Christmas has been making cameos.

While watching the Boston Red Sox two nights ago, for example, a Christmas-themed Best Buy commerical aired. Several emails that appeared in my inbox alluded to Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, and have reminded me that, soon enough, the seasonal shopping frenzy will be upon me. And then there was Pandora, which serenaded me with mellow jazz for more than an hour before it slammed me with "Baby, It's Cold Outside," which is possibly the No. 1 tune on a list of "best rape-themed holiday songs." (Check Cracked's appropriately titled "8 Romantic Songs You Didn't Know Were About Rape" article if you don't believe me.)

I've shopped at Hobby Lobby, which--according to tradition--begins celebrating Christmas the Monday after the Fourth of July. And my coffee mug, the cheery red one I keep at work, is patterned with dots and snow flakes and winter weather. And, of course, of course, I've been thinking about my tree. About how to decorate it. About what ornaments I have. And about what ornaments I would like to make.

Yes, Christmas is beginning to make itself more prevalent. And, as I've said before, it's the one holiday that almost literally makes me drool with eager anticipation. So, that said, it's time to begin the second annual ornament swap!

Last year, nearly 80 individuals participated in the ornament swap! (You can view the showcase here.) Ornaments were swapped and mailed from the States, Canada, England, Scotland, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, Romania, Trinidad, Spain, and Singapore. I'm eager to see who will join this year, and what sort of dazzling, sparkling, vintage, handmade, crafted or store-bought beauties will be sent out.

Interested in joining? You can sign up by following the instructions below. Please know that anyone can join! You don't have to have a blog or a Twitter or an Instagram or a Pinterest or any other network connection. You just need to be a person.


Email me at with the subject line ORNAMENT SWAP. 

In the email, include your postal address and your shipping preferences. (International or domestic?)

Include a link to your blog, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook page, or website, if you have one. 

The last day to sign up for the swap is Nov. 10. (I plan to have everyone partnered by Nov. 15. The ornaments should be mailed by Nov. 30.)

Ornaments can be purchased or created, vintage or handmade! They can be whatever you would like them to be ... but they shouldn't cost more than $10 to $12. It's the holiday season, so it's understandable that things are going to get hectic! However, please think about what sort of ornament would stun your partner when he or she unwraps and unravels the packaging.

Include a note with your ornament. Tell your partner a little more about yourself. About the ornament. About your favorite Christmas traditions. A short, sweet or funny Christmas poem. Song lyrics. A quote. A laundry list of why you love Christmas. A laundry list of all the nicknames you have for your cat.

Lastly, have fun! Enjoy getting to know another blogger during what is considered to be "the most wonderful time of the year." And be sure to snap a photo (or two or five) of your new ornament. Come mid-December, I'll showcase the entire exchange here.

Thanks for joining!


We've been here a week,
It already feels like home.
Expectations met.

Catch up with the rest of the trip: 
Part 1: Henry Doorly Zoo
Part 2: The Badlands, Feat. Kitschy South Dakota
Part 3: On the Way to Billings
Part 4: The Tetons


Rain. Solid. Steadier on the canvas than on the sidewalk. The wind rustling, the trees swaying. "The breeze is picking up," says Ty. "And it smells like pine." He's chain-smoking and we've got the journal, the postcards, and the six pack before us. Sharing the zebra pen, sharing the beer. Smoke twists carefully into the night sky, a sky large with stars hidden by the growing clouds. Embers burning, wood cracking in the stove in the tent/cabin. We're camping ... but not really. We're cheating. But here and now--happy with the scent of pine, the sound of rain, the fire, the beer, the laughs and nostalgia over the picnic table--it doesn't matter.

Before Zoë went to bed, she called us up to the car. "You need to be here now," she said with urgency. And so Ty and I wandered up the embankment, stood next to her and, from earth to air, looked up. We turned our heads to the pin-pricked sky. And the stars were glorious and heavenly and twinkling and teasing, some bright, others white and hot, some yellow with distance. Illuminating and humbling. And with necks craned and jaws dropped, it was Ty who spoke first.

"Sure makes you feel futile, doesn't it?" He paused, turned, kicked the ground and added, "It does me, anyway."

The passenger door of the car was still open, and Zoë still had camping gear in hand. I was swaying a bit, dizzy in mind and body from the wheat beer, but I still eked out, "Some of those stars don't even exist anymore. We're just seeing the light now."

"We're looking into the past," Ty said.

And for a small moment, I almost let myself believe it. That we were there and now, watching and living, being a part--the one given to us--and playing a part--the one we made made for ourselves. I looked and looked, and my neck cramped. Those stars, those millions and millions of miles away twisted amoebas of gas and chemicals, were beautiful. And if I was looking into the past, I was going to look at the things I wanted to remember. Like the sprig of sage brush on the dashboard. Like the birds fighting over their early reapings. How the sunlight hit each hill. Singing "Call Me Maybe" with Zoë. And thinking and knowing and wondering, when I heard Zoë's scoffing amusement and Ty's deep chuckles, how I got so lucky.

