshores for most of her future, but I’m pretty sure just about any puddle of water will suffice.

After allll of that adventure, we were exhausted again. We’d planned to go to a restaurant/bar called The Oar House, but when we pulled into the parking lot, it was already crowded. Bad music was blaring, and it was full of sun-baked partiers, most of whom were over 50 and generally gross-looking. We decided instantly that it wasn’t the place for us and ended up back at Jaco’s. At least we knew the food was good and they like dogs.

I was so tired of seafood, so I ordered the filet mignon, and it came out in a pool of barbecue sauce? It was good enough, but it tasted more like the sauce than anything else, so I was disappointed. The server said the kitchen must have used the wrong bottle because it was supposed to be steak sauce. They also said the chef was new and was working out the menu, so I’m not sure which was the actual case. So I’ll call that meal adequate.

Penny, however, had an excellent time. She got all of the attention and tasted her first filet mignon! She liked it so much that she refused to eat her puppy food afterward. We watched the sun set, then crashed. I think Palmer and I were both Done for the weekend.

On Monday morning, we took the shorter route home through Mississippi. Penny was so good, but she really hates long car rides. She spent most of the time napping, but every time she’d hear an unusual noise, she’d jump up and look out the windows. Then she’s lean her head against the back seat and look pitiful for several minutes before lying back down. Just before we got to Vicksburg, I stopped in a green area next to a Tractor Supply parking lot to give her a break and let her eat her lunch in relative peace. I think she was grateful.

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When we finally made it home, we were both tired but glad not to be on the road anymore. Penny seemed to have a good time, but it’ll be a while before we take another field trip that involves driving 8 hours each way – maybe even until we make it to the Rocky Mountains, which will hopefully happen next summer.

I should also note that I took most of these photos with my sparkly new camera. It’s a Sony a6000, and I love it. I was planning on getting a new Nikon DSLR because mine is almost ten years old and is totally outdated, but then I stumbled on this new mirrorless trend. They’re smaller than DSLRs but have interchangeable lenses and take photos that I think are just as good. I don’t need a professional-level camera because I’m not a professional, but I wanted a nice mid-grade one. This Sony fits the bill. (A super-duper thank you to Palmer for choosing a most excellent birthday present!)

Here’s a link to the entire Flickr album in case you need to see even more photos.

Tick City, Louisiana (+ a surprise!)

Palmer and I spent most of Saturday hiking Sugar Cane Trail around Caney Lake near Minden, Louisiana. It was a seven-mile proper Trek that didn’t offer much elevation, though it offered more than enough distance. It almost killed us, in fact.

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Okay, not really. We just weren’t quite prepared for how far that was. I generally don’t do more than three miles, which was the farthest Penny had ever gone. Two days later, we’re still sore. It didn’t help that while, for the most part, the trail is well kept up, there was a sizable section that was totally washed out. We ended up off the trail and had to wade through a bunch of mud once we found the blazes. That’s not surprising, I guess, considering how wet it’s been in this area lately.

One good thing: it was my first good opportunity to use the Sparkly New Camera Palmer got me for my birthday. It’s a Sony a6000, and it takes pretty amazing photos.

And then there were the ticks. DEAR GOD, THE TICKS. They were everywhere. We counted at least ten each slowly making their way up our legs, and we found more once we got home. Penny was – and probably still is – covered in them. She was dirty from the (mildly muddy) hike, so Palmer bathed her when we got home. When we discovered that there was Every Tick Ever, we went to PetSmart and bought a tick shampoo, so she got another bath the next morning. Good thing she doesn’t particularly mind baths. Good thing, also, that the’s the most patient dog and would sit for several minutes at a time while I occupied her and Palmer dug ticks out of her ears and fur. Ugh.

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There was also the matter of the snake, to which she seemed as oblivious as I was – until I got maybe three feet from it and screamed bloody murder. I didn’t even realize that it was in this photo until we got home:

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Surriously. We were so grateful when we saw the car. Seven miles is a lot for people (and dogs) only used to three. It was fun, but I’ll be sticking to shorter trails for the time being. I’ll also be upgrading from Deep Woods OFF to the 100% DEET stuff because geez.

Check out the whole Flickr album.

