Just the Two (four…) of Us

22 03 2017

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I got a lot of questioning looks when I told people that for our, so-called, ‘Babymoon’, we were going to take a road trip from Seattle to Yellowstone National Park, Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons.  They said, ‘Really? A Road trip??  Why not Hawaii?  Or what about Europe?? You should do something now without the babies (yes babies…twins!) that you wouldn’t do when they arrive.’

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Well you know what….I can see going to Europe with the babies (at least this is what I thought before we had them), and I can definitely see us going to Hawaii with the girls.  But what I can’t see us doing with two children in tow is a Road Trip – ‘Nathan & Traci Style’.  That means 12 – 16 hour days in the car, tracking herds of bison on the backroads, taking photo upon photo upon photo of scenery and at least seriously considering to get up in the early wee hours of the morning so that we could catch photos of the colours of the sunrise streaking across the sky, or waiting out at the edge of a river to see if the cinnamon mama bear and her cubs would be stopping by for a drink.

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In a way this road trip was a farewell to our life as off the beaten path travelers who take every opportunity to pack in as much as we possibly can, experience everything we can experience and travel without any thought as to the necessary feeding/potty breaks that will inevitably rule our lives for the next….ever.

Plus, we had to have one last trip in our Subaru XV.  We had to say goodbye in true style and get as much dirt and as many bugs as we possibly could on this car, before we gave it a good wash and turned it over to a new home.  Because, when we had to put down the backseats just to get the stroller in the back, we realized that we would not be able to keep our beloved Subaru if the seats had to be set up for two car seats…which we kind of need…

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And so, we embarked on our road trip.  We racked up over 2000 miles in a 5 day period.

It was an incredible trip.

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A trip that gave Nathan and I a chance to ‘hang out’, tell stories, share experiences and cherish a little bit of time together, real time together, before it was not just the two of us anymore.  Because you have to admit, when you’re going on a road trip you have to be pretty selective on who you choose to travel with because it could be the most amazing and intimate bonding experience, or it could be just a little too much time together and you end up needing to have separate quarters for a while after the trip.

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To be honest, I may have pushed the boundaries a little bit, as I didn’t see any other pregnant people sitting along the rim waiting for Ol’ Faithful to put on its show…

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or strolling along the steam of the hot springs at the Grand Prismatic Spring…

 

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…or hanging out the sunroof, as far as I could before my belly got in the way, to take photos of bison and longhorns.

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So glad that we made the choice to do this trip.  Can’t wait til the girls get old enough to be able to enjoy the sights and scenery instead of wonder why we are at yet another scenic overlook taking photos.  And even though we couldn’t do everything we would have done, had I not been 6 months pregnant (I did offer to get out of the car so Nathan could do a little off-roading on terrain that was a little too aggressive for me) I love all of the photos we were able to capture of our adventures on the road.

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It’s All in the Eyes

9 01 2016

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We spent some time in Las Vegas over the holidays, and even though we didn’t spend a cent in the casinos, I felt like we made the most of what Las Vegas had to offer.

For the first time in a long time we stayed at a hotel on the strip, we found what I think was the only empty bar in Las Vegas (which was weird), we wined and dined on a four course meal and became best friends with our server Sam – who treated us to a delicious nutella creme brûlée.  And the very highlight of our trip, the one thing that I had wanted to do for a long time was visit the big cats at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage.

Yes, on the surface, the experience can seem like you’re just watching lions and tigers in enclosures through fencing pace back and forth…and it did make me a little sad when they would just pace back and forth.  But, once I started taking photos with our zoom lens, and I could capture a glimpse of these beautiful creatures without the grid fencing, it was magical.

This was a rare case when the photos after the fact, became so much more than the real experience – a chance to relive watching 4 month old sister tiger cubs play and pounce with each other, to revel in the details of their big paws and pink noses and to look into their watchful eyes.

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And because I chose the right guy for me, he knew that no casino, chocolate shop, bar or show would give me more pleasure than making a second visit to see the big cats.

