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Yellowstone and More: Trek Across the West (lots o' pics)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

On July 25th, my friend KVARNLOV and I got on a train headed to Portland, OR, where we were going to meet my aunt and uncle and stay for a few days. They live across the Columbia River in Camas, WA. KVARNLOV had never been to the Pacific Northwest, so we had fun showing off the spectacular sights. We went to the Oregon Coast (Seaside, OR, and Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach) and Multnomah Falls/Columbia River Gorge. I didn't take many pictures while we were in the Northwest, as I have spent a lot of time there and lived in Portland, but I took a few pictures. Also, there was almost zero visibility because of dense fog on the Pacific Coast the day we went to the beach, but luckily it was clear in Cannon Beach so KVARNLOV could see Haystack Rock.

Haystack Rock, a volcanic formation, in Cannon Beach, OR.

Haystack Rock.

Hiking Multnomah Falls.

The lush green of the Columbia River Gorge.

After visiting the Northwest for a few days, we picked up a rental car to start our drive to Yellowstone National Park, with a few stops along the way. We planned on stopping to camp near Mountain Home, ID, in Bruneau Dunes State Park. Once we got there, I was a bit sorry that we were only spending the night and didn't really have time to explore the desert area. We didn't bother setting up camp, the location was perfect for sleeping under the stars. Bruneau Dunes State Park has several large sand dunes that are good for exploring and sledding! We did hike over to the dunes in the morning before leaving for Yellowstone.

I definitely plan on returning to Bruneau Dunes. If you have kids, it's a great place to visit. You can sled on the sand dunes, explore the dunes at night with UV flashlights that let you see the desert creatures, and they have an observatory that's open on the weekends (we missed out, unfortunately). The campsites are nice, too!

Storm approaching the park. It missed us.

Desert sunrise.

Bruneau Dunes.

We stopped at Craters of the Moon National Monument near Arco, ID, on the way to Yellowstone. Craters of the Moon is a large field of volcanic ruins, from an eruption about 2,000 years ago (very recent in geological time). It was one of the most eery landscapes I have ever seen! It was fascinating to see the detailed shapes the lava had formed as it bubbled up from the ground. The area is still largely lacking plant life due to the thick volcanic soil and rocks, but lots of bats and other critters make their home at Craters of the Moon. We only walked around for a couple of hours; I would also like to return here.

After walking around Craters of the Moon, we finished our drive to Yellowstone to camp for five days. I had never been to Yellowstone. It is a setting in a book I'm writing, so I wanted to experience it for myself. I had planned on spending at least some of the time sitting, taking it in, and writing, but unfortunately that didn't happen. I was able to jot some things down, however, and we saw lots of stuff. I plan on going back by myself next summer.

If you have never been, I highly recommend going to Yellowstone. The landscape is like no other. I knew they volcanic activity caused the geysers, hot springs, etc., but the vast landscape boggled my mind!

Geyser in the sun.

Riverside Geyser.

Rainbow over the steaming landscape.

Hot water flowing into Firehole River.

Grand Prismatic Spring.

Geyser with rainbow.

Grand Prismatic Spring (from a hillside).

A mountain meadow.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon.

A terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Mammoth Hot Springs.

Mammoth Hot Springs.

Another terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Fountain Paint Pots area.

A hot spring.

Bacteria mats in Norris Geyser Basin area.

A steam vent.

Lodgepole pines are the predominant tree in Yellowstone, well suited for the poor volcanic ash soil.

Dead lodgepole pines--they die when the ground heats up too much from the heated underground water.

More lodgepole pines.

A steaming stream.

The landscape in one of the geyser basins.

I'll be back soon, Yellowstone!

Okay, I'm probably going to explode SparkPeople if I post any more pictures. I can't wait to go back to all of the places I visited on this trip!

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

JANISMKW 8/21/2014 9:21PM

    Great pix! emoticon for sharing them.