Here’s a video Palmer made chronicling the whole trip:

Oh! And shortly after we did get home, Palmer shuttled me over to what turned out to be a surprise party! I was about 90% clueless and expected to be sitting on a porch with a couple friends, drinking wine and eating Mexican food. Turned out it was an actual party. Happy 35 to me! I have some pretty great friends and an awesome husband. (Of course, I was to busy to take proper photos. Thanks to Palmer for realizing that I might want at least a couple.)

We climbed a mountain!

Okay, that’s kind of a lie. It’s not technically a lie because “mountain” is actual name of the place. This “mountain,” though, really only qualifies as a largish hill. The actual hiking elevation was less than 200 feet, and the whole hill tops out at a whopping 535. So I jumped onto a bench by the sign and acted like I’d just climbed Katahdin. Palmer chose a more reasonable pose.

26870297121_98b78f190d_kOn Sunday, we “climbed” Driskill Mountain, which is just south of Arcadia, Louisiana. It’s the state’s highest point, and it’s just about as underwhelming as you’d expect for the Bayou State. That said, we had a Most Excellent time. Penny was so excited, she couldn’t stay still for long enough to get a good photo. That, and another family appeared from the trees with their own dog in tow, and Penny wanted to play.

It only took us a few minutes to get to the top. There are two trail choices: the main one, which we took, is about 1.9 miles up and back. There’s a second one that weaves through the trees, which are marked with blue blazes. I want to go back to try that trail.

There weren’t many signs along the main trail, but, for the most part, it was crystal clear. Driskill Mountain is private land, but the owners do a great job of keeping it up. There was a tiny bit of mud in a couple of places, but it was easy to get around, and our feet stayed dry. Penny, of course, bounded through every little puddle. There were only to slightly steep places, and Penny was more than willing to pull me right up. The only problem was that she was just as willing to help me get back down, especially since she was following the other dog’s tracks. We really need to work on excitement-pulling.

Almost everything I’ve heard about Driskill Mountain is about its being underwhelming. It’s a “mountain” in Louisiana: how can it be that spectacular? Louisiana makes bayous, not mountains. Maybe I enjoyed it so much because I knew exactly what to expect. Will I go back? Definitely! I want to try that secondary trail. I’ll also probably have a look for other trails in the vicinity, though, as it’s kind of a long drive for such a short hike. Here’s the gpx I recorded (thanks, Alltrails!), a file format I just learned about:

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In other news, Shakespeare also had an excellent day on Sunday:

Betty Virginia Park is STILL my favorite in Shreveport

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Photo from Shreveport News. It’s not the rocket itself, but one just like it.

When I was a kid, I lived for Betty Virginia Park. Okay, that and Hamel’s, but we’ll talk about that another time. Betty Virginia was the queen of parks. It had the Biggest and the Best playground equipment, which, as we know, was all that really mattered. Remember the rocketship? GAH! The rocketship! (Luckily, Shreveport-based Sweet Tee has a tshirt to commemorate it. Which I proudly own.) I still remember the rusty smell on my hands when I climbed to the top. I remember the textured spiral staircase. I really don’t remember the slide, but that’s unimportant. Betty Virginia was the best.

YEARS later, I don’t have any kids, but I have a dog. The rocketship has been removed (it was a massive legal hazard) and the Biggest and Best main playground equipment has been replaced with short, liberally padded, lawsuit-friendly legal equipment. Really, I don’t blame the city. It’s not like kids don’t visit all the time. Today, especially, the playground was crowded with kids.

Penny and I went this afternoon because today is beautiful and because, frankly, all the nearby hiking trails are full of mud, and I didn’t want to deal with it. We’ve been there several times. That’s where Penny (pretty much) mastered the “come” command. As usual, we had a most excellent time walking along the trail. We traversed it three times, for a half-mile, before I figured we should get home so I could finish my (last-for-the-semester!) schoolwork. We always have a good time there. It’s clean and usually relatively quiet, and there are always dogs and people for Penny to meet. Today was particularly lovely because the whole park is a vibrant spring green, and the ground is coated with tiny yellow wildflowers, so you can’t help but enjoy the beauty.

Even without the Most Excellent Playground Equipment Ever, it’s still the best park in Shreveport.

At the end of this week, I’m getting a sparkly new camera! I can’t wait! Expect even more photos soon.