And because my guy chose the right girl, the next day, we spent the day watching football at a Sports Bar.

And that ends our perfect 24 hours in Las Vegas.





#1 Favourite Thing

24 07 2015

You may not have realized, but I didn’t mention what my favorite #1 thing that we experienced on San Juan Island was on my last post.  And if Alpacas made #2 on my list (and really, how cute were they – you can’t get much better than that!)…..

You also may not have realized that I never did go back to the topic of whale watching….

Now, before I get to the big reveal, let me set the scene.

During my research for our family trip to the San Juan’s, one thing was clear.  I wanted to see whales.  Ideally more than one.  But definitely Orca whales in the wild, while not on a whale watching tour.

Luckily for me, San Juan Island has Lime Kiln Point State Park, otherwise known as ‘Whale Watch Park‘.  It is a 36 acre day use park set on the west side of San Juan Island and is considered to be one of the best places in the world to view whales from shore.  So, this stop was what the entire trip was built around.

The San Juan Islands are home to 3 resident pods of Orca Whales.  J-Pod, K-Pod and L-Pod.  Individually, each pod has more than 20 members, and as a total more than 80 whales.  Great odds that we would be able to see these whales in the wild.  Especially since they are known to hang out together and intermingle.  The males visit other pods to mate, but they always go back to mama.  Orca whales exist in a matriarchal society.

On it’s own, the park is beautiful and a great place to stop for a picnic lunch.  Too bad we were too impatient, and also had our heart (and stomach’s) set on lunching at Madrona Bar & Grill at Roche Harbor.  So we had to settle for taking in the views while munching on granola bars.

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Just like on the ferry boat, we looked as hard as we could.  We scoured the horizon and I had my camera poised for action.

Nothing.

Then I started watching the other people around us doing the same thing.  Until I finally saw someone pointing.  I whipped my head around and I swear I saw a flash of black and white.  It was an Orca!  I swear….it was an Orca.

The family was a little skeptical, until I started doubting myself as well.

And then we saw a dorsal fin breach.  I was redeemed.

Until I zoomed in and compared what was on the camera with what was on the informational chart.  There’s no way that fin belongs to an Orca.  Instead, it appears that what I saw was a Minke Whale.  The second smallest of the baleen whales, and black/gray/purple in colour on the body and white underneath.  So I guess that’s why I thought I saw a flash of black and white.  Because I did.

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We watched for a while longer.  People started to get bored and wandered off to explore the lighthouse.  Finally, our stomachs started talking, no, demanding – that if this is all we were going to see than there were other things that we need to be moving onto.  Like food.  Like crab mac and cheese and clam chowder, sitting on the deck while watching harbor seals in the marina.  Ok, well maybe my stomach wasn’t demanding to watch harbor seals, but my stomach and my mind were in agreement.  Time to move on.

We made our way back to the parking lot.  Thinking about lunch, but already planning on when we could come back to really whale watch.  Maybe we double back and come back after lunch, or maybe we have to plan a whole other trip back another time.

THEN WAIT.  We ran into a kindhearted stranger who was rushing to her car to grab jackets for her and her husband.  WHALES!  There are reports that K Pod is coming around the point!  WHAT????

I ran.  Screw the crab mac and cheese (that incidentally, did end up being delicious).  I want to see whales.  So we went crashing back down the path, and I got a little excited and kind of went off roading and careened full steam into some bushes before I got redirected to the more civilized and correct path to walk down.

People were lined up on the rocky point by the Lighthouse.  Waiting.  Watching.

My camera was poised, my muscles tense.

Jonathan was manning the binoculars and yells out, ‘They’re coming!! They’re coming! There’s so many of them!’ 

We looked out to the water, and just barely you could see some white waters waves – a little bigger than white caps, coming around the point.  But it could just as easily have been ferry waves that were heading towards the shore.

But then the whale watching boats start to appear and here comes the whales!