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THOMS1 8/21/2014 6:01PM

    Good blog and some really great pictures! emoticon

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    My hubby would like to take me to Yellowstone some day. He lived in Gardiner, Montana , outside one of the entrances of Yellowstone. He later worked as ranch hand on the side of a mountain outside of Gardiner. He was at the upper ranch alone where there was a cabin and some cattle. You had to go there in winter by horse and sled. I think I would stick to seeing it in summer. LOL.

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SMILINGTREE 8/21/2014 4:21PM

    All of those landscapes seem surreal to me -- I'm not widely traveled, and have spent most of my life in the humid, lush, subtropical southeast.

It looks like a great trip for writing inspiration!

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CRABADA 8/21/2014 1:52PM

    Looks like an awesome trip. Can I go next time? I promise I won't talk so you can work in peace. :)

I love that the whole point of this trip was to experience the nature in these areas. So often trips are planned around events or activities and we forget to look around. I'll definitely remember this next time I travel.


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ALIHIKES 8/21/2014 12:51PM

    Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful trip! Loved the photos. I'll definitely visit Craters of the Moon. And Yellowstone looked fantastic! I went there to ski in winter a few years ago, but of course we saw only a small part of the park.

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VALERIEMAHA 8/21/2014 11:59AM

    I LOVED was the first trip I took in my Toyota Dolphin camper. Your photos are spectacular. Yep, I did it alone...and recommend it for maximum impact. Thanks SO MUCH for taking the time to share this amazing experience of the Pacific NW...and BEYOND!

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SEATTLE58 8/21/2014 11:58AM

    W0w, I just love all your pictures and I can't help but feel a little partial to the WA state ones. Oh, how I miss it and hopefully we can get out there again yet this year? Hopefully! It looks like you had a wonderful time and a good break! Awesome!

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Blue Belt (with pics)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I got promoted to a blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu on June 8th. For the test, we had to roll (spar) for one hour straight. In class, we usually roll for five minutes at a time with a break, for a total of 20-30 minutes, so rolling for a whole hour was an endurance challenge. Afterwards, several of my teammates went out for Japanese food, and then went and met my teacher for a picnic on the beach. It was a very fun day.

There are five belt levels in jiu jitsu--white, blue, purple, brown, and black. You are automatically a white belt when you start out; earning a blue belt takes anywhere from 1-3+ years. Earning a black belt often takes at least 10 years. The belt progression is slower in jiu jitsu compared to other martial arts. It can be a frustrating journey at times, and always humbling. I would do jiu jitsu even if there were no belts, but I am proud to progress in such a challenging martial art.

Rolling with a classmate.

Group picture after rolling. Many people showed up to support us (and kick our butts!).

The new blue belts.

My teacher Marcelo and I.

Jiu jitsu has been a truly positive life change, perhaps more so than anything else Iíve ever done. I have learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. My limits have been tested, and I have been surprised at my own capabilities with challenging moves. Jiu jitsu has taught me the meaning--or lack thereof--of the word "failure;" there is no such thing as failure for me anymore. Success lies in the learning itself rather than in becoming a "master."

I am so glad that I worked up the courage two and half years ago to show up to my first class. I will never be done learning jiu jitsu, but I am enjoying the journey! Now to move on to earning that blue belt in life...

"There is no losing in Jiu-Jitsu. You either win or you learn."
- Carlos Gracie Jr.

"True strength is not always shown through victory. Stand up, try again and display strength of heart."
-Rickson Gracie

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

THOMS1 8/20/2014 6:33PM

    Very good! emoticon

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CRABADA 8/20/2014 5:24PM

    Huge congratulations! I am thrilled for you!


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CANNIE50 8/20/2014 3:42PM

    I have decided fierce isn't a big enough word to describe you so I am going with ferocious! SO impressive!! emoticon

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SEATTLE58 8/20/2014 11:04AM

    WooHoo, that is so exciting! I am so proud of you! emoticon

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VALERIEMAHA 8/20/2014 11:02AM

    Your ability to push through in spite of the obstacles never ceases to amaze me, grrl!!! You are a spectacular model of empowerment, endurance, victory!

I love being a part of your life via SparkPeople!