More about fungi than I ever wanted to know

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Several months ago, I happened to look out my bedroom window during a rainstorm to see a tree bubbling. Really bubbling. I spent a few minutes wondering what in the world it could be, but I didn’t pursue it and eventually forgot about it – until I realized the tree had died.

Really, these trees should have been cut down a while ago. They’re right next to our house, and an electric wire goes through their branches. I’m surprised SWEPCO hasn’t either cut them down or at least trimmed them during their annual pre-ice storm mass prunings. I certainly wouldn’t complain if they did.

img_0618Turns out that bubbling was a bacterial disease called slime flux. When it rains, the bacteria release carbon dioxide, creating those bubbles. Evidently, it stinks, too. I’m glad I didn’t go outside to discover that. Yuck! It dried into this white business. I figured it killed the tree, but the Internets say that the disease itself usually doesn’t kill them. It probably had to do with the removal of chain link fence the tree had grown around when we had our relatively new privacy fence installed.

Anyway, I was outside with Penny this afternoon, minding my own business, when I saw this, which seems infinitely more gross than the white gunk:

GAH! That is so not okay with me. It even moves like Jello.

GROSSSSS! I had no idea what it was (except that it was probably a fungus), so I called Palmer, and I guess my Jello description helped him find it on Wikipedia. It’s called jelly fungus, it appears when it rains, which it did alllll last night, and it evidently tastes good? I’ll give that one a big, immediate NOPE. It also probably won’t kill the tree, which makes me feel little better about it.

I’m trying really hard to appreciate rather than run away from nature, but stuff like this makes it hard. I’m still recovering from the ridiculous number of surprise spider webs I walked through on my hike with Penny the other day.

How had I never been to Walter B. Jacobs Nature Park?

It’s a beautiful day. A clear blue sky and a break from the South’s rainy season. Penny and I had to take advantage of it.

Penny and I go hiking about once a week, but we’re what I call Level One Hikers. The Red River National Wildlife Refuge‘s yellow trail was the longest and nature-iest trail we’d been down, and that one’s completely flat and the grass is mowed regularly.

That’s not the case with the Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park in Blanchard, Louisiana. The trails aren’t mowed because they’re in the woods and not lined with river-plain grass. I think there’s more virginia creeper than anything else. I’m sure there’s a lot of poison ivy, too, though I was trying my best not to see it. Really, I was focusing on trying to spot snakes and keeping an eye on the orb weaver population. Which is massive.

The Caddo Trail, at 1.8 miles, is a great place to desensitize yourself to walking through spiderwebs. They’re everywhere. I had to apologize to a couple of orb weavers for destroying the webs they had constructed directly across the trail. Which also meant that Penny and I were the only people/dogs to hike it today (and probably for the last few days, as it poured rain yesterday morning).

I should probably also mention the mud. Because mud. The trail was full of it. Sure, I’d seen the warnings on TripAdvisor about hiking after a rain, but I was like, it didn’t rain today, so it must be fine. (Actually, I considered driving to Driskill Mountain near Arcadia because I figured, hey, it’s the highest point in Louisiana and must be dry, but it’s sooooo far away.) Yeeeeeah, there was mud everywhere. I’m glad I waterproofed my hiking shoes before I went.

Oh. And, unless it’s bone dry, I strongly suggest wearing actual trail shoes or boots. If I’d been wearing sneakers, I’d have been on my butt a few times.

Also: hot + wet = ALL THE MOSQUITOES. Every single one of them ever. Palmer and I went to a petrified forest in Mississippi last year, and I thought they had a lot of mosquitoes, but damn. I’ll figure out the extent of the damage tomorrow when I’m itching terribly. Which means you should take advantage of the huge box of Deep Woods OFF they have permanently attached to the front of the building. Spray the DEET all over yourself or you’ll regret it. My lousy little DEET-free Cutter didn’t…ahem…cut it.

So you had a terrible time, you say, right? No! We had a most excellent time! This is the naturiest nature I’ve been in since the last time I was in the Black Hills National Forest, which was waaaay too long ago. Walter B. Jacobs is Hiking Level Two, and that’s a great thing for Shreveport/Bossier. We need nature! And sometimes we’re better off if it’s not the regularly-mowed-trail sort. It was only 1.8 miles, but I feel like we accomplished something, if only not being bitten to death by snakes.