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I was so focused on trying to take photos, I felt stressed and excited and nervous and exhilarated, all at the same time.  I heard laughing and cheering.  Ooohs and Aaahhs.  There they are.  Over there.  Now that one.  Look at that!

I was so zoomed in I had to look away and up to make sure that I wasn’t so focused on the macro that I was missing leaps and breaches.

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But these whales were on the move.  They came in fast and furious – porpoising in groups of 2, 3, 4 at a time.

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They came tearing past us for what seemed like forever, but probably was more like 5 minutes.  We saw this resident pod of whales, as we stood on the rocks, closer than we ever would have on a whale watching tour (unless they actually came up to the boat and swam under us like you see on the youtube videos).

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Finally, the last of the pod disappeared around the lighthouse, ready for their next audience at the other end of the park.  It was one of the most exciting moments of my life.  And it would be hard to compete with.

It took a while before I could stop watching for the whales, running back down the trail to see if I could catch up with them (never going to happen).  Throughout the rest of the trip, whenever there was a silent moment, one of us would say, ‘those whales’ and we would all relive the experience.  THE Best experience ever.

Which makes me think that I’ve ruined myself for future whale sightings.  I’m spoiled and unless I see a full breach and backflip, nothing is going to top this experience.

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22 Hours on San Juan Island

23 07 2015

Gray skies greeted us Sunday morning as we boarded the ferry from Anacortes to San Juan Island.

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Jerry and I were determined to see whales.  We were bundled and huddled up outside, scouring the waterscape trying to see as hard as we could some sort of sign of whales.  A water spout, a tail slap, a dorsal fin….Any sign of whales.

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The fog didn’t make it the easiest. And before we knew it, the sixty-five minute ferry ride was over and no whales…

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San Juan Island has a unique history.  In 1859, Great Britain and the United States agreed to a joint occupation of San Juan Island until the water boundary between the two nations could be settled.  So on this little island of 621 square miles, the US and Great Britain settled into camps located on opposite ends of the island.

At the South end of the island we found the American Camp complete with a couple deer sightings and a telescope aimed at an Eagle nest.

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And on the North side of the island, the English camp, with some pretty nice views and a telescope aimed at an Ospray nest.  In terms of views, I think the English camp may have won the battle, but ultimately the United States won the territory dispute and the British left their camp with a view in 1872.

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Although I was happy to see these historical places, it was the wild life that I came to San Juan Island for.

The first time I asked Nathan to stop the car:  Cows.

I believe when I got out of the car, the question was asked, ‘Doesn’t Canada have cows?’ 

 Of course, but laugh all you want, I got some fun photos!

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And the second best part of the day:  The Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm. 

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I never really thought about how many different colours of Alpacas there are, or how different they can all look.  And I admit, I had my favourites.

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It’s a toss up between these last two – I can’t decide which one is my favourite, but they both make me smile!

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One of the most beautiful parts of the island was Roche Harbor.  With blue skies as the backdrop for a picturesque marina, historic Hotel de Haro, remnants of old lime kilns, and a fragrant flowering arbor, it was a picture perfect scene.

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We found ourselves back at Friday Harbor, ready to settle in for the night, around 5PM.  It was definitely a jam-packed day, and although we missed the opportunity to stroll the streets and browse the colourful shops, we didn’t miss out on the chance for enjoying a little marina life.  And for the first time for some of us, we spent the night breathing in the salty sea air and rocking to the lullaby of the harbour.

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Just a Little Bird Watching

23 06 2015

You just never know when wildlife is going to appear at your window.  Recently there have been videos bouncing around with orca whale sightings in Burrard Inlet – which have made me SUPER jealous.  One day I hope to be in the right place at the right time.

In the meantime, I shall pack the camera on random errands….just in case.

And although I do not have any whale sightings to report, we did manage to have quite the bird watching day recently.

First we enjoyed the sights of a sleepy Saturday morning aboard the Southworth ferry.
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And although we had only planned to run some errands in Port Orchard and have lunch in Poulsbo, we took a little detour to Seabeck to enjoy the views.