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JITZUROE 8/20/2014 10:29AM

    Ahhhhhh! I'm so proud of you!!!
You are so flippin inspiring! (And cute too BTW : ))

Keep posting blogs. We adore them.

Can I hire you as my wily Jiu Jitsu bodyguard???

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MORTICIAADDAMS 8/20/2014 10:08AM

    Loved the pictures! Congratulations on earning your blue belt!! emoticon

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Ummm, yeah...long time, no blog...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Hello SparkPeeps, I hope all is well in your world.

I haven't blogged in a long time. So, I will give you a ridiculously quick update:

*I obtained my personal training certification in January and have been building a clientele.

*I finished massage school in May and am working as a therapist now.

*I earned my blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu in June. It is the second level out of the five in traditional jiu jitsu belt systems.

*I went on an amazing road trip in June/July to the Pacific Northwest, Idaho, and Yellowstone. The trip was mainly to study setting for the sci-fi series I am writing.

*I haven't been great about my eating or weight loss, but continue to be very physically active and continue to include lots of healthy foods.

So, that was the short, short version of what's been going on. I am working on three blog entries that I plan on posting this week: one on jiu jitsu, one on my road trip, and one on struggling with depression.

Keep on keepin' on! emoticon

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

MPLSKEN 8/20/2014 11:12AM

    emoticon emoticon emoticon

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MORTICIAADDAMS 8/20/2014 10:02AM

    Sounds like you are doing fantastic! Congratulations on all of your accomplishments. You have been working hard.

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SMILINGTREE 8/20/2014 8:51AM

    :) Looking forward to all three. Except maybe the depression one -- that one worries me. But not too much because you are awesome and can handle stuff.

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APED7969 8/20/2014 8:34AM

    good to see you back :-)

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CANNIE50 8/20/2014 12:54AM

    Sitting here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, glad to hear you are blogging again and so very impressed by your achievements. I know you have worked very hard on all these endeavors. Your clients are fortunate to have access to your knowledge and passion.

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VALERIEMAHA 8/20/2014 12:07AM

    Def want to read ALL THREE blogs. Posting on SP? If not, lead me to'em! I'm sorry to hear of your struggle with depression and look forward to reading about the pathways you've carving to deal with it.

CAN'T WAIT to read your book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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DJ4HEALTH 8/19/2014 11:04PM

    emoticon lots of road trips!!

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THOMS1 8/19/2014 10:03PM

    Busy girl! Keep on sparking!

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MCFITZ2 8/19/2014 9:47PM

    Wow so many talents. Sounds wonderfully busy, varied and fun.

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MILLISMA 8/19/2014 9:42PM

    So glad to see you back!!!! I have been hit or miss on spark except for tracking and am having a hard time getting caught up. Congrats on your accomplishments. If only you lived close by, I would become one of your clients! So proud of you.

Please take care.

emoticon Mary Anne

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2013 in Review: The Most Chaotic Year of My Life

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The year 2013 was--by far--the most chaotic and difficult year of my adult life. My father passed away very suddenly on February 11th, sending a shockwave through my life at a point when I was approaching a high point. What ensued after with dealing with his ice-cold wife was what made the ordeal nearly unbearable, as my brother and I watched helplessly as she erased his existence (without our consult) within a few months of his death. She sold, gave away, and and threw away almost all of his belongings without the involvement of my brother or me. She moved out of my dad's modest townhome into a lavish large house, a home far more extravagant than anything that would have interested my father despite his ability to afford it. She can now lead a lavish lifestyle thanks to my father leaving everything to her after my dad had disinherited my brother and I in his will. In the end, his wife had offered us a couple of things of my dad's that she had considered junk.

In the end, there was only one "thing" of his that I wanted, something that truly defined my father's soul--his guitar (see blog post "The Martin":
). His wife had given the guitar to her son (who had no relationship with my dad) within a few weeks of my dad's death. I had to practically beg to get it back. It took almost two months, but the guitar is now mine. It is truly a magnificent instrument and I am slowly learning to play. It is only over the past couple of months that I can open the guitar case without feeling pure bitterness. Instead, now I feel the only connection left to my father. Dealing with someone so icy and--well, horrible--has been the most traumatic experience of my life, after my older brother's death. Strumming the guitar is helping me heal, though.

My dad and my older brother, Brian.

The last picture taken of my dad and me, after I won my first jiu jitsu tournament in November, 2012.

While--obviously--my father's death proved a horrible and sad ordeal, 2013 was also a year of immense growth for me. I had many accomplishments that I never would have thought possible. A lot of this was thanks to my father's inspiration. He was a man who passionately pursues his passions regardless of the costs (which, unfortunately, often included putting his kids on the back burner--I have recognized this as a reason for my reluctance to become a parent). Losing my dad meant losing the one family member who truly believed in everything about me. He was proud of me not just for my accomplishments, but for my "failed" pursuits" as well. Now I need to be that voice for myself.

My dad was very pro-education and always supported my academic endeavors regardless of their "practicality." I did not get a chance to tell him that I was returning to school to complete a degree in massage (I was going to tell him the next time I saw him). I did go ahead and continue with my plan to return to school, as I saw the potential to grow as a person. I enjoyed my first semester and earned straight A's. I look forward to growing as a massage therapist and have plans to start an animal massage business in the Twin Cities, a unique niche that has yet to be filled. I have started making contacts with some of my former veterinary colleagues to develop business relationships and the results have been positive thus far.

I have also progressed in my goals on becoming a personal trainer. In October, I was hired as a trainer at a community center. I have been enjoying becoming acquainted with the gym environment and doing basic training sessions with members. I will be taking the trainer exam on January 10th and plan to grow as a trainer from there.

This was also a big year for me as a writer. I have not been blogging much, however, I have made moves towards becoming a professional writer. I took many writing classes at The Loft Literary Center (a notable writing center in Minneapolis), and I feel fortunate to have such a resource available. My first for-real (paid!) article was published last month (link is here, but would need to pay to read; please message me if you'd like me to send it to you:
). I was very excited as I have always wanted to have an article published. I also started a novel earlier this year, and over the past few weeks have (finally!) developed a coherent story line not just for that book, but for a three-part series. The ultimate reason for writing the novels is not publication, but because I feel I need to tell the story (a story that has been developing since I was a little kid, actually). However, I will be pursuing publication upon completion.

I cannot write this blog without mentioning jiu jitsu. Jiu Jitsu has been my rock this year. My former gym and teammates proved a bit toxic after my dad's death and I switched gyms in March. My new teacher, Marcelo, was very patient over my first months training with him when I was sad and--frankly--lazy with training. He was very good at meeting me at my energy level and not pushing me beyond my capabilities that were hindered by my emotional state. However, when he saw me "waking up" a few months ago, he did start to push me. He gently encouraged me to compete again. I started training harder; he told me he knew I would win my competition. I won a gold medal when I competed in November. I was surprised at my win, but Marcelo was not. His calm demeanor and quiet guidance have been my rock this year. Now he has asked me to compete in a world championship competition in California early next year; I am honored. The answer was a resounding yes.

Marcelo awarding me another stripe in October.

Me with Robert Drysdale, UFC fighter and our jiu jitsu school's founder, in October.

My amazing team after winning lots of medals at tournament in November. My teacher Marcelo is next to me in the back.

Marcelo after winning a professional fight.

I have basically maintained my weight this year. I consider this to be the biggest weight-related accomplishment of my life. After all the s**t I was dealing with between my dad's death, dealing with his horrid wife, starting school, financial difficulties, and feeling horribly lost, I could have easily buried myself in food and gained a great amount of weight. I have probably "lost" weight simply by not gaining it in the face of such major stressors. Screw the scale, it means less than ever. The fact that it stayed the same this year--despite all of the challenges--tells me exactly how much I have changed as a person.

I could have easily given up. But my father would not have wanted that, and I did not want that. I don't want to just live, but to thrive. It is not money or any crap that material things can bring that helped me to thrive, but my amazing group of friends, writing, and jiu jitsu that got me through. I have realized that all else is meaningless.

It is thanks to the changes that I have made through SparkPeople over the past three years that I have hope. Not just hope, but deep down KNOWING that the future will be better. Believe it or not, I consider myself to be a happy person, perhaps the happiest I have ever been. I have learned that happiness has nothing to do with what I have, or money or status. Happiness is pursuing a life that revolves around passions that define our very beings--and this is the year I have started carving the way. I am starting to get to know the REAL real me--and she is tough as nails and will stop at nothing.

So there it is, 2013 in review. Not the most eloquent blog post, but it is the truth. It is proof in front of my eyes that I survived. It is an affirmation that the next year will be better, because of the person I have been, the person I am, and the person I will become. We may not have control over what happens to us, but we have some control over our reactions. I truly believe that doing our best is the best we can do, even if it appears to be far from our vision. Some days I feel complete hope and confidence for the future, and some days I fall apart over nothing...but I am always doing my best. In the worst of times, we go into the dark shadows and face our true selves. It is during those times that we can collapse upon ourselves and give up...or see the tiny spark of hope, nurture it the best we can, and emerge from the flames anew.

Perhaps even better than ever.

Candid shot my best friend took on Thanksgiving.

"May we do what we can each day, as impeccably as possible and then be at peace, for the results are out of our hands."
-Thich Nhat Hanh

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:


    WOW! Awesome blog....I pray all your dreams are coming true! emoticon

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BECKYSRN 6/13/2014 11:32AM

    emoticon emoticon

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    Your courage amazes me.

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    You have had a really difficult year but also an amazing year too. You are definitely your father's daughter. He lives on in you.

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CANNIE50 1/4/2014 1:37PM

    I am very proud of you, Erin. I am impressed by how you have dealt with the blow of your father's death and the pain of being disinherited. You have not allowed bitterness to blind you or incapacitate you. Talk about rising above! You are flying above! Congratulations on all your brave achievements.

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HIPPICHICK1 1/4/2014 10:48AM

    I still get sad for you hearing about your father and his gold digger wife. I'm so glad you rescued his guitar from the clutches of her son and happy to hear you are playing it.
You sure have had a full year and you have accomplished so much!

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SUSIEMT 12/30/2013 1:24PM

    I should say you have grown as a person! Wonderful! Isn't it nice to be able to say you maintained your weight for a year! Keep up the great job! I like your attitude! I missed seeing your blogs but am so glad you are plowing through and are working towards those goals. Woo Hoo YOU!

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KRISKECK 12/30/2013 12:47PM

    Wow, what a lot you have been through. And what a lot you have to be proud of! You have what so many are lacking: great determination and self-confidence! Really awesome! Keep up the good work and never stop believing!

Here's to a great and prosperous New Year!


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DDOORN 12/29/2013 6:48PM

    Love the quote also...! I need to be more familiar with him than I am...!

I couldn't think of a better way to connect with your father and am sure he continues to take great delight in your playing...

Kudos to the writing and Ju Jitsu successes as well!

You've done your best, as Thich Nhat Hanh says...and I'm sure that you will reap wonderful rewards in 2014 and beyond!


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THOMS1 12/29/2013 3:53PM

    It was good to read one of your blogs again and it sounds like you are doing much better. emoticon emoticon

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CHAOSTHEORY635 12/29/2013 2:42PM

    good to hear from you again, and i'm glad you're moving forward after life's setbacks :)

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VALERIEMAHA 12/29/2013 2:16PM

    You look clear and beautiful in that last "mug shot," Erin. And, baby, you've come a LOOOOOONG ways (and I'm not talking about time, but consciousness)!!!

Kudos on getting going on your writing passion. I'm taking a creative writing class for pure enjoyment next semester (now that I've finished the BA in Sapnish). And I love that quote by Thay. We have only to do our best...the results are always out of our hands.

May some of your wildest dreams be realized in 2014!

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Quick Update (with pics)

Monday, November 18, 2013

I haven't blogged in quite a while! Part of the reason for this is that I have started focusing my efforts on paid writing gigs and developing a freelance writing business. I will be writing primarily for health and wellness and also for veterinary medicine. I finished my first article for publication (and for pay!) for a strength training journal and it will be published in January (details to follow).

I am also working on a book (or possible series of books) on creative life change. Actually, a lot of the material comes from previous blogs. I will keep you updated! In the meantime, I have almost finished a blog entry on bullying (which is also chapter work for the book); it just needs some editing and my goal is to post it tomorrow.

I got hired as a personal trainer at a local community center; I start tomorrow. It's hard for me to believe that after dreaming of being a trainer for so many years that this vision is coming to fruition. I was hired based on the fact that I have a Bachelor's in exercise science, as well as my athletic experience being a runner, triathlete, and martial artist. I will need to take a personal trainer certification exam, which I plan on doing in January.

Massage school keeps me pretty busy, of course, but is going well. I adore my massage teacher, and luckily his style is very compatible with mine. I am learning a ton and really enjoying the process.

I competed in late October and won first place. I was so nervous about competing, but my teacher Marcelo kept telling me that he had full confidence that I was going to win. I guess I need to listen to that guy. emoticon

Here are some recent pictures (from late October):

Beginning of one of my matches in October.

My shiny teammates after competition. I'm in the back row and my teacher Marcelo is next to me.

Marcelo awarding another stripe to me a few weeks ago. I will be testing for my blue belt (second "level" in Jiu Jitsu) in about a month.

Me and UFC fighter Robert Drysdale after he taught a seminar at my gym.

This year had started out so hopeful and positive, and then I (understandably) struggled after my dad died in February. I admittedly took advantage of the "who gives a sh!t" mentality after he died to make some drastic changes, but it seemed the only way to cope with the grief. The sadness and anger part of grieving sucks, but I was also willing to take leaps that I didn't think were possible. I am a smart, creative, and talented person and I am finally working towards a life that fosters all of these things.

Okay, gotta go get ready for Jiu Jitsu class. Hope all is well in your world! Please tell me how you're doing!

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

HIPPICHICK1 11/22/2013 12:11PM

    Fabulous!! I can't wait to here more.
emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

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JITZUROE 11/21/2013 12:38PM

Most people are talk talk talk about their dreams. Dang it, you went out and are grabbing that dream!
Of course, you're also then giving it some wily Jiu Jitsu moves, but ya know....


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SHERYLP461 11/21/2013 8:27AM

    Wow, great accomplishments! WooHoo

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DOODIE59 11/20/2013 11:16PM

    Way to go, Erin; it is always good to hear how you're doing:) Keep on stretching.

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DDOORN 11/19/2013 12:20PM

    Things look to be Sparkin' mighty fine in your neck of the woods! Love the sound of your writing gigs...fill us in more when you can! :-)


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CANNIE50 11/18/2013 10:36PM

    I could not possibly be happier or more excited for you, Erin. Truly. Could not happen to a more deserving woman. YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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MORTICIAADDAMS 11/18/2013 1:56PM

    You look really great now. Very muscular and fit. It sounds like you are doing a lot of exciting things in your life. I'm glad you are keeping up with the martial arts. Things are definitely looking up for you after the devastating loss of your dad. You took it so hard I was really worried if you would be able to come to terms with things. Your dad would certainly be proud of you.

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THOMS1 11/18/2013 11:24AM

    Good for you Erin! emoticon

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VALERIEMAHA 11/18/2013 11:02AM

    OMG, Erin -- You.Look.FABULOUS!!! And I am 200% BLOWN AWAY by all the good things you've brought to fruition!!! Makes me think there's profound truth to the "No pain, no gain" mantra:

Focusing on developing a freelance writing business!
Finished my first article for publication!
Writing a book (or books) on creative life change!
Finishing a blog on bullying!
Hired as a personal trainer!
Taking personal trainer certification exam in January!
Attending Massage school!
Won first place in October competition!

With palms joined,

Comment edited on: 11/18/2013 11:15:12 AM

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