And we saw a huge turtle with a spiky tail! It plopped into a stream before I could get a picture of it, but still!

I can’t wait to go again, and I’m sure Penny can’t either. We’re lucky to have a great park like this so close to town, and we should support it. Walter B. Jacobs has programs all the time for people of all ages, and we should all be participating. Have a look at their Facebook page and try to make out there. It’s a half-hour drive that’s totally worth it.

Here’s the park’s trail guide, of which I haven’t seen a good copy online (I guess “good” is relative, as this copy was obviously crumpled in my hands while we hiked):

And here’s a link to the pdf, which you might also find useful.

Let’s try this again…

Yeah, yeah, it’s been a while. We’ve had a couple of false starts, but we’re going to get back on track…right?

The truth is that I haven’t been reading much lately. Hardly anything, really. In my defense, I’ve been busy. Besides work, I’ve started a second round of grad school (this one is Thesis Monster-free!), and I have a puppy that I mentioned in the last couple of posts. That doesn’t allow much time for reading unless you count the journal articles I’m assigned for class, and no one wants to hear about those.

So what am I going to do with this book blog, you ask? For now, at least, I’m going to broaden the scope. I’ve been doing some photoblogging elsewhere (here and here if you’re interested), but I decided that my own damn site, which I still pay for, should be home to the primary posts. So here we go. I’ve made a pretty drastic change to the theme that’ll better reflect what is happening here.

There will still be books. I just read Into the Wild, which had been on my Do Not Read List for a long time, and I really enjoyed it. Now I’m trying to get through A Walk in the Woods before a new DeLillo novel comes out on May 3. We’ll see how that goes. I’m also still kind of in the process of reading Redwall, which is super fun. There’s also a game called Stardew Valley, but we won’t talk about that here (except to say that if you like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon and have a PC, jump on it).

Does all this mean I’m back for good? I hope so. It won’t all be about books, and it hopefully won’t be about the dog, either, though you can tell from the featured image that she’s super-cute. She also goes with me everywhere the rules allow her to go.

One of which was the Linden Wildflower Trails Festival this past weekend, which involved neither wildflowers nor trails but did involve free puppies. I’ve posted some photos from that event:

My 35th birthday is coming up, and my lovely husband is getting me a sparkly new camera, so hopefully I’ll be able to spend lots of time taking pictures and posting them here. Most will be of hiking and (hopefully, before it gets too warm) camping. Otherwise, who knows. The school semester is about to end, so I should have a good month of free-ish time on my hands.

2016 Book #1: The 5th Wave

5thwave.jpgThis is what happens when I see a pretty disaster pr0n movie trailer and think I’ll like the book because of it. Okay, it’s not terrible: it’s run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic YA. You know what to expect. In my defense, I didn’t know it was YA until I picked it up at the library and saw the YA taped to the spine. I cringed a little, then checked it out anyway.

I’m not saying that I don’t like any YA (how many times have I said this after I read one I didn’t like?) – I just usually don’t seek them out because they’re even more of a mixed bag than the adult books I read, and my reading time and attention span are pretty limited at the moment.

So. The 5th Wave. A giant mothership full of aliens has just shown up in the air above Earth. They sit around for a while, then use an EMP to knock out electronics. There goes communication, electricity, etc. The humans take a while to catch on, but they figure out pretty quickly that the aliens’ intentions can’t be good. Things get worse and worse (I won’t ruin the surprise of the waves for you), and sixteen-year-old Cassie finds herself on her own with a mission to rescue her kid brother. There’s lots of disaster and lots of alien mischief and lots of everything else you’d expect. And don’t forget an awkward teenage love triangle.

Which is the part of this novel that really annoyed me. Soooo you’re probably going to die pretty soon, but you have to stop everything to have the awkward teenage moment. Because if something like this was really happening, battle-hardened teenagers would automatically resort to their instincts, like dogs stopping everything to circle around a few times before they poop. Ugh.

Annoyances aside, The 5th Wave was packed full of the disaster I expected – and even more death and horror. Things could have been worse. Oh, and if you’re looking for some kind of closure, note that this is the first book in a trilogy: there is no closure. That said, I don’t think I’m interested enough to read the best of them, and I just heard that the second isn’t even as good as the first. We’ll see. It might happen.