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We caught a Sea Gull enjoying some lunch…

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And a Great Blue Heron that looks like she’s curtsying for an unseen audience…

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And then we were WOW’d by a Bald Eagle sitting on a telephone pole, like he was overseeing his pride lands.

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I am still impressed at how big these eagles are.  You can’t really tell when they’re circling up in the sky.  But, when this eagle started getting harassed by the crows and took to the skies for a little bit of size intimidation…well it’s pretty obvious he’s just a little bigger than the crow.

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I’d be pretty intimidated if this was coming at me – talons first.





The Elusive Wildlife

27 05 2015

I don’t think I would ever make it as a wildlife photographer.  I’ve come to realize throughout my experiences stalking birds, cats and bumble bees that I just don’t have the ‘spidey senses’ when it comes to spotting animals or the patience when it comes to catching them in some photo worthy action.

It may sound like I’m only focusing on the birds, cats and bumble bees BUT that is pretty much the only subject matter that shows itself to me.  The other day I opted to not join Nathan on an errand.  And what do you know, he sees a young humpback whale breaching in the water and a dolphin was chasing his ferry and playing in the wake.  WHAT!??  Of course this happens, the one time I decide not to go.  It is still my dream, and hopefully achievable goal, to see whales (orcas preferably) in the wild while not on an actual whale watching trip.  You would think living in cities that consider ferry boats to be a normal mode of transportation would allow me tons of opportunities….unfortunately these whales have been playing hard to get….for the last 31 years.

Well I did manage to luck out with some wildlife photos during my last visit to Vancouver.  Stanley Park is home to one of the largest urban Great Blue Heron colonies in North America.  It’s pretty common to see them doing their long-legged strut in Stanley Park and along the seawall at Coal Harbor.  And with Great Blue Herons it’s always nice to snap a couple of photos of them doing there thing, searching the water for their next meal, but rarely do you see them actually ‘fish’, much less catch anything.

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But this time on an evening stroll with my brother and sister as we headed out to dinner, I took a little more time with a specific Great Blue Heron.  Essentially, I had to be willing to be left behind because there was no way my siblings were waiting around for some bird to do something…possibly.    And just when I was about to give up and resign myself to the fact that once again, I was only going to get the standard standing tall, maybe head cocked to the side, photo.  Whoosh.  Great Blue Heron headless – neck deep in the water.  I honestly had put the camera down and started walking away, when I heard the water splashing and whipped the camera back up to see what moments I could catch.

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Head whipping back and forth.  Dinner dropped and picked up again.

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Dropped and picked up again.

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Another round of head thrashing to try to whip that eel into submission.  And finally dinner gave up the fight.

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An eel!  Yeah!  Good job Great Blue Heron!  We’re eating EEL tonight!

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Ta Da!

And yes, this is still in my normal range of birds, bees and cats but I felt just as triumphant getting these shots as that Great Blue Heron felt munching on his eel.

 





Sister Slave & Task Master

15 07 2014

When I was at Newark Airport I received a call from my sister.

“Make sure you check out the bathrooms at the airport!”

Not the typical demand one would normally get from their sister while on their way for a visit.  Well, the true reason for my visit to Geneva this time was to help my sister, and her two cats, move from Geneva, Switzerland to Houston, Texas.

Now, somehow we didn’t take any photos of our day (or the craziness that led up to that day) but take a few minutes to think about this.

Imagine this:

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And This:

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Being stuffed into carriers, taken from their home of 2 years, bundled into a cab with 6 suitcases (one freaked out Mom and one calm and composed Aunt), and surviving 20 hours of International travel.  It’s enough to make a regular person a little crazy, much less two cats who have no idea what the hell is going on.  Plus, they don’t understand when you tell them to ‘plug your nose and blow’ to pop their ears!

Now let’s back up a few days.  After Nicki and I enjoyed pastries and pastas, bottles of champagne and pretty much eating and drinking everything that was left in their apartment we had to get down to the serious business of getting her and her 2 cats packed up and ready to travel.

I kept telling people that I was going to be a Cat Companion (what a sweet gig right?), well it turns out I was really there to be a Sister Slave and also Task Master.  I watched my sister pack and unpack and repack her suitcases, move things from one side of the room to the other, from one room to the other, and keep adding things to her list, but never crossing them off.  Pretty soon I had to put my foot down.  STOP.  You need to start crossing things off this list.  What’s next?  What do we have to do today?  We can’t keep putting that off until tomorrow, we’re running out of tomorrows!

Luckily, the apartment was being packed up by professional movers, so we didn’t have to deal with the 150+ boxes that ended up being packed up and sent off the balcony to the waiting moving truck on the street.  But because we had to be in the apartment while the movers were there, we ended up being cooped up in a single room with the cats so they couldn’t escape.  It wasn’t too bad when I hung out with the cats in the master bedroom, reading and lazing away the day.  But when we moved to an empty shell of a room, sitting on an air mattress next to a portable litter box….well, things started to become a little more real (and kind of depressing).

And then came the ‘Cat Chores’ and this is where the Sister Slave comes into play.  I didn’t realize that when I showed up it meant that I had to do all of the crappy jobs.  I had to clean and disinfect the litter locker, clean out the litter box (daily), chase the cats around the apartment spraying them with dry shampoo and anti-allergen cream.  ‘Make sure you massage it in everywhere Traci – especially their butt’ – what?? I didn’t sign up for this.

And then there was the silent screaming…  We had to take both cats to the vet a couple days before we flew out and although just 2 blocks away from the house, Moosh (the grey tabby) was so terrified he started shaking and silent screaming (panting) and Oliver (the orange tabby) wouldn’t stop meowing.  Needless to say, the vet prescribed some Xanax to calm their nerves – supposed to last 8 hours a dose.  Supposed to. 

Travel Day FINALLY arrives:

4:00AM: Wake Up Time

6:00AM: Corral the cats and force Xanax pills down their throats and then watch Moosh foam at the mouth and drool all over the floor, before stuffing them both in their carriers.  (Here’s hoping the foaming stops before TSA has to look at him).

6:15AM: Cab arrives and the driver looks concerned as he looks at us –  two people, two cats, two lap top bags and six suitcases – and then looks at his wagon.

7:00AM: We’ve managed to wrangle our suitcases onto 2 carts and each have a cat.  And then Nicki puts Moosh’s carrier on the top of her cart……and he falls off.  Whoops

8:00AM: We’re in the gate waiting to board the flight and Oliver sits quietly in his carrier.  The drugs have calmed Moosh enough that he isn’t terrified out of his mind and actually knows what is happening and so he’s turning in circles, meowing and trying to claw his way out – yep this is much better than a silent cat.

9:30AM: We are finally on the plane.  Cat carriers under the seat and settled in for a 9 hour flight to Newark.  And the drugs seem to be wearing off of Oliver and he starts meowing, and meowing and meowing.  And if you know orange cats you know how vocal they can be – good thing we brought a pillow case to muffle the sound.

10AM – 12PM EST/6PM (Geneva Time):  Cats are meowing.  The drugs wore off within the first hour of the flight.  There’s attempts to claw and chew out of the carriers.  Nicki keeps prodding me and telling me I have to watch the cats.  I keep telling her that they need to learn how to self-soothe.  And there are multiple times I’m asked to check and see if they peed, smell their butts, soothe them and take them to the lavatory to let them stretch their legs.

12:30PM (EST)/6:30PM (Geneva Time):  We made it off the plane and I made it through Customs.  Nicki and the cats have to be ushered downstairs to be processed back into the country so I leave her with her two cats and suitcase, to go collect our other 4 suitcases before they need to be rechecked into the next flight.

1:00PM/7:00PM:  The last 4 suitcases to come down the chute are ours. I have 5 suitcases stacked on 2 carts and sit down to wait.  And then I get a call from Nicki’s husband – apparently she got released outside of the baggage claim area and can’t come back through.  I’m on my own with two carts and the line up to exit through customs is growing by the second.  Picture me running down the line with one cart, parking it, then running back for the second cart and running it to the back of the line and leaving the first cart on the floor until the line catches up with it.  Trying to figure out how to push these two carts at the same time, I make a friend who offers to push one of my carts.  Low and behold, 1 person + 5 suitcases = Agricultural Check!  I’m about to move these carts over when my sister comes running out from nowhere, waving her hands, ‘that’s my sister, those are my bags!’ – no cats in sight…. Now we both get ushered to the Agricultural check and she says to the officer, ‘Remember me?  Remember me?  These are my bags, this is my sister!’  I looked at him doubtfully and asked, ‘Do you remember her?’  A couple of questions later he tells us to turn around and exit (and we hear grumbling from people behind us about how we managed to talk ourselves out of the X-ray).

1:30PM/7:30PM:  So we’re home free.  We take refuge in a family bathroom and release the cats from their carriers.  Moosh is starving and can barely wait for me to get some food out of my bag.  The drugs have made Oliver mean and he keeps hissing and swatting at Moosh.  Nicki lays out a pee pad and sprinkles cat litter on it, hoping to encourage potty time before our next flight.  No such luck – so she starts spraying this Feliway spray in and around the carriers to prevent territory marking.  All we need to do is go through security one more time, get on another flight and then 4 hours until we arrive in Houston.  No problem.

2:00PM/8:00PM:  Cats out of the carriers and carried through security.  No problem.  Hands swiped and tested since we’re traveling with animals.  No problem.  Oh wait, Nicki has a problem.  The cats and I are released and Nicki has to be patted down and analyzed.  So we set up camp on a bench, I do a little work, the cats get a little napping time in, and then a TSA officer comes up to me and says, ‘your sister wanted me to tell you that she’s tested positive twice for bomb making chemicals, so we have to call in a specialist.  It’s going to take a while.’  Ooookkayyy.   30 minutes later she’s released, and the culprit was most likely the Feliway Spray that she has been spraying everywhere for days.

3:00PM/9PM:  Another dose of Xanax forced down and on our way to board.  BEEEP.  What?  Your seats have been
changed, no animals allowed on that row, so you’re sitting in different rows now.  
Initial moment of panic is easily remedied and the man sitting next to me in the middle seat didn’t take too much convincing to move into an aisle seat.  Too bad the man sitting on the aisle looked at us and said, ‘I’m allergic to cats….’  ‘just kidding!’  Settled with both cats sleeping.  What?  Is this what it feels like not to be traveling with two needy cats (or kids?)  We made it until an hour before the flight ended before the meowing, clawing and biting started up again.

6:00PM CST/1AM:  We arrive in Houston and the humidity in the air is as thick as molasses as we leave the plane.  Yuck.  But this time, all we need to do is make a Family Bathroom pit stop, pick up our bags and we’re out of here!  The end is so close.  Perhaps we lost our focus a little bit.  Got a little cocky.  As I’m texting our terminal info, Nicki puts Oliver’s carrier on top of her rolley carry-on and goes to get carts.  And down goes Oliver.  Another cat dropped by their Mama.

7:30PM CST/2:30AM:  We made it home!!  The cats have been released from their carriers for good after 20 hours of travel. Oliver is still hissing at Moosh, but other than that they don’t seem to be too traumatized from the day’s events.

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Moosh finally getting the space he needs

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Oliver sleeping off the drugs

10PM CST/7AM:  Bed Time.  Finally.  After 27 hours of being awake and dealing with (and dropping) traumatized, meowing cats, feeling for wet pee pads, being covered in fur, tested (and stopped) for bomb chemicals, the day is finally over.  One Sister and Two Cats have been moved 5200+ miles.

Success!  Just one more 4 hour flight back to Seattle for me and we’ll call that Sister Favour Complete!