Catch up with the rest of the trip: 
Part 1: Henry Doorly Zoo
Part 2: The Badlands, Feat. Kitschy South Dakota
Part 3: On the Way to Billings


I dream of bits and pieces. Of colors. Of the road. Of sunsets and sounds and all that the day was. Sensory memories not always linked. Just collected. A collage of all the hours we spent in the car and the time we finally stepped out into the Badlands, shouting expletives and sharing awe.

... Colors. All the colors. Brown. Yellow. Green. Red. Orange. A purple-gray blanket of sky. Canyons of rust-colored stones. Layers of rocks. Crumbling sands beneath our feet. ... I dream of walking in the prairie grasses, no camera in hand, burden-free. Just me and the air and the wind and sky. I'm alone, alone in these hills, with tickling, tall grass. With animals and sunshine. Everything is perfect. That is, 'til my shadow runs from me, and drags me across the dirt road, soiling my dress with ancient red dust.

And that's when I see them. Ty and Zoë on the edge, backs to me, laughing. Laughing. Laughing. Laughing. It's a happy, haunting, dreamy laughter that echoes in the sandy canyons, carries itself on the swirling winds and syncs with distantly rolling thunder.

These two, and their laughing, are the best things I've ever heard.

Catch up with the rest of the trip:
Part 1: Henry Doorly Zoo
Part 2: The Badlands, Feat. Kitschy South Dakota


There were the snippets in and on our way to Iowa. The way Ty chuckled when my mom attempted a joke. The way Zoë instructed me on how to properly (and provocatively) consume a Push Pop. When we laughed about "Existential Jeopardy" and Carly Rae Jepsen. When Zoë critiqued Ty's driving, to which Ty responded with false arrogance, "Please, Zoë, a MAN is driving." The sharing and wordless passing of a package of Oreos. Conversations about politics and literature, and about how our respective reading material smelled: fragile, old, developed, fresh. And remembering that, if we girls fell asleep in the car, we could trust Ty to get us somewhere, anywhere.

Immediately after crossing into South Dakota, we were bombarded with billboards advertising Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota. And though we were still hundreds of miles from Wall and from the Badlands, the billboards stayed with us. Followed us for miles and miles and miles, increasing in frequency and oddity. They advertised FREE ICE WATER and that Wall Drug was A ONCE IN A LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY. And despite knowing that Wall Drug would be a tourist trap, we planned to stop.

And earlier in the day, we had paused in Mitchell, home of the Corn Palace. We made time for an "awkward family photo" and listened, bemused, as Ty spewed puns ("Has anyone ever been stalked at the Corn Palace?" "I'd be a-maized.")

Back in the car, Ty turned down the music to ask Siri, "Where's a good place in South Dakota to get exotic meats?" He looked at his phone for the results, but paused before sharing its finds. "Well," he said in a particular cadence that left us howling, "one of the five places listed is an Arby's."

It was still just the beginning of our journey. But under the gray sky, between Mitchell and Wall, we were stopped by a state trooper, which Zoë adequately documented.

The trooper was more polite than most of his Indiana compatriots - he smiled, told us he'd pulled us over for speeding, asked for license and registration and proof of insurance, wanted to know where we were heading (Yellowstone). "Oh, you're on vacation?" 

He asked Ty to go to his patrol car to see his speed. Ty returned after a couple of minutes, which Dawn and I spent debating the odds of a ticket and discussing the trooper's nice manners. 

"Well, that was one of the nicest troopers I've ever met," Ty said upon returning, shuffling documents.

We agreed. "Did he give you a warning?" 

"No. Ticket. 83 in a 75," he replied. "The usual spiel. They're trying to keep everyone safe, it's for my own safety." He recited the rest of the ticket script. "Oh, and he thought you were my wife," he dropped in Dawn's direction, almost an afterthought. 

"Yeah, he asked, 'So is that the Mrs. and kiddie?'" 

"He thought I was your CHILD?" I asked incredulously, my voice rising with indignation. "SERIOUSLY?" 

Ty confirmed as Dawn laughed hysterically. 

It has been two hours and this is already another running joke; Dawn has scolded me for inattention, Ty has threatened to pull over the car, I've sworn frequently with vehement mock outrage. 

Ty is still going 5 mph over the speed limit, straight toward heavy gray clouds and endless flat horizon.
And finally, after Mitchell, after Wall Drug, after unfortunate phone calls and shit-shooting and chagrin, we reached the Badlands. And as Zoë said, the Badlands are "a wholly inadequate name for a place that dwarfs all our petty human problems. For all the space, there's no room for anger or sadness."

Catch up with the first part of the trip, a visit to the Henry Doorly Zoo.
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