Oh, and here’s the trailer that got me into this trouble:

Happy 2016! On to greener pastures.

Featured image credit: Sea Turtle

2015: The Year in Books

2015 has been an interesting year. I’ve been really busy, mostly because of dogs. That and an extended foray into Minecraft from which I only recently returned. Books were on the back burner this year. I only blogged about fifteen of them, but I read forty-two, according to Goodreads. That’s a little shy of my annual fifty-book goal, but it’s not too shabby, either. I got busy and had Other Things to Do. 2016 will probably be the same.

That said, here’s my usual list of all the books I read, not just the ones I blogged about. Bold means I really liked it, italics means I hated it, and plain text means it was reasonably good.

That’s a good bit of bold! I did pretty well this year despite my lack of reading enthusiasm. But which is my favorite? That one’s a little difficult. This year has been long and stressful, and I hardly remember anything about most of these books. I think I’ll offer a pairing this year of my favorite and one of my my least favorites, as they’re by the same author (and even in the same series!). So? Drumroll, please…

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Yep, that’s Rabbit, Run by John Updike. I’d put off reading it for years because I thought it was about basketball, and I was so surprised by how much I liked it!

Which leads me to the first of my least favorite books of 2015:

reduxI hated Rabbit Redux, the next book in the Rabbit Angstrom series, at least as much as I loved Rabbit, Run. It catches up with Harry a few years later, when he gets himself and his kid mixed up with druggy sexcapades, and it’s so extreme that it’s almost unreadable. It’s like DeLillo’s search for new extremes (usually involving the desert), but with moving people into his house with his kid and letting every single thing fall apart. It was painful, and it makes me not want to read any of the rest of the series for fear that Updike will continue to look for new extremes.

And here’s the second. I can’t leave this one out because this might be my least favorite of all time, and I’ve read a lot of books:

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You know that movie we all love? Whatever you do, don’t read the book. It’s terrible and will ruin your childhood and possibly your entire life. For a point-by-point breakdown, read my review.

Well, there you have it! Hopefully I’ll be better about reading and reviewing books in 2016, but we’ll see how that goes, as Puppy.

2015 Book #15/42: Slade House

sladehousecoverI can’t end this year without talking about Slade House, David Mitchell‘s latest novel. It’s been out for a few months, but I just managed to get my hands on it and devour it.

But first (and briefly), I’ll explain the numbering in the title. Slade House is the 15th book I’ve reviewed on this blog this year but the 42nd book I’ve read (according to Goodreads). No, I’m not going to hit my goal of 50 this year, but I’ll talk about that later.

So. Slade House. It’s my fourth Mitchell novel. First came Cloud Atlas, then The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, then The Bone Clocks, all of which I’ve talked about here. Mitchell intrigues me, and Slade House has only added to my interest. At this rate, I’ll be a fanatic before long.

It’s a genre-bender: a supernatural mystery of sorts. Every nine years, something happens at Slade House, and each of these occurrences has its own story with its own first-person narrator. The first is a boy, brought there by his mother, who expects to meet musical society-types there, sort of reliving her past. The boy meets a new friend in the garden, and they play a game that ends in everything going strange – and eventually wrong. Nine years later, a policeman finds the house, and something similar happens. Every nine years, the same thing.

Of course, things eventually become more complicated, and we get closer and closer to figure out what’s really going on. So it’s basically a ghost story about a mysterious house, but since it’s David Mitchell, it’s not quite that simple, and it’s tied to some of his other books, especially The Bone Clocks. (The connections are bonus-level: you really don’t have to have read The Bone Clocks to know what’s going on.) It’s a super-fun quick read.

Mitchell has several other books that I haven’t read yet, but I liked Slade House enough that I’m going to move them up in my TBR Pile. I’ll do my best not to reread Cloud Atlas or The Bone Clocks anytime soon, but no promises. Since I’m reading relatively little right now, I’d like to stick to books I haven’t read.

Which all means that you should run to your local library or bookstore and get your hands on a copy of Slade House. You won’t regret it. I generally hate mysteries, but I guess the ghost story part was enough to hold my interest. And if you’ve read Bone Clocks, you definitely need to read it. Drop what you’re doing and go.

Featured image credit: Elliott